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Apr 25 2009

Sex for Singles at Midlife

Published by at 3:52 am under Advice

You can tell how midlife singles are doing in their midlife transition by how they handle their sex lives.

The midlife transition happens in stages. In Phase One people tend to panic or choke. Panicking and choking are opposite ways of being ineffective.

When you panic you become impulsive. Your perception narrows. You lose sight of the big picture. An example of this is believing the relationship is over at the first sign of angry words.

When you choke, you over-think. You freeze up, distrust your instincts and become controlling. An example of this is needing to be 100% right before you ask anything for yourself in a relationship.

Phase One is Crazy Time. People in this phase are sexually impulsive and reckless or frightened, frozen and shut down. It’s possible to sexy, warm, sensual and friendly and still be very responsibly and aware of what you are doing. But not in this phase.

Phase Two is very difficult for different reasons. I know that the name I gave it, “Quiet Time,” makes it sound rather like “nap time.” It isn’t. It’s more like those still moments you have just after you wake up from a disturbing dream. Whatever it is, it finally has your full attention, but you aren’t yet sure what it is. You know you have to change something.

In order to change, in order to stop doing the things that don’t work, you have to recognize one of two things. Either

1. You have been terribly naïve and damaged yourself. You’ve given away something as precious as a birthright, something like, the right to be treated with respect, or the right to make your own decisions, or the right to receive love in return.


2. You have been selfish and cruel to others and you have no one to blame but yourself.

Of course people resist these realizations. Not me, they say, I’m not the one who needs to change. And yet, the path to happiness goes through these realizations. Otherwise you are stuck in Phase One.

The most common question sent to experts essentially reads like this: Here’s the story on someone I’m going out with. What’s going on and what should I do about it?

And the answer always depends on whether or not the parties involved have gone through Phase Two. If they are not willing to look at their own selfishness and/or naiveté they are in Stage One, if they are and have, they are in Stage Three?

People in both stages do short term relationships. How they do them is all the difference in the world.

Phase Three produces a very different kind of short term relationship than the Crazy Time of Phase One. Phase three is about discovering possibilities. It’s about safe, modest experiments. Sometimes I’ve called this phase “Remedial Dating.” I could also call it “Maybe Time” because people say to themselves, “Maybe this is a good idea. I’ll try it and see.”

People in Maybe Time know how to learn from their mistakes. They have figured out how to make policies for themselves.

What is a policy about sex?

A policy is a set of rules for making decisions. Your rules. You made them. You can tinker with them. You can forgive yourself if blow it. But at least you have a way to think about what you are doing.

Here is an illustration of the difference between people who know what they are doing (Phase Three) and those who don’t (Phase One).

In the movie, Moonstruck, Rose, a middle aged married woman, played by Olympia Dukakis, is in the neighborhood restaurant having dinner alone. Her husband, Cosmo, is at the opera with his mistress. Rose knows this. She knows there is a crisis in her life.

There is a character in this restaurant, a professor of communications at NYU. He is 50 something and we know by this time in the movie that he is a Puer Aeternis, a Peter Pan, a man who hasn’t grown up yet. He dates his students. We’ve already seen one of them throw a glass of water in his face and walk out on him. He’s at the table next to Rose with another date 30 years his junior. This time his date, before she walks out, pours the glass of water in his lap.

Rose sees this and smiles. The man smiles too, and invites Rose to his table to join him for dinner. Later he walks Rose home. They stop in the street. He asks to kiss her. Rose refuses. “Why?” he says.

Then Rose gives is the perfect one sentence summary of what it’s like to have successfully made it to Stage Three. She says, “Because I know who I am.”

How do you create a policy for yourself about your sex life?

First, simply notice when you panic and when you choke.

Second, there is something you know in a vague way and you want to know it in a clear way: there are two sets of rules operating in the single at midlife culture. One set is for finding a life partner and one is for finding sex.

Third, there really are differences in the way men and women approach sex. At midlife, you don’t have to be bound by those differences.

Fourth, recognize that there are two separate sets of calculations involved in deciding whether or not to have sex with someone who is not necessarily going to be a life partner. There are Hygiene reasons, all the reasons why you might want to say “No.” And then there are Motivator reasons, all the reasons why you might want to say “Yes.”

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