never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: sensuality


Hugo Schwyzer’s controversial past has unfortunately caused his disappearance from feminist discourse. I don’t have a clear opinion on him, but I do know he was one of the few male writers to call out other men on their ageism and to take a critical stance on touchy subjects such as this:

I’ve never had to field that particular request, but I do find that men take their cues from porn these days and generally want to act out the scenarios they have become habituated to. All the “acting” gets a bit boring and the creativity and joy of sex has felt stifled to me.


My roommate is out of town and, after some wavering, I allowed myself a rendezvous with a former fling. I tell myself it was for “health” reasons, and I do think there is something to that.

The thing that is unsatisfying about this particular fling is that he doesn’t make me feel that good about myself. He’s narcissistic and enjoys praise himself, but he doles out little. He also loves to bring up other young, good-looking, and successful women.

If I know one thing, it’s that there will always be younger, better-looking, more successful, and wealthier people out there, and the comparison game is deadly. One of my most important requirements in a long-term partnership is that my partner and I highly value one another.

This is an interesting article; I’ve certainly found that I get more attention here than I did in L.A.:

There are, of course, beautiful women in other parts of the country. But L.A. is a mecca, attracting the most beautiful. Women don’t look like this anywhere else in the country, and certainly not in the quantity they do here.

L.A. is an adopted city for me, as it is for many. Born in New York, I wonder from time to time what shape my life would have taken if I hadn’t moved here in the 1970s. Whatever else, I would not have been saturated with the sight of so many beautiful women on a daily basis. But then I remember; these are the women whose images are broadcast all over the globe. While most people do not live in L.A., they visit it every day when they turn on the TV or go to the movies. It is safe to say that, to one degree or another, we all live in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.


Going into it did you have a goal of remaining abstinent for a certain number of years?

I hadn’t decided anything. I remember I was 27 years old, and I had begun sexual activity very young, and I said to myself, “Am I happy, sexually?” And my answer was “no,” even when I took pleasure. I decided to wait for something better, and for me something better was supposed to come very soon, you know? It was impossible to imagine such a long time. But now, when I’m looking back, it was nothing, those 12 years.

What were you waiting for?

I was not waiting for love. I think it’s a mistake to think that women are always expecting love. We are expecting to be in good hands, even if these good hands are just for two nights or one week. We’re waiting as in the movie “Out of Africa.” We are waiting for a man, maybe his presence will be rare, but it will be a high quality of presence. So I was waiting for something ecstatic.


What place does sex have in your life now?

After my long-time [celibacy], I met a man and I had a boyfriend for years, but now I’m alone. For me, being alone is not a question. For me, I’m not thinking, “Oh, I am 50 years old, am I young enough to meet a man?” I don’t know what it is to think this way. For me, being in love is being free. It’s not as if I was walking in the streets and looking at all these handsome men and thinking, “Oh no, they don’t look at me!” I don’t see handsome men. Charming men I don’t see, where are they? It’s very, very rare, so I have made up my mind. I’m sure that because it’s rare you have to live between the love stories.

What did your sexlessness change for you? How did it change you?

It was very important. It has opened my eyes. At the beginning I thought that married people were happy together having sex. I was considering my celibacy as an illness. During all those years I talked to a lot of people and I learned that sometimes when you’re in a couple you don’t make love at all. Sometimes when you’re alone you have a very big libido in your mind; sometimes it’s more rich in your mind than in the real-life bedrooms of married couples. Sometimes my friends with boyfriends were less happy than me. Of course they had someone in their bed, but there was a price to pay, you know? My mother used to say that there’s a price to pay for everything. You don’t want to be with a boring man, so the price to pay is to be alone. I think that married people are very big liars, because if they don’t lie to say that they are happy sexually then they are ridiculous. So when a married couple is next to a single person, it seems that it is the single person who is the more pitiful, but maybe that’s not the case.


By giving up sex, I abandoned all this pretense. During the 12 years I didn’t have sex, I learned so much. About my body, the role of art in eroticism, the power of dreams, the softness of clothes, the refuge and the importance of elegance. That I can take more pleasure while watching Robert Redford shampooing Meryl Streep’s hair in “Out of Africa” than being in a bed with a man. Sometimes I took pleasure just by staring at men’s necks. Sometimes, just by listening to a voice. It was libido, trust me. It was desire. But society doesn’t recognize this kind of felicity. It’s too much! I’ve learned that most people mainly want to prove that they are sexually functioning, and that’s all. Strangely, people are ashamed to admit that they are alone in their beds, which I discovered is a huge pleasure.

One day she went off alone for a skiing holiday, and experienced a complete liberation. “Sleeping alone in a big bed! Skiing on my own, at my own speed! You can’t imagine how happy I was. It was off season, there were perhaps three people in my hotel. Bliss.” She had an epiphany then and there, and decided to take a sabbatical from the times of mandatory sex. It lasted 12 years.

the triumph of tradition

I agree with some of the commenters that this article problematic and bothersome. Basically, the author played the field in her twenties and still ended up “winning” by getting married and (probably) becoming a mother. I suppose it’s a good rebuke to all the men out there who would assert that she had “ruined her chances,” but it still promotes the idea that getting married and having kids is the ultimate sign of success. Is that the most relevant perspective to be writing from? It seems the bigger story today is all the people for whom that is not happening:

dream life

Every night for the past several weeks I’ve spent an hour or two with a tight chest, gripped by anxiety. Anxiety over completely uprooting my life. Anxiety over the idea of taking the job, anxiety over not taking the job.

This Dear Cary column spoke to me as it addresses indecision, fear, loneliness, change, and what constitutes a meaningful life:

At all costs, preserve the basic outlines of your basically happy life.

There will be moments when you are lonely. You will have moments of dissatisfaction. Accept these.

Part of your challenge is spiritual. Part is philosophical. It involves accepting the moment-to-moment phenomena of your own consciousness. Out in the country it is hard to distract yourself from your own thoughts. That is basically a good thing but it is not amusing. There will be times when nothing is amusing. At such times, ask what is going on. What hunger is at work? What dissatisfaction is at the edge, gnawing? Just inquiring will help. If you know what it is, you can live with it. If you don’t know what it is, you may misinterpret it and set off to satisfy it when it is in fact something else. It may be loneliness or sadness. It may be your baseline existential awareness that life is fleeting and mysterious. It may be pensiveness or it may be dread or sadness from some emotional loss that can’t be helped. It may be a hormonal fluctuation. It may be the natural tiredness that comes with increasing age.


And remember: You are not just doing this for yourself. You are, in fact, creating a way of living that others can follow. As more of us realize that our lives are not happy or sustainable, more of us will turn to people like you and ask, How do you do it? What are the pitfalls? How do you get laid?


Hopefully I won’t remain on the sexual sidelines for long, as I’ve already got a few flirtations going, and an old fling has started calling (someone I didn’t want to take up with again, so I’ll have to decide how to handle that– afraid of going back to a problematic situation I fled six years ago). I’m not actively searching for a partner but am coming across some potential candidates nonetheless. I certainly can relate, however, to this sentiment:

On the whole, I tend to steer clear of the subject of sex. Well, here, anyway for fear of being bombarded by fucking weirdo trolls. And even though I completely agree with James Salter – America’s neglected genius, according to the big profile of the writer in yesterday’s Observer – that the sexual life is “the real game of the grownup world”. In Saturday’s Guardian review of his new novel, All That Is, it said that “the cycle of meeting, flirting and fucking forms the book’s basic dramatic unit.”

Well, certainly it forms MY basic dramatic unit, and everybody else’s, even if some don’t see it quite that way, or aren’t so quick to admit it.

Times in my life there have been longish periods without sex, but of course during those periods it never occurs to one that anyone else on the planet is experiencing or has ever experienced a fallow period. You see the world as a place where everyone else is at it like dogs. Then it suddenly happens again, and you think, phew! Back in the land of (grownup) living. You feel part of the adult human race again, where you rightly belong. Not in some throwback virginal space that infantilises you, somehow, so that whenever you go to a fucking movie or read a sex scene in a novel or see some couple eating each other’s faces on the pavement, you feel like a child again, cut off from the mysterious world of grown-ups.

the bombardment

Bell’s main argument is that these women are bombarded with “vying cultural” messages: “Be assertive, but not aggressive. Be feminine, but not too passive. Be sexually adventurous, but don’t alienate men with your sexual prowess” — and so on. At the same time that they are encouraged to “live it up,” they “spend their twenties hearing gloomy forecasts about their chances of marriage if they don’t marry before thirty, and their chances of conceiving a baby if they don’t get pregnant before thirty-five.”

lowered expectations

In the face of these problems and many more, we might question our expectations of how often we can rightly look forward to sex going well for us– and, contrary to the spirit of the age, might conclude that a handful of occasions in a lifetime may be a fair and natural limit to our ambitions. Great sex, like happiness more generally, may be the precious and sublime exception.

During our most fortunate encounters, it is rare for us to appreciate how privileged we are. It is only as we get older, and look back repeatedly and nostalgically to a few erotic episodes, that we start to realize with what stinginess nature extends her gifts to us– and therefore what an extraordinary and rare achievement of biology, psychology and timing satisfying sex really is.

— Alain de Botton, How to Think More About Sex, p. 10


The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’ the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.


Our culture encourages us to acknowledge very little of who we normally are in the act of sex. It seems as if it might be a purely physical process, without any psychological importance. But … what happens in love-making is closely bound up with some of our most central ambitions. The act of sex plays out through the rubbing together of organs, but our excitement is no boorish physiological reaction; rather, it is an ecstasy we feel at encountering someone who may be able to put to rest certain of our greatest fears, and with whom we may hope to build a shared life based upon common values.