Hot Thots. By Dish Stanley

Hot Thots. By Dish Stanley

. 48 min read

A periodic column where Dish lets off steam.

Hit Man Is THE Erotic Thriller We Need. Will It Start A Trend? By Dish Stanley

God I hope so.

A periodic column where Dish lets off steam.

Richard Linklater—the director of the Before romantic trilogy starring Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke, as well as Slacker and School of Rock, among others—has brought sexy back to the movies. Just when we were losing hope. Linklater c0-wrote, produced and directed Hit Man, a dark, comic romance thriller with a level of panache and fun we haven’t seen since L.A. Confidential. It‘s the story of a dullish-seeming, nerdy Nietzsche-quoting philosophy professor named Gary Johnson whose side gig is to pose as a fake hitman to aid the police in entrapping customers soliciting his services. Glenn Powell channels Harrison Ford-level status in this film as his character Gary slides perceptibly further into his altar ego “Ron,” both in his get-ups and swagger.

Eventually “Ron’s” services are solicited by a sultry married woman named Madison whose husband, she says, is domineering and abusive. As “Ron” he’s in conflict—he wants to seduce Madison, not put her in jail—and needs to do some spontaneous shuffling to elude police attention while wearing a wire. Madison, whose character swings between sweet and devilish, is compellingly played by Adria Arjona.

But, one has to wonder, what kind of relationship could “Ron,” a guy who Madison knows only through his tough-guy alias, have with a woman willing to hire a hit man to off her husband?

A sexy, volatile one, with twists and turns that are fun to watch.

As entertaining as Hit Man is, its larger significance is what its big, horny energy says about the cultural zeitgeist. We hope it’s that this extended era of sexlessness in the cinema is finally over.

I bemoaned the decline of the erotic thriller in my review two years ago of the disappointing film Deep Water, the psychological thriller from Adrian Lyne (director of 9 1/2 Weeks, no less) starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. In desperation over the lack of new quality horny movies, The CRUSH Letter started our regular column by Christian Pan PrimeCrush & Chill: Steamy Films Worth A Rewatch a while back to celebrate the best in the genre from sultrier times. (Today’s CRUSH Letter features Christian’s brilliant, updated take on the hot 1981 thriller Body Heat.)

Our collective dry spell may be over. On the new podcast Mixed Signals hosts Nayeema Raza and Ben Smith recently talked with Linklater about Hit Man and the broader topic of why the movie industry dropped sex over the last 20 years. It’s a fascinating discussion of not just Linklater’s latest, but also the drivers for this trend that we hope is so over by now.

Linklater’s best lines on sexless cinema:

Where did adulthood go, I think that’s what it comes down to … in the history of sex the best sex in movies was screwball comedy in the 40’s where they were wittily suggesting sex or titillation.”

What’s really been reduced, and this is just Hollywood and cinema of this generation, is it’s just less adult. When super heroes took over it’s clear they don’t have genitalia … it precludes sex when you don’t have the parts.

And on Hit Man:

The sex is such a part of the story. You don’t believe their [the main characters Gary and Madison’s] behavior as it goes on if it wasn’t based on passion, love and sex. They wouldn’t be doing things to risk their entire lives. Because that’s the kind of thing that motivates you in the world, right? Sex. To do really foolish and dangerous things and risk everything.

Listen to the full conversation between Nayeema, Ben and Richard on Episode 2 of Mixed Signals starting at 16:20.

(And if you like this conversation, tune in for more of Mixed Signals—only on its third episode now but it’s offering a new, interesting take on the media (and it’s always more fun to be an early champion)).

‎Mixed Signals from Semafor Media: Brits vs Biden, Linklater on Sexless Cinema & the Song of Summer on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Mixed Signals from Semafor Media, Ep Brits vs Biden, Linklater on Sexless Cinema & the Song of Summer - Jun 7, 2024

Here’s to more new horny films.


The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter brings love to your inbox weekly on Saturdays. To make you, your love life and your weekend more compelling. For grownups. For free. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us.

Want the Dish?

More Hot Thots from Previous CRUSH Letters

More On Separate Bedrooms

Based on the many notes I got from CRUSH Readers on my recent TOPIX: On Separate Bedrooms, you had strong feelings about separate bedrooms for romantic partners/spouses. Note that our poll of CRUSH Readers (below) was purposely worded to ask not whether you currently slept in separate bedrooms, but whether you were “separate bedroom curious.” Almost 70% of you are.

We asked: “Would you ever consider separate bedrooms with a spouse/romantic partner?”

CRUSH Readers’ Results:

Yes! 69.6%

Never 30.4%

Beyond taking the poll, a number of you wrote in—all the notes I received were from women, I observed—and many of the writers indicated that while she (the writer) would love to have the option of getting a solid night sleep at least a few nights a week, she knew that her partner/husband absolutely would not buy in to separate bedrooms.

CRUSH Reader Di beautifully captured the sentiment shared by many:

🤣 After two blissful nights alone in East Hampton, I was lying in bed last night @3 am contemplating a sleep divorce à la WSJ. I would have given anything to be starfishing over my entire California queen and rotating every six minutes or so like a rotisserie chicken (my preferred sleep posture). Instead I quietly finished the Covenant of Water on my Kindle like a Franciscan monk so as not to wake my beloved. I hadn’t really processed the fringe benefits of scarcity in a two bedroom union until reading The Crush Letter this morning. There is definitely a mundanity that comes from sleeping naked next to the same person for 30+ years. I’d love to shove him out and then sext him back. If I didn’t think proposing the whole idea would lead to an actual divorce.

In my own limited experience of having separate bedrooms with a romantic partner, as described in my TOPIX, the success of the arrangement likely hinged on a few key factors. The bedrooms were literally next door to each other, which meant that both emotionally and physically, we didn’t feel very far away. The proximity encouraged a pattern where we fell asleep together in the same bed almost every night after fooling around, reading or watching tv and then one of us silently tip toed next door at the first toss-and-turn (usually me) to conclude the night restfully. It was the best of both worlds, to my mind. Another key factor is that the two bedrooms comprised our own private floor—meaning nobody else knew. (It was nobody’s business! But still, it was nice to not field unwanted inquiries.) And then there was the reality that our wildly divergent work schedules gave us a very real reason to point to, unrelated to the temperature of our relationship at any given moment, to give it a try.

On the very same day that my separate bedroom TOPIX was published I came across the “Dear Fiona” column in the April issue of House & Garden UK. “I think I want separate bedrooms, but does this mean that my marriage is over?” wrote “A Very Light Sleeper.” H&G is a design/decor magazine, so the question seemed a bit far afield for Fiona, but she gamely took it on. Beyond a critical lack of sleep, “A Very Light Sleeper” also shared that she was worried of others’ (including her parents) judgment about the set-up. Fiona has a separate bedroom arrangement with her husband, as it turns out, and went to its defense (in addition to providing a lengthy history of separate bedrooms as well as some design suggestions).

More interesting than the piece was the instagram comment section, though. It was a full-out combat zone in the immediate hours after the story’s post went up. While many commenters (mostly British, so presumably aware of the Royal family’s history of sleeping separately) were avowed “separatists,” others were “separate curious.“ There was a small and quite vociferous contingent that warned the ”separatists” that it would ruin their marriages. One wrote that sleeping apart would be “the death nell for a relationship.” Some commenters really went after each other. It got ugly.

One commenter wrote that studies show that co-sleeping arrangements are detrimental to women‘s sleep, while beneficial to men. Curious, I asked for a citation and then tracked down the study. Sex Differences in the Reactions to Sleeping in Pairs Versus Sleeping Alone in Humans was published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms in 2007. “Couples sleeping in pairs is a modern phenomenon with potential side-effects on sleep structure and circadian rhythms,” according to the study’s authors, who monitored the sleep of 10 happy heterosexual couples for 20 nights. “Sharing a sleeping space with a partner had negative effects on sleep in women … but the sleep efficiency in men was not reduced,” the authors concluded. Evidently, while they measured sleep efficiency they did not draw conclusions about the divergent results between men and women. For instance, are women generally lighter sleepers? If so, I could see an evolutionary basis for that given that they breast feed and have historically been the primary nurturers of infants who do not sleep through the night.

Personally, I’ve had partners who I’ve slept perfectly well with and others where because of schedules, snoring or tossing and turning, the quality of the sleep was low. It is hard to be in a good mood, let alone productive, when in a sustained state of sleep deprivation. There is presumably a certain turning point where the benefits of sleeping together are outweighed by the potential resentment (however irrational it might be) that could build toward the other (your “torturer,”) from sleep deprivation. As with so much of being in an intimate relationship, we are continually balancing one thing with another.

What I fail to understand is the judginess. Why anybody outside of the relationship is entitled to a view at all on any other couple’s sleep arrangements mystifies me. And if they do have a view—which clearly, some do—why we should care about it. One of the best gifts of maturity, it seems to me, is not giving two fucks about a lot of things we at one point gave too many fucks about. Chief among them is whether others sleep together or apart, or what others think about whether we do or don’t.

Improbable Love.

Crossing the street at the corner of 72nd Street and Madison Avenue last week I was thrilled to bump into a dear friend, Clara, and her son Tate. It was a gorgeous spring day, the crowd outside Ralph’s Coffee was buzzing and Clara and Tate were laughing when I approached them. Such a happy, serendipitous moment.

The last time I had seen Clara was in March over dinner at Brasserie Cognac. That was a new spot we were trying out because Orsay, our previous go-to, “isn’t what it used to be,” in Clara’s view. The thing about Brasserie Cognac is that the tables are so close together that you can overhear your neighbor’s conversation, as we learned while we shimmied into our spots. It turned out to be a gift that night. To our delight, we were seated next to an older couple in their 80’s who appeared very much in love. He was dressed in a handsome tweed sport coat and tie and she was in a lovely navy cashmere dress with pearls. Very smart. The moment we took our seats Clara and I nodded to each other knowingly, as in, “Look! What an elegant, romantic vignette we’ve got going on next to us!” They were seated at a corner table holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes while they spoke.

Their conversation caught our attention because, remarkably enough, this couple in their 80’s was getting married. They appeared to be negotiating their pre-nup. They were so loving toward each other, using soothing tones and leaning in as if to assure the other that they wanted to take care of the other’s needs. There were a lot of: “Yes dear, you’ll need that,” and “won’t you be more comfortable if …” At one point they discussed what would happen to their apartment if she pre-deceased him.

“It has to go to my kids when I die,” she said “it’s a major asset and they’ll need it.”

(She must own the apartment, Clara and I whispered to each other.)

He responded, “But my dear, where would I live after over a decade living here with you? I gave up my beautiful place in the Village where I could walk to NYU because you wouldn’t leave the Upper East Side. I am 85. I am not moving again! I can’t imagine that you’d expect me to. Couldn’t your kids hold off until I croak?”

“Of course, of course. That’s what I meant. You’ll live there until your death and then my kids will get it. Of course, honey. What else?”

“Well, there are my Mother’s pearls, and the Verdura,” he said. “They are so lovely on you, but I would like them to go to Emma ultimately, not your daughters. That’s what my Mother would have liked, for her granddaughter to get her jewelry.”

(Emma must be his biological daughter, Clara and I whispered to each other. And also: “the Verdura! Emma definitely wants the Verdura!”)

Clara and I were so enchanted with this older couple and their upcoming marriage. “They are so divinely optimistic!” “And it’s all so improbable,” we thought. To find yourself so madly, irrationally in love in your 80’s that marriage—and all the negotiation involved—would worth it at that stage. “What prompted them to marry now, in their 80’s, after living together for over a decade?” we wondered to each other (under our breath).

We were so captivated by this couple’s unfurling love that we hardly got around to sharing updates on our own love lives. When we finally did mine was a simple “Yes, I’m dating and it’s mostly fun.“ Hers was “Everything is same, same. Edward is adamant about not wanting a divorce and I can’t bear pushing it. It obviously complicates dating. So I’m really not. I’ll be in my 80’s like this couple by the time I fall in love again!” (Clara and her husband Edward have been separated for over five years.)

Her report over dinner in March was the last I knew about the state of Clara’s love life. After running into her and her son Tate on the street last week I sent her this:

Clara’s reply:

What I love the most about Clara’s text is that she isn’t ambivalent; she didn’t hedge. She didn’t say “I’m dating somebody.” Or “I‘m in a relationship.” She went all in—said the most romantic thing imaginable, the most romantic thing anyone could possibly say. “I have fallen in love.“ That’s so Clara, and I love her so much for that.

I wrote her back:

And then she sent this, god love her.

Isn’t love so often improbable though, really? It’s an extraordinary miracle to find that person. And it pays off to believe in miracles! Just ask my friend Clara.

On kinkeeping / friendkeeping.

Last week I posted the above in “Social Media I Loved This Week.“ I’ve been thinking about this idea of kinkeeping, and its corollary, friendkeeping, a lot this week.

In my immediate family, the person who has most taken on the “kinkeeping” role with me is my brother. If I haven’t had a real conversation with him for a bit he is great at reaching out - always with an accompanying text - “Hey, nothing urgent, just looking to catch up.” The ’nothing urgent’ part is a thoughtful gesture in and of itself because we have elderly parents and he knows I’ll panic until we speak if he doesn’t assure me. As holidays approach he is also the one to coordinate the plans for at least one meal where everybody is around a table together.

It wasn’t until I saw the @dictionarycom post that I gave much thought to who does this ‘kinkeeping.” And if I’m not thinking about it, I am probably taking it for granted, I realized. My brother doesn’t mind the role (he is a natural leader, so part of it is an extension of that), but that doesn’t excuse me for not recognizing and appreciating the effort, and its value. I think that’s big and now I’m ‘on it,’ as they say.

But it also made me think about ‘friendkeeping.’ In the friend context, it means reaching out, coming up with an idea of something to do, making the reservations, getting the tickets, doing the hosting/cooking, planning the trip, sending the update/congratulations/birthday note. When my late husband passed away I was in my 40’s. I had a demanding job and family nearby, but I was a childless widow. Those are the years when most of us are juggling parenting and partnering, and many friends were also juggling work on top of those two. The crunch years. Without a partner or kids, I not only had more time to do the ‘friendkeeping,’ but also more need for company. My friends’ calendars were overstocked; mine needed filling. I began to take on the ‘friendkeeping’ role in most of my close friendships.

I am content in that role, a natural one for me because I like to stay connected. And I truly feel appreciative that busy friends find a way to fit me in when I reach out. But I moved to a new state in the last year and I’ve been meeting a lot of new people. I’ve noticed that these new relationships have formed around new structures of interacting, and most of us tend to be juggling fewer immediate family demands at this stage. On top of that, a number of my new friends are a decade or so older and perhaps semi-retired. So on balance I’ve gotten more ‘incoming’ bids - invites and simple texts for keeping in touch - than I have in the last decade+.

Being on the receiving end more often has been a joy. There’s no other way to say it. It’s a joy to feel thought of, to have people you like reach out, to have them appreciate my company, to feel wanted.

Of course, a balance of initiating and receiving is ideal, but we live in the real world. And in the real world we are dealing with the actual facts on the ground, and the facts are friends with busy lives, different personality types (outgoing/passive/extrovert/introvert and etc.) and different ways of giving and being thoughtful.

What I’ve realized is that the work of “friendkeeping’ is, as much as anything else, a gift. It’s a gift in the form of time and effort and thoughtfulness. Like any gift, it should be given because you want to give, and it should be ‘free of charge‘ - without keeping tabs, without expectation of return “in kind.“ My Mother is absolutely aces at giving. I remember a Christmas when I was young and had given a friend a gift and she hadn’t reciprocated. “That’s not the point, honey,” she said to console me. “You give to give, not receive. Remember that she has more demands on her because her Mother isn’t well. And it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you back. Think about all the ways she gives - she is such a thoughtful person. She came over to comfort you last week when you and Brian broke up. If you are looking for tit for tat you‘re not truly giving.“

When I’m the one doing the ‘friendkeeping‘ or ‘kinkeeping,’ it brings me pleasure. The pleasure of thinking of somebody else and being in touch – I don’t keep tabs on who reached out last time, who made the reservations, etc. I give in the true spirit of giving, as laid out to me by my Mother. I think I’m pretty good at that. What I’ve been thinking about this week is that I want to be more mindful when I’m on the receiving side. Mindful of recognizing the gift that ‘friendkeeping’ or ‘kinkeeping’ is, and expressive about my appreciation for it.

On The Golden Divorce.

Yesterday the Golden Bachelor, Gerry Turner, and Theresa Nist announced that their getting a divorce after three months of marriage. I am sorry for them and for all those who found hope in their story for finding their own late-in-life love.

But nobody should lose hope! The relationship that we saw on The Golden Bachelor was based on artifice, manipulation, manufactured drama, accelerated familiarity, dodging the hard questions about how to build a life together and, we later learned, lies. What is true of romantic partnerships at this stage is true of romantic partnerships at any stage. A powerful relationship is based on a foundation of friendship, truly knowing and understanding your partner, authenticity and yes, heat. All the more so because the complexities only increase.

The relationship that has a shot at success? The one I wrote about in last week’s CRUSH Letter, Gisele. “This is the first time I am seeing someone that was a friend of mine first,” she said. “It’s very different. It is very honest, and it’s very transparent.”

Political Love Realities.

My parents have had a successful, loving marriage for over 60 years. My Mother is die-hard liberal across-the-board and my Father has a fierce independent streak politically that ranges from moderate-right to more-right (depending on the issue). They respect each other’s values and intellect and neither has ever (near as I can tell) attempted to “correct” the other person’s view. Though they debate with vigor.

With their longstanding marriage as a backdrop, most of my dating life I have largely approached political views the same way I have approached religious views: as long as the intended romantic partner is not extreme, respects my considered views and doesn’t need or expect me to “convert” me then I am agnostic on their politics, or religion. I like to discuss the “big, philosophical” questions, and I love to discuss government (particularly foreign) policy, and I have never felt the need to convert anyone, or be in agreement on everything in order to have a wonderful relationship. Over the years I kind of perfected an approach or response to a view I don’t share from a person I respect, along the lines of “Yeah, I respect that thinking [or conclusion or goal or value — whichever specific thing in their position I did actually respect], but the rub for me on that is this [specific point].” And then I’m genuinely, intellectually interested to hear their reaction to my stated “rub,” and so on.

Over dinner with a friend this week, we all but admitted that it is just getting tougher and tougher to date people whose political views don’t represent a large overlap on a Venn diagram with each of our respective views. Part of that I believe is that whichever political views we have are being represented by actual people we elect (thus have a stake in) and those political leaders aren’t in discussion. And then, of course, each side ultimately finds so little to respect in whichever presidential candidate(s) they aren’t supporting.

I don’t have any answers, but I feel like getting it off my chest that I find it disconcerting and ultimately, frightening, this breakdown. Not just for dating and friendship, but also for our society. So I guess this is my little lament.

In this week’s Friendship Files story from Lisa Ellex, she laments on this dynamic between friends, and it is completely on point.

+++

Gisele Is Dating.

Gisele confirmed in a New York Times story that she is dating someone (and it’s new and she’s protective). But she had this to say: “This is the first time I am seeing someone that was a friend of mine first,” she said. “It’s very different. It is very honest, and it’s very transparent.”

Just when I was feeling like I was going crazy, CRUSHes. Or at least feeling very out-of-step with today’s pace of instant intimacy. In last week’s Ask Dish piece I had written this in response to a Reader’s question on (broadly speaking) being friends with people you initially met in a romantic context:

“No, most friendships do not turn sexual and I do not expect these (or any of my friendships) will. That’s not the point or reason for the friendships. They sit in a different place, and there are all types of wonderful relationships and friendships … But I will say that in my life, yes, I have had romances start from friendships. And friendship is such a wonderful way for a romance to begin because, in my experience, they feel calmer, safer and have less volatility - you’re not falling in love with your fantasy vision of somebody (which is all you have, really, if you just met somebody, since regardless of how you feel, you don’t really know them yet). So the friendship-to-romance relationships don’t start with a fantasy that then gets dashed. They’re more honest and real from the jump. You actually know the person and get their context, constructs (and limitations!) and how yours mash up with theirs. You know if they’re interesting enough to talk with over and over again. You know if they’re considerate. You know if they’re kind. You know if they’re self-aware and whether they honestly try to be a good partner. Trust has developed, so the sex, from the start, is more real and caring and fun and less performative. Just as the whole romantic relationship is from the start. You are much more willing to make yourself vulnerable, and instead of wondering whether you are emotionally safe (and searching for red or yellow flags, perhaps misreading some signals, about whether you are, in fact, safe) you can focus all that energy instead on the thrill that is diving deeper into getting to know somebody physically and emotionally. The framework of the friendship feels peaceful, calm and sturdy, allowing you to feel more carefree and to fall more freely in love.” Or at least that is how it has worked for me.

Going in deep with somebody you don’t know is thrilling. Part of the thrill of going in deep with somebody new for some people, I believe, is that they want the fantasy. They are actually in love with fantasy. They don’t want to accept that relationships are work, everybody (including themselves) is flawed and damaged and in order for the relationship to work we have to accept and learn to work around these things.

Part of the thrill, I believe, in going in deep with somebody new is also the great risk you are taking on leaping in on a hope and a prayer. I applaud the bravery! I’d like to learn to be braver.

In the meantime, it’s strange, but somehow I feel validated by, and happy for, Gisele. (And I wish her the utmost good luck.)

It Takes Time (and Tennis?) To Really Know Somebody.

Have you ever met somebody and felt, instantly, as if you knew them all your life? Right. Me too. Perhaps they remind you of somebody else you love. Or loved, and still long for. A best friend from my teens who remained an intimate friend until she died (of cancer) three years ago always called me “love.” “How are you, my love?” were her first words whenever we spoke. (I have a message she left me on February 26, 2020 still saved in my voicemail. It’s the last message she ever left me. “Hello, my love,” it begins. “It‘s awful out. You’re probably reading. Or cooking.”)

Any time anyone calls me “love” — the overweight gas attendant where I fill up my tank, some guy offhandedly on a second date, the Scottish caddie master at my golf club — it’s as if I’ve been caught by an invisible line that’s reeling me in.

But who knows, really. Often times it’s not clear to me the precise source of this feeling of immediate familiarity.

I do think you can pick up a whole lot about somebody by observing them very closely. I moved to a new part of the country in the last year and in addition to meeting new friends, I’ve been (as you can’t possibly have missed) dating a lot. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of unfamiliar people, yet I’ve had that feeling of instant familiarity with a few. Enjoy it, I tell myself. It feels so good. But at the same time, there’s a voice in my head that reminds me that it takes time, experience and seeing a person in a number of scenarios to know them well.

I was reminded of this not too long ago while playing doubles (tennis) with “Samantha,” somebody I’d met through a friend and spent days (biking, tennis) and evenings (dinners multiple times a week) with over two summers. We’d also gone skiing together out west. We’d shared everything there was to tell about ourselves, and I felt like I knew her. But we were in New York at the same time recently and decided to grab a doubles game. It wasn’t until my partner Cindy called Samantha’s kick serve out that I saw a side of Samantha I’d never seen before. With Cindy’s call, which was exceedingly politely delivered (“just out,” she said, while pointing her finger up, even though the ball sailed past the line), Cindy and I had won the set. To that point I had never beaten Samantha, and knew few people who had, as she had played tennis for the University of Texas during college.

Samantha, I learned, doesn’t like losing. Post-match drinks were a snarly, curt disaster. Cindy texted me after: “Thanks for thinking of me, but don’t hesitate to ‘not think of me’ the next time you’re playing with Samantha. Only John McEnroe can get away with those court antics.”

It’s not only that tennis match, either. As CRUSH Readers know, I just returned from a trip with friends to New Zealand. New Zealand is a long trip. Fun! But there were some interesting dynamics for sure, one involving an orange can opener marked “twisted” (brought on (no doubt) by a state of “hanger“), but it’s too fresh for me to re-live just yet.

But it has all made me wonder. When can you feel like you’ve got a good handle on someone? I’ve come up with several situations that tend to ‘reveal’ who people are.

When You Know Somebody

  • You see how they react when they beat you.
  • You see how they react when they lose to you.
  • You see how they react when you inadvertently, accidentally seriously fuck up something that matters to them (like spilling something on their new white carpet?).
  • You see how they react when the world fucks with their plans (traveling with them has a way of revealing this, but so does getting stuck in traffic on your way to a concert featuring their favorite artist).
  • You see how they react when you respectfully express a point of view that is at odds with their point of view.
  • You have hosted them in your home for at least a weekend (or made the effort to plan most of the details of a trip). Or they have hosted you …
  • You have to split / reconcile the costs of something big and multi-faceted (a big trip across the globe, for instance).
  • You get lost somewhere with them.

CRUSH Readers: Do you have any other suggestions/thoughts on “when you know a person?”

Paulina Porizkova, 58, who identifies herself as an “accidental former supermodel” and current writer, continues to provoke on her social media feed. This week she posted a sexy photo of herself with her boyfriend Jeff Greenstein’s hand grasping her bared right breast:

@paulinaporzikov

Being desirable is having power,” she wrote under the photo. “You have what everyone wants, and it is in your power to dispense it to whom you want.” As a supermodel formerly married to a rock star (the late Ric Ocasek of The Cars), she knows what she’s talking about when she talks about the power of being desired. “So why is it that a sexy photo of a girl who doesn’t know anything about sex is preferable to that of a mature woman who knows all about it?“ she goes on to write.

I agree, of course, and published the article Heat vs. Warmth: Let’s Cool It With the Idea That Women Age Out of Hot in Chip Conley’s Wisdom Well in July 2023. “The irony, or course,” I wrote “is that for many of us, we are having the most open, fearless, enjoyable sex of our lives.“

When Porzikova initially started her opinionated and bare-all posting on instagram a few years ago, some friends suggested I follow her. “She’s strong and smart,” they said. I did. I was turned off by what I thought was a combination of too many posts of her in string bikinis (you go girl!, just not as compelling to me as, say, photos of rescued puppies) interspersed with posts that I saw as whining too much about not being as desired (for modeling, or dating) as she used to be. So I wished her well on her journey (as they say), but stopped following her. I wanted to keep my feed “empowered” as it related to the realities of aging, mostly to try to protect my own sometimes fragile mood over it.

And, the truth is, I didn’t see that what she was doing related to me in any way, who was never a supermodel, never married to a rockstar, never consciously deployed the “power of being desirable,” and who would no sooner post a photo of myself in a bikini (hot or not) as I would of myself putting on my make-up (sorry, @sharonsaysso, but why?). (Porzikova admits that a certain level of narcissism is a helpful characteristic for models and entertainers.)

And then in 2021 a friend forwarded a post of Paulina’s that turned me around on her. She was responding to (yet more) criticism of her string bikini posts. “At your age, you should be bathing in the love of your kids … instead of … parading around half naked and acting like a 16 year old,” one hater wrote (in part). She replied “By what standard is it ok to ogle a nude teen, but not a mature woman? I have done the same photos since I was 15. Back then, I couldn’t be proud of who I was because I didn’t yet know who I was … I posed for others. An older woman is allowed wisdom, humor, patience — but not sensuality. Not sexiness. This is a major societal taboo which is precisely why I post what I post.“

So I started following her again. I not only began to see things from her perspective — having bared her body nearly her entire life to applause, what drove the sudden, aggressive opprobrium? I also saw that she was doing more than I had thought at first. She was, in fact, taking on the mantle for the rest of us. She had embraced a role at the leading edge for all of us who insist that the world reframe how it sees us, women over 50. And, at the leading edge, she was putting herself out there repeatedly, knowing that she would be personally attacked, criticized, heaped with hatred. For the benign act of posting pictures of herself in bikinis not dissimilar to what she had been doing since she was a teen.

I realized that it is not Porzikova these haters hate. It is us. She is just a symbol of the rest of us. A particularly hot one, for sure, but a symbol for the idea that women can be and feel sexy at any age. And for the more subversively powerful statement that underlies her posts — she is no longer doing it at the demand of others or to please others, but as her own choice and to celebrate herself. A year later, in 2022 she wrote “When I was a young model exposing my body, it was because someone else approved of it. Someone else decided it was to be celebrated. I didn’t know enough to have an understanding of consequences. Hence, objectification. Now, when I expose my body, it is with my full knowledge and consent. Hence, celebration.”

I stan for handwritten love letters. Like this one from Alex to Alex. Sultry, specific, tender, original, funny. Short. And he nails the sexy/sweet thing here, right?

And the crowd goes wild …

Big Birthdays With A Bang.

A couple of friends who will be having landmark birthdays in 2024 have organized special ‘friend trips‘ to mark the occasion. A long weekend in London, a week-long hike along the legendary Camino de Santiago, a trip to honor their heritage (Ireland).

As I wrote in an earlier CRUSH Letter, my family does not make a big fuss over birthdays, which has always been okay with me. Truthfully, as the years pass, it has become increasingly okay. When we were younger (many decades younger) there were some obvious reasons to celebrate — we might even be gaining things (a license, the ability to drink or vote). Of course, we continue to gain all our lives (self-awareness, confidence, a give less of a f*ck attitude, judgment, patience), but when marking a birthday at this stage, for me it is nearly impossible to not also acknowledge what I have lost (big and small, people, things and capabilities), and to consider what I will lose (like taut skin, to emphasize only the most superficial).

I do sometimes feel like an imposter with my “joyful aging” messaging, because it’s more of a meta feeling and it certainly doesn’t get applied to my actual birthday. I don’t always feel joyful about aging. I want to always feel that way, in the same way I want my soufflé’s to always rise. But it’s like the last time I served a cheese soufflé at a dinner party (alongside braised short ribs), it didn’t. And I don’t.

However you do it, one way we know that our feelings about birthdays get more complicated as we age is that we begin to consider our attitude about birthdays at all, and how we are going to mark them. I believe that marking a big birthday in such a significant way is a power move. It is hard to imagine doing it myself. I‘m a coward about getting older. When I am with my best friend since the age of 16, I won’t even let her utter our ages out loud. “Shit, Katie, you promised never to say it out loud,” I laugh.

But I admire facing a big birthday head on, with a journey surrounded by close friends. I am honored to be included, and hope to join for as many pilgrimages as I can. Among the many other gifts these gatherings will offer is the possibility that I can draft off my friends’ attack-dog energy over their birthdays.

Some days you feel strong and confident to lead the parade. Some days you get carried forward by the energy of those who love you. I used to believe I always had to be strong. Perhaps the greatest wisdom I’ve gained is that I don’t. I have learned to lean into the energy and love that has “drafted me” along. To receive it, and feel lucky that I am offered so very much.

"I Love My Partnership, But I Don't Want to Have Sex With My Partner Anymore." By Dish Stanley

"Something happened the year Derrick went off to college ... one night he turned to her in bed, and she pulled away. After a long moment she said quietly, "Harmon, I think I'm just done with that stuff."

...

"Done?" he asked. She could have piled twenty bricks on his stomach, that was the pain he felt."

from Olive Kittredge By Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kittredge was a critically-acclaimed and popular novel when it came out in 2008 and like a lot of book clubs, mine read it. It is structured as a series of linked short stories. The exchange above occurs between the married couple Harmon and Bonnie in the short story titled "Starving." There is a young woman, Nina, in the story who is anorexic and the obvious reference that the title is making seems to be to her. The less obvious reference is to Harmon, in his marriage to Bonnie.

That book group has since atrophied but at the point when we were reading Olive Kittredge we were at a peak, with lengthy and opinionated discussions. The one point – the only one – I remember from that discussion was the one "Jane" made about the passage above.

"We can do that?" she said. "It's an option? Who knew."

While a light bulb went off for "Jane," the rest of us laughed, some of us more uncomfortably than others.

It's a very real issue among long-term couples. Let's call it the "I love our partnership, but I don't want to have sex with my partner anymore" issue. Friends are admitting to it, And since my late husband passed away and I've been out dating, it has been the most common reason men offer as to why they're divorced. By a lot. (Not that I ask. I think it is offered up as an indirect, more palatable way to make their relationship priorities clear. At least that's how I understand it.)

And then there's a newsletter I get for women over 50 who like to travel. They don't really cover sex, but in 2021 they had an "ask Abigail-style" column and one reader wrote in about how she had stopped "performing wifely duties" after 40 years. Her husband was threatening divorce. She describes him as wanting sex with her "ALL. THE. TIME." (all caps are hers, not mine) which she further elucidates as "30 minutes once a week." I have to admit, I chuckled at that.

Here's "Abigail's" response: "[Keeping] your sex life 'healthy' – or, frankly, keeping one at all in a very long-term marriage – is actually not particularly natural." (What?!?) "Abigail" bases that on a well-known AARP study of 8,000 people 50 or over in which of those in long-term relationships, a third have little to no sex, another third have it approximately twice a month and another third have sex several times a week. I am going to put aside the issue I have with Abigail's "not particularly natural" (!) conclusion (and only because I have another point to make here) but at any rate she goes on to say "Still, supposedly, sex is (still) good for us." (Supposedly? And even that seemed begrudging, "Abigail.")

But "Abigail's" response gets worse, if you can imagine that. "Abigail" goes on to – there's no other word for it – attack the husband. "I'll be honest. Your husband sounds like a real piece of work ... There's a (big! VERY big!) part of me that wants to say, Kiss this asshole good-bye ..."

That column in this travel-focused newsletter featuring this one single "I love our partnership, but" exchange was the newsletter's most popular column in the year it was published AND ALSO in the next year's. It got hundreds of comments, almost all vitriolic, on one side or the other. There was a lot of calling him a "bad husband" and some calling her a "bad wife." One guy suggested he grow up and do what every other long-married guy does, masturbate in the shower. When the publisher wrote about its popularity, things went from discouraging to depressing. In it she summed things up by saying that the issue was solely his fault: the husband needed to read a book about how to please a woman in bed. (Hello, I mean they have a whole, complicated 40-year marital relationship, people! How is that the only obvious answer?)

So the "I love our partnership, but I don't want to have sex with my partner anymore" issue strikes a lot of chords. A lot of sympathetic chords, yes. But also a lot of insensitive, finger-pointing, un-empathetic, not to mention ill-informed chords.

A much, much better approach is the one offered by Tracey Cox in Great Sex Starts at 50. This (not coincidentally) was one of the books I selected for our PrimeCrush Toy Testers to review. (See the PrimeCrush Toy Tester Report on the book below.) Great Sex is an affirmation of how meaningful and joyful sex can be as we age but, more importanly, it offers a wise, realistic, multi-faceted, understanding and empathetic view to it in all its complexities. In other words, it is mature. Sex is discussed within the framework of the multiple complex physical, psychological and relationship contexts in which sex happens. Throughout the book she offers (among other things) ways to talk to your partner about sex, solutions to age-related sex problems, approaches to manage dread if how you look is making it hard for you to still feel sexy in your body (personally, I will admit that I had this when I began menopause).

In Chapter 5 Cox tackles the "I love our partnership, but" issue in particular. Directing her comments to the partner no longer interested in sex, she highlights that it's important to recognize that your relationship has reached a high risk of failre zone. She offers a stark list of choices to deal with the situation: "Accept that your partner may have an affair;" "Hint that you would understand if they got sex elsewhere;" "Relax the rules of monogamy;" and "Separate or divorce." All choices would be achingly difficult for most of us. But you know what is not a choice? Expecting that your partner will masturbate in the shower for the rest of their lives. Or go without ever having sex with another human being again.

In other words, it is a heartbreakingly complicated knot to untangle.

An Annual Reflection: What’s At The Center.

At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love.”

My late husband died over a decade ago on October 27th. He died too young, at the age of 41, but he lived big. Ambitiously, generously, joyfully, lovingly, intensely and with a great deal of humor. He lived as if he were a flare struck by lightning, fired up on oxygen.

He died that way too. Throwing off sparks until the very end. After a tracheotomy, those sparks came in the form of scraggly notes in blue ink on a yellow legal pad I had picked up for him in the hospital gift shop.

Okay, at the time some of his notes felt less "sparky" and seemed mundane under the alarming circumstances. (Periodic major organ failures, a cardiac arrest necessitating paddles and an electric shock to the chest. Shit like that over 30 days.) Like one day he roughly scribbled: “Can you ask the nurse whether she can put off my night meds until after the Red Sox playoff game tonight? My brother is going to come in to watch it with me.”

But he veered from the ordinary to the philosophical. “Forgiveness often felt so hard to give,” he wrote after a visit from his father. “But holding onto the anger, feeding what could easily turn into a tragic grudge, takes so much energy and creates so much ongoing damage. Forgiving is actually easier.”

But before that — before he was admitted to the I.C.U. — he wrote the following [in part]:

As I grew sicker, I also had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever-constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.

At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, and love. These things stay with you until the day you die. At the very end, because the circle has shrunk down to its center, they’re all you have left. But as we approach that end, we finally realize that all along, they were what mattered most. As a consequence, life often remains beautiful and worthwhile right up until the end.

I realized that I was taking an amazing journey to the center of my life…at the center of my life I found something bigger, more powerful, and more beautiful than I could comprehend…and I felt God’s presence as surely as I felt the ground below my feet.”


When he wrote that phrase "God's presence" I was a bit surprised, since he had not been deeply religious in the sense of adhering strictly to an organized religion before. He was above all a humanitarian, believed in the essential dignity of all living creatures and certainly acknowledged the presence of a divine power. He had always been spiritual and a bit philosophical, had always understood there to be a sort of "higher organizing principle" that animated his life. And then - all of a sudden - he referred to that organizing principle as God. And that God was big, powerful, beautiful and beyond comprehension. It wasn't what I would call a "deathbed conversion." It what as if he needed a name for this superpower as things started closing in. It was also just like him, though an impressive intellect, to say something like "I hope that I am humble enough to recognize that there are some things operating in the world that are magical beyond what I could comprehend."

Every once in a while you come across stories about those who work around the dying. A hospice nurse who shares a list of things people regret or would have done differently looking back. “I wish I had spent more time with my kids” … “I wish I hadn’t been so focused on status” are the ones you hear about a lot. I am glad to say that my late husband had none of that. He had great successes and colossal failures, personally and professionally — a difficult relationship with his father, a thriving business that went under almost overnight, a writing career that soared surprisingly from the ashes, and a great love that was entirely unexpected. (That last one would be me.)

And heaven knows he endured many physically and emotionally challenging moments struggling with not feeling well, and then more metaphysically with beating back bitterness over the cards he was dealt. Or with the blues that would occasionally invite themselves in, as if considering whether there was a spot hospitable enough to stay a while.

But it is probably because he was born with a fatal disease and a life expectancy of 14 that he began to realize—he said sometime around his mid-30’s—that every single day was an immense, incredible, remarkable gift. “Another day to do something that might be useful to the world, to read something brilliant, eat something delicious, hit a flop shot that lands like a butterfly on the green [he was an avid golfer]. To call my Mom, to chase our dogs around the house, to kiss you. In other words,” he’d say, “another perfect day.”

This is the great gift of living a life that includes recurring, increasingly debilitating battles against the fiercest of opponents. We appreciate life more when we understand how voracious and ever-lurking death is. Witnessing his blazing arc as intimately as I did I suppose I soaked some of it up.

Of all the many great gifts that his good love gave me, the most important was to expand my imagination of what makes life meaningful, to appreciate what makes a day perfect. It’s many different things at different times, of course. These days I enjoy a big nomadic life. Taking lots of far-flung travel adventures, catching my favorite jazz guitarist live at multiple shows with multiple friends in multiple cities. Occasionally pulling out a win on the doubles tennis court. It’s a comfort to both appreciate the fineness of these things in the moment and to know, at the very same time, that none of those are necessary to feel like I have a life worth living. A perfect day can be as simple as watching your favorite team in the playoffs with your brother, I came to realize.

To me, it all feels so exquisite in a way that went underappreciated before. And when I say "before," I mean like five years ago. It wasn't an overnight revelation upon his death. It started with a light hold and a sort of "yeah, yeah, yeah it's good to be alive" mantra after his death. And a few years later, with some distance, it took greater hold gradually. The thing is, every October when the anniversary of his death rolls around I meditate on it and over time the urgency has increased. In the last few years I really feel my good luck to be alive and surrounded by love. And this will sound like an overstatement, but I assure you that it is not. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the room my family and friends make for me in their ceaselessly crowded days and lives. This ritual (though that sounds fancier than it feels) is a humble way to begin to circle around another year. A reminder of how simple it is, really, at the center of my life. That’s where the beauty and power is.

And then I hope for another perfect day to take a walk with a friend, snuggle with my dogs, and to call my Mom.

Love Me More

I started this week trying on new bathing suits. That sent me where it often has since hitting 45, and it's not a peaceful place.

There was some harsh self-judgment, even though I had thought I was over that. The thing is I was pretty healthy this winter. I developed great new sleep routines, improved my eating, exercised regularly, had fun. It was a balanced winter, not overly indulgent but also not pockmarked by days of deprivation. I started Mel Robbins' High Five Habit to get the positive neural connections firing daily. All this was good; I've been feeling great.

And then I tried on swimsuits.

In my 20s and 30's if I gained winter weight I'd force myself to wear my uncomfortably tight jeans until the weight came off. The physical cramping and self-shaming were a reminder I had failed, and that I needed to redeem myself. It felt like a secular form of self-flagellating punishment, a deserved humiliation.

This time it wasn't weighted gain, it's just that I'm aging and my body shows it. Which brings some changes I appreciate and others I struggle with. I can get better at defying it, better at taking care of my body (and mind), but I can't control a lot of it, even if I wanted to.

Instead of punishing myself this time, though, I changed into my Vuori camo sweats and let out a deep, calming sigh.

"You're really pretty beautiful," I actually said to myself (like the first time ever). "And you've still got great tits. Just don't look down."

I don't know how practical that is. But the attitude says "progress."

The comedian Joan Rivers once said "Listen. I wish I could tell you it gets better. But, it doesn’t get better. You get better."

I felt that. What got better is me, how I managed that moment with myself. I'd like to keep doing that. There will be many more – and much more crux, if we're honest – moments coming as the years pass. Good to get better at being nice to myself.

What else made me feel better this week? Last Saturday's SNL "grey adult pigtail" skit: "I want to express myself because I'm young at heart and I want to show it."

And Sam Smith's new song, Love Me More, it's an inspiration for anyone.

I'm Still Standing

Last weekend I flew to Boston to see Elton John live for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. A close friend picked me up at Logan Airport and drove us out to Gillette Stadium, where we had to park over a mile away and hike across railroad tracks. Halfway through the concert, it started to pour (nobody left), so we hiked out drenched, through the mud.

It was wonderful.

Going to a live concert of a favorite artist always feels exciting, but between the plane, the drive, the hike, and the rain it felt like an adventure. The best kind of friend-trek adventure. This is a friend who really showed up for me while my late husband was dying (every fucking day of the 30+ days (and nights) he was in the ICU – she came with pillows, eye drops, my favorite latte – never asking me to tell her what I needed, just showing up with what she thought would help. "I'm in the waiting room with a pillow because you've been sleeping on that plastic chair. I'll leave it for you here - no need to come out.")

And beyond that, after his death, her invitations kept coming. ("Join us for dinner." "Come over for pasta.") Six months later, to get me out, we flew to Sayulita, Mexico to try surfing for the first time. Since then we have covered many miles together emotionally and geographically (including the Moroccan Sahara, Zermatt, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles).

During the concert Elton John shared moving memories from his storied career and played all his greatest hits - which the crowd knew every word to – including, of course, I'm Still Standing – "Don't you know I'm still standin' better than I ever did? Lookin' like a true survivor ... "

When you experience a tragedy (and we all have) there is nothing more important than knowing somebody has got you. It's a decade later for me, but I looked over at my friend Lisel, singing her heart out to Elton John in the pouring rain "like a candle in the wind" and I felt so grateful. It is not an overstatement to say that I am still standing because of her, and of course my other friends and family who got me through (and keep getting me through).

There are so many ways to say I love you. I've come to believe the most powerful one is "I'll be there."

Exile in Normalville

Let’s Admit There’s No “Normal” to Relationships in Midlife & Start Talking About What We’re Really Doing

There is a prevailing narrative around midlife that maintains that being in a couple — preferably a long-standing married couple — is not only widespread but also the natural and best way of living. In the “couple narrative,” each person’s partner is their everything (or nearly so): best friend, soulmate, lover, roommate, business partner, work-out partner, chess partner, pickle partner, you-name-it playmate. In a secondary constellation around them are coupled-up friends to throw dinner parties and go on vacation with, as well as each partner’s same-sex friendships.

But we’ve gone through seismic shifts in society over the last decade+. Divorce, same-sex marriage, an increase in the number of working women, artificial insemination, and single parenting have become commonplace. Against that backdrop, in midlife, we become empty nesters, divorced, and widowed. We change jobs or retire early, lose an increasing number of friends and family to death, move to sunnier places, grow apart. These evolutions, tragedies, and disruptions, along with just everyday ordinary life played out over time, add up to knowing ourselves more deeply. We become clearer about who we are, what we need, what we like and don’t like — and more confident acting on it in and with our most intimate circles.

If we take a closer look, we see that midlife relationships are a messier picture than our shared narratives tell. Among adults 40 to 54, there has been a significant increase in the number who are unpartnered (neither married nor living with a partner) — 38% in 2019, up sharply from 29% in 1990. And those who are married in midlife have a more complicated story than we admit: the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau Report shows that 43% of people who are 55 to 64 have gone through a divorce. Many remarry, but many marriages after 55 are not first marriages - many who are married are actually remarried, in other words. Seemingly slight cracks in the prevailing narrative, but the numbers are not minimal and the trend is pronounced.

Where we’re at, I believe, is a turning point. Where more of us are constructing more “curated” relationships in midlife — relationship structures that divert from expectations or assumptions, that are far more original and varied than are acknowledged by our friends and family, let alone society at large. We're still only whispering about them to our most intimate friends (if even that), but we'd all be better off if we found a way to speak up.

We all know of or have friends who are doing the Jackie O-Maurice Tempelsman thing - living in committed, long-term romantic and life partnerships with no intention of getting married to each other. In their case, Tempelsman and his wife of 30+ years never divorced; he separated from Lily Bucholz in 1984 and moved into Jackie’s Fifth Avenue building in 1988, 13 years after Jackie was widowed from Aristotle Onassis. Jackie and Maurice's relationship was not a secret, though there was remarkably little coverage of it at the time, particularly given the press’s love affair with Jackie.

Even among those who are married and appear to all the world to meet society’s familiar expectations though, the stories are richer and more nuanced than they seem.

Anecdotally, in my own small world I’ve encountered the following:

A friend who has been married 20 years and hasn’t had any kind of sexual intimacy with her spouse in over a decade. They’ve never talked about it. She assumes that he, like she, don’t want it anymore (from anyone) and is going without.

Another friend, had the same set of facts. Except he has an old college friend (also married) who lives on the other side of the world with whom he started having regular, scheduled phone sex about five years into his sexual drought with his wife.

Another friend, had the same set of facts. Except they agreed to what I’ll call a “Not Divorced But Not Really Married Either” lifestyle. What does that entail? Ninety percent of the time they lead entirely separate lives. She stays in the city, he stays in the country. He does golf trips with his buddies; she goes shopping in Milan with her girlfriends. They have agreed that they can discreetly get involved in “curtailed” romantic relationships with others - for a trip, a season, an event - but the married couple comes together under one roof with their children for extended family vacations twice a year, as well as all the holidays, and presents a “married” front.

Another friend had the same set of facts. Except she discovered five years into their 20-year marriage and after two children that her husband had been having a series of very IRL extramarital affairs with much younger women. He has lived a double life for 15 years while she has lived her own variation of that - keeping up the front (painfully, and for strategic reasons) of a solid partnership with her children, parents, and friends.

A woman seated next to me on a long flight shared this less dramatic, but no less fascinating variation on her enduring marriage: very early in their tenure as empty nesters her husband got seriously ill and decamped to their son’s former bedroom. They had been in marital therapy and on a hard, committed course toward divorce, which got stalled while he recuperated. Lo and behold, they discovered that sleeping and living on opposite ends of their large home was the miracle their relationship needed. It offered independence and space that ultimately lead to “invitations” and “intimate dates” in each other’s “quarters.” It somehow worked against taking each other for granted and toward more effort and appreciation. They have lived that way now, happily, for 20 years. She offers the “separate bedroom solution” up to all her friends as an antidote for a failing marriage that is much less complicated and painful than open marriages, extramarital affairs or divorce.

And then there are the two women in their 60’s I met last winter. They were longtime neighbors in Connecticut - one divorced, one widowed. Neither of them has any interest in dating or remarrying. They are best friends who bought houses next to each other in Florida and have executed contractual documents giving each other similar authority and legal rights to what a spouse might have by law - health care proxy, banking and other legal proxies and rights, limited inheritance, etc. It’s “like a platonic same-sex marriage” one of them told me. It “might seem weird or ruffle family feathers,” so they haven’t shared it with anyone, but it feels “much safer than being alone, and certainly calmer than dating.”

Every one of these arrangements looks conventional from the outside. In many cases, few friends or family are truely or totally clued in.

Certainly, it is nobody’s business but their own; I would not argue otherwise. Yet the sum total of so many unconventional arrangements remaining secret is inarguably harmful to us all. It serves to strengthen the dominant “couple narrative” that on its face leaves an increasing number of those who are divorced, widowed, or never married left out and feeling socially ostracized. Of course, it also leaves the far greater number of couples who appear to meet the “couple narrative” but who actually engage in rich and complicated ways to partner up feeling hidden on some level. Perhaps even embarrassed or shameful.

At its worst, a pervasive adherence to a “couple narrative” has the stifling effect of encouraging people to stay in or enter into unhealthy or unhappy (sometimes even abusive) arrangements in order to feel socially accepted. (“I just don’t want to be alone — I’ll be invisible,” is what one friend in a verbally abusive marriage to an alcoholic admitted to me recently.)

But there is an insidious, creeping tragedy to the lack of honest conversation on midlife relationships that causes more widespread, corrosive damage, I’d argue. When nobody is talking openly about anything other than the prevailing, socially acceptable “couple narrative” then all of us are missing out on cross-pollination of problem-solving ideas on how to live this one, short life we each get. We’re held up. We could be learning so much more — more approaches, more tactics, more tolerance. Not to mention the obvious by-product that it would undoubtedly give some of us more courage to take healthy, bold steps.

Those of us who are perfectly content with our own more traditionally structured relationships may be curious, even if some of these realities seemingly don't apply to our own lives, if for no other reason than to learn how life looks for a widowed friend, unhappily married sibling or happily solo neighbor. Maybe we can be more understanding, more inclusive, and more supportive. By staying silent about these less conventional arrangements, we're all living lives with less imagination, less understanding, less courage, and on some level, ultimately less love.

The truth, of course, is that there is no normal for marriage, love or for sex. Not normal for friendships in midlife either, come to think of it.

Let’s open up, and share the real stories about our midlife relationships. Even if all we were to learn is that we are not alone in our glorious messiness, that would be enough. That would make some of us feel much less isolated, and more validated. But the opportunity is so much greater. It is as great as our imagination and willingness to share. The way I look at it, one thing we’ve earned in midlife as we’ve accumulated these years and experiences is the right to craft the intimate relationships that keep us feeling secure, excited, joyful and fulfilled.

Let’s start talking about it.

Love is Love

I'll never forget the moment I got it. That love is love. It was the spring of 2009 and I was driving a close friend's daughter to a college tour. A meandering conversation about college fit led her to reveal that she was pansexual. (Something I was certain her mother, with whom she had a complicated relationship, was not aware of.) I hesitated, but when her story came to an end I admitted: "Ummm, honey I don't know what you mean - what pansexual means." She explained it like this:

"I could love anyone, really. I fall in love with the person. Their biological sex or gender identity does not factor in for me."

"Wow." I said. "That's beautiful."

"Yeah," she said. "It really is."

It wasn't that simple for me, to be honest. My first thought was how difficult that would be for her. That the world was not built for quite that much love. Why take the tougher path up the mountain of life, I worried, when she could just as well take a more groomed trail? I considered whether to say: "If you could love anyone, why not just go the easy route? (eg, heteronormative.) Believe me, there are stumbles, scrapes and switches enough as it is."

I didn't say it, thank god. How fearful and narrow a response that would have been to her exquisite, open-hearted expansiveness. Traveling down that bumpy New England road that day decades ago, the moment after I swallowed my thoughts I looked over at this lovely, loving, highly intelligent and empathetic young woman and thought I'm questioning her? "I could love anyone, really. I fall in love with the person." As between her and the world I knew, how could she be wrong?

She has gone on to love led by her heart. It has been tough sometimes, yes. But also quite beautiful to see her forging original, loving relationships from scratch without leaning on default systems. At any rate, she wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether the default systems ever worked for anyone other than a subset of our world, or what might replace them, is obviously worthy of close examination and great debate. Perhaps we will have some here.

But for younger generations debating is either beside the point or over. I hear it again and again from friends and family members. When it comes to gender/identity/love/boundaries, younger generations are moving forward like a tsunami. They are loving who they want to love. They are in charge of the conversation – literally, creating and appropriating the language. It is their hike, their pilgrimage, and their parade. What we can learn from them about love is infinite, I believe. We need to step out of their way, listen, and cheer them on. Maybe try to keep up.

Bring on the drums and let it roll, kids.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


Tags

'Merci'! to Emily in Paris for one of the most riverting women in pop culture "Divorce, Baby, Divorce" by Liza Lentini "Don't Touch My Hat.*" Midlife Men & Loneliness "This is a Tale of Modern Love ..." 2022 2024 Hit List 3 things I'm crushing on 5 Books to Help You Chill TF Out 5 Great Boutique Hotels Around NYC. By Jeanne Bosse 5 things that turn our crush readers on A Book That Could Unf*ck Your Relationship: I Want This To Work By Elizabeth Earnshaw. Reviewed By Angela Kempf. A Circle of Crones. By Elayne Clift A Roman Love Affair. By Lady Verity A Turntable and a Candle: F-ing Classics About Face: Skincare Essentials for Men An Upbeat Playlist for the Divorce-curious And I Wondered ... Do We Really Need A SATC Reboot? And Just Like That... Who Are These People?? By Jeanne Bosse And so this is Another brother gained and lost. By Jeanne Bosse Ask Dish Bedtime Rituals for Couples. By Lauren D. Weinstein Bisexually Anxious Among the Noodges. Review: shiva Baby Bloody Good Sex Book review Book Review: A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers Book Review: I'm With The Band by Pamela Des Barres. Reviewed by Evie Arnaude Book Review: Maurice Book Review: Norma Kamali: I Am Invincible Book Review: Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguins. Reviewed By Lady Varity Book Review: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova' Book Review: The Lover. By Marguerite Duras. Book Review: The Story of O Book Review: VOX by Nicholson Baker. Reviewed by Christian Pan Building The Perfect Music Collection Calm App Review: “If I Traveled Or Worked In An Office, I Would Rely On This App Heavily”. By Evie Arnaude Christian Pan CRUSH Summer Reading List! From CRUSH Reader Sharon Weinberg, Owner of The Chatham Bookstore Culture/Comments Dear Dish devour DEVOUR {things to do, have & know about} Devour: Reads we think you should devour Dish Gets A Kink Assessment. Dish Stanley Dish Stanley's Rules for Polite Society Doing Nothing With Friends Effortless, Natural Holiday Makeup. By Lauren D. Weinstein Emily In Paris Extended Encounters. By Lisa Ellex F*ck Songs. Three Best Jazz Albums for a Sexy Night In. By Lisa Ellex Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style and Attitude: Mireille Guiliano. Reviewed by Evie Arnaude Favorite Clothing & Shoe Brands from A Sharp Looking Guy Five Best Jazz Clubs Around The Country. By Lisa Ellex Foria's Totally Useful Guide to Sexting Four Indie Bookstore That Stayed In My Life Long After I Left Town. By Dish Stanley French Kiss: French Girls Do It Better, Right? friendship Fun in the sun skincare tips get your spy thrill on Girl Crush. By Lady Verity Grief. By Lauren D. Weinstein Healing Through Change. By Lauren D Weinstein Heard It at The Grammys: Dishs Crush on Silk Sonic Hefner. By Bob Guccione, Jr Hide A Love Note In Their Pocket. Hit List Holiday Invites Holiday Perspectives. By Dean Christopher Hook Ups Hot Thots How to Be the Most Charming Person at a Holiday Party. By Evie Arnaude How to find porn thats actually good I am my own family I just turned 60 but I feel 22 I redesigned my closet. I'm Dish, the Master of Ceremonies Im glad my mom died In Good Hands. Kathy: This Is A Love Story About Three Friends La Mia Famiglia by Lisa Ellex Lamentations on the Lost Art of Kissing. By Elisabeth C. Lamotte Leave the husband, bring the cannoli. By A.K.A. Darla Leaving the door open Let's Reconsider, with Adam Grant Love & Mike's "Bad Girl Pasta" Love/Sex/Moon Magick By Lynn Eaton LXIX. By A.K.A. Darla Meeting Across the River Melissa Biggs Bradley's New Book Safari Style Makes Me Want To Go On A Safari midlife MIDLIFE CRISIS: When Reality Strikes, By Dean Christopher Movie Magic. By Amy Ferris My First Solo Trip: Mexico, Part I. By Dawn Larsen My Prostate Journey: A Personal Story My Tits Contain MulTITudes Naked & Not afraid by KC Roth Oasis in the Desert. One woman's honest journey through vaginal rejuvenation. OMG Yes. Pamela Anderson: What Her Story Says About Us paris Pillow Tawk (or NOT)? Play well with others. By Dish Stanley Playing Games: A Review of Esther Perel's New Sold Out Card Game. Podcast Review: Dying for Sex. Why You Need to Listen to Molly's Journey. political thrillers PrimeCrush & Chill: Movies Worth a Re-Watch PrimeCrush Bookshop PrimeCrush Cocktail Coaster Giveaway! QUIVER. Sexual Debut Stories. recommedations Red Flags Reports from the edge. By Jane Boon separate bedrooms Sexual Frustrations. By Elisabeth C Lamotte Shameless Quick & Easy Mac & Cheese. By Evie Arnaude Sighs & Moans. By Ralph Greco SIP. Best Lines from the Double Dates Podcast Hosted by Marlo Thomas & Phil Donahue Six Ways to Get the Friends Who Count Snapshot Rec: Get Yourself Sexify-ed on Netflix. Snapshot Rec: Read Liza Lentini on the Indigo Girls in SPIN Solo in my Sixties. By Jeanne Bosse Songs That Make You Wanna F*ck. Stanley Tucci Is Paradise Stories to Read Aloud to a Lover. By A.K.A. Darla Summer Bookstack Tell Me More. By Dish Stanley The 3 Things You're Really Fighting About The 4 Most Common Skincare Issues for Men (But Were Afraid to Ask). By Lauren D. Weinstein The Crush Letter 58 The Crush Letter Its a tune The Crush Letter No 39 The Crush Letter No 46: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 57 The Crush Letter No 59 The Crush Letter No 60: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 61 The Crush Letter No 62 the crush letter no 63 The Crush Letter No 78 The Crush Letter No 80 The Crush Letter No 81 The Crush Letter No 82 The Crush Letter No 83: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 84 The Crush Letter No. 79 The Crush Letter: Culture / Comment The Dynamics of Friendhip By Lauren D. Weinstein The Friendship Files By AKA Darla The Golden Bachelor The Hole. By Kiva Schuler The Holiday Anti-Checklist By Liza Lentini The New Menopause By Dr. Mary Claire Haver The Perfect Snowy Saturday. By Jeanne Bosse The Ritual of Comforts. By Lady Verity The Sex Position Report. By Dish Stanley The Solo Series Thee Timeless Travel Books. By Bob Guccione Jr. Things To Let Go Of. By Dish Stanley This must be the place To get all of us, subscribe. Top Ten Jazz Albums To Soothe Your Soul. By Lisa Ellex TOPIX Transitions Travel tips Treats: A Sex Toy Tester Update Under The Radar Series. By Dish Stanley Valentines day what dead to me taught me about family. What's Your Best Friend Move Who Are CRUSH Readers Grateful For? Women of a Certain Age Whose Style I Admire You're My Medicine Your Big Green Heart. By Liza Lentini Your Love Is King & Queen, GQ Zits a poppin Zoning Out in Comfort. By Dean Christopher