What I learned about women and aging with my partner.
The new year is often filled with plans for a “new you.” After eating and drinking our way through an indulgent holiday season, we take a hard look at ourselves, make radical self-improvement resolutions, and fantasize about unveiling our new and improved bodies on spring vacations to tropical locales. Before you begin changing yourself or contact your travel agent, consider what I learned after a week away on a major cruise line with my partner Miriam.
Travel as Community
Forget about bed death, let’s talk bar death. You know why lesbian bars are defunct? Because all the lesbian couples are cruising. This wasn’t a gay cruise, but we saw many same-sex couples on the ship. Frankly, it was nice to see representation without the added cost of an exclusive cruise. There were LGBTQ+ mixers every night, which we did not attend, but we appreciated their existence. Meanwhile, we enjoyed chatting with same-sex couples of all ages and backgrounds while digging our toes in the sand and eating and drinking a smidge too much. Miss meeting new friends now that your favorite bars have closed? Try a cruise.
Women and Middle Age
Getting away from work and family for a week gave us time to reconnect. Miriam and I are “women of a certain age.” We are as likely to be talking with teachers about our children’s progress as we are to be talking to doctors about our parents’ progress. We juggle hormones the way circus performers juggle bowling pins. We have started stocking up on things like vitamins, and we often ask one another before we turn out the light whether we have remembered to take our pills. While we used to travel with only sunscreen and bug spray, we now need to pack things like supplements. Recently the font on menus has become too small to read, and we talk over things like root canals with a seriousness we once reserved for political discussions. In short, we are aging. Lately, when I peer in the mirror, I notice how my face has fallen, how my breasts are lower, how my middle is softer, how my eyes are surrounded with creases. I pull the skin back at my temples and think about the risks, costs, and recovery times associated with face lifts. Obviously, I am not alone. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “Over 17.7 million surgical and minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures [were] performed in the United States in 2018.”
Clearly, as we age, some of us think about how to get back to looking and feeling the way we did five, ten, fifteen years ago. I’m one of those people.
And then this happened….
One night in our cabin, Miriam mentioned that she was happy that my glasses were on the bathroom counter. I asked why she cared where my glasses were located, and she explained that her body had changed since we met years ago. She felt better knowing my vision is blurry because she didn’t feel confident with herself. Of course, I immediately understood this. I, too, have changed, and I have felt the tug to dislike myself for it. However, hearing her explain her discomfort made me realize that what she considers to be imperfections are exactly what I love about her.
Of course, let me pause and note that what I love most about Miriam are not physical things: her gentle nature, her kindness, the way she does the right thing even when it is difficult, her resilience, her sense of adventure, her joy at making a home for us, her happiness when she makes soup, her ability to cut through my emotional nonsense and identify the source of my concerns, the way she brainstorms to overcome our challenges, the way she notices when I am stressed and places a comforting hand on the back of my neck are more important than any outward appearance.
I could stop there, with the idea that outside appearances are not important. Certainly, we have all heard that it is what is on the inside that counts. However, that is disregarding an important point: I love Miriam’s physical self—and I love the AGING of her physical self. The wrinkles and the stretch marks and the freckles and the scars are beautiful. I’m not being a kind lover when I write this. Perhaps we are trained in some way to think of these marks as flaws, but they are actually pleasing to the eye. Maybe this is why humans started to tattoo themselves: the intricacies of texture on flesh is attractive.
Moreover, there are other parts of aging that are easy on the eye. What Miriam thinks of as increased weight is incredibly alluring. The extra skin on her abdomen is my favorite place because it shows her motherhood. Her softness is sexy. When I push her hair behind her ear, I marvel at the metallic strands at her temples. The creases at the corners of her eyes, the silver-ing of her hair, and the way her body softens turn me on. I sincerely love watching her age. It’s hot.
The Truth About Aging
The truth is that aging is otherworldly beautiful on Miriam. That means it is beautiful in me, too. And it is beautiful in us all. Our aging is something gorgeous. Sometimes we forget this and buy into the lie that perfection is the same thing as beauty. It isn’t. I’m not sure what perfection is. Maybe it is the absence of flaws, but it is definitely not beautiful. Beauty is in the creases and the softness. Sexy is found in the imperfections.
Miriam said something about that, now that I think of it. There are many diamond sellers in the Caribbean. We were discussing how the merchants noted that inclusions in the diamonds lower their value, and Miriam said, “Maybe the inclusions are the most important part. The inclusions seem to make the clarity of the rest of the diamond stand out. We appreciate the clarity even more because of what is perceived to be a flaw.” I like that idea.
At the end of the day (and at the beginning when I stare in the mirror and ready myself for work), the natural effects of aging are like lemon juice or vinegar in cooking: they provide a contrast and counterpoint that is complex and attractive. So, if you, like me and Miriam, ever poke at your jaw and consider a facelift, remember how sexy these changes actually are. And perhaps take a cruise instead.