Aging Disgracefully

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

My friend Evelyn Hannon (of fame) and I have both pledged that we will grow old as we have lived life: on our own terms, in our own way, and with great joie de vivre. No growing old gracefully for us.

In my case, that has involved a return to the world of dating and an active, if somewhat sporadic, sex life just as I began to collect my Old Age Pension. And as so often happens to me, my life’s experiences end up becoming the next unfolding of my work.

My sexual reawakening and the many, many conversations I’ve had with men in all corners of the world as I’ve explored the post-modern freak show that is on-line dating have drawn me to explore the topic of sexuality and aging. I am now well into the process of writing a book on that topic.  I’ve been involved in exploring conscious aging for some time now, and through developing a TV series with a colleague, became aware that the topic of sexuality and aging was one that many shied away from.

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

I’ve always been attracted to topics that skirt the edges of acceptability in society: whether that be about being fat, off-the-beaten-track travel, alternatives to ‘retirement’, social business, death and dying, late life divorce or other topics that make many people squirm, I quickly realized that few were discussing sexuality. Sure there is some discussion about sex and the elderly, but most of it is medically based. For me, sexuality is such a broader, more compelling topic. Sexuality is about how one feels about being a sexual entity in an aging body, whether actively having sex or not.

It has been such a delight to read books and articles on the topic, to talk with all types of people of varying ages, to see the look of delight, shock (and occasionally horror) that passes across peoples’ faces when I announce that my book will not only talk about sexuality and aging but will show photos of ordinary people nude or semi-nude in sexualized poses. I’ve discovered that it is one thing to talk about sexuality and aging, it is quite another matter to show pictures of the beauty of wrinkled, naked flesh in a sexual context. I can’t wait.

I’m still looking for stories, by the way, of people between 55 and 75 about their experiences of sexuality. I’ve got a standard questionnaire that I administer by phone or Skype, offer people complete anonymity and will provide a free copy of the e-book version of my book once it is published. Let me know if you’d like to participate. Also, if you are interested in posing for photos, let me know. We continue to search for willing life models.

My own experiences have been very heartening and life affirming. I’ve met some utterly delightful men. I’ve had some fantastic lovers and have learned so very much about myself as a woman, a sexual being, and a person continuing to deal with the fall-out of some early life traumas. I’ve also discovered that as difficult as I always thought it was for us women to deal with our sagging bodies and flagging libidos, most men are in much, much worse shape emotionally and spiritually. The big factor for most men, I’ve discovered, is that as their bodies start to fail them, they don’t have the sisterhood of friends that most of us women have. They are alone in their self-doubt and misery. Guys just don’t talk in the kind of supportive way that women do. Their sexual challenges tend to get highlighted rather than normalized through the social isolation they experience around this topic.

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

So while I hold my sex life as in no way disgraceful, I do know that the fact that I talk pretty openly about on-line dating, about sexuality and about the emotional and physical issues many experience as they age is considered disgraceful to many. All the more so because I am not a licensed psychologist or medical practitioner. I am just a fat old woman who loves life and is committed to living it as vibrantly as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.  Disgraceful, isn’t it?

Fear and Aging

Here I am on my balcony last summer. I let my gardening go this year so that I could spend more time solo camping.

I live my life relatively free from fear. I learned a long time ago that fearing the future means that my today is lived with less aliveness than is possible because some part of me is bracing against a negative future. As I often tell my coaching clients who don’t believe that they can envision a future for themselves: if you can worry, you are already adept at creating a vision for yourself. It just happens to be a negative view of what’s possible.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have certain concerns about my future, but I don’t fear it. For example, I’ve chosen to live alone in later life; what biological family I have all live over 1,000 miles away. I’m very mindful that this means that should I ever get sick or otherwise need the support one typically looks to family for, it won’t be there.

I was just chatting with a friend who has just come through a rather prolonged medical situation. She was surprised at just how much self advocacy it took to receive the best attention from the medical system. Those kinds of conversations give me pause to consider the future. Not in a fearful way, but in a way that invites creativity and an awareness that I need to develop alternative strategies for myself.

Making new friends with people younger than me is a key ‘self preservation’ strategy of mine! Sadly, Trish is from Ottawa so we really only spend time together volunteering at Stanfest each July

I don’t know what my answers for dealing with life’s inevitable crises will be, but I do have every confidence that they won’t be fear driven. Rather they’ll be considered and mindful, anticipating alternatives, just like I live my day-to-day life. One thing I’m very clear about, though, is that I have no plans to become one of those fearful little old ladies who sit quietly in their homes and apartments afraid of every knock at the door. I know that the best way to live the future without fear is to live today without it. I also know that the best way to live the future mindfully is to begin to develop plans and strategies today.

Hmmmm . . . .