The Queen of My Self

I found this juicy piece in The Australian 

By Nikki Gemmell


So often in life we love the things we’re not meant to — the question, of course, is what we do about it. Particularly at a time when we’re fragile, when we’ve fallen out of love with ourselves. Which can, quite often, be middle age.

“Pleasure is the object, the duty, the goal of all rational creatures,” Voltaire wrote. And all around me, quite suddenly, seem to be middle-aged ladies indulging in the delicious, clandestine, flushing and blushing pursuit of pleasures, little and large. Word has come to me of the unseemly sharing of clandestine pics on WhatsApp of some new male teacher in a school playground, or of women of a certain age reduced to giggles and blushes at the loom of a delectable waiter at a ladies’ lunch, or of divorcees indulging in much-younger male flesh purely for the sex.

It’s ridiculous. Fascinating. Glorious. So wrong it feels right. It’s as if the sexuality of these women is going through some fierce and fevered last stand at the OK Corral; that they’re experiencing the unexpected flush of a confidence-boosting Indian summer of youthful desire as the menopause looms. Their bodies are crying out, “I can still do it, I’ve got this,” just as the world conspires to tip them into the horror of the vanishing — a post-menopausal obsolescence. Yet, intriguingly, the object of attention doesn’t seem to have anything to do with their partner and is most likely much, much younger. It’s the fascinating mirror image of the male midlife crisis.

Two female friends are taking this situation to its logical conclusion. Both are divorced mothers with younger boyfriends, men they’re allowing into their lives purely for the sex. These women are financially independent, secure, and no longer want to live with anyone who isn’t their child. In a previous life they lived with a man for procreative purposes and have now moved into a different sphere.

They love the calmness and cleanness of their own space. They have complete power over what time they go to bed; what they eat, which may well be a bowl of cereal for dinner; what time they eat, which may well be 5pm along with the kids. They can uncurl in their sanctuary of calm. These women desire serenity in their domestic sphere to function effectively in the wider world. They’ve known rich professional lives and their younger men have not — it’s less complicated like this.

Patrick White said living together means endless sacrifices, disappointments and patching up: “I imagine only vegetables live happily ever after.” You don’t embark upon an enduring live-in relationship if you like being in complete control of your universe. And often control is exactly what these women desire. To feel strong, grounded, complete.

The British drama Apple Tree Yard is about a 40-something woman who risks all for an affair. Louise Doughty, the author of the original book, says her protagonist’s desire for escape resonates with middle-aged women: “We’re just really tired and our competence has to take so many forms. We’re partners, mothers, looking after elderly relatives, holding down a career. It’s exhausting and [therefore] it’s tempting when someone comes along and says, ‘Here’s a box of chocolates, put your feet up and let me massage your toes …’ The trouble is that society doesn’t really let women take a holiday from themselves.”

Now that’s a delicious thought. It’s exhilarating to think of the female body clinging to the tonic of lust as the perimenopause tightens its grips. Whether a woman acts on the impulse or not is the million-dollar question. You never know how a new relationship will end up — if it’ll atrophy into indifference or weather the shock of capitulation to become a haven, a harbour, of balm. Yet my 40- and 50-something mates are showing an intriguing third way: mutually assured, uncomplicated sex, no strings attached. At our age, who’d have thought.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

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