As I enter the final third of my life, things aren’t perfect. I had cancer last year, my mother died, my sons are transitioning to adulthood. But I am happier than I have ever been. I didn’t expect to feel freed upon entering my post-menopausal years. But that’s exactly what I feel.
During my fertile years, I was seen, by myself and others, as a package of physical potential. I’d been taught from my traditional Mennonite family to be useful, giving of myself within prescribed roles.
Being nice was job one, to provide the social oil to smooth interactions. Women learn this early, being taught that others’ emotional comfort is dependent on us.
Next, we are lovely to look at; so from pubescence we are gazed at and judged on our outsides. Being ogled—and often worse—comes with being young and female.
We gain value as potential sex partners. For many women now, that might mean being a friend with benefits, or a longer-term lover with one or more partners. Sex is expected; real connection seems to be optional.
I came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I wanted to feel free to enjoy sex, but mostly I felt guilty, vulnerable, and confused. What would make me desirable, but also worth committing to long-term? Would anyone see my inner qualities? Women are still often plagued with this paradox.
Overlapping our sexual desirability is our potential to bear children and raise the next generation. Perhaps they’re our kids, perhaps someone else’s. But we carry most of this weight. And there are few jobs harder than bringing up good people.
Running through all of this is our monetary value as resources in the prime of life—workers for the economy, performers of underpaid jobs, and energetic volunteers for every cause. We’re expected to excel at our careers while we parent intensively. When our elders need caretaking, we often shoulder that as well.
The unpaid work we do does not earn us respect or financial stability. Child-rearing and household management, caretaking and community building, transmitting the values of culture and family lore, and forming the glue of the neighborhood: women do so much that is not accounted for or rewarded.
There’s nothing wrong with these roles themselves. Our work is worthy and critical, and fulfilling, if we choose it without coercion or assumption, and if those around us value what we do, beyond lip-service. This is often not the case.
All of these are reasons why I am happy to be a post-fertile woman, leaving my “productive” years behind.
Now, finally, I belong to myself. I speak for myself and use my energy on myself—and on my family, friends, and world community—in ways that I choose.
I’m no longer sending out pheromones, unwittingly eliciting a sexual response from nearby males. I’m less visible now. I feel attractive and vital. But I’m largely unnoticed, and that is freeing.
My sex life is on my terms. The waning libido of menopause distressed me, and my husband, at first. As a few more years have gone by, I no longer mind its shifting, and he’s adjusting, too. It feels like a natural process for desire to lessen, even as love and gratitude deepen with the years.
My child-rearing responsibilities are tapering, as my twin sons turn twenty. I have loved parenting, but the sacrifices are demanding. I don’t want to go back and relive their childhoods. I’m pleased they’ve become men. My parents are also gone, offering reprieve from that kind of caretaking as well.
In short, the lifting of demands is life-changing. My head is clear, free of monthly mood- and behavior-altering hormones and the press of others’ expectations. Contentment settles around me with my invisibility. I finally feel free to determine my own course.
I’m not planning to sink into hedonism. I’m entering the stage of my life for completion. I can spend more time on what I’ve always felt was important: developing relationships, sharing with and encouraging others, and working to build community. I’m also committed now to my music and writing after decades of deferment.
Last week I visited a dear friend thirty years my senior. She’s possibly in her last decade. She radiates such love in everything she does and says. She knows, deeply, who she is and why she’s here, and what she must offer. I hope I am on that path, to a place where—distractions and external demands stripped away—I am a clear channel for the healing love this world so needs.
We mature women are in a unique position, free as we fly below the radar in our slightly wrinkled and radiant packages. I intend to use this body, this life force, this special time to advance an agenda of love and creativity.