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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jim Kershner: Male delusion at middle age needs harsh cure

I have another deflating news bulletin for middle-aged men. Many of us suffer from something called “Hotness Delusion Syndrome.”

It’s a common affliction, in which pot-bellied, balding guys with hair growing out of their ears/nostrils/toes believe that they are still babe magnets.

Bless their deluded little hearts.

An author and demographer named Bernard Salt broke the news about Hotness Delusion Syndrome in a recently released book. He says that men in their mid-40s – and past it – have an inflated opinion about their own sex appeal.

(Language note: Feel free to interpret the phrase “past it” any way you like.)

These men still think of themselves as attractive and studly, despite (1) all evidence to the contrary, (2) all common sense and (3) the existence of mirrors.

This syndrome comes as absolutely no surprise in a world that contains Dominique Strauss-Kahn. All men, since the beginning of time, have suffered from Hotness Delusion Syndrome.

Julius Caesar: Check it out. Cleopatra thinks I’m smokin’ hot.

Marc Antony: No, she just wants your empire, old man. She’d prefer someone closer to her own age.

Julius Caesar: Don’t be an asp. She wants me. … Hey, Cleo? Marc? Wait up. Where are you two going?

Women are not like this. They are more grounded in reality, although I’m sure they must sigh wistfully when they see men so blissfully un-self-aware. Men at least seem happy about their body image.

As a past-middle-aged man, I think I can provide some insight into a man’s thought processes, if “thought” is the word I want.

It’s quite simple: We believe that we are still the guys we were at age 25.

We have an image of ourselves that becomes set, somewhere in the cerebellum, during our physical prime. It’s not that we ignore the evidence in the mirror. We stand in front of the mirror and say, “Is that what I look like? Really? That’s just sad.”

But then, two seconds after walking away from the mirror, our self-image reverts back to our 20-something self. In computer terms, it’s a locked file, an image that can’t be altered, removed or replaced.

This problem doesn’t apply exclusively to romance. It also applies to outdoor adventures and sports, which explains why that 45-year-old guy at the backyard pool party attempts the backward flip off the diving board, and also explains why both of his Achilles tendons have popped before he hits the water.

As in all things vanity-related, baby boomer men are especially vulnerable to this syndrome.

Salt, however, has discovered that men in their mid-40s today are experiencing an extra-potent case of Hotness Delusion Syndrome. That’s because there is currently a shortage of mid-40s single men compared to single women of the same age. That means that women are “actively pursuing” men of that age, “inflating their opinion of their own attractiveness.”

Translation: Women are pursuing middle-aged men because they have abandoned all standards, but balding, paunchy men think they know the real reason: They are irresistible.

Is there a cure for Hotness Delusion Syndrome? So far, even the bathroom scale and the un-retouched photo have had no effect. Only one treatment seems to work: having young women point at middle-aged men and snicker.

It’s cruel, but the public welfare requires it.