Figuring It Out at Forty

Five Tips for Any Lesbian Over the Hill and Under-Experienced in Love

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Figuring It Out at Forty

One of the most colossal mindf**ks of having lived four decades is having less than a handful of romantic experiences to show for it. It begets little wonder your confidence in stepping up to the relationship plate would have taken a ginormous hit, not to mention the ability to be honest and upfront about your likes and dislikes. I don’t know about you, but being at the stage where a ‘Miss’ automatically prefixes my first name and still trying to find my relationship legs was not in the cards. But here we are.

There is also what I’ve found to be the added challenge of being a moon-howling, non-binary human. For you, it might be dealing with layers of shame around intimacy or having never experienced authentic and fulfilling partnered sex. Maybe you are anxious about only now exploring kinks. The cacophony of inner battles about where your life should be by now is the worst, but here’s how it can get better.

A  disclaimer before proceeding: I am no expert. In fact, I recommend consulting a professional in these affairs. This certainly is not a one-size-fits-all sort of situation. However, if something resonates, take it and leave the rest. The process is an act of bravery and self-love. So if you, my dear mid-life approaching woman lover, struggle with relationship confidence, these following five tips are worth the gander. 

Be Honest with Yourself

The first step to figuring it out is being honest with yourself. After all, it is the best policy and essential to an unshakeable amount of self-awareness, which, I gather, is also sexy. The issue is, we tend not to view the habit of honesty as a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. This sounds easy but at forty, it can be tricky, especially with unresolved childhood trauma. By then, the tree can feel a little too old to bend. Events from my childhood caused dissociative tendencies that led me down a lifelong path of feelings of disconnect, as though I were living someone else’s life. 

Admittedly, honesty has not been my strong suit. But the thing with life is the more you live it, the more you learn. After coming out to my parents at the ripe age of 33, it struck me that the business of telling others who you are holds you accountable to knowing who you are. This is not to say you should, or are in any way obligated, to announce to the world how and with whom you like having sex. That might not be advisable or safe. What I am saying is, that although the act of self-awareness requires emotional, mental, and spiritual labour, the reward in how you communicate with partners and stand on your own piece of earth is the most attractive you’ll be. 

You will be called to sit with childhood trauma, shame around your body, and other weird quirks unique to you. However, with time, the discomfort dwindles, and the unknown loses its sting. Staceyann Chin, in her Other Side of Paradise, chronicles the importance of how constant self-examination re-distributed the blame of the early events of her childhood. 

“I did nothing to deserve being abandoned and assaulted or otherwise abused. After (understanding) that, I began the business of managing my general feelings of worthlessness.” 

The benefits of honesty with self become noticeable in how you communicate your needs and what you now reject and demand from others. Recipients of your efforts will sense your love comes from a place of authenticity which goes a long way when sharing who you are and what you can or cannot give to a prospective partner.

Be Intentional With Building Community

The reconnection in the middle of Half Way Tree next to the Transport Centre seemed random. It felt like we simultaneously hadn’t seen each other for years (which we hadn’t) and were in each other’s company mere hours ago. The rekindling felt organic and conjuring. I ran into an ex-co-worker and an old friend. At that moment, without notice or fanfare, I began building my community again.

Broadly defined, a community is a group of people who create relationships through interests, commonalities, events, or goals. Theoretically, this does not change, but as you age, the layers do. It is more than the people we befriend and comes to include consideration about how they suit our evolving needs. These communities reflect the intentionality invested in knowing what makes you feel like your best version of yourself and gassing that up, so to speak. 

As a result, the confidence to engage in other relationships grows as you grow, especially in areas like communication and accountability. If you’re living single, your community is your Batcave. The space where you go to recoup, heal, and return stronger. Otherwise, some of its best value is in how it grounds as much as challenges you. These are also values that serve as an excellent blueprint for building or sustaining a romance. If nothing else, intentionally building communities in your forties pours confidence into parts of you that may have forgotten how it feels to bond with people. 

A proper village should push you forward and ask you to trust in your abilities; Luvvie Ajayi Jones articulates in her Professional Troublemaker: The Fear Fighter Manual: they are… 

“people you cleave to and rise with. To be sounding/jumping boards and act as buffers for each other, even while knowing they can be everlasting buffoons at their worst. But at their best, are a soft place for us to land.” 

Your people believe in the work you are doing and are doing the work themselves too.  

Make a Do’s and Don’ts List

This is where it gets fun. 

As a neurotic planner, lists are my saviour, and nary an errand is run without one. I’m learning these bad girls are just as helpful with romance. It starts with, again, intentionality: purposefully putting into the universe and on paper what you want in your partner/s. Call it an agreement with yourself on what you will and won’t accept. In Making Agreements, a chapter from The Ethical Slut, Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton vote a hard yes for making lists. The authors explain that successful relationships are indebted to them as they form the basis of how partners behave. These agreements name your needs as worthy and establish effective boundaries. The more explicit, the better because good boundaries thrive on detail. 

Creating your do and don’t list is an agreement with yourself first. It gets you clear on your standards and your likes and dislikes. This may have you engaging in activities you thought you weren’t permitted to consider before and look something like this:

  • Think about the type of partner/s you want. 
  • Write down EVERYTHING (my list has about 45 things on it so far). Touch on emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and other things you need for them to have/be. 
  • Segment list into dos/don’ts/negotiable. For example, a ‘do’ could be 100% attracted to my body, have a childlike sense of wonder, or be a believer in African/divine Feminine spirituality, or a ‘don’t’ could be not wanting them to have an ounce of binary mentality.
  • If you want to take it further, break out into specific lists, e.g., sexual interests. Indicate the level of openness to each. 
  • Lists may include yes/no/maybe subcategories that group your likes and dislikes around genitalia play, kinks, or dating preferences.

By naming your needs, they no longer feel strange or too much. They cease to carry fear or shame and bloom into sexy conversation topics with potential partners. Be mindful that you are permitted to make changes as you experience relationships. 

Focus on Daily Things You Love

This is the first time I’d say stop trying to do things to augment your love life. Instead, focus on just doing the things you love. Channelling your energy into other interests gives the Universe’s ear a break and you time to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with how to exist as a healthy, autonomous human. Make this a habit and watch how self-generated joy shifts the focus from “something must be wrong with me why I am single” to “I’m f**king awesome, and someone would be blessed to be my partner.” Remember, relationships with others are cute, but the relationship with yourself is a lifelong commitment to be sipped and savoured. 

Life is too short anyway to walk around anxious about what your love life isn’t. It might best serve you to tap into the unsullied joy of what, and not the who, you love. Before long, that energy radiates like an attraction forcefield because people tend to find passionate people attractive. There is this sense of “I am a multi-dimensional being, and I know what makes me feel good” that comes with it. These qualities are great for building or rebuilding the battered confidence of any older lesbian seeking to bring their whole self to a relationship.

And while you’re busy becoming better at photography, carpentry, fitness, or whatever else you love, the love of your life will find you. 

Learning Vulnerability

We end as we started, examining an aspect of self-awareness: and there is none scarier than vulnerability. The few relationships I’ve had ended tragically, to be fair, embarrassingly, but here I am advocating for letting people in. It sounds crazy but it’s true. Spending the last 25 years building my walls so high has been exhausting and unfulfilling work. Sure, it keeps everyone at bay and at a safe distance. It also lets nobody in. That is how you or I will experience the beauty of a relationship worth living for. Yes, it is hard to admit that you’re just getting to ‘know’ yourself and even harder to reveal the pink, raw innards of your insecurities. But f**k it. It is time to start thinking, hell, believing you are worthy of manifesting the love of your list.

With that frame of mind,  vulnerability won’t feel as much like the big bad wolf as it does now. The key ingredient here is acceptance: acceptance of who you are and where you are on your journey. You’d be as surprised as Jones was in discovering in her Fear Fighter Manual that sometimes you’ll receive gifts and love strictly because you are you, no other reason. Anyway, the best relationships, in Hardy and Easton’s words, “tend to share mindfulness and a mutual desire for the well-being of all involved.” There is no fear in conscious vulnerability. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a sign of weakness. Vulnerability is asking for what we need in the act of showing ourselves. 

Figuring it out is never a rush against time. If we are so blessed to age gracefully, the most valuable of lessons is understanding that you have to be better to experience better relationships. Becoming a better you will take intentionality, time, and effort but with one tip at a time you’ll be on your way to more sexy times than you can handle. Either way, we’re all learning and that’s okay (maybe even attractive) to say so.