At 27 I married a man, a neurosurgeon with whom I was working as a medical social worker at New York Hospital while also getting my Psychoanalytic Institute training. By 34 I had stopped working and was divorced, with two small children, and child support totaling $10,000 a year. Fortunately, I had already completed three years of family therapy training: two at the Ackerman Institute and one at The Westchester Institute for the Family, so I quickly turned to trying to get my career off the ground.
I don’t date things relative to menopause...mine seemed so gradual. I was getting older, hot flashes, no period; in retrospect it really wasn’t such a big deal. In my 40s (the 1980s), I lived part-time for seven years with a man who was kind, organized, and helpful (he cooked and ironed my daughter’s clothes!). I liked him but was not in love with him, and he knew that, so we both knew that eventually, he would move on since he wanted to be married.
A few years later I re-met a poet with whom I’d been in love in my early 20s. It was a passionate, three-year, totally impossible relationship, which I knew, but I did enjoy it.
Then I was alone again until I re-met Betsy, my now wife, when I was 60. I’d originally met her as the fiancé of a family friend when we were both 21. Betsy got married at 22, had three kids, got divorced, and was then with another woman for 25 years until 1999. She and I had loosely kept in touch through my lesbian sister, who knew Betsy and her partner.
When I re-met Betsy in 2000, I pursued her deliberately. I had thought about having relationships with women because my sister is gay and part of a very devoted gay community on the North Shore, many of whose members I knew well I thought abstractly about having a relationship with a woman. About two years earlier, when I was 58, I had found myself attracted to one of these women, with whom I was skiing for a week, and we made a date to meet. Then she suddenly died!
I identify by my name, not by my sexuality. My sister has identified as gay, and prior to that as “other,” because when we were young, it was not an issue unless it was. In my family, it was fraught for her because she did feel attracted to girls as a young person, and my mother had participated in lesbian relationships prior to marriage...1920’s bohemian life in NYC. My mother was terrified that my sister was gay...she was tomboyish, like my mother. But my mother also delighted in my sister’s likeness to her. Complicated families!
As a mental health professional, I understand sexuality to exist on a continuum. It is sometimes either/or. Many people can be happily sexual with both sexes.
I was always moved more by the relational habits and values of a particular person, rather than moved by sexual feelings about this one or that one. I do not think it is better being with a woman. It is different. There is ease of familiarity in a relationship with someone so much like you. However, we both have the same bonding issues we had before. That is, the same fears and protective behaviors we learned in our first relationships, still pop up, making being truly present difficult. There is a lot to say about this!
How can we date so that our heart is not just protected, but nurtured enough to stay open?
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