When I first started asking women to share their life-affirming stories about sexuality with me it was because I needed to hear them. At the age of 50 I found myself exiting a long and for many years happy marriage, partly as a result of questioning many of the things I had been taught to believe and to be around sexuality. I needed to think for myself and I wanted to hear about other women’s experiences, in relationships with partners and with themselves.
Reading an article recently on “The 7 signs you are having a midlife crisis “ it only just occurred to me that some might see the changes I’ve made in the last few years as a Midlife Crisis.
And maybe it was. It wasn’t that I was consciously focussing on my own mortality and didn’t want to waste any more time doing things I didn’t want to do. It was rather a sense of clarity around choosing who I want to be in the second half of my life.
Jung speaks of the journey through life as being divided into different parts. He speaks of the first half of life as a time to establish your identity, establish yourself and make an impact in the world. In the second half of life you should ideally have done this, and be moving towards a sense of self which can integrate some of the aspects of yourself you left behind to be acceptable in the circumstances of your earlier life. Ideally we would all move towards the end of life as wise integrated whole people who don’t need to struggle so much with our egos.
I see my journey as one where the sexual side of myself had to be managed in a certain way to be acceptable in the life I found myself in. While some of this was fine, I did also feel like I disowned some aspects of my self which I’ve now reclaimed and I feel so much better as a result.
For some women issues around sexuality come up in (what we hope) will be the middle years of our life. We go through physical changes with menopause, and health issues can become apparent in midlife. For some of us we are facing a time where those who have not had children- by choice or in contrast to our heartfelt wishes, know that this part of our sense of who we might have become, is no longer a possibility. Those of us who have had children, experience them leaving home or separating from us in other ways as adults, affecting our sense of identity in ways which can be both difficult and also liberating.
It is a time of change in many different ways and yet for so many of us we have little space or tools for reflection about it. We might not notice or have capacity to pay attention to how these changes might feel because we are so engaged in working, doing, looking after others.
Some women have routines and practices in place which help them manage their health and wellbeing, but most of us pay attention to what most demands our attention. This can make self care inconsistent and, perhaps seem to many, like an indulgence.
One of the things I realised from being in this phase of life is that many of the changes can feel so negative. I‘ve found it hard to find a narrative where where women in their fifties and beyond speak of the joys, reliefs, benefits, insights or advantages of being at this stage of life.
It makes me want to speak to more older women who have been through these changes and ask them questions about how they managed the shifts, what helped, what books they read etc.
I’ve had some conversations with women who have generously shared their experiences, their trials and errors, the strategies and solutions they found for themselves. Some of these are hopeful, practical and inspiring stories.
Other women I’ve spoken to remember so little about this stage- it was hard, they blocked it out, they had to struggle with it on their own.
A recurring theme is of loneliness, of managing it all by themselves, of trying to shield their children, hide things from their employer, generally putting a brave face on it in front of others to mask their fear, discomfort and struggle.
This makes me so sad. I don’t want this to be my experience or that of my sisters or my nieces or any women now or in the future. Some women prefer to keep things private, manage their own situations with out observation or interference. I respect that.
What I would love to see however is the opportunity for those who want to, to come together with other women.
To hold each other gently for a moment during this particular time of life.
To acknowledge that we each have different issues in our lives which are tender just now.
To help us know we are not alone or failing or broken.
To know we are journeying a road from which there is no diversion but which we don’t have to walk all alone.
That’s why I want to use the resources I have at my disposal to create just such a space for women to have that experience. Something nurturing, restful, playful. Sharing stories which give us strength, which show women’s ingenuity and perseverance and resilience and beauty. Nourishing food, songs, walks and most of all the empathetic company of women who will accept and honour our individual experiences, and with whom we can share as little or as much as we find helpful.
I offer my stories, my experience, my love to create such a space.
Let’s be midlife midwives for each other.
As Ram Dass says “ We are walking each other home”.