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The Awakening That Sometimes Happens Late in Life

When women love women.

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photo illustration collage of two women holding hands, rainbow, and stars
Andrea D'Aquino
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One evening, while sitting and talking to my best friend, Toby, I found myself really looking at her. She smiled at me from across the room, and a powerful feeling rushed through my body. My heart began to race. I realized I, a woman who had been in a heterosexual marriage for 25 years, had fallen in love with another woman.

Toby and I had always hugged hello and goodbye, but now these hugs took on a new meaning for me. I couldn’t wait to see her, and then I couldn’t wait to leave for those brief moments when we would be in each other’s arms. Because our friendship was based on openness and honesty, I soon told her of my feelings. She did not reciprocate them. Distraught, I went on a quest to find out if I it was just Toby, or if I was one of those women. Until then, I would have said with absolute certainty, “I am not, nor could I ever become a lesbian. I know exactly who and what I am.”

My book Married Women Who Love Women began as a catharsis for myself but became a catalyst for a great many women. When the first edition was published in 1998, women discreetly purchased copies and hid them under their jackets, or changed the book cover so no one would see what they were reading.

We have come a long way since then, and this book, now in a third edition, is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Many of the women going through their same gender discoveries now are older women. Thanks to social media platforms and just the sheer number of celebrities who have come out, society’s attitude has become more progressive and inclusive.

Younger women are increasingly experimenting with same-sex relationships. They use the term GUG, gay until graduation. Women of my generation, born between the mid-1920s and early 1940s and commonly referred to as the Silent Generation, were brought up expecting we would marry someone like our fathers. We never imagined there were other options.

“Older women may have had less exposure to sex positivity and comprehensive sex education so it might have taken longer for some to figure out and then act on what they want,” says Elisabeth Gordon, M.D., a sexual health psychiatrist. “What is relevant now, though, is that we are having better sexual health discussions, and we should be turning our attention to these interactions as they are an important facet of relationship health and sexual health in a population which, by virtue of being both older and women, has been overly stigmatized and/or ignored.”

Many of us were so busy raising children that we had little time to think of ourselves, and our own emotional needs. Then, suddenly, our children were grown and on their own. We returned to school or to the work world, where we met women like us and we became aware of us as individuals.

We sought friends with whom we could have emotional connections and deep levels of communication. That was simple because women, for the most part, understood each other. As my friend Cheryl said: “Having my husband in the kitchen with me is always a disaster, but being in the kitchen with Suzanne, preparing a meal, well, it’s like we’re doing a ballet. We are so in sync.”

When Myra, another married friend retired, she relocated with her husband to a warmer climate. While she loved her husband, and they found other couples to dine and play cards with, she found herself envious of four single women who lived nearby. The women always seemed to be in high spirits. They celebrated all special occasions together. They traveled together and basically were just there for each other. “I felt like something was missing,” Myra said of her own life.

I could understand what she meant. I had taken a trip to Israel with 20 women. Two of them had brought their husbands. I noticed that at meals their table was quiet while ours spilled over with laughter. During the trip, the married women came to me and said, “You gals are having so much fun, we wish we’d left our husbands home.”

We all want to be enriched by our friends, so we surround ourselves with people who will give us what we need. I asked a group of older women what qualities they looked for in their close friends. Some responses: “Someone who would run to me at 3 a.m. if I needed her.” “Someone I can share my deepest thoughts with, and she will still love me.” “Someone who would just listen to me, really listen.”

Because of today’s changing social environment, older women are feeling more comfortable with themselves and spending more time with their girlfriends. They are beginning to explore their different options. Many are opting for same-sex unions. And, as women are living longer, and outliving men, that makes good sense.

In The Gloss article "Switching Sides: The Realities of Late-Onset Lesbianism," author Emily Hourican writes: “Women are already so physically pally and comfortable with one another through female friendships, that moving this forward into a sexual relationship isn’t the kind of leap it would be for men, more a sort of easy slide into the welcoming arms of a best friend.”

When I researched sexual satisfaction for my book, and how often women orgasm, those who identified as gay consistently rated higher than straight women. Various studies do show that between 70 percent to 90 percent of women are unable to achieve orgasm with penetration alone.

And, while sex often is a component of love relationships between women, it doesn’t always have to be. As Valorie, a woman I met at a senior center told me: “I am straight, but as I’ve gotten older there seem to be less and less men available, although my needs are as strong as they were when I was younger. So I’ve turned to my women friends for cuddling, companionship and love.”

Do you believe the above kind of awakening is common? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships
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