05 Feb Tips for having better sex after divorce
Writing one’s stories isn’t always easy. Particularly the part where we come face to face with some of the things we did that we now see differently. I let shame and fear of telling my stories hold me back for almost 10 years. Then I realized that each story has value; admitting my mis-steps (being compassionate here) has helped me let go and move forward. We all make mistakes. We all have moments that we want to never ever remember again. Then we pick ourselves up and give ourselves a big hug and move on.
Much of my story/memoir is about my sexuality and coming to terms with what I wanted and the things that felt important to me as I began the divorce process. Almost immediately after seeing a lawyer I started dating. It was not a pretty sight! You’ll read it all eventually, I hope, but today I want to talk about sex. I want to offer my insights on how to have better sex after divorce. They’re all based on lessons I learned–often the hard way.
Years ago I had one date, short and bizarre, with a man who was later convicted of the attempted murder of his estranged wife. Talk about a wake up call around safety and vetting online dates! It led me to write about the experience. Then another dating episode and another. I kept writing and began to take writing classes. I kept making some of the same mistakes over and over as I processed what it was I wanted in my life. Now I’m piecing these all stories together and weaving in the complicated story of my divorce from a man with a chronic illness. There are lots of stumbling blocks–one being facing my thoughts and motivations as a midlife woman looking for sex and love and intimacy–and learning the differences between those things.
Yes I had sex with some of these men I dated. And often the sex was bad. We can chalk it up to naiveté on my part, a lack of intuition, and above all a failure to speak up for what I wanted. And sometimes all the stars fell into perfect alignment and everything went smoothly and fun was had by both parties.
What was the difference in the two situations? What can we do as women newly starting the dating and intimacy process later in life?
(Even though I am writing from a heterosexual perspective, the same would probably hold true in same sex relationships.)
Be clear on your motivations and expectations. Do you just want sex? Are you hoping that having sex will increase the chances this person will want to date you? Are you lonely? Is it just time to get back in the game? If you don’t know what you’re looking for, chances are you won’t find it. Clarity helps us make better choices and can reduce emotional upheaval if things don’t go as planned. It can be crushing to have sex thinking it’ll cement the budding relationship only to discover that person was just in it for the sex. Being clear on what you want is important anytime you engage sexually with a new partner. It’s ok to be uncertain about what you really want, but managing expectations–and voicing them is a good thing.
Are you having sex, or going out with this person because you want to? Or are you simply trying to please this other person? That was a big one for me in the early dating days. I was so starved for affection and attention that I ignored my intuition and I let the men I was dating have the upper hand. There were times when I shouldn’t have gone on the date in the first place. That led to some not so great dates and some not so great sex. Learning how to step into your own sexual agency means taking control over your sexual decisions and experiences. Knowing what we want and giving ourselves permission to want those things leads us to make more informed, and often fun, decisions. I’m not talking about being forced, I’m referring to the subtle tendencies many women have to appear pleasing–to go along. I sat through too many uncomfortable dinners because I was afraid to be a bit assertive about my dining preferences, or the turn in the conversation or a relative stranger’s need to assert his masculinity. And in at least one case that led to me having sex with a man who my intuition knew would be a lousy lover–yet I said yes anyway.
We have to learn how to talk about sex. I’m amazed when folks tell me in a workshop they can’t talk about sex. And in the early days neither could I. But if we are too embarrassed to have a preliminary conversation about sex how can we feel comfortable having sex, a much more intimate act? Once I began using my voice clearly and consistently I began insisting on a talk about sex long before we got near the bedroom. I talk about the needs for protection or STD testing. I share my thoughts on what I want during sex. Equally important, I listen to what a potential partner says–how comfortable he is, his thoughts about sex, and his feelings about my sexual confidence. Hint: lots of men found that disarming. Even if he fumbles and expresses discomfort, if he is willing to listen and engage in some sort of conversation, that’s a good start. The man who feels intimidated by my forthrightness, or who protests about condoms, or postponing for testing is most likely all wrapped up in the immediacy of his sexual urges. He’s thinking only about himself. He’s not showing respect for my feelings. He’s not thinking about my, or his, health and safety, and most likely he’s not going to be a giving, considerate lover. Talking about sex breaks a barrier and begins to set the stage for greater intimacy. And yes, it’s a bit harder for those of us over 50 as talking about sex was not part of our earlier experiences.
The first man I had sex with was a total disaster. The worse part of the whole short experience, upon reflection, was my rush to plaster over my emotional wounds. Had I been a bit more thoughtful, taken more time to heal, and to understand my sexual desires I could have had a vastly different and more satisfying evening. Valuing myself and being clear on what I ultimately hoped to gain would have led to different emotional results.
I look back with amusement and some regret at those first attempts to find myself in the eyes and arms of a man. As I work on my memoir I feel some sadness in having been so out of touch with my needs, and compassion for that scared woman who moved too fast, out of need and neglect and a flawed sense of self. I can say that now, but initially it was difficult not only to see what I was doing but to be brave enough to share that story.
We all stumble. And we all get up and try again. I hope to impart some of my post-divorce journey in a way that gives you hope, a laugh, and some tips on navigating the sexual, the experiences of midlife, and the delight in finding one’s own way.