There. I said it.
This is not a baseless fear. I’ve read a lot of articles about the subject. All the articles seem to say the same things, and I have no idea which are myth-ish, and which are legit. If I were to believe everything I read, this is what I’d expect from menopause:
- I’m going to turn into a ravening harridan, totally irrational, ruled only by my run amok, dying hormones.
- I will have hot flashes that make me turn bright red and pour flop sweat at the most inconvenient moments, like when I give a presentation to a Board of Directors
- I will have the sensation of bugs crawling on my skin
- I’ll get fat and sprout hair where I don’t want it, and lose fat and hair where I do want it
- I might get a deeper voice and bigger feet
- I will lose all interest in sex
- If I do happen to retain an intellectual interest in sex, I will need gallons of lube to attempt the act
- Whether or not I want sex, men won’t want it from me
- My skin, already dry, will mummify
- I will value chocolate and my girlfriends more than sex, which is scary since I don’t care that much for the former and don’t have that many of the latter, so what does that leave me with – wine? Great. I’ll be a dried-up old wino.
- I will be unable to run as often or as fast as I do now, and furthermore won’t care, because I’ll be too chemically depressed to try. Plus drunk on wine.
- No one will ever want to see me naked again, and the very idea will become the type of gross-out joke that is just assumed to be funny, as in “Hey Bob, what are you going as for Halloween this year?” “A sixty year old Hooters waitress!” “Ewww!!” “I know, great, isn’t it?!!!”
- My menopausal symptoms will trigger a midlife crisis in my husband, who will immediately have an atavistic response to the dried up old wino he sees next to him one morning, and set out to prove to himself that he can still attract nubile young women
- I can take hormonal supplements to forego some of these symptoms but then I’ll have a heart attack or get breast cancer, or start selling thigh masters
Menopause. I even hate the word – the way it looks, the way it sounds. I’ve always thought it would make more sense if it was called womenopuase, since it seems to be all about my hormonal femininity being put on pause, like a DVD player with an 80’s movie in it that no one ever remembers to resume.
So far I’ve seen aging as not a big deal. I still do all the things I’ve ever done, and I have more and more interesting interests than ever. Age has brought more good things than bad – perspective, patience, the knack of forgiveness, a letting go of needing to be right, a network of diverse and unexpected friends, confidence in my abilities. Maybe best of all, I am no longer afraid to fail at anything, which makes me more apt to try things I’m going to fail at. I’m less competitive and more experimental, which has lead to all kinds of enriching experiences.
I try not to focus on the way Hollywood refuses to portray women over 40 as the love interests of men over 40. I try not to be offended by the uncharitable surprise glossy magazines show toward good-looking women over 40. In fact I never read those magazines – they feature girls under 20 in the anti-aging makeup ads, and women’s style advice articles written by gay men (as Oprah Magazine memorably did) who say that women over 50 should always wear x and never wear y, because no men, not even old-hag-loving gay men, can love a women over 50 who dares to, say, wear shorts or a miniskirt. “Not *even* if you have the legs for it ladies!” they trill warningly, because while an older woman may presume to be beautiful (for her age), she must never ever presume to be relevantly sexy. Or want to, you know, not be a sweaty mess in jeans in 100 degree Texas heat.
But I digress. My fear of menopause is a lot like my fear of illness– my body turning on me, showing me that I am, indubitably, not in control of its secret inner workings, that it is not only not under my jurisdiction but is not even my friend, and may even become my enemy.
For some reason that Nora Ephron book keeps coming to mind as I write this – the one about hating her neck, or something like that. I read it standing in the back of the bookstore, the book laid flat on a table so no one could see what I was reading, not unlike the way a teenage boy will embed a porno magazine into a comic and then cast furtive glances over his shoulder.
I know the book wasn’t about menopause – but it was sort of flavored with menopause, talking about all of these things that I found myself wishing she wouldn’t talk about. I found myself resenting her saying that no matter what you do, after menopause you will gain 2-3 inches around your waist and there is NOT A DAMN THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. (Seriously? I run marathons but that will not be enough to counteract the meno-monster?)
I resented her not for the possible/probable truth of those inches, but for broadcasting it. Does it have to be stated so baldly – hey ladies, you’re in for all kinds of surprises, none of them good! Let’s put them in print so men can anticipate the horror with you, and cringe away from it! And isn’t it great to publicly bemoan our necks and the backs of our hands and our dry vaginas together, in our wine-swilling book clubs, while the men are out dating and marrying women fifteen years their junior?
I happen to like wine-swilling book clubs, by the way, and have belonged to a few.
The point I am making isn’t really about Nora, whose writing and outlook I mostly admired. My point is how talking about the aging of women always seems so….I don’t know. Catastrophic. We don’t seem to have the same *tone* when we as a culture talk about the aging of men.
A month ago I ran a 10K in San Francisco. More than 5,000 runners gathered on the waterfront, stamping their feet a bit with the cold. I was surrounded by many examples of mature potency. At one point, I came upon a participant who was ‘power walking’ in that amusing way they have (yes, I know it’s great exercise, and I am not making fun nor expressing superiority as a runner – but that pumping elbows, heel-toe walk IS amusing). She was making good time – I checked the results at the end of the race and she was faster than the mid-pack, which is pretty good for a walker in a runner’s race.
Her long hair was yellow-blonde and as evenly trimmed as the edge of a broom and swayed swished attractively with each deliberate step. Her figure was slim and pretty, her butt switching back and forth in a way that can only be described as cutely provocative. By these cues I assumed she was in her mid-to-late 20s, and, and was surprised to note, as I passed her, that her face was clearly that of a woman in her mid-to-late 50s, possibly older. I was not the only one – I watched men’s faces turn automatically towards her as they passed, and each did a tiny, almost imperceptible double take. It was almost funny to see their expressions go from hopeful lechery to a brisk “nothing to see here, let’s move along now” indifference.
So there I was, surrounded by many examples of mature beauty, mature fitness, mature determination and effort and collegial bonding over shared interests. So I repeat, mostly to myself: what am I so afraid of when I fear menopause?
Perhaps it’s just the fear of aging, the inevitability of death? My friend Steven wrote (in a beautiful essay, you should read it here) that the problem of growing old isn’t death, but the death of romance. “We lose the romance in our lives long before life itself, or rather, we misplace it,” he writes. “It’s easy to do, a careless mistake with devastating consequences because romance is essential to living a life of urgency and joy at any age.” Maybe I’m afraid that menopause will act like a piece of felt wrapped around the clapper of a bell, dulling the ringing, turning a joyous sound into a doleful tolling.
I’d like to hear from women who are going through it, have gone through it. I’d like to hear from men who’ve been with women as they go through it. I’m afraid that what I hear will just make me *more* afraid, but I guess it’s better that I start facing those fears now. Or maybe I should continue fretting quietly to myself – maybe it will provide some interesting material for my writing, which, as most people who have been reading me know, tends toward the horrific.