“Hot flashes?” my friend said. “They don’t bother me. They’re mostly gone now anyway. And the other stuff—dry skin, weight gain. What can you do? No one stays pretty forever.” She paused, frowned at the drink in her hand. “But the thing that does bother me? Loss of libido. I resent that one.” She looked at me. “It’s excessive, don’t you think?”
I blinked at her. I knew what she meant. Of all the subtractions that come with menopause, loss of desire has to be the saddest. “Makes you realize what biological beings we really are.”
She nodded. “It does, doesn’t it?” She was a silent a moment, considering. “You know, I don’t think I miss the sex so much as I miss the need for it, the appetite. Why should that get taken away, too?”
“Maybe it’s a kindness,” I offered. “Maybe we lose our desire because we’re no longer desirable.”
“Well, that’s brutal,” she said. “But you’re probably right. Nature thinks of everything.” She looked up into the tree that shaded our table. “Damn men. All they lose is their hair. Bill (her husband) still wants sex—not as often of course, but it’s there. It’s retrievable. For women it’s like a door slamming shut.”
No, I thought, not slamming. More like closing, quietly, so quietly you don’t notice. One day it occurs to you that sex has not occurred to you.
You might chide yourself, resolve to put mundane matters aside and focus on love. The problem, you think, is fixable, laughable, temporary. There is the destination, clear as day—all you need to do is show up. Only you can’t. You’ve lost the map.
Most of us, that is. I know of one woman, 84 years old, who claims she is still interested, who would jump in the sack “in a hot minute” if she found an appropriate suitor. When she told me this, I laughed. “I’m not kidding,” she said, giving me a stern look. “Lucky you,” I said, wondering if having a sex drive in your eighties is a lucky thing. Finding a willing and able partner would certainly be lucky.
But like I said, this woman is exceptional. Most post-menopausal women have shed their amatory lives and moved on to other things. Charity seems to be the most popular pursuit. Whether they are donating, fund-raising or volunteering, older women like to keep themselves useful. Their vantage has changed and so their world.
Excess is the hallmark of youth, and those who feast, who plunge headlong, will have many thrilling memories to look back on. Not that they won’t have regrets—don’t believe anyone who tells you they have no regrets—but they will not have wasted what they were given. A cautious youth is a misspent youth.
Nature is all about balance. What is lost is replaced by something else. As I try to understand the compensations of aging, I keep this in mind. I wonder what nature has given me in exchange for taking away a portion of my appetite. If one area narrows, mustn’t another widen?
I think my focus has changed. I see the need in the world, the work to be done. I see a world far more beautiful and vulnerable than I ever knew. Nothing is without meaning now and everything is precious. I cannot take the life of an ant.
Do the senses make up for the sensual? Am I having a good time in this world suffused with meaning? Depends on the day. Which makes these days not so different from the old days and reminds me that now is the place to be.