I am an energetic, capable, intelligent woman of 50. I earn a good salary, I am good at DIY and all other household chores. I am loving, caring and supportive with a good sense of humour. However, I have had a 20-year marriage and an eight-year relationship both end. Men (or at least the ones I choose) say they love independent women, but all they really seem to mean is they love women who will support them. How should I be in my next relationship? Should I pretend to be a pathetic helpless female who needs a man to save her? I am so disillusioned, I wonder what I am doing wrong.

There’s a Japanese folk story about a crane who tricks a man into marrying her by pretending to be a woman. She knows that her beloved won’t want her if he discovers she’s a bird, so at night she stays awake and tears out her feathers with her beak. CJ Hauser wrote a beautiful memoir recently that called on the story: “To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work.”

It looks like a deal. If you do the self-erasure then in exchange you won’t be alone.

You shouldn’t take it. Partly just because it’s so horrifically sad. You say you’re caring, capable, intelligent, and you say these things with an energy that tells me you love them about yourself. Don’t pull them out at night.

But the other reason you shouldn’t take the deal is that it doesn’t do what it says it will. Even if you paid up by forfeiting your dignity you wouldn’t get what you thought you were buying. Love borne of pretence doesn’t make us any less alone.

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Whatever love you’d trick someone into giving you would be love for an act, and it’s hard not to feel contempt for people you can trick like that. So you won’t really like them, and what they like won’t really be you. It’s a reverse Midas curse, turning what should be gold into dust. You’d get love in the same move that would make it worthless.

The thing is, I think you already know that. I love how you talk about yourself. You know you’re great. I bet you have a drawer with a bunch of string and tape measures in it and a particular way of banging flour off your hands. You know you don’t want to change.

The real problem is that when we realise the choice between modifying and being alone was always just a choice between two ways of being alone, we’re left with just being alone.

I could say all the usual things about how love comes when you give it to yourself, and how the thoughts that say “no one will ever want me” are liars that speak most loudly in the silence after a recent love has closed the door.

But the truth is you might not get the thing you really want. You might not find love with someone who values you as you are. It’s hard.

What I do know is that women like you keep me going; remind me of the joy and the strength it takes to spend decades refusing to capitulate to a world that wants you to be less.

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There’s no way around the fact that it will hurt if being yourself means being unloved, but love has been wildly overstated as the key to a valuable life. It’s disappointing not to get it, but it’s worse to disappoint yourself. Keep your feathers.

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