Midlife and Sex! Sex! Sex!
November 10, 2018 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Preoccupied with sex and crushes and wanting to be attractive to others. How to move on?

This is embarrassing and I probably should let it go. It’s probably a phase and I’ll get over it.

I’m a heterosexual female. Married for 20 years. No affairs. No inappropriate behavior. I’m 46 and while I’ve always been concerned about my physical appearance, I never cared too much to actually put maximal effort into how I look. I exercise and eat okay and will slap on lipstick, but I’m not what you would call vain.

I was happily breezing along with life, going to work with wet hair in a bun and carrying an extra twenty pounds when my looks are all of a sudden are very important to me. I long to be beautiful and I long to have others think I’m beautiful. Especially men. I no longer care about previous interests but have an overwhelming, all-consuming interest in my skin, my weight, and my attractiveness -level.

Appearance-wise I’m average. I’m not what you would call beautiful. All of my life I’ve been called pretty — by my parents. People do not hit on me unless I’m 20 lbs lighter and even then it was rare. I don’t get hit on and I don’t know why I care all of a sudden if I do.

Another issue is that I develop crushes on men. I have all of my life. They come out of the blue as crushes do. I’m happily married and have two teenagers. My husband and I have a lot of time to connect and hang out but we’re in the grind of life. We like and love each other and have a good sex life. Lately I ask him a lot if he thinks I’m pretty, and does he love me, and if he saw me walking down the street would he think I were attractive, etc.

Currently I have a crush on a guy five years my junior and I have this desire for him to find me attractive although nothing would come of this. This crush has been going on for a couple months. We come in contact in a professional environment. I don’t have an interest in jeopardizing my marriage. My crush is in a relationship. My crush probably doesn’t think anything about me. I do fantasize about having sex with him.

I fantasize about bumping into my crush in town. I look for his car on the street. I want to keep this crush alive. It’s a nice fantasy. It makes the volunteer work I do more enjoyable. I also have a real job and would want to drop this volunteer gig if I didn’t have this little fantasy going. It was a nice surprise. I’ve known this guy for years and never thought twice about him. He recently got a promotion. He’s more in charge and maybe that turns me on.

I’m aware that I’m searching for validation that will never transpire from approval of strangers. I feel like I’m normally pretty grounded and accepting of my looks. I think it might be my age and hormones. Maybe I’m clinging to my youth and sex is on the mind because I’m nearing toward menopause. Maybe I fear I’m old and men would never want to have passionate illicit sex with me. Maybe I want to spice up my life and this is all I’ve got — trying to be pretty and this crush.

It’s making me an idiot. Previously I would march in unselfconsciously to meetings but now I’m beautifying myself and nervous and I’m looking at him more and I’m tripping over my words and trying too hard.

Any advice on how to proceed? Any words of wisdom? Had this happened to you? What’s going on with me? Ideally I would like to get back to my life and feel more passionately about my hobbies and husband. I guess.
posted by loveandhappiness to Human Relations (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Hormones aren't just fairy dust; it's likely you are experiencing an actual chemical change but writing it off as some kind of personality flaw. If you find your behavior - including thought patterns - changing abruptly, especially if they're becoming repetitive, obsessive, destructive, or affecting your life in some other way, see a doctor! Beating yourself up is just about the least likely thing that's going to help.

It's certainly worth spending some time and meditation on aging and your relationship to it and dig in a little to these crushes and impulses, and why your go-to attitude is "oh I'm a terrible vain person, that's definitely the only thing going on here", but get a physical and bloodwork alongside that.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:13 PM on November 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

Every time you have the feeling of a crush, say, "having that feeling" to yourself and then let go of it. It might come back in 3 seconds, 3 minutes or 3 hours. Say "having that feeling" each and every time. Don't judge the feeling, just notice it. The feeling is neither good nor bad, it is. This is a way to not wish it away.

The trouble happens when you fight it.

As for the beauty thing, I say go for it. It is ok to be attractive. You may please your spouse as well. Let him know what is up, so he knows you are wanting to be desired and working on your looks. If you want to lose 20 pounds, do it. I suggest intermittent fasting and exercising in the morning before you go to work. Home equipment works best because you won't skip because it is raining or logistics.

Also clothes make the person.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does your husband know you're having this desire to feel attractive? It seems like an opportunity to let him be part of what's going on with you and support you - hopefully in a fun, playful way. I'm no relationship expert but I figured this was the reason that people have all of those games to spice things up - meeting each other in a bar and pretending to be strangers hooking up, going out of town for the weekend, trying new techniques/lingerie/positions/etc.

I read elsewhere on the green about a couple who revealed their crushes to each other and teased each other about them. "Guess who's going to be at the cocktail party? Your boooooooyfriend!"

As someone who tends to get very intense (and have a very hard time) with crushes, what helps me is avoiding them and keeping any interaction brief and uninteresting.
posted by bunderful at 1:41 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’m aware that I’m searching for validation that will never transpire from approval of strangers.

Speaking only for myself, I can't remember exactly what year after I turned 40 this happened, but at 46 I am absolutely, completely 100% invisible. I would postulate that, even if only subconsciously, you've noticed this change and are responding to it.

I too am taking more interest in makeup and my appearance than I have in decades but it's because in this invisibility, I have found a freedom I've never experienced as an adult woman. So that's probably not of any use to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2018 [19 favorites]

Is this feeling new? Is there any chance you're experiencing a touch of mania / bipolar cycling? I don't know a ton about bipolar but my friend who has it says one of her clues that she's entering a manic period is an intense desire to be seen as sexy and get validation about her attractiveness from men.

In terms of advice, if you want to make changes to your appearance, go for it! A new haircut, some flattering jeans and an eyecatching winter coat never hurt anyone. Give yourself a little budget, spend it on making yourself feel cute, and then put on your new threads and go on some fun dates with your hubby and meetups for your hobby. Try working from the outside-in for a few weeks and see if it makes you feel different.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:03 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm not yet 40 as but as a woman I feel acutely aware that I am creeping toward the point where the fact that I'm fat, don't cater to cis white male ideas about attractiveness, don't have any children and am now "old" will mean that society as a whole largely perceives me as worthless/useless.

Attractiveness is the toll you pay for being female in society.

Do any of these feelings sound familiar? I feel like I think about whether people find me attractive a lot lately and want male attention when what I think I'm actually after is feeling seen and valued and I don't have a lot of context for how I do that as a woman if not being sexually attractive to men.
posted by Saminal at 4:09 PM on November 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m going to hypothesize that this is a normal midlife crisis of the harmless variety. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive. It sounds like the only time this feeling causes real distress is when you are going to see your crush and you get nervous about how you look. Other than that, working on making yourself desirable can feel pleasurable and empowering.

As for the crush, enjoy it. You aren’t planning to pursue the gentleman, so it will subside eventually. Use the energy of that crush for more sex with your husband, or yourself, or channel it toward nonsexual activities. (Sometimes feelings like this mark a big creative phase for me.) Flirt with strangers if that feels ok within your relationship. Go dancing if that’s a thing you like.

When this energy passes, it’s kind of a relief but kind of a disappointment. From my experience, it’s all part of being human and I think you should embrace the breadth of good feelings you are capable of having.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I also have a real job and would want to drop this volunteer gig if I didn’t have this little fantasy going.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a little outside crush within the context of a monogamous relationship, but that sentence above makes me wonder if you might be getting into risky territory. You're rearranging your life in a pretty big way just to spend time with this guy. If it turned out he was secretly interested in you too, that could be bad. I know nursing this crush is fun, but really, this is how affairs can start. Tread carefully.

Society does a lot of screwed up things to make women over 35 feel unwanted, but I think most of that comes from companies trying to sell you shit. They have to tear you down so you'll buy all their rejuvenating potions and gee-gaws. But I read recently that the number one porn search term is MILF, so the truth is that there are lots and lots of guys swooning over women in your demographic! (Especially younger guys.) They wouldn't see you as "20 pounds overweight," they'd see you as a hot, curvy mama! You're far from invisible. Your husband desires you, and so would lots and lots of other people.

You're certainly not the first woman to feel a big flush of horniness in middle age. (Aline Kominsky-Crumb has done a bunch of comics about it. I remember one where she was talking about how she couldn't even go to the bank without picturing the tellers doin' it. Her comics are hilarious and you might wanna check 'em out.) As the years pass our bodies just kind of force us to feel certain urges sometimes, like it or not. So you could regard this as a bad thing or you could just try to surf the horny wave and have fun with it. Maybe try some kinky roleplay with your husband, or get all dolled up and go out dancing. You could look into corsets or other fetish wear, or experiment with fun makeup looks. Read (or write) some fun smut and cultivate your kinks. Maybe writing some good college boy/MILF-y smut would scratch some of your itches!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:19 PM on November 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

All my life I have related to my feelings through the medium of fictional monsters. I'm going through a set of feelings a lot like yours right now, and the other day, these words flashed into my mind:

I'll wager with you, I'll make you a bet:
The more you deny me, the stronger I get.

If you haven't seen that movie, I can tell you that its lesson is that some things can't be defeated. They have to be given rooms of their own; they have to be fed, or they will seek out things to devour on their own. Ursula Hitler has given a lot of good suggestions as to how to handle your feelings. Just remember that you're not an idiot; you're not seriously proposing to jump this man; you're just a breathing, human woman with a strong and normal sexuality. Be kind to yourself the most when your self is the thing that seems to be cruelest to you.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:41 PM on November 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Go to a doctor. This sounds like a hormonal problem -- your drives are changing and you don't have a plausible explanation for your behavior.

A little googling turns up lots of hits for premenopausal increases in sex drive:
Perimenopause is dialing up my sex drive, and I'm not complaining
posted by benzenedream at 7:09 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm 43. For the past couple years I have periodically felt a strong increase in sex drive; given my other physical symptoms and my doctor's read on them, it's clearly associated with perimenopausal hormonal shifts. Like you, I get uncomfortable and inconvenient levels of intense feeling at times - random intense crushiness, yes some vainness too (not typical for me), desires to see and be seen. I didn't like being a teenager the first time! Getting these revved up feelings all over again has been unnerving to say the least.

It has helped me to hunt down other womens' descriptions of intense and sudden midlife desires (of which there are too few). For example, I read Claire Dederer's Love & Trouble a year or so ago, and boy did I recognize my recent feelings in her description of herself and her friends in middle age. It didn't give me great insights for handling my own feelings, but it at least clued me in that I'm not alone.

All this is to say, you are not alone! I don't have any good answers - it all still feels like an overwhelming muddle, to be honest with you, though I do think I'm getting better over time at managing the feelings so that they're not as chaotic, problematic, or disruptive as they were at first. But yeah, I sometimes feel like I don't have control of my own mind - that is new to me, and truly maddening.

I do appreciate the comments here re: going easy on oneself; I stumble a bit over the "let the feelings happen" comments though; I love this in spirit and normally yes completely, but also, I dunno, this particular hormonal cocktail, in my experience, is very weird. I started out by giving some of these feelings space and it felt like the feelings alone might rip apart my (loving, stable) family life if I let them, they are damn strong. So... yes, go easy on yourself and let the joyous aspects of these feelings live and breathe, but also, be attentive and careful with how you manifest this stuff perhaps? That's how I'm working it so far, with the hope that my ability to maintain a steady center within the hormonal whirlwind will continue to improve over time.
posted by marlys at 8:08 PM on November 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh and also, I remember being affected by this amazing piece. It was linked in a Metafiler thread on Gen X women and midlife anxiety, which itself had some good comments on midlife desire (mostly regarding desire and rage though, if I remember correctly, so maybe not as relevant here).
posted by marlys at 8:26 PM on November 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

Hi! I'm 49, happily married, have a good sex life, no affairs, and am mother to three teenagers. Your post tracks very strongly with my own experience in the last 10 years or so.....increasing sex drive, increasing interest in cultivating my looks, crushes, and often finding all this rather intrusive.
One difference is that at 41 I started doing Ecstatic Dance, freeform dance in an atmosphere more yoga studio than club (similar events found as "5 Rhthyms Dance"). It's a place I've really been able to physically express a lot of sexiness in a nonjudgemental boundary-respecting setting. Also get a lot of interest from men without a need to take it farther.
I can't quite say if this is strictly good for me or my marriage, perhaps it will all bite me in the butt eventually, but oh how I have enjoyed it. I really do feel like a teenager sometimes...all I wanna do is dance, listen to music, and think about boys. My husband is definitely a beneficiary of the sexual energy generated.

As I approach 50 I wonder how long I can ride this train. I keep reminding myself I have spent my 40s feeling sexier and more admired far more than my culture ever led me to expect was possible after 40.
I'm not really answering your question at all! I have no advice for how to dissipate or diffuse this mid-life sexual reinvigoration. The path I seem to have followed is doubling down and finding a bigger outlet.
Anyway, I see you, I feel you, I salute you fellow mid-life sexy lady.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:25 AM on November 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

I’ve found Esther Perel, whether in book or podcast form, to be super reasonable and reassuring regarding these sorts of explorations. Her book mating in captivity is really insightful—I especially appreciate how she refuses to try to sell easy answers to complicated questions.
posted by umbú at 6:36 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all! I appreciate the support and advice. Thank you for book suggestions and links. I read Love and Trouble several months ago. I will reread because I am curious on her take and my memory is shot these days. Recently I downloaded Esther Pearl’s book on infidelity. I don’t plan on being unfaithful but reading to gain more understanding. Maybe I’m using it as affair prevention. We all have desires and are sexual beings and infidelity in our culture treated as a moral failing. Although I feel very close to my husband and can pretty much guarantee I would have immense regret if I acted on my desires with another person. I’m trying to see my crushes and desires for what they are (hormones, being human) and accept what I’m feeling without acting on anything.

I love the idea of estatic dance. I looked it up and it has not come to my part of the country. I have taken other types of dance and it always increases my body confidence. Thank you. I am taking a dance class this week.

The mere act of composing this question has helped me to gain perspective and not worry so much about my physical appearance. I haven’t thought of man crush much. I think it’s fading. I have a feeling of acceptance and even joy. I’m aging, and maybe I’m not turning heads, but I’m embracing my age and trying not to think too much about physical flaws. I’m a sexual goddess in my head. Ha.

Oh and I also do intermittent fasting. It’s working! Thanks again!
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

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