I tend to be a sounding board for thoughts, recipient of questions, keeper of secrets and a holder of confessions once people find out my profession. It doesn’t matter where I am. Grocery store, ballet class, football games, emails, texts… And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like holding this space for others and I am a vault. One of the benefits of this dynamic for me is that I start to see trends, commonalities with what is being said to me. When people share this part of their lives with me, it is often cradled with a component of “Is this okay?”, “Am I the only one?”. I know —Nope. They are not the only one. This is a relief for them. And for me too. I am not immune to any of this myself just because this is my life’s work. Living my life is my life’s work too.
If you’ve seen any of my social media things this week, you’ll know that I spent time at my alma mater this past weekend with a group of dear friends and around two classes that graduated before and after me. We are all somewhere in our 40’s and at one point at our tailgate I looked around and marveled at us. I seriously did a 360 and was surrounded by the most amazingly, beautiful, wounded, happy, trying- to -figure- it all out souls and it got me thinking. Today is also the 10th anniversary of the death of someone I’ve written about before. The timing isn’t coincidental I’m sure. When I’m thinking, it typically rounds back to sexuality.
Sexuality in your 40’s is really fascinating. You often hear this time period being described with a form of a midlife crisis. Growing up I thought that meant it was a guy who bought a flashy red car and dumped his homily wife for a trophy wife who was just marrying him for his money. I’m sure that happens with some but now that I’ve hit this stage of life myself, I see it in a whole new way. And it isn’t just men, women experience a “something” at this life stage too. We ALL do.
I see this phase of life less like a mid- life crisis but more of an awakening. This awakening, however, is a complicated brew. Some of this growing awareness is amazing and beautiful and other parts can be painful and heart wrenching.
But for most people at this point in their lives, IT happens. IT is unavoidable.
The awakening is inevitable but how you approach it and what you do with the gifts of this awakening determines a lot about your life, your essence and your sexuality. But like most things sexuality related, we don’t take the time to REALLy examine what is going on and make purposeful decisions with it.
So why is this? It boils down to when you are in your 40’s you have probably lived half of your life. If you are fortunate. You may have about 20-30 more years of real vibrancy and enjoying full health. Now that’s an ass kicker kind of statement.
And with everything, sex and sexuality comes into play within this juncture.
The details differ for everyone. Here are some quick snapshots of things I’ve experienced personally and witnessed in others with their awakenings. You may not read your exact details but I bet they will sound familiar nonetheless. Read each section and take the time to ask yourself the questions and really, really take the time to reflect on your answers. And if you are blessed to have a spouse or good friend or family member, talk with them about your answers and musings and ask them about their answers too.
The state of your marriage….
Have you been married for 20 years and look over at your husband and feel pangs of pure hate with every freaking snore noise but then adore him when you see how amazing he is with your son? Do you go to a party and look over at your spouse and feel like the luckiest one there because your spouse is your best friend and soul filler and you can’t believe you’ve lived almost half your life with him? Have you been married 18 years and who you are right now is not who would chose the women you come home to after work? Is your marriage good but not great? Have you had an affair and toyed with leaving your spouse but just couldn’t tear your family up but the after-affect of the never- discovered affair left scars? Are you happily married, in love with your spouse but other life stuff weighs on you?
Most of us have experienced a significant relationship or marriage at this point and it most definitely has been peppered with highs and lows. How we dealt with those variances and the meaningful we put about love and our souls greatly affects our vibrancy and connection with ourselves. You really get to know yourself through the intimate dance of marriage and this can either bring you great confidence and energy for life or damper your spirit and color your essence. For most, you experience both of those things in a long term relationship.
Each of us has been divorced personally or knows someone who is. It is that common now. Divorce does a number on you. No matter the circumstances, what led up to the divorce was a big deal and how the divorce was handled effects you. All of it comes at a price. It is a death of sorts without the ritual and often without a lot of support. There is often a sense of ‘dirty’ or ‘it may catch’ when someone divorces. Some gather but others scatter in the process. There are so many losses with it. Especially if children are involved. Then there is the matter of dating after divorce. There are great things about this and tough things. But it is a force you must reckon with at some point post-divorce and that reckoning demands a lot of soul searching.
Married people see single people and can have envy of the freedom, the new sex and butterflies single people have a chance to experience. That feeling of renewed energy and spirit as you explore yourself by seeing how new people experience a new you. Single people can feel envy of the companionship and certainty that can come with marriage. That feeling of being someone’s number one. It is the grass is greener dilemma.
A lot of people have affairs. They just do. Most aren’t ever found out. Some are discovered. Regardless of the secrecy or not, affairs change you and they are not a benign endeavor.
Affairs are defined differently for everyone. What you may consider an affair is not to another. It could be that quick but hot eye contact at the neighborhood party or the Target towel aisle. It could be an emotional affair that started innocently on Facebook but carries over to emails that have to be carefully erased. Affairs can be a great conversation at the bar on a business trip or a girls’ night out that ended with a romp in bed with a nameless someone. It can be your best friend’s husband for years or a hooker you hire to pretend for the hour that you are something special. You may have one, you may have many, you may have none.
People have them for many reasons but there is something that these relationships fulfill which means there is something that is lacking.
Of course not everyone has one-either because of values, relationship happiness or lack of opportunity.
But I can tell you it happens a lot-right or wrong. And the ripple effects of it are enormous. Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity is a fascinating read. Not everyone will agree with her views and I’m not saying I do but it is a must-read at this age in my eyes. It is a conversation starter with your significant other or within yourself that allows you to dive into a really hard topic. Monogamy. The point, the purpose, the value of it. This topic deserves a pause to ponder in your life. You may think you are immune but you are not.
Kids are fantastic. I adore, adore, adore mine. But let’s be honest. They can suck the life out of you without you even realizing it. If you are a present, meaningful parent, you put your kids first more often then you don’t. And there is a price for that. For you, for your soul, your dreams, your independence. A lot of people in their 40’s have children at the stage where you see the ‘finish line’ and they are becoming their own little adult selves. This is such a fascinating journey to witness in another. Especially someone you adore and used to changed diapers for daily.
Yes, having kids brings you tons of joy and often enriches you to levels you can’t describe and becoming a parent through my own body as well as through stepchildren has been the greatest joy in my life. It just isn’t the full picture of how parenthood affects you.
Becoming a parent forces you to get to know yourself on a whole new level. I used to laugh at the quote being stated to your child “You are making it difficult for me to be the parent I want to be.” Children are a reflection of ourselves-the rough edges and smooth lines. At this stage of our lives, there is no escaping it. Becoming a parent also provides the circumstance for you to reexamine your own family of origin. This can bring a lot of healing but also open old wounds too.
If you wanted to have children but couldn’t or didn’t, this affects you too. Even with the wonders of IVF, time is ticking loudly or the bell has already rung. With the exceptions of of adoption or stepchildren, you have faced a finality in that area of your life. For some that is something to celebrate and for others it is shrouded in mourning.
My mom used to say ‘pregnancy is not a benign condition’ and now I realize, being a parent isn’t either.
Your body has changed. Boy has it. You have moments of wishing you had really appreciated what you didn’t like in your 20’s. You long for the days you could eat whatever you wanted or when you didn’t know better about the crap you stuffed in your body and no guilt over. Childbirth, beer guts, butt dimples, deflated or sagging breasts or man boobs….whatever your thing is. You have it. Losing hair, graying hair, way over dyed hair. Wrinkles that won’t go away, hair that grows in places you never expected. So you face aging. You face your mortality. Every. Time. You. Look. In. The. Mirror. Some days you don’t care. Other days it hits you. So you do little things like get a nose hair clipper or a personal trainer. You sign up for that marathon because of course you can still do it! Or you may go further by doing Botox and fillers. Breast augmentation. Tummy tucks. Or maybe you embrace your beautiful, aging body that has brought you to this point. Again, no matter where you are with your relationship with your body, you are forced to think about it at this age because your body won’t let you ignore it. Is it time to drop those extra 30 pounds or time to accept and love them? Do you embrace aging and love your laugh lines or do you have a new best friend-Botox?
At this point, you’ve experienced some kind of health situation. A kidney stone. A torn ACL. IBS. Cancer. In you, with a loved one. And you’ve also seen little things like the aches and pains that weren’t there 5 years ago surface more frequently and realize you have to work a little harder for less results in the gym. You’ve learned more of the annoying things like you probably shouldn’t eat steak every night or pizza after 10pm. You’ve tried diets and health food crazes. You swore you’d meditate every day and de-stress your life. Work less and play more. You may have seen differences in how your body functions sexually- E. D. or lack of pleasure in orgasm. But through all of these things, you felt it. You thought about it and it affects your relationship with vibrancy and pleasure. You are forced to make some conscious choices about your health and that conversation speaks directly to your essence. Your soul. Your sexuality. In your 40’s, your health is a huge play in your sexuality as it demands some attention through your sexual life and within your sexuality.
No one gets through life unscathed. No one. And for the vast majority of people in their 40’s, you’ve seen tragedy. You’ve experienced it in your life, your friends and family, the community, our country, the world. It affects people differently but “life” certainly changes us.
The pressures/successes/disappoints in work, financial concerns, being in the sandwiched place of raising kids and starting to take care of our parents, life not feeling like you thought it would, and the list goes on ALL have a part to play in forcing the awakening.
By making it to this age, you have most likely had your wake up call. With that moment, you are forced to make some decisions about your view of the world. The world sucks and is a place to fear so you put a lot of energy towards thwarting pain and heartache or you see the world as full of miracles and you open yourself up to them and seek them in your life. Or something in between.
Most have a revisiting of spirituality. An examination. A change of religion, a cease of religious practice, new worldviews, whatever. But the conversation exists. When you know you are lucky to have survived to this point as a human and you decide you want to thrive in your remaining years, you have some choices to make.
So again, we are back to soul searching. It is all relevant. And it is all drawing you to that awakening.
So how does this all relate to sexuality?
It is that essence piece again. Who we are outside the bedroom directly relates to who we are inside of it. And vice versa. Each life stage comes with different joys and challenges but this 40’s thing is a special kind of something. That awakening piece emerges loudly.
Do not ignore it. Embrace it. Acknowledge it. Love it.
Personally, I know for me, the details of some parts of my life may be yucky but as a woman in my 40’s, I am the happiest with myself I’ve even been. I really know who I am. The good, the bad, the ugly and the amazing. That is one of my gifts at this stage. I adore my younger self in a kind of ‘bless your heart’ kind of way and I work daily to do right by my 70 year old future self. I live in gratefulness almost every day. I’m kinder, more laid back and have a better temperament than I ever had. I know humbleness as much as I know confidence. I have more wrinkles, more folds but I really appreciate what my body had seen me through. I love that I’m aging and feel confident in my body. I do some things to help improve it and I’m at peace with that.
But mainly, I’ve learned to live in the present with joy and stillness. I’m living my life. I’m not being run by it. I’ve been through a rash of shit and I am here. A lot aren’t. I love life and I love feeling vibrant. I want others to agree with my life choices but I’m okay when they don’t. Mostly. I don’t have it all figured out by any means but I have arrived to a place where I know I can handle things and I’m not afraid to live as I go through life’s peaks and valleys. Life didn’t turn out how I thought—some of it has been more amazing and spectacular than I could have ever dreamed up and some of it has been harder and uglier than I would have ever wished upon anyone.
Who doesn’t have a story? Who doesn’t have joy and shit at this point in their life?
For all of the 40’s somethings…..Deep down, we know we are lucky we’ve made it this long. We probably should have died with some of the stupid shit we did. We saw some who did. We’ve seen amazing people go through awful things. We’ve had health scares and we’ve experienced tragedy. But we are alive.
We’ve had a lot of happiness and joys. We’ve made good friends and impacted others’ lives. We’ve seen such beauty and love that is is overwhelming at times. We’ve laughed, we’ve celebrated. WE LIVED!!
At the end of the day, we are old enough to know to be grateful we are the fortunate few to be alive in our 40’s and wise enough to know that as each decade arrives this circle grows smaller and we never know if we’ll still be alive to have the honor to make these kinds of decisions. Do not forsake the honor of having choices. Do not squander the gift of your awakening. It is a privilege to be in the decade of our 40’s.
What is your gift to YOURSELF at this stage? What do YOU want the rest of your life to FEEL like? To look like? What is the legacy you are leaving for your family, your work, our world?
What are the gifts of your awakening? And what are you going to do about them?