ThirdAge.com spoke with Suzanne Braun Levine, the author of the recently published book, “How We Love Now: Sex and the New Intimacy in Second Adulthood.” Suzanne, a longtime friend, and the author of several books on the midlife experiences, shared with us her astute thoughts about love and romance at this stage of life.
How does our view of love change in midlife?
“One of the most important things,” Suzanne said, “is that we are loving from a different point of view, a point of view of increased self-confidence and self-awareness. Many of us before our fifties were not very good at being able to say no. I know I wasn’t and so instead of saying no I would come up with a wily scheme to avoid doing something I didn’t want to do. But now I –and many women—are able to say no, and when you are able to do that you change the terms of attraction and the realities of your relationships. Sometimes , because of this, relationships fall apart. Remember the majority of divorces of couples over 50 are initiated by women. They go through menopause, realize they have twenty or thirty years and don’t want to stay in an unsatisfactory marriage. Also many new relationships are initiated and many old ones are revised on different terms. Even in relationships where couples get together who were sweethearts long ago, the terms of the relationships are very different than they were in the past. .
What about sex?
“The big revelation for me was that even though we hear so much moaning about not having anybody to date or about vaginal dryness or lack of libido, I found there are a lot of women who are having great sex.They have great sex because they have the confidence and curiosity to try new things.They can ask for and get what will give them pleasure. A woman can realize that there is nobody who sweeps her off her feet, but she is satisfied to be with a guy who is good company and with whom she has a good time in bed.That ain’t so bad! The frontier she may want to explore is her own body.That’s why a relationship between an older woman and a younger man can be mutually satisfying.The only problem is if she begins to want more from the relationship than it can provide. But sometimes for a woman coming out of a gray, dull lifestyle this can be a way to go.”
Do women have different expectations at this time of life about what makes a man attractive?
“The ‘niceness factor” is a lot more important. Remember, when we were young we always wanted him to be taller, richer, smarter, older. We were always looking for someone with an edge. And if he was too nice or liked you too much that wasn’t interesting.Well, that has changed for a lot of women. If he likes you, if he is nice, if he is a good guy and even if he is short or bald, he is much more appealing.”
What about men? Are they still looking for the same type of woman they wanted when they were young?
“Some men have a lot more trouble dealing with getting older. But there are some important hormonal factors to consider. We know that as our estrogen decreases our testosterone is unmasked to play a bigger role. That is part of the reason we get more assertive as we get older. Well, as men grow older their testosterone decreases and they can become less aggressive and more accepting. For couples there can be much more hormonal compatibility at this time.”
What about long-term marriages?
“Sometimes, even after a long marriage, a woman wakes up and says, ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ Sometimes a woman feels we have lasted a long time, we have some common interests, we have a family, I will settle for this. But the couples who have the most to gain are those who can truly reconfigure their relationship.They usually become more forthright with each other but at the same time they let go the idea they can change each other. Also when the kids are gone they have the privacy and time to rediscover each other and to rediscover their sexual relationship. I have always said that personally the first thirty seven years of my marriage were the hardest. I am now married forty five years. In those earlier years I didn’t really stand up for myself, and my husband and I had a lot of disagreements about child rearing. But now I am more the person I want to be and he is more accepting of me and more interested in my opinions. We are both independent and give each other a lot of room these days. But I can also truly say that our marriage has changed and because of that I have, once again, falling in love with my husband.”