Love and Will Across the Lifespan

 

 

        When I was 18 years old, I received my first gynecological exam from the family doctor. The examination table was in the same room as his desk. When it was over, I sat in the chair across from this rather large 60-something-year-old doctor. He puffed away at his pipe and said, “You know, it’s time you learned about love and lust.” Then handed me a copy of Rollo May’s Love and Will. Those were the 1960s, and being left alone with a male physician puffing on a pipe is not something we’d ever see today!

        My mother was driving and I sat in the passenger seat. I cracked the book open in the car on the way home. I read the first page about five times and still had no idea what May was talking about, but essentially he was saying that people don’t know what real love is. At the time, I wondered if something was wrong with me for not understanding, but was too embarrassed to ask my mother, but she did comment that it was a great book. End of conversation. I would have loved her to explain why it was a great book. It reminded me of the day I turned 12 when she entered my room to hand me a little pink pamphlet titled Your Secret Body. “This is all you will need to know about your transition into womanhood,” she said and walked out. End of conversation. Like many others of the 1950s and 1960s, she clearly had a hard time discussing difficult subjects. Fortunately, these subjects are more openly talked about today. Of course having access to the internet is a huge reason.

        Menstrual cycles, sexual intercourse, and sensuality were not talked about in school either. However, as a young child I was very curious about sensuality and played “doctor” in our suburban basement with a few friends. This meant that we would take turns touching parts of one another’s body and discovering what it meant to be aroused. Together we giggled and experimented.

        I vividly remember the first time I had an orgasm. It felt as if I had transcended universes. Like most, I wanted that feeling over and over again. During adolescence, I was always the one reading sexy books and poetry. I remember hiding Jacqueline Susann’s book Valley of the Dolls under my pillow. I did not even know that I was being turned on.

        I lost my virginity with a junior high school when I was about the age of fifteen to a guy who I had a huge crush on. One Friday night, his parents went out to a party and he invited me over to watch TV. I don’t remember the show, but I do remember the drama of losing my virginity and how comfortable he made me feel. Although it was a mutual de-flowering, he was still very confident in his method and how he made me feel. The sight of blood was scary however, and even more daunting was deciding what to do with the stained sheets.

        When I arrived home that evening, my mother asked if I had a good time. I smiled and said, “Yes I did.” When she asked me what show we watched I said I could not remember. “I’m tired,” I added, and scurried up to my room to write about the experience in my journal.

        My journals have always been the place to hold my deepest and darkest secrets, like the time I was invited to another boyfriend’s house to listen to music in his attic. I knew it wasn’t just the music he was inviting me for. I think males knew that I craved intimacy, but I always attracted intelligent men who wanted to converse with me first before taking my pants off.

        I met my now-husband in 1972. I lived in New York and he was in Canada. For five years we wrote love letters to one another, reading and comparing romantic French writers such as Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Balzac. Our letters were inspired by these authors and were therefore filled with lustful thoughts and longings. We got married when I was twenty-three and he was twenty-five. My father-in-law, who had lived in France for many years, bought us a copy of The Joy of Sex. During the early years of our marriage, we devoured the book. It helped us achieve open and honest communication, and gave us the ability to make our desires and needs known. It accentuated all the positive aspects of our intimate life.

        My in-laws practiced what they preached. Whenever we visited, they would close their bedroom door each afternoon at four. It was no secret what they were up to. I wondered if my husband and I would we be like that with our children someday. As it turns out, we were, as my husband and I often did the same—retreated to the bedroom for intimacy.

        Further, as it turns out, children do subconsciously mimic the behaviors of their parents. As the mother of three adult children I see that like their parents, they are comfortable with their own sexualities and those of their significant others. They were not raised to be prudes; they were raised to allow their sensuality be revealed in their dress and attitude. They were shown to make love and not war like I was, growing up in the 1960s.

        A few years down the road, I became inspired by the diarist and erotic writer Anaïs Nin, who taught me that open communication, intimacy, and lust were all important reasons for living. Her writings paired with my own interest in lust, inspired me to write and publish two poetry collections: Lust and An Imaginary Affair: Poems Whispered to Neruda.

        I’m nearly seventy years old and continue to feel lust for both life and intimacy. I don’t think we change much as we grow older, but we learn to accept who we are and what we need. There’s a certain confidence that comes with the aging process. All of life’s experiences accumulate into one gigantic pool and from that pool, we gain various wisdoms.

        During my own aging process, I understand my need for creativity and love in my life. I’m drawn to people who need nurturing and who are able to nurture me in return. My hope is that my own children and grandchildren are bestowed with similar blessings, and that they bring into their lives whatever makes their heart sing. I also hope that when real love comes along, they will be able to recognize and enjoy its magic.