Keep hope alive!

BissonThe one universal finding in my nine years of research for The Magic of Middle-Aged Women is that women’s sexual satisfaction (though not always their satisfaction with their romantic situations)–is greater in middle age than earlier in life.  Because my sample was biased (all single women still pursuing romance and sex; and all willing to talk to me about it) I cannot offer scientific conclusions (though I came to my own).

As your blogger, it is my duty to pursue Truth.  In this pursuit I came across a very interesting article: Placebo effect significantly improves women’s sexual satisfaction. 

A study at the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine measured the effectiveness of drug treatment for 200 women, aged 35-55, seeking help for feeling low sexual arousal and response.  The surprise finding was not about the drug; it was about the placebo.  There is often a measurable value to a placebo; thinking a drug will work improves the chances that it will.  But in this case, the bump was huge–33%.

The author of the study said, “Expecting to get better and trying to find a solution to a sexual problem by participating in a study seems to make couples feel closer, communicate more and even act differently towards each other during sexual encounters.”

It is reasonable that someone who does research for a living would conclude that the hero was the study itself.  It did give many women hope that they would feel more amorous.  But the author was also suggesting that knowing they were in the study would inspire their partners to be more communicative and more responsive. But would all, or even most, tell their partners about their participation (“Honey, I don’t feel any desire for you, so I’m going to see if drugs will ignite my interest”)?  Would all think the problem lay in themselves, and not in their relationships?

In other words, might the matter be simpler: if many women feel their sexual feelings can be awakened, they will be?  I’m wondering about a bigger picture: the sexual benefit of middle age.  While I was writing the book, I told a few women in their thirties what I had found.  They were deeply skeptical.  Then I realized if someone had told me the same while I was in my thirties I would have thought the same: Old people are hotter than I am?  Hah!  Toddle on, old man!

Perhaps there is no way around this.  Just as every generation believe they invented sex, maybe no one will know about middle age until they get there.

All the more reason to broadcast the facts about middle-age sexuality. If women whose sexual feelings are languishing in their 20s and 30s expect better times ahead, that very expectation might be a powerful tonic.

Sacre bleu!

Late last night I surfed into a movie starring Jacqueline Bisset.  It was a bad movie, produced by Showtime, but I watched to the end because of our sentimental connection (which she is unaware of).  It began when as an unsuspecting young man I bought a ticket to see Day for Night, and spent six months trying to come to terms with the existence of someone of such unwordly beauty.  It reached maturity when I saw her on the street six years ago.  Then in her early 60s, she was still as beautiful.  A friend I was walking with looked at her and said, “She’s gotten old.”  That remark launched the writing of The Magic of Middle-Aged Women.

This morning I looked online to see what she has been up to.  Her latest project is a movie about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was the superstar head of the International Monetary Fund, and potential future President of France.  He was arrested by New York City police for improper sexual conduct with a maid.  And so ended his career.

Strauss-Kahn is played by the French actor Gerard Depardieu, who is four years younger than Jacqueline Bisset, who plays his wife.  Here’s where I started to have trouble.  Depardieu was one of the hot properties of Gallic cinema in the 70s and 80s (Bisset is British and bi-lingual).

The young Gerard Depardieu:

o-GERARD-DEPARDIEU-ASTERIX-ET-OBELIX-570The young Jacqueline Bisset:

jb01bNot quite equals, but not a match that would leave you scratching your head.

Here is the current Gerard Depardieu:o-GERARD-DEPARDIEU-ASTERIX-ET-OBELIX-570

And the current Jacqueline Bisset:


While everyone cares more about women’s looks than men’s, how deep is the disparity?  How can actors turn themselves into giant sodden kielbasas and expect to star in movies, when even perfect older actresses are almost never seen?  Imagine their conditions reversed, he buff and exquisite, she haggard and bloated.  He would be emblazoned on magazine covers, an inspiration for aging manhood; she would live alone in an apartment filled with carpets, cats, and photos carefully centered on doilies.

Verisimilitude is not an issue in this movie: Bisset is a prettier version of Strauss-Kahn’s pretty wife, whereas Depardieu approximates what the rather dashing Strauss-Kahn would look like fished from a sewer five days after drowning.

The only good I can find in this is that at 68 she is still working.  And the world can still see her.

Jacqueline Bisset et Gerard Depardieu maxppp


Say what you like about me–but don’t mess with my women

4935740248_f95e70e8ee_zThe Magic of Middle-Aged Women has gotten some wonderful reviews on, which I will brag about at another time. However, one said that the women whose life stories comprise the book are “sad.” I take violent exception to that.

I met every woman in the book on a dating site (I posted asking for stories and opinions for the book).  Most (but not all) people on dating sites are not happy.  They are looking to fill an important hole in their lives.  The process is often lengthy and unpleasant.  It’s not only that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince; you get excited about each frog, so the disappointment on meeting him is acute, and gets worse with each passing amphibian.  But the quest is so important that most continue kissing and retching.  A number of the women I met were newly out of a recent failed relationship or marriage, so they came to the game pre-agitated.

Who is “happy” in such a situation?  Only the emotionally cauterized and mentally incompetent.

It’s a shame the reviewer didn’t keep reading.  Women who have the fiber to talk with passion and candor about their love lives don’t sit still.  They push ahead.  (I saw: I was in touch with them for years.)  Not all outcomes were happy–where in life are they?– but most were, and some were dramatically better, and in very different ways, ranging from traditional second marriages (with much more appropriate mates) to spectacularly kinky lifestyles. Everyone thought herself better off–and a better partner–now than when she was nubile.

Sad?  A better word would be “inspiring.”


No, she isn’t


When I heard (weeks after everyone else) that People Magazine had crowned 40-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, I was startled at the magnitude of my reaction.  (I was startled that I had a reaction at all.) 

My issue was not looks.  She’s a pretty woman.  (But not in the class of, say, Halle Berry, at 40.) 


My problem with Gwyneth goes back to Shakespeare In Love, a wonderfully clever and romantic movie about Shakespeare, shaped like one of his own comedies, with characters in disguise wreaking havoc on the rest.  Gwyneth plays a pants role.  Since women were forbidden from appearing on the stage, she disguises herself as a young man and is hired to act in Shakespeare’s plays.  From her mouth comes some of the most beautiful lines (this one from Romeo and Juliet):

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

This is one of the few DVDs I have ever bought (to watch on a trip). Then I made a terrible mistake.  I opened one of the ‘feature’ additions on the disk, some candid interviews with the creators and cast.  I do not remember her exact words, and will not go back to relive the trauma, but she said something like: This was a really cool movie, you know, we had so much fun.

Through my boyish simplicity, I had completely believed her in the movie, had invested in her all the intelligence, wit, and charm of her character.  She shattered it.  Now she was just a semi-literate actress reading lines exactly as directed.

I hoped that with her new title she might help me past my pain.  But the World’s Most Beautiful Woman said (among other things), “I was very, very honored. It’s a huge title, even though it’s not true. I always see what’s wrong with me. I’ve got crow’s feet, and one boob is sagging more than the other.”

We remain unreconciled.

It is ironic that she is not even the hottest woman in her own family.  This is her mother, the very classy, very middle-aged Blythe Danner.  Now here is a woman who could rock a man’s world!  Most beautiful?  Not to a young eye, but certainly to a wiser, older one.


For these extra years we thank Thee. Now what?


Last Saturday night I had the good fortune to be at the Metropolitan Opera for a performance of The Dialogue of the Carmelites. Its unlikely subject is the Carmelite order of nuns. The story is based on a historical event–during the Reign of Terror (several years into the French Revolution), the Carmelite convent in Compiègne, France was ordered by the civil government to close and the nuns to cease their religious carryings-on.  They refused, and 16 were accused of treason and eventually executed by guillotine in Paris.

The last scene of the opera is one of the most electrifying finales I have seen of anything, ever.  The imprisoned nuns, surrounded by a crowd baying for their heads, sing together in soul-rending yet grateful prayer.  Then, one by one, they slowly walk off stage, each exit followed by a terrifying shriek of the fall of the guillotine blade.  The sound of prayer gradually softens as the remaining group of nuns diminishes.  When the last one goes off to her death, the crowd disperses, silently.  Finis.

Opera Review Carmelites

Here is the final scene.  It is worth nine minutes of your life, I promise.

I hadn’t seen the opera in about 25 years, but well remembered the finale.  What I did not recall was the end of the first act, which this time was just as jolting.  The Mother Superior of the convent is not out of Central Casting–wise, loving, maybe a little bossy. This Prioress is skeptical and scalding. She is dealing not only with the French Revolution, but also the end of her own life.  From her bed she sings, wretchedly:

God has become a shadow….  Alas! I have been a nun for thirty years, and Prioress for twelve. I have been thinking of death each day of my life, and now it does not help me at all.

In her final moments one nun tells her she need now only concern herself with God. The Prioress shrieks:

Who am I, wretched as I am at this moment, to concern myself with Him!  Let Him first concern Himself with me!

The other nuns are not allowed to hear this blasphemy.  They are devoted to her.  The youngest novitiate sings to her friend:

If I could save the life of our dear Mother, I would gladly surrender my poor little life, such as it is.  Yes, on my word, I would offer my life…  But really, when one is 59, is it not high time to die?


This was the signal moment for me.  It has only been a matter of months since I watched my mother’s final struggle in her bed.  She did not have the Prioress’s ferocity because she did not feel betrayed (by God, or anyone).  But she did not go gentle into that good night.

I happen to be 59, the Prioress’s age, and the novitiate nailed middle age for me: Had I been living 220 years ago, it would now be high time to die; instead I may be granted, as my mother was, up to perhaps 25 extra years.  My last years will still be ‘last years.’  The dividend is dropped somewhere in the middle.  No one knows exactly where, which is why no one knows just when middle age begins and ends, and no one is comfortable with the idea of either entering or exiting it.  Small wonder, then, that there is no libretto, especially in matters of love.

One thing is for certain, though.  This is perhaps the least needy period of life, and small kindnesses go a long way.  In the opera, charity is offered reluctantly, and at great cost.  In our lives, charity costs little; why not offer it, and see what happens?


Bottoms up! But which one?

The Triumph of Pan 1636 copy

Drinking Alcohol, Good for Middle-aged Women: Study

A new Harvard University report concludes that women who regularly consume modest amounts of alcohol are more likely than teetotalers to be in good physical and mental health in middle age. The report is based on a study that has been tracking 14,000 women since 1976.

What, exactly, is the salubrious effect of alcohol?  The lead author of the study said, “It’s not clear exactly how alcohol benefits health, but it may have something to do with how alcohol reduces inflammation in the body.”  Experiments have shown that moderate alcohol intake “can reduce inflammation, promote healthy cholesterol levels, improve insulin resistance, and help blood vessels function properly…. Those mechanisms underlie a lot of chronic diseases and conditions.”

Large studies that are based on responses to questionnaires have inherent limitations.  While clinical trials can measure the effect of one drug by comparing it to the use of a placebo, this study must deal with many variables that affect long-term health, and there can be thorny the-chicken-or-the-egg issues. The researchers took into account many of them, including  diet, smoking, educational attainment, and family history of disease. Still, said one gerontologist, “we really can’t tease out what aspect is good for you.”

One variable not mentioned in the report is often correlated with drinking: sex. Sex is not only good exercise (well, in my case, not always).  It also causes the release of chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins, which reduce blood pressure and promote psychological well-being–which in itself an important factor in long-term health.

But again, which comes first? Are women who drink moderately in better overall health, and thus more receptive to their carnal instincts? Or are women who like sex also more devoted to other basic pleasures, such as drinking?

The only medically proven solution is to do both.  While you drink moderately, you are much better off like woman A, above, than women B, below.


I’m biased, I admit it

201112_policetapeA brief article in the news the other day said that a 21-year-old man was stabbed to death by a 61-year-old woman.  They were not acquaintances. She had no criminal record.

My reaction was: He did something foul and got what he deserved. I did not for a moment consider another explanation.

But that’s prejudice! This young man could have been very sweet and cuddly; the woman might have just gotten a nifty knife, maybe as a present, and wanted to try it out. Or she could have been stalking stairways at 4 AM looking to mix it up.

I could not find any more details. She was arrested and charged with murder and weapon possession. She claimed she had acted in self-defense. Who doesn’t?

Now I’m thinking of other scenarios. In that neighborhood, fortune tellers abound. Perhaps after a consultation, Madame Soul foretold headlines in the woman’s future. This was the one I first saw:

Middle Aged Woman Stabs Young Man to Death in Crown Heights  Cops Say   Crown Heights New York

Not so bad.  But the following day I saw this one:

Elderly woman charged in slaying of Brooklyn man

That might have pushed her over.  Elderly? “Elderly” women don’t get the best of young men in rumbles.

It’s a shame that she didn’t realize that the New York Post would get it right. Then she might not have done it in the first place.

61 year old woman kills 21 year old man  cops say


Failure of the gods–clarification


I have been told that my remarks about Michael Jordan were not fair–fifteen years is not so great a disparity in age. That’s true. What particularly bothered me was that Michael Jordan is an intelligent guy, and–not to disparage the intelligence of bikini models–he might have chosen a woman more his match. She’s primally hot, mind you, but his interest in his first wife waned as her youth did, and one can guess what will happen with this one. His lawyer did, and wrote an iron-clad pre-nup.

This basketball player has always exuded class.


Julius Erving (Dr J) was not only a magnificent, dramatic presence on the court, he remains elegant and beautifully spoken.  He also married a beautiful woman, had a number of children (four), and then divorced her.

This is his second wife. What awaits her?Julius Erving and Dorys Madden

The greatest white basketball player of our time was Larry Bird.


Conflicts occur on the court, and here is one he had with Dr J.

Could this have been an impromptu chat about attitudes toward women? Could he have been commenting on Dr J’s extra-curricular fertilizations (one of which produced a professional tennis player, who he didn’t publicly acknowledge until she was playing at Wimbledon)?

Larry Bird has a different take on marriage. Here he is with his first and only wife.


Why is he different? In part it is provenance: he is a small-town boy from Indiana, and Michael and Dr J are metropolitan/cosmopolitan (and handsome).

The difference is certainly not about race. Here is very white man Kenny Rogers.Kenny Rogers, Wanda Rogers

Then again, Kenny is in show biz, and many men in show biz make asses of themselves this way. They are the epitome of male simplicity.

I would like to post a gallery of the best “May to New Year’s Eve” marriages. Please send names and/or photos. The earlier wives of these men were lucky to escape–which they did with huge divorce settlements. Perhaps not a bad way to go: early life in the limelight, then a very comfortable midlife and thereafter.

Once again, gods fail men


Men desire young women.  They’re the fertile ones, and that’s how we’re wired.

But in middle age, most men would rather have a circumcision than start a family–excruciating for first-timers, and incomprehensibly painful for those who have already been through it.  What they need in a lover is exactly what women their age have to offer–comfort, kindness, sensuality.

Can middle-aged men learn to want the ones they should want? Not without consultation. The Gods of Malehood tell them what to drink, what to wear, where to bank, what to drive–surely they know who to bed and who to wed.

Here, as in most ways, gods fail men. Michael Jordan, the World’s Supreme Athlete, just turned 50. He decided to marry for a second time.  He chose a 35-year-old one-time bikini model from Cuba.



His first wife was also a model.  His first divorce cost him $168 million.


If everyone wants to Be Like Mike, what hope is there?