Cynthia Spillman goes head to head with some age-old myths on sex and the suddenly single.
You're better off travelling alone than with a bad companion
My French grandmother regularly used to cite this African proverb, having had to endure my flamboyant grandfather's 25 year long affair with a woman whom he'd met in a shoe shop. But the sad truth is that my demure, codependent but highly accomplished grandmother, one of the first women ever to win the prestigious "Prix de Rome" for fashion design, lived in abject denial of her sexuality. Whilst I don't condone my grandfather's behaviour, the fact that his wife chose to share a bed with her adult daughter rather than with him, was hardly conducive to a lifetime of sizzling in the marital sauna.
How many of us, 'Suddenly Single' in the 21st century, believing the ancient illusion that we're so incomplete without a Sexual Significant Other, are prone to throw ourselves at anything with a pulse? Who hasn't stayed with someone way beyond their relationship sell-by date just because of the fear that nobody else will ever fancy them? Which middle-aged 'recycled' person hasn't at least once been utterly convinced that they'll never, ever have the opportunity to have sex again and that they're liable to, God forbid, turn into a born-again virgin?
Middle age needn't mean elasticated waist bands and Velcro fastening shoes!
As a 52-year-old, thrice-wed woman myself, I've entertained each and every one of the above erroneous beliefs at some point. A struggling single parent for many years, at times I felt convinced that I was going to die alone. But it's always important to remember that a feeling does not a fact make. Do as I - eventually - did; have a reality check. It can be very helpful to put pen to paper and to list your fears. Often when exposed in this manner, the Fear Bogeyman will evaporate rapidly.
Lucy, a 43 year old divorcee, told me: " When I split up with my husband, having been with him since I was a teenager, I was convinced that there must be something wrong with me because I'd never really fancied him. Then a few months after my divorce, I embarked upon a hot and heavy relationship with a much younger man. It was a delicious experience, and while it burned out after a little while, it was life-affirming and smashed the belief that I was past it. It may sound corny, but for the first time I really found myself sexually."
It ain't over till the fat lady sings!
It can be daunting to suddenly face the singles' jungle after being in a relationship. What can appear at first to be the equivalent of a sexual sweet shop can quickly pale and lead you to a place of despair. All around you seem to be younger, lither bodies. You go to nightclubs and feel like you're trapped in a hideous meat market where everyone seems to be displaying heavenly haunches while you are just trying to hide your weathered saddlebags. Whether you were the " dumper" or the " dumpee" or you've been recently bereaved, pain is pain and loss is loss; your confidence is bound to be affected. But have faith; as Lucy found out to her delight, recycled relationship life need not be about hiding your cellulite inside magic pants forever more.
Close encounters of an intimate kind
When you have emerged from the wreckage of a relationship, it's important to be incredibly kind to yourself. Take care of your body. Eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep. Good sex - whether practised alone or with another - starts in the head and migrates south. Don't be afraid to enjoy your own sensuality; get familiar with your body's likes and dislikes. Ditch those ancient feelings of guilt. If you're a woman, buy some Duracell batteries, shake the dust off your Rampant Rabbit, and don't worry about keeping the neighbours awake! Rich activity often follows a fallow period of inactivity. When your next sexual ship comes in, you want to be hot to trot and ready for action.
Rewrite your sexual script
As Forrest Gump said, " love is as love does". Draw up your list of " non-negotiables"; define what's acceptable and what isn't for your next relationship, but do keep an open mind. Don't be too pushy - it sends out the wrong signals and reeks of cloying emotional neediness. Stay balanced in your emotions and in your approach. (That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't go after what you want.) Had I not written a letter to my gorgeous current husband, Peter, after our first meeting, I'd never have seen him again. I put in the action and was rewarded with the results. He was very flattered by my " go-get-him" approach. Ditch your mental " musturbation" - ie, the other person must do all the chasing - and cut yourself some slack. Above all use the wisdom gifted to you by dint of your maturity. You surely have some - you've survived this long!
Progress not perfection
It can be daunting to re-engage sexually with a new partner. Your relationship break-up may have been acrimonious or you may still be mourning the death of a loved one. It's important in these cases to give time, time. Be patient with yourself and keep an open mind. Meeting Mr or Ms Right is a numbers game. Relax, make new friends and at least at first, try to keep your expectations low.
It's an inside job
Having good sex with a new partner really is an inside job. You have to feel good about yourself first - then you've got a much better chance of attracting the best sexual partner. When you attract the your new partner - be it Mr/Ms Right or Mr/Ms Right Now, put your sexual baggage down, and don't be afraid to ask for what you want and need sexually. Doing this doesn't transform you into the latest recruit for Sex Addicts Anonymous. It means that you believe in your innermost being that you deserve to enjoy good sex.
The proof of the pudding is truly in the eating. Look at some of our most famous celebrities. Joan Collins and Jane Fonda both have recently commented that what keeps them feeling so fantastic in their seventies is the fact that they still enjoy active sex lives. Satisfying sex is our birthright. We needn't look like Joan or Jane either. So what if you're recycled? That certainly provides you with the priceless gift of experience.
Love is not love which alters, when it alteration finds
I'd love to take the credit but these are the words of William Shakespeare. The message is there's hope. Let me cite three further cases from my personal experience. My 31-year-old daughter, who had been severely facially disfigured in a car accident, feared that because of this she'd never find anyone. Eventually she moved to a place within herself in which she was finally able to do the necessary interior " Work" and the emotional barriers finally came tumbling down. Not long after, she met a fantastic chap = also " recycled" like many of us. They're now living together and are blissfully happy.
My husband's 80-year-old mother was as miserable as sin after having lost her husband three years ago after a happy 56-year-long marriage. She then went on a cruise this past January, met a lovely man on the fourth day, and we attended their wedding in July. He's 85 and they didn't want to miss a second of joint life. If someone who had enjoyed such a long relationship can find the courage to reconnect intimately with another, then what's stopping you?
And a bit of encouragement for you chaps. My uncle married for the very first time at 85. When asked where he and his new wife intended to live, he replied with a twinkle in his eye, "where the best schools are located." He died six years later and I can assure you it was with a smile on his face.
Finally - returning to my dear old grandma. She never did become " hot to trot" in an obviously sexual way herself, but did eventually find her own alternative outlets. After my grandfather died in 1966, having spent more than three-quarters of her life in a highly codependent relationship, she really blossomed. She began to draw again and to travel extensively on her own. In her mid-eighties, she was to be found wearing a kimono, sitting cross-legged at the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, supping a pint of lager. Which proves my point beautifully - "si on veut, on peut".
Relational Recycling Golden Nuggets
- There isn't " only one" person out there - we all are presented with many opportunities within our lives to connect intimately. Keep your eyes open - don't get trapped by your own expectations and consequently miss the boat!
- Accept that recycled people may have emotional baggage. Be compassionate with yourself and others.
- Progress not perfection - but if you need professional help, don't be afraid to ask for it. Seeking support is a form of strength not weakness. Relate offers many different types of counselling including psychosexual therapy.
- Remember, the other person is probably just as nervous as you. Good, open, honest communication is vital. Go at your own pace and always follow your instincts.
- Accept that you're also allowed to give yourself a sexual holiday for a while. Your sexuality can find another outlet until you're really ready to engage with another. Dance, art, mediation and creative writing can all be good for releasing sexual energy. This doesn't mean that you're turning into a celibate monk for the rest of your days.
- When you do reconnect intimately, don't get horribly drunk, do practise safe sex and take it easy. You've all the time in the world.
Note: Some names have been changed.