What is it about mid life in a woman’s life that almost every woman I know - feels like they want a man pause. It doesn’t matter if they are married (happily or unhappily), single (happily or unhappily), divorced (again happily or unhappily) or widowed (no one I know is happily widowed so we will skip any more of that reference here). My point is that almost any woman I know has thought (sometimes only to herself):
Why am I with a man?
What purpose does he serve?
What am I getting out of this?
Is what I am getting enough to sustain me for another day, week or year?
How much of me do I have to give away to stay in this relationship with him?
For many women I know (who are capable of being honest with themselves) the answer does not come easily. In fact, for many the truth is buried so deeply in the recesses of their psyche that most give it only a superficial look and then move on and relegate that particular thought to the “let’s not think that thought again because it may be my undoing” pile.
So how is it that we women arrive in midlife with a laundry list of regret about the men we chose, the men we didn’t chose, the things that we gave up and the things that we kept? I hang with a pretty spiritual crowd so on the whole I think that most of my friends would ultimately be ok with whatever choices they made: good or bad. But I think it is very interesting that this time in women’s life is actually labeled “menopause”. Aptly named because it seems that we women do not take a man pause until almost half our lives are over. Let me explain. I will use myself as illustrative not because I really am any kind of an example, I use myself solely because I am the subject I know most about...
In my early years, men caused a lot of damage. I mean a lot. What I learned was that men are violent, horrible and awful. I learned that my juxtaposition to men was mostly frequently as an afterthought, a pawn or a conquest. One might think that this would have made me back away from men and relationships with them in general...but instead I turned toward them full throttle and made it my life’s work to make myself be anything but an afterthought, pawn or conquest. I ceded my power to them over and over again, believing whatever it was that they told me about me. I came to see myself only through whatever man I was involved with: “If they adored me, then I was worthy” “If they treated me like shit, I was unworthy” “If they were wholly indifferent to me, then I had to pretzelize myself to get their fucking attention”. I became re-oriented away from me and toward them.
And that is how my life has gone until about a year ago. I lived my life, I made decisions for myself but all of those decisions were abdicated to a man in the end. I married because someone asked me. I said that I wanted to be married because that is what I was supposed to want and what I believed was expected of me. I had children because that is what a woman is supposed to want to do. The career girl path was seen as indulged, barren and selfish. I do not regret becoming a wife or a mother - I just regret what I gave up to become both those things.
I gave away me so that I could “get” them. I became some sort of shrink wrapped version of myself to fit into the role that I felt that I was being assigned as man’s partner. I allowed myself to be pulled into a world that I was not really sure that I wanted because I was afraid to be who I was without a man to provide me legitimacy. I thought that on my own, I was less when in truth I was always more me when alone than when partnered with men.
I want to clear up any misconception that I believe men are at fault for me arriving at middle age and having a whole host of regrets about who I could have been had I just had the courage to live my own life instead of hitching it to the man du jour. It was not and is not man’s fault that I did this. I did this all on my own. I decided and I made the choices to be smaller, more malleable, less me so that I could fit into whatever version of myself that the man du jour was selling me. It was my fault. I did this.
I think this is why we women end up in middle age, childbirth and marriage (well at least the first one) behind us. This is why we start fucking 24 year old bartenders at our friend’s Christmas parties in the bathroom. This is why we go a little nuts. This is why we frequently seem happiest after the dust of menopause settles. Our youth waning, things sagging where we would prefer they did not, we are given this brief stopping (ok for some of us, it isn’t brief and it is brutal) place where we are able, if we really look hard and are honest with ourselves to see that our lives were always ours, we were just mistaken about our belief that they weren’t.
With renewed energy and wisdom from a life half lived, we embark on this new journey and our prize for our sojourn: a great deal of distance between who we started out being and who we have become. We are able to see much more clearly who the fuck we are and with that thought comes the tiniest bit of courage to allow that woman to grow and develop and change. We like her despite the added weight, wrinkled, thinning skin, grey hair and crow's feet. We have worked on her all our life and there she is this shriveled version of ourselves staring at us in the mirror every damn day. I don’t know about any of you, but I fucking love that woman. She is a badass and has overcome some pretty horrific shit that would have sent a frontline marine running for the hills.
When I see her looking back at me, I see the pain and the wisdom and the joy and the growth and the hope. I see a person who has been delivered to the other side of being afraid of herself. She stands ready to not accept less then she deserves and she is confident in her worth as a person, a woman and mother. She knows her limits and still pushes them as often as she can. She fully inhabits the life she has and sees how much of herself she gave away for men that weren’t worth the effort. She owns her sexuality as something that is innately hers, being released from the sexual idea that she is there for procreation because time has taken that role from her by this time in her life. Sex is for her pleasure, on her terms and with her consent. She decides with whom, how often and in what manner. She doesn't need your approval, she doesn't care if you think she's slutty. Her sex life is not your business and she will no longer shy away from this power source because you tell her she is bad, immoral or promiscuous. She is the most fully present with herself that she has ever been. She knows she isn’t done but she is enjoying the pause in her life from the men and their role in her life. She realizes that she doesn’t need them, never did and should she decide that she wants company, she is capable of making that happen. She does not need a man to care for her or tell her what to do or hold her hand. She has learned to give those things to herself. She loves that about herself and is so grateful for the wisdom to see that men were never the enemy...it was her own lack of knowledge about who the fuck she was that allowed her to break herself down into whatever bite sized chunks she could peddle to men who never really got her to begin with...
I think that is what menopause is really about: a time in our life where we are relieved from our obligation to be the other half of a couple. We are free to think about ourselves without the attendant guilt that seems to accompany the role of wife and mother. We are given this pause to re-evaluate who we are and what we want. We are given a vantage point to review all that we have endured, survived, lived and loved through. And if we are really fucking brave, we can so embody ourselves that we are given the most priceless gift we could ever get: living comfortably in our own skin knowing exactly who the fuck we are.