Intimacy Intensifies in Women's 'Second Adulthood'

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Despite conventional wisdom dictating that intimacy ends at midlife for women, Suzanne Braun Levine says this is untrue in her new book "How We Love Now." In this except, she describes how love actually changes and deepens.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Being in love knows no age limits. The kinds of love we can experience in a lifetime are limited only by our imagination and our circumstances.

Every love, whenever and however often it strikes, is unique and mysterious. Yet for too many women the notion of experiencing that unique and mysterious intimacy at midlife seems preposterous; they have bought into the conventional wisdom that menopause is the last stop on the road to loneliness and decline.

An increasing number of other women know different; they are living--and defining--a totally new love narrative. Love as they are experiencing it is not a replay of earlier relationships; there is something fresh and surprising about it. At the same time that her aging body is continuing its lifelong production of dopamine, the hormonal reward of feeling love, a woman in this convention-defying group is not experiencing love in the ways she did earlier in her life. Her wants and needs are different, and she is fulfilling those unfamiliar desires--in both flesh and spirit. Not only are women still lusting and loving as they age, they are enjoying it more than ever.

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Love is never easy, and each stage of life brings its own versions of heartbreak and ecstasy. The landscape of love we are entering at midlife is not without stumbling blocks and dark shadows. We all see long-term relationships foundering around us and widows who are lost and alone for the first time in decades. We know and certainly hear all too much about how hard it is for older women to find companionship, sex, respect.

'How Good Love Is'

What we don't know enough about, however, is how good love is for those who are enjoying it. This may be because the women who are revitalizing a long-standing relationship or finding a new one are afraid of jinxing the miracle by talking about it, or they may be afraid to "gloat" when their friends are complaining of loneliness and anemic sex lives.

If conventional wisdom focused less on loneliness and reflected more on how love is pursued, found and sustained by women 50 and beyond, it would tell an entirely different story. We would learn that the universe of loving experiences includes a wider range of potential intimates than it did before, even though the absolute number may be more limited. We would learn that what we call love in our 50s, 60s and 70s is not as narrowly defined as it was at earlier stages. Nor is it as single-minded and all-consuming.

Many women don't even realize how widely and deeply they are experiencing love until they take inventory of the intimate connections that are enriching their lives now. So the first thing to ask ourselves and each other is how these new kinds of love--loves, really--feel.

There are many people to whom I regularly say "I love you"--and mean it--but as my outlook, priorities and relationships have been reconsidered in recent years, I have noticed that in each case the feeling has recalibrated.

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Suzanne - as always, you hit it spot on! Smack in the middle of my "second adulthood" I relate so strongly to everything you write about the new depths and dimensions of my capacity for love and intimacy. - Nadine