08 Aug When tradition no longer serves you
What do we do when tradition no longer serves us? When, as women, we find ourselves hampered by tradition and its teachings? These are the questions I’ve been thinking about lately.
I drew the The Hermit card the other morning, part of my morning ritual of journaling. According to the interpretation I was reading the card suggests a period of being single or a time to focus inward. It may also indicate a breaking with tradition.
Tradition. That one word not only gave me the morning’s writing prompt but it also led me to put a name to what I’m bumping up against these days—in my personal life and in my work with older women around aging and sexuality.
On the surface I would seem to be living a pretty traditional life. If I had a few cats I could easily transition into a cat lady. But there are no cats and my sofa is newly reupholstered in fuchsia and my watercolors of nude women are tacked up on my office wall. In other words I’m shedding the old me. If not for the home owners association the front door would be a deep rich purple.
Tradition no longer serves us, as women. Maybe it never did? When I view my life through the traditional lens, I realize I’m breaking the mold for older women.
The more I follow my own path the happier I am
How do we fall into traditional lives? Is it by choice? Is it foisted upon us by parents and teachers and society? I have traditions, ritual observances, my family and I enjoy–they tend to be centered around celebrations and holidays. It’s the traditional ideas of how women are supposed to act in society I find problematic. The expected role for women is often restrictive, one that relies on us keeping our place—subordinate to men.
I played along for decades, having bought into my mother’s warnings that my talkative and assertive behavior would make me unappealing to men. Finding the right man was everything. That meant wearing makeup and being pleasing and not speaking up for myself. Every time a ‘relationship’ didn’t work I viewed it as my own fault.
Those days are over for me.
But they’re not over for the vast majority of women. Today women are still chastised for daring to step out of line. We are threatened, assaulted, trolled, or shut down. We inwardly berate ourselves while trying to perfect that role in order to have the success we’ve been promised for following traditional roles for women our age.
It’s long past time for me to ignore expectations and public opinion and doing whatever the hell I want.
I don’t think I’m alone here
The area that has been most problematic for me has been dating. In one sense you might say I have been unsuccessful–after all, I am still single. But that would be to deny the great men I’ve met and the interesting experiences. Some of it material for a book I’m writing. I’ve made some friendships along the way and learned a lot. Admittedly I often felt as if I was failing at ‘womanhood’.
Part of my sense of being a failure was tied to the beliefs I internalized about how I was supposed to show up as a woman. I focused more on the oughts than how I wanted to show up. The risk for me, and for many of us, is that we ignore or negate those parts of ourselves that don’t fit the mold–often at our own peril.
We can’t deny who we are. In doing so we belittle ourselves, denying our gifts and talents and fearing that we aren’t enough. We put on a mask for the world, because it’s scary to let ourselves be seen. To embrace the current version of ourselves is to challenge the common belief that old is bad.
The struggle for me wasn’t as much about looks and aging as it was about being “unsuccessful” in marriage. I was still struggling with old stories, which implied that being single was a bad thing. I was being measured on my ability to catch and keep a man (and yes, I’m exaggerating a smidge).
The journey to let go happens step by step. We can choose to live life on our own terms. We can challenge the notion that older women must quietly fade away. The part where women feel a bit colorless in their lives. Sex-less. Desire-less. Ambition-less. I want that for myself and for you.
What do we have to lose when we decide to live life for ourselves, on our own terms? Some people won’t support us. Others will be uncomfortable with our freedom. And some of those will be women. Those people want to push us back into our boxes—not for our benefit but for theirs. It becomes our job to let go of people who aren’t willing to support us.
In retrospect I’ve been on this journey now for several years. It feels good. And it feels right.
My work is expanding as my awareness about aging evolves. I love talking openly and freely to women and men about sexuality—urging folks to find more pleasure in sex. And more general desire in their lives. And whether that’s local or in New York City or LA or points in between I love breaking the rules that restrict older women.