Romance, flirtation, flattery, the flutter of uncertainty. Will he call back? Was it just a line? Should I wait to sleep with him even though I'm dying to?
These are the first feelings and thoughts about after-marriage partners that I find when interviewing women who are divorced in midlife.
The earliest after-marriage partner is someone to drop weight for and dress up for and fantasize about having sex with -- even though one was taught to wait past the third date. It's not much different from the thrall of adolescent love, except for the fact that many of today's women in the ThirdAge lust for younger men and worry about something other than pregnancy.
One 58-year-old I interviewed described the dilemma she faces when her buff young golf coach lets his hand caress her behind. "I'm dying to go to bed with him, but I don't know if I can hold my stomach in that long!"
What women don't want in the after-marriage partner -- provided the woman is healthy, working and financially independent -- is another marriage. Here is a typical response I receive on the ThirdAge discussion board:
"I am a 59-year-old divorced gal, married for 29 years, divorced since I was 50. I have an active sex life with men younger than myself. Men my age usually cannot perform sexually. Since I am a financially independent gal and work full time, I just really want a man for the sexual fulfillment, to have fun with and enjoy, but not marry."
Today, women in the ThirdAge are most often the ones asking for the divorce. When they see the vista of what I call their "Second Adulthood" opening up after 50, if they are stuck in a deadened or abusive marriage, they may be willing to take the leap of divorce. Boomer women in their 50s are most likely to be working and not wholly financially dependent, and society no longer punishes empty-nest moms for divorce.
In fact, two-thirds of divorces after age 40 today are initiated by wives, as found in a representative sample by AARP the Magazine: "The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond," which surveyed 1,147 people ages 40 to 79 who had divorced in their 40s, 50s or 60s.
The AARP study found that most women said they filed for divorces because of physical or emotional abuse, infidelity, or drug and alcohol abuse. Often their husbands were blindsided by the walkout; they probably would never have changed. So it's no wonder that so many of these women are not eager to risk again the not-so-tender trap of marriage.
The second level of desire for an after-marriage partner is pretty basic: A man who isn't a drunk or addict; who doesn't have to own them or put them down or sleep around to salve his own fears of inadequacy or aging; and who won't hit them no matter how volatile the argument. Call it simple sensitivity.
The learning curve is steep and exciting for a woman who starts dating again in midlife. As one divorcée in her 50s told me, "I have spent a lifetime observing relationships, and not one experience has been a greater teacher then being single in midlife."
Another told me, "That's the part that's so exciting -- being 50 and trying on new behaviors and seeing what comes back."
The earliest after-divorce partner is often a transitional lover, who lights a woman's fire -- for the first time! Such women often tell me, "I'll always thank ____, he made me feel like a woman again." They're enjoying the passion of youth in reverse -- in their 50s!
A New Jersey massage therapist told me, "This is an opportunity to do things differently. I can tell my new man, 'You're sounding like my ex-husband, and that makes me feel real insecure and want to run away and hide. Can you walk me past that? And he's trying -- it's so cool!"
But after having dabbled in online dating for awhile, women begin to tire of superficial experimentations and to hope for a longer-term commitment -- although still not remarriage.
And guess what? Most divorced women in midlife do find someone better: 75 percent of women in their 50s reported enjoying serious, exclusive relationships after their divorces, often within two years, according to the AARP study. ( Eighty-one percent of men in their 50s did the same. )
One divorced woman in her 50s who is passionately enjoying sex with a lover told me: "I was alone for over 18 years after a relationship broke up. Then I met my current man on the 'Net. We chatted for a few weeks, met up and have gone from strength to strength. We have a full, active sex life, and I feel attractive and desirable again. My age has NOTHING to do with me, the person!"
A widow of 59, who is passionately enjoying sex with her lover, described why she thinks this is the best possible time in a woman's life: "I've had my kids, raised them and am now embarking on a new career. I have been dating someone (older) and am really enjoying both the companionship and sex. We are on the same page with almost everything, and neither of us want to marry again (I have been widowed for 10 years and he has been divorced for 30). I now know how to speak up for myself and ask for things that I want and can verbalize what I don't want, and I am and am very comfortable with that."
The old tropism that goads women to push for marriage can backfire in middle or later life. More than one woman has described to me the downside of turning a midlife passion into an exchange of lifelong vows: "I used to envy my own midlife sex life. My post-divorce lover -- 10 years older than I -- was the most passionate man I had dated. When we moved in together two and one half years ago, that all started evaporating. He is still affectionate and thoughtful, but ... zero passion."
This is a whole new realm for women in midlife, and we are learning as we explore. I hope you will come to my message board and contribute your experience. The more we share, the more realistic we will be about the what to expect -- delights and downsides -- from the post-divorce partner.
Gail Sheehy is a journalist, cultural observer and author of 14 books, including Passages, New Passages and The Silent Passage, in which Sheehy broke the taboo surrounding menopause and opened a dialogue vital to mature women's health. She is currently doing research on love, sex and dating among women over 50. Visit www.gailsheehy.com.
Source: Relationships & Love