On a trip to New Mexico, I’m hiking with four middle-aged women on a blue-sky day. All of a sudden, my friend Deb says, “I mean, I don’t need to have it every day, but if I go too long without it, I start to really miss it. And then when I do have it, I have to admit, it’s soooo good.” My friend Kathleen and I stare at Deb with identical raised eyebrows and suddenly piqued interest.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Deb exclaims, “We were talking about green chili!”
I guess, despite being in my mid-50s, my brain hasn’t yet given me the message that “this has to end.” I’m just not there yet, and there is no reason I should be. I have a right to want what my heart wants — and what my body wants. I can be a feminist and still want a man in my life. I can support Kamala Harris for a run in 2020 and still want a man in my bed. But, strangely, as a post-menopausal, divorced, heterosexual female, I find myself constantly needing to defend my position against comments like:
“You’re 56, not 26. Why do you need a man in your life?”
“If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t get married at all, although the kids were a nice bonus.”
“I’m just as happy hanging out with my girlfriends. You’ll put some effort into dating for a few years, and then you’ll give up, just like the rest of us. Men are just not worth the effort.”
In the four years since my former husband and I separated, I’ve heard it all — except what I hoped to hear: “There are a lot of nice men out there. Eventually you’ll fall in love again, but this time, with a person who sees your worth.” (Support! Empathy!)
I don’t need a man to complete me or to guarantee my own happiness — which would be youthfully foolish — but I’d like to have a partner again to share this adventure called life.
I love my dog to pieces, but having a dog is just not enough for me, and what’s so wrong with that? I also delight in the give-and-take of clever conversation, and my dog only really knows the phrase “eye drops.”
My homes were always filled with boys: Three older brothers, half a dozen guy roommates, and then a husband. I’ve had the pleasure of raising two sons and feeding their starving, adolescent friends. I like observing the different ways in which the male brain operates, which seems very different from the way my brain operates. I like watching men take things apart and put them back together. With some exceptions, of course, I also genuinely like being around men
I even liked being married. Although our marriage wasn’t my idea of what a marriage should be, I appreciated all of the tangible benefits: the ability to exchange ideas and receive instant feedback; the asset of two combined heads when making major life decisions; regular affection, and, yes, regular sex — which is healthy and normal. And while it’s true that I’m a loving and generous person in most respects, I really enjoyed having one specific person to love: my partner.
This is the unwelcome part: I am frequently criticized by other women — and also by men — for trying too hard or not trying hard enough; for having unrealistic expectations, any expectations, or low expectations; for having too much confidence or too little confidence; for being foolish, instead of brave. Gosh, why can’t I get it right? All these faults in such a short span of time.
Put yourself in my shoes, or in the shoes of all the other divorced women my age: We are in our prime — not dead.
After being in an active partnership and home-with-children for 30 years, frankly, being alone feels like a shameful waste of emotional resources. I don’t need all this alone time to “find myself.” I found myself, years ago, in love, marriage, motherhood, and a successful nursing career. I found myself in gardening, creating an inviting home, and touching every corner of my family’s life with beauty and nourishment. I’ve known who I am for a couple of decades, at least.
Now that I find myself alone, I feel like I don’t deserve to be alone, and I certainly don’t desire it. But here is a fact: Women my age, who exist in large numbers, are largely invisible. (We’d make great surveillance agents for a variety of clandestine spy agencies.) More and more, it looks like finding a partner is likely to not happen at all, and for me, that would be a very sad thing. I hate this ugly, squat, realization growing inside me that whispers like Gollum, “We may have to accept this, my Precious.”
Some women my age say they’re glad to be done with sex, they don’t miss their husbands, and they value their new-found freedom above all. But I wonder if this is true late at night when they’re alone in a cold bed in late February or a balmy summer night under a full moon? I mean, sometimes I lay awake at night and wonder, who will I view the Northern Lights with on my bargain, winter flight to Iceland? Will it just be me and the fur seals?
What happened to the need for human contact? For simple touch? For the warmth and pleasure of laying with another human body; for sharing deep, sensual kisses; for back rubs and foot rubs. For the simple caress of a hand resting gently on the nape of one’s neck? Not to mention strings of soft kisses in the same spot.
Sadly, I suspect that, given no nourishment, my own physical and emotional needs will wither and die like an unwatered garden. But I do not welcome this — I fear it. I want to be a whole, living, breathing, sensual human being for as long as I can. This is who I am.
Wendy Cohan lives in Missoula, Montana. She’s the author of The Better Bladder Book and What Nurses Know … Headaches. Her children’s story, “Annabelle Tames the Round Warrior,” was featured in the February 2018 issue of Cricket. Find out more about Cohan at wordsourcemedia.com.