I have to admit I do not know many of the actresses of the day. But as I looked at the pictures of the Oscars, I wondered: do many people feel this crop compares, in beauty, to Helen Mirren at 62, Charlotte Rampling at 63, or even Jane Fonda at 75?
About five years ago, after spending several years observing my female friends’ romantic travails, I wondered if women who lived outside of our little demographic subset were having the same experiences. On several large dating sites–the best way to reach women who were interested in new romance and thought it might still be possible–I posted this:
Tell me your tales of love. I am writing a book about the nature of love and sex as people age. It is my belief that though there is a diminishing pool of prospective mates, and that all of our flesh slowly fails, the romances we do have are deeper and more satisfying. We know ourselves better, we begin to come to terms with the beauties and limitations of the opposite sex, our illusions about the nature of love have passed, and we can pursue more realistic goals—which of course greatly increases our chance of success. We are also free of the need to reproduce (we have already, or we don’t plan to). We are increasingly sexually uninhibited; we now gaily wade where we wouldn’t have imagined dipping our toes in our youth.
Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have anecdotes that illustrate your viewpoint, one way or the other? I’d love to hear them.
I received 85 responses. Here are two. (More will follow.)
I believe that the thing that liberates us as mature women is the fact that we no longer have to prove anything to anyone. I think that we no longer have to look for a man to love us so that we can have the “American Dream,” the white picket fence, the minivan, 2.7 children, give our mothers grandchildren. Been there, done that. We are no longer defined by the roles we play in everyone else’s life. The wife, the mother, the PTA president. Even though we still may be a mother, it is no longer our main role in life, so in a way you are forced to get to know yourself… I am no longer a “work in progress.” I am a real live woman and what you see is what you get. 51 [her posted age]
What I am discovering about sex as I grow older is that I can enjoy it without being emotionally involved. I thoroughly believe it is important to one’s health physically and mentally. When I was younger I wouldn’t even consider having sex with someone without some form of commitment. I have never been one to take sex lightly and am inherently monogamous. One-night stands are not on my personal agenda. I am all for the candles and foreplay and know full well that at least half of sex takes place in one’s head. Still, now it is different and perhaps it is biological—knowing the chances become fewer as the years progress. I still am an incurable romantic and still imagine myself walking off into the sunset to spend the rest of my life with one person, but Zen has taught me to embrace the moment, for, in fact, that is all we really have. 57
What good is middle age? When our fertility expires, we are biologically irrelevant. Not pliant or impressionable, we are culturally marginal. Why don’t we find a corner to molder in, or take a long cruise on a short ice floe?
Because, I’ve found, for women (and perhaps for men) this is a great time of life, maybe the best of all. Reproductive decisions are over. Families have been launched, leaving mothers with a tremendous sense of competence, pride (and often relief). Now there is no NEED for a mate—romantic decisions are not time-sensitive or means-tested. There is professional achievement, and even “free time.” The result is a population of self-reliant, contented, and, not coincidentally, sexually adventurous women.
Being in their company is magical.
A hundred years ago, the median life span was 47—you mated, you reared, and a decade or two later you retired and died. There was no reason conventions guiding conduct, especially romantic conduct, should develop. In the last century median life span leaped 30 years, an unparalleled revolution in the human condition. That these extra years have so quickly become a time of freedom and pleasure—rather than consternation and disorientation—is magical.
In midlife, men, who are also liberated from child rearing and supporting, want women who are confident, self-reliant, and sexually adventurous. Such women are all over the place; and because of the male propensity to drop dead young, the women far outnumber the men. Yet many men despair that they cannot find an appropriate sweetheart. Why? They see right through their female peers, as if they were made of vapor. It is magical.
There are evolutionary/biological reasons why men’s eyes focus on youth. Like every other living thing we are designed to reproduce. But in midlife, the last thing most men want is to raise (more) children. If they procure a young woman, they are missing out on their ideal companions, and signing on for their worst nightmare. These ideal companions too often find themselves involuntarily alone.
That is the ultimate magic of our time. It is black magic.
I’ve spent nine years researching the ways middle-aged women (single ones, who have chosen, or were forced, to start anew) conduct the sexual and romantic lives. Some, frustrated and disgusted, hop off what they feel is the bus to Romance Palooka-ville. Some soldier on, expecting little, and getting it.
But others triumph. How? Some realize they are happy with a smaller (though passionate) male footprint in their lives. Some make startling discoveries about themselves, and find liberation in revolutionary changes in lifestyle—including sexual relationships and behaviors that would have horrified them earlier in life.
Confounding, infuriating, thrilling. It is the subject of my new book, which will be out in March: The Magic of Middle-Aged Women.
I plan to roll out many of my findings here. I’m eager to hear recommendations about other issues, especially practical ones, that should be addressed in the furtherance of Midlife Love.