When my friend said that, I nearly gagged on the tea I had been sipping. We were at a friend’s flat in north London, sat at their kitchen table late at night, discussing what kind of relationships we envisaged having post our break-ups.
Janet* is a social worker, mid to late to 50s, with an 18-year-old son, and was already divorced when I first met her last autumn.
I had been consulting her about adoption in the UK, the rules of adoption, as she is a specialist in the field and used to place kids into homes. I had wanted to know if, as a single woman, I would ever be eligible to adopt a child, an idea I had been playing with in my head.
Not that I intend to follow this through, mind. If I adopted now, I would be doing it for all the wrong reasons. It would be as selfish, pointless and unfair to the child as a couple having a baby to salvage their marriage. But I needed to know my options.
A soul connection
Janet and I first met during what I jokingly call a “hippy retreat” in Wales last autumn, where a group of women spent days meditating a lot and discussing spiritual development. I had taken an instant liking to her the moment I opened a door to let her in; she later told me she had felt an immediate connection with me as well.
Our life stories are amazingly similar. We both feel we actually met our Mr Right many years ago but the timing wan’t right. We both feel our marriages were a “compromise”, more like…I’ll get married because it’s what you do, and there may not be anyone else afterwards, not because we felt our ex-partners were soulmates. In fact, like me, she had seen numerous “signs” early on, indicating that the man who was to become her husband was not the right one for her, but she consciously chose to ignore them, as did I.
Same mistakes, same outcomes.
I happen to have a fair number close friends in their 50s and 60s. I treasure these friendships: having slightly more life experience than me, their insights are always eye-opening, as they are able to see life as it looks like from further down the path.
One important thing I found out from those friends is that just because you have reached your mature years, you don’t stop longing for a partner, for love, for companionship, and – best of all – sex.
For someone in their early 20s, 50s and 60s is “granny age”. You can’t/don’t want to imagine your grandmother having sex, do you, let alone, wanting sex (scandalous!). But that’s because our society is so ageist and our ideas about sexuality skewed in favour of artificial concepts of idealised happiness, which are always linked to beautiful young people.
The fact that so many women discover the true joy of sex long after their fertility shuts down is, in my view, a reason to be celebrated, not something to be disgusted at. More respect for your gran’s nooky time!
Companionship and sex
Janet would like a companion, she told me, by which she means no strings attached: someone to go out with from time to time, have tea with, have a laugh together without the pressure of an formal commitment. But she wants “a companion with sex,” because, she added, “I like sex.”
I cracked up when she blurted that out with a totally serious face but I was not laughing at her; I was laughing with her. Because I know exactly what she meant and why she wanted what she wanted.
Soon after a breakup, bereft as you may feel, any rushed attempts at a serious relationship are likely to end up in tears because you have so many emotional hung-ups to sort out. It is very easy to end up projecting a gripe you had against your ex on your new love interest and over-reacting to things that remind you of what used to bother you in your marriage or past relationship. An informal liaison is often safer at this stage than jumping into another risk-laden, long-term commitment.
We all seek companionship because we are human and hardwired to crave connectivity, especially if you have just been through the wringer exiting from an unhappy relationship.
Often, in bad marriage, sex fades out long before the relationship ends. Or, if it did still happen, the pleasure you got out of it may have been, as one married woman cleverly said in Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want, “like the pleasure of returning a borrowed book to a library”.
If a woman has been starved for some time of sex, good, pleasurable sex – not just-tick-the-box joyless copulation – I should think it is quite natural for her to crave it as part of the recovery process.
Or perhaps Janet’s libido has always been high, I have yet to ask her that question.
Here’s to Janet for her honesty and joyful middle-age sex. I hope she will find her dream companion soon. I’ll have what she’s having too.
[*Janet is not her real name.]