I decided to write the memoir because I wanted other women my age to realize that if they felt they had to leave their partner, they should follow their heart and mind and not worry about the fact that they were middle aged- or older.
When I confided in a few close friends that my marriage wasn't in good shape and that I had been thinking about leaving for a long time- almost to a person they told me "don't leave- it's not so bad-- and at your age- you will be alone from then on".
I didn't believe that then- and events since then have proved their forecast as unnecessarily bleak. The advent of the internet has made dating after 50 (or way after 50) not only possible, but pleasurable. I felt that I needed to encourage other women to follow their heart- no matter what age they were when their marriage or long-term relationship ended. Whether you left -or were left- there was a larger world out there of other single people, looking for a partner. My book Prime: Adventures and Advice about Sex, Love and the Sensual Years (Harper Collins, 2007, 2008) chronicled my own dating, romantic and sexual life from age 55 to 60 and I hope, inspired some women (and it turns out, quite a few men) to believe that they could find a great relationship-- and do what it took to find that person.
The book was explicit- and included heartbreak as well as thrills and self-discovery. I didn't think it made any sense to write some romp that had one self aggrandizing chapter after the other. I also wanted to share my mistakes and rejections and not sugarcoat the ups and downs of dating. Still, overall, I believed that despite the various emotional bruises along the way, my foray back into the dating world produced some wonderful end results which included (but was not limited to) finding someone to love, having passion again, discovering more about myself as a person and becoming a partner.
Everyone warned me that if I wrote this book, there would be a backlash. I would get ugly letters from people who were offended by this much personal revelation; I would get shock and even outrage from the University of Washington where I was a Professor of Sociology; my career would suffer. Again, happily, almost none of this happened. I wrote the Chairperson of my department, and the President of the University, and sent them an advance copy of the book. I told them that it was not an academic book, it was a personal and somewhat explicit memoir of my sexual life, and I wanted them to be forewarned if any press contacted them. I didn't want them to defend me just because I was a faculty member and then find out that they had defended a book they disproved of. Happily, both of them were very supportive. My Chairperson just wanted an autographed copy, and President Emmert sent an email that he was hardly surprised to hear that I had written something provocative-- and that he applauded my efforts, appreciated me as a faculty member and backed my right to write a personal book.
I kept waiting for a smack that never really happened. Yes, there were a couple of nasty letters when my local newspapers wrote huge stories on me and the book (one was several full pages-- and laudatory). In particular, one woman wrote my ex husband to assure him that she thought I was a slut, and he was well rid of me. My ex husband and I are, however, very friendly, and clearly upset, he defended me- and sent me a copy of her letter and his protective response. Other than that person- no one I knew, not even distant acquaintances, gave me a hard time. In fact, wonderful things happened-- including getting on the list of "positive books for grown-ups" for AARP and several other wonderful honors... not the least of which was to become the "Love, Sex and Relationship Ambassador for AARP".
So, what's the moral of this story? Were my friends wrong to warn me not to publish? No, they had every reason to worry. We are a puritanical nation- and even people who are liberal about sex may not want to get a behind the scenes look at the sexual and emotional life of someone they have heretofore regarded as a dispassionate expert. I do understand that response. But I was convinced then- and even more so now, that sometimes a personal account is as much of a convincing and moving method of inspiring people as the most carefully researched text. At the very least- it is another aspect of my mission to encourage people to have a rich, emotional and sexual life every decade of their existence. I am certainly not sorry I wrote the book, and I recognize that I may have had a peculiarly positive experience in the aftermath of the books publication. One exception- that happily blew over- was my new partner's reaction to reading a few pages of the book. He is a very private person, and he didn't want to know about my previous love life. I totally understood, and he was fine after we had some heart to heart talks about the past and it's disconnection from our future. We are still together four and a half years later. So, all in all, it has had a pretty great series of outcomes given the negative reaction that could have resulted.
And maybe, it is this acceptance and minimal backlash that is an unanticipated positive lesson from my book Perhaps a welcoming reception to experiences of older men and women is going to be even more common in the future. The Baby Boom, that mass population that dwarfs the generations before and behind them, is intent on redefining aging and that means redefining sexuality among midlife and late-life men and women. We refuse to think of sex in these years as either ridiculous or exceptional. It seems that our culture may be ready to hear this message and support life long passion and romance at any age. I sincerely hope so.