He’s very much in love with my friend. They’re in an open relationship. But their sex life is on the wane after 10 years and three kids. Because he‘s not so attracted to her anymore, and she doesn’t feel like sleeping with a man who doesn’t embrace her aging body.
“I feel like such a shit.” He says. “I mean the weight, the stretch marks, it’s because she had our kids. OUR kids. I know it’s not easy to get back into shape.”
“Or even desirable.” I suggested. “She’s in great shape, but she’s not 30. Maybe you have very stringent ideals. I’m not saying you’re to blame; they’re handed down through biology, society constructs and inherited values. If you’d been in renaissance times, she’d have been unhealthily skinny.”
“Yes, but how can I change that? We aren’t in renaissance times. And here’s the worst part.”
I held my breath, because it was already pretty daring that he can confided in me about his lack of attraction for his wife… my friend. Especially as she was sitting next to him on the sofa and we hadn’t even poured the wine yet.
“I think the online dating thing I’m doing is making it even worse. I can’t tell you how many profiles I’ve flicked through if they don’t have a hot photo, a body photo or if the body description says ‘a few pounds extra’. I’m shallow and superficial. It’s vile. But it seems that I only get turned on by bodies of younger women.”
“What’s your dating age range?” I asked curiously.
“I’ve put up to 35 on my ‘searching for’ criteria.”
“And your wife is 40.”
“I know. And I’m 45.”
This man is not a bastard. In fact he’s fully aware how these admissions make him look and loathes himself for it. But I don’t judge. And neither does his wife. She loves herself enough to know that this is his problem not hers. His ideals, like many men, are lagging behind his age. And it’s not his fault (even if it is his responsibility to examine and change it if necessary).
“What’s going to happen if you can’t maintain a sex life? Will you still love her? Will she still love you?”
“I don’t know.” He said miserably. “I want to be sexually attracted to her. But I’m not.”
Our biology is clear cut on this point. Men are attracted to women who represent the best choice for their offspring. That means women within a certain age range. Once a woman has had the offspring, the deal is more or less done. Biologically, why should a man remain attracted to the mother of children (even his)? Does he ‘owe’ her sexual attraction? No (and neither does she owe him). Women on the other hand are attracted to fertile men. Men who can provide offspring. And that age range is a lot wider.
We are more than our biology of course because many men are still sexually interested in their partners, but as the power of women has increased, we have due in part to this biological imbalance, defined a partnership guideline which says that a man ‘owes’ a woman continued sexual attraction even whilst she ages. She expects it, along with the rest of the world.
Men are derided for wanting to sleep with younger women even whilst being constantly bombarded by youth and (so-called) beauty from the news stands. The shame they are made to feel for being ‘shallow’ doesn’t help resolve the issue. They are called assholes …how productive.
Women are mocked for ‘letting themselves go’ from this unrealistic ideal. And made to feel ashamed simply for the inevitable passage of time. Many of us project this shame onto men by blaming them; we are both taught that without looks, women are worth less in today’s society.
Men who care about status will feel that their wife is an extension of them and that by proxy, he is lacking in someway. Many have been conditioned into thinking that ‘being a man’ includes status. Men who fear aging will run away in denial and look to perpetuate their youth by going out with younger women.
“Well I agree on the online dating thing.” I said. “It gives you a very narrow focus. Have you tried broadening your ideals? Watch some regular women porn like those bedroom webcams. The more you normalize regular women’s bodies, the more you will get used to the fact that women come in all shapes and sizes. Just that might make you less critical, more accepting.”
But why should I change my preferences? He said.
“You don’t have to do anything.” I said. “But if this carries on, you’re going to be one of those aging men who can’t sustain a sexual relationship with anyone more than half your age. That’s okay, but then you have to accept that this is who you want to be with all that entails. It is your choice. Unless your wife is a very understanding and accommodating woman, she’ll prefer to be with someone who embraces her – all of her. Because she’s worth that.
“I know she is.” He said.
“Besides,” I added, “wouldn’t it be useful to know whether these were actually your preferences instead of some inherited values? Are you happy knowing that you sexually reduce a woman’s attractiveness to her looks?”
Most women are not like my friend. Most women would be hurt by the admission that their partner doesn’t find them sexually attractive. They are offended that they can be reduced to their looks. It means that when our looks go, we are not attractive anymore. We are objectified (which seems to be the cardinal sin nowadays). No it’s not fair. But nothing ever is because ‘fair’ is a totally ridiculous man-made construct which is not in any way applicable to how life works.
And yet women, given half a chance (a bottle of beaujolais and a ticket to The Chippendales) also objectify. But because of the enormous pressure from society, the havoc that childbirth wreaks on our bodies, and our burden of conformity to good girl stereotypes, we objectify less than men appear to do so. Many of us have been pushed far beyond our comfort zone and forced through our own painful journey to appreciate men ~ and people in general ~ for the whole package they bring. We are taught to appreciate more than looks. But as celebrity magazines and soap operas can testify, that’s certainly not all women. Many do objectify; and no one goes out initially with a man they don’t think is physically attractive.
Sexual objectification is part and parcel of what we do, how we evaluate our potential partners and how we as a society procreate. But there are acts and there are consequences. Sexual objectification is fine as long as it is a small part of a greater appreciation, but it will constrain the longevity of your sexual relationship if this is the only basis of sexual attraction.
My friend is a beautiful, confident and mature woman. They are both wise enough to know that the only solution is to be honest about what’s going on. And to easily facilitate each others’ honesty by avoiding guilt and blame. Because it’s not that her husband wants to change her per se. Even if this is what is preventing a sexual relationship, one or other of them must change if they are to rediscover it. He, his preferences and conditioning. Or she, her body.
I trust that my friend will not change her stance. She’s one of those amazing women who knows her aging is not only inevitable, but also beautiful and gracious. Life is beautiful and it leaves marks. If you aren’t marked, you haven’t lived. Women age (surprisingly). As do men. But women ‘fall’ from society ideals more quickly than men because these ideals are pushed at every turn in our collective psyche. But after breakdown comes breakthrough. Because we have been given the potential sooner, to embrace a totally new evolution.The realization of the cycle of life. Wisdom. Healing. Rebirth. We are lucky that way.
Men on the other hand, if not interested in, committed or pushed to evolution, have nothing but a social contract and their own conscience to keep them attracted to women of their own age. And if this is all, there are enough younger women out there attracted to older men to sustain the ‘biological imperative excuse’.
But unless the husband of my friend re-frames his idea of what is attractive, he will lose the relationship with his wife at least in the form that it has taken until now. In order to re-frame, he needs to find the way to be sexually attracted to someone he loves, more than by looks.
- Does he care about status?
- Does he fear aging?
- Is he conditioned in the image of an ideal woman?
There’s still work to be done.