Suzanne Braun Levine's new book 'How We Love Now' hits bookstores next month. Levine spoke at the TedexWomen conference at the Paley Center in New York on December 1. Click here to see a video of her talk.
Being in love knows no age limits. The kinds of love we can experience in a lifetime are limited only by our imagination and our circumstances. Every love, whenever and however often it strikes, is unique and mysterious. Yet for too many women the notion of experiencing that unique and mysterious intimacy at midlife seems preposterous; they have bought into the conventional wisdom that menopause is the last stop on the road to loneliness and decline.
An increasing number of other women know different; they are living--and defining--a totally new love narrative. Love as they are experiencing it is not a replay of earlier relationships; there is something fresh and surprising about it. At the same time that her aging body is continuing its lifelong production of dopamine, the hormonal reward of feeling love, a woman in this convention-defying group is not experiencing love in the ways she did earlier in her life. Her wants and needs are different, and she is fulfilling those unfamiliar desires--in both flesh and spirit. Not only are women still lusting and loving as they age, they are enjoying it more than ever...
Women I meet are anxious to talk about how unexpected their experiences are. Much of what they tell me begins with an astonished "I can't believe that I am telling you this . . ." or "I can't believe I am doing this . . ." Their stories have helped me frame the issues I need to explore in order to understand what is going on. I heard stories of commitment, affection, intimacy and trust that expand the definition of love itself. Here are some anecdotes women have shared with me that provide a glimpse of the range of love stories out there:
"I have fallen in love--with a short, balding, and very shy guy," a fifty-two-year-old bride tells me with a tinge of disbelief.
"I don't mind the way I would have in the past that he has only a GED while I have two master's degrees; he has a Ph.D. in life experience."
"All the things you worry about when you haven't dated as long as I hadn't dated--about sexual intimacy, about being attractive--none of that happened. Your body just kind of takes over."
"I was happily married for forty years, but when my husband died, I found myself becoming increasingly drawn to other women. I just found the intimacy so easy."
"You may be shocked, but I have discovered the joys of one-night stands. I need a rest from 'relating.' And the sex is great."
"I've come to realize I'm more comfortable as a 'serial monogamist.' I enjoy running my own life, on my schedule and when we get together, it's like a holiday that never ends! It's time we broke out of the married-or-single mind-set to realize that there are all kinds of relationships in between".
"Now when I consider the prospect of being in love, I am most intrigued by the possibility that I could actually be who I am...with someone who gets me."
"Our love has mellowed into a deep bond of friendship and shared life experiences. Yes, romance is still there. But the relationship is not rife with the up-and-down mix of emotions there was in the beginning of our marriage. Rather, there's trust, safety, love, and mutual support that only the years can bring."
Every story has its own plot line, but overall they fall into very broad groupings. Some women are convinced that what they are finding is the Real Thing--at last. Others marvel in the rediscovery and revaluing of what has been there all along. Some are reveling in the freedom built into their new relationships, or the independence of "no strings attached." A number of women are especially gratified to discover new dimensions to their own capacity for love. And many are finding that their lives are enriched by commitments to people and projects that, although they may not get the dopamine flowing, feel very good indeed. Every one of them is exploring unknown territory.
(Excerpt reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from How We Love Now, Copyright © Suzanne Braun Levine, 2011)