News flash: We change as we age. Often, that statement is followed by a litany of changes in physique and tone, and simply state the obvious. What about the effect of these changes on our sexuality? Is sex really about only one thing: Our attraction to another human being?
Why is it that one man trades in his wife for a younger model, while another still treasures the one he has? Why does one woman stop making love to her husband because he's got a spare tire, while another one grabs his "love handles" during sex?
As a sex therapist, I listen to so many reasons people stopped having sex with a partner, but the one that is perhaps most heart-breaking is when someone tells me that he or she has stopped feeling sexually attracted.
If sexual attraction means that the chemistry that once was there has faded, that I can understand. It happens in most every relationship, sometimes within just a few months of meeting. But usually what they mean is that their partner no longer looks the same as they once did.
When I met my husband, he had a head full of dark hair. Now there is so little that he shaves it nearly off. The first time he did that, I rubbed the fuzz left on his scalp and commented, "Dude, you feel like a tennis ball!" He's much more polite about the fact that when we met I was trim enough on our second date to wear a bikini. Now, I wear a one piece with power mesh. Do either of us care? Not really.
I heard someone say today, "I need to love my partner differently now than when we were younger." Yes, that's right. It's a lesson that should have been learned a long time ago, but in our superficial looks-centric culture, we seem to have dropped the concepts of loving someone from the inside out.
The first book my husband gave to me was The Velveteen Rabbit, which I had never read before. Published in 1922 and republished many times since, it tells the story of a toy rabbit who learns that he can become real to his owner through love. In fact, the shabbier the little rabbit gets from being hugged, nuzzled, and caressed, the more certain it is that he is loved. Sometimes we call our marriage (we celebrated our 26th anniversary last week) "the velveteen marriage." We have loved each other long enough that our once beautiful exteriors are irrevocably changed, but no matter. We are real to one another, and that's all that matters now.
I say all this knowing that Allergan--makers of Botox(TM)--is but a 5-minute walk from my Newport Beach, CA office. And far be it from me to tell someone not to get a procedure done if they believe it will make them happy. Here in the plastic surgery capital of the world, people do look damn good.
It's the expectations I worry about: The certainty that fewer wrinkles will mean more love. I have never heard anyone say about a partner, "I love her (or him) now more than ever since they had a facelift / lost 50 lbs. / took up Pilates or kickboxing."
It isn't our partner who has to change: It is ourselves. As we age, we need to love differently. Indeed, we need to become enamoured of a partner worn with time, just as we are worn. Like the velveteen rabbit, we need to see that love makes us real. As for sexual attraction, what is sexy in a partner later in life is--must be--different than what was sexy a decade, or two, or three, or four, ago.
With this post, I'd like to announce that I am now in the Blogger's Circle for Vibrant Nation. VibrantNation.com is the leading online community for Baby Boomer women – the place where they connect and support each other on issues unique to life after 50, including fashion, beauty, family, relationships, work, money, and sex.