I used to be a person who lived to please—the A student, the good child, the helpful friend and yes, even the dutiful wife.
I lived in a self-denying bubble of placating, appeasing and keeping the boat from rocking.
Then, I hit a wall.
That wall was my last romantic relationship. I collapsed, physically exhausted and emotionally depleted from a year of believing my boyfriend’s happiness depended on my behaviors conforming to his never-ending expectations.
It didn’t help that he battled depression, so that happiness wasn’t even in the spectrum of the possible. I was lucky if my capitulations moved his mood from despairing to mopey, and of course those mood boosts never did last because I was never really the source of his discontent.
This summer, I married the man I’ve lived with for two years.
I married him as a woman who had been bitch-slapped wide awake from her pattern of adapting like a chameleon to a man’s needs in order to feel loveable.
And, yet, here I am in a situation where my new husband wants me to be something I am not—or at least not right now. He is not asking me to be less outgoing or less vocal; to be less bossy and more feminine; to be less argumentative, flirtatious or ambitious (things I’ve been asked by other men to be and woefully tried to become).
No, he’s asking me for more sex.
He’s asking me in the throes of libido-dropping, vagina-drying menopause to pick up my sex drive and get with the program. And I’m trying .
Well, sort of.
In going inward, I realize I’m wary of going backward to that co-dependent place where I do what is expected in a barter for love.
You’re thinking, what’s the big deal, he’s not asking you to be a BDSM sex slave, just to be more sexual. True.
Yet sex has always been a pleasure palace, a carnival of orgasmic delight and now, with hormonal changes, that’s not always so. In fact, sometimes sex is just not comfortable, let alone Oh-My-God good.
I just told my younger, multi-orgasmic sister of my diminished sexual response and she said, with a huge groan, “That’s f*cking depressing.” Is it? Or is it just another phase of life—just like pre-puberty is a time where sexual pleasure does not dominate the foreground, could post-reproductive years be that simple? Just a new stage with a different focus, instead of a dreaded end of the world?
So do I adapt and go with the more frequent sex to keep the peace? (I’m picturing dutiful missionary position here). Or do I fix the problem (one of my appeasing strategies) by rebooting my body to fertility status with hormone replacement therapy—even though I am an all natural, organic, yoga-type who rarely takes an aspirin let alone a synthetic hormone cocktail brimming with cancer risks.
And what about the fact that without fertility hormones running my biology, I seem to be more creative and more focused on my work and more inspired by the muse than I have ever been in my life?
Would I trade inspired purpose for horny hormones?
Five years ago, I read a book called Do I have to Give up Me to be Loved by You? The title says it all. I read it because then I was in yet another one of those relationships where I became an emotional contortionist in an effort to appease my emotionally abusive, insanely jealous, pathologically lying boyfriend (yep, I can pick ’em).
And that’s the thing. I did pick them. I picked men who looked to their lover for validation. Men who equated being loved and feeling loveable, with having their needs, demands and wishes met.
When I hit that wall a few years ago, April 2009 to be exact, I was so exhausted from my own relentless efforts to give up me to be loved by him, I felt hollowed out. Healthy lifelong, I was suddenly diagnosed with a crippling autoimmune disorder. I could barely move (let alone jog, dance, do yoga or have sex) without having to go back to bed for a day. It took me more than a year to recover.
My body was saying, enough. And finally, my heart was ready to listen.
Now I am faced with learning a new skill—balancing the needs of self with the needs of other. Not my needs over his or his over mine. This balancing act is called interdependence. I’ve read about it in countless relationship self-help books and now I am learning how to dance it.
Because I want this relationship to be the playground for true love that I know it can be. And because I married a man I truly like.
I like him because he makes me laugh. He makes me coffee in the mornings and martinis at night. He takes the puppy out walking so I can write, and then proofreads my articles. We both love to read, to watch Fringe on TV on Friday nights and we both fiercely love good, really good, wine.
More reasons? He listens when I talk. He doesn’t like everything about me, yet nor does he try to change me. And best of all, he doesn’t rely on me to make him happy. As I’ve healed my need to please (in order to be loveable), I’ve married a man who is pleased with himself and by life.
But this man I married also has a strong sex drive—and tied to that drive, a sex equals intimacy calculus. (I can feel intimate just cooking dinner together—oh yeah, did I mention he cooks too?)
So. Do I need to give up me to be loved by him?
No. I think the truer question now, is: How can I honor me so I can offer the love being called for, whether I am more sexually available or not.
You see, I’m pretty sure it’s not really about sex, even though it’s also about sex.
It’s really about finding the sweet spot, that place where his innocence, and mine, are waiting to do the tango of self-and-selfless love. That place where I step to the rhythm of my own truth, while lovingly considering how I can meet my dance partner in life, at least half way.
I’m on the edge of that discovery. I’ll let you know what I find.
~ Lori Ann (50 and sixth months old).
(This piece first appeared on elephant journal as part of a series exploring the impact of menopause on sexuality and relationship).