Over two years of conducting morning “office hours” dates at a local café in my late 40s and early 50s — with an organic farmer, a physics professor, a classics scholar, a musician, an equestrian, a 28-year-old golf pro and the one I referred to as “the man-beast” — I learned to take charge of who and what I wanted.
If the men didn't trash talk their exes, were intelligent, seemed to have a sense of humor — and I found them attractive — my standard vetting line was, "Tell me about your package."
The ones that didn't scare away or understood that it was more about their whole package would ask, "What are you looking for?"
I would respond: "I’m not looking for a husband or a boyfriend. I’ve already had my children. I don’t need someone to pick up the check. I take full responsibility for my orgasms. I know what I like and what I don’t like physically, emotionally and intellectually."
"I make no apologies for my intensity. If something doesn’t feel good and right, I’m done compromising myself away. Basically, I’m looking for a low-liability lover who can meet me halfway at the table with more than his ego."
'Lean into the paradoxes'
The myth of menopause is that I, or any woman, become invisible and undesirable and irrelevant afterwards.
Then why, at 59, do I feel more vital than ever?
My body is softer no matter how much I exercise and watch my carbs, but I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin. That comfort and internal confidence makes sex continuously more interesting and mind-blowing.
The question isn’t whether I’m desirable, but who do I desire?
True, sometimes I’m like Nora Ephron and “I feel bad about my neck,” especially when an unflattering angle ends up in a photo and/or is plastered on social media, and I am a sucker for anti-aging creams. But I love tracing my life in my facial lines and my C-section scar.
Why is menopause viewed as a problem that needs fixing?
Mostly, I am too busy running my own business, writing and making meaningful things happen in my life and community to worry about how I am perceived physically.
Instead of judging ourselves and other women for our contradictions, Darcey Steinke, author of “Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life,” wisely suggests we “lean into the paradoxes.”
Why is it when I Googled “women and sexuality and menopause” that I mostly found links to vaginal dryness and hormone therapy? Why is menopause viewed as a problem that needs fixing?
Steinke said her research lead to “dark places” of the medical establishment, where the solution is to restore or freeze women at some youth-oriented stage through hormone therapy or a horrifying-sounding procedure called vaginal rejuvenation, in which a metal rod, laser-side up, is inserted in a menopausal woman’s vagina.
“Women are sick of being debased,” Steinke said in our phone conversation. We talked about younger women, like my daughters, 29 and 30, and Steinke’s 23-year-old, who want us to “call out” the narrow, negative cultural view of women and menopause and the shame surrounding it.
Although the long-held belief about menopausal women is that sexual desire will decline, the resulting drop in estrogen levels does not doom a woman to "entering a sexual desert," the National Women's Health Network wrote on its website. Though rarely discussed, psychotherapist and author of" Mating in Captivity," Esther Perel, said some women actually experience an increase in libido.
Contrary to the menopause myth, I am experiencing the sexiest, most vibrant, most intellectually and professionally fertile time of my life.
In Steinke’s memoir about her own menopause experience, she wrote about how she became obsessed with tracking and studying killer whales, one of the only other mammals who experiences menopause (beluga whales, narwhals and short-finned pilot whales have since been added to the list).
“Older female killer whales may train the younger males in sexual technique,” Steinke wrote. “They may use sex to relieve tension in their pods, or they may just like sex.”
“I feel the female killer whale in me,” I said to Steinke.
She said, “We are all the female whales.”
Steinke’s poignant, poetic and ground-breaking memoir is a leading voice in the conversation about menopause. And women are becoming more vocal about the changes that happen — the rage, the empowerment, the “shape-shifting” and the liberation.
On the popular BBC series "Fleabag," on Amazon Prime in the U.S., actress Kristin Scott Thomas plays a powerful, older, sexy woman who said to the main character, played by 34-year-old Phoebe Waller-Bridge:
“We have it all going on in here inside, we have pain on a cycle for years and years and years and then just when you feel you are making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes … and it is the most wonderful f***ing thing in the world [and] you’re free, no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person.”
At an age when women are told their shelf lives have expired, I dated and night-sweated and missed so many periods that I bought more pregnancy tests in one year than in my entire life. I ran long distances and swung kettle bells. I wrote another book. I completed my yoga teacher training. I opened a donation-based yoga studio and currently teach yoga to students many decades younger than myself.
My second act is full of urgency and hard-earned wisdom. Though I often feel like a horny teenager, I also feel like I have the chutzpah of a female Don Juan and the depth of a Russian novel — and zero time to settle for anyone’s half-hearted efforts.
I gave up my dating office hours at the café after I met a (slightly younger) man who isn’t intimidated by my “tell me about your package” question. Or the way I shamelessly make hedonistic, platonic love to new ideas and other people that turn me on.
Contrary to the menopause myth, I am experiencing the sexiest, most vibrant, most intellectually and professionally fertile time of my life. Liberated from waiting for the next stage or event or person to define or save me, I am the leader of my own pod.
I claim and save myself, as I blossom into this potent stage of womanhood.