The Crush Letter No 102

. 19 min read

I'm Dish and I write a weekly newsletter about life, love, and culture for those 40+.  Because midlife and beyond is so much cooler than they said it would be.  Hell yes, sign me up for the Dish.


If you're new here (welcome!), I'm Dish, the Master of Ceremonies. For more about me and why we're here go here.


In This Letter. +Hot Thots. By Dish Stanley   +TOPIX: My Marital Arrangement. By “Mike Johnson” I had an affair, fell in love and I left my wife. She was furious. And shocked, no less.   + Things I’m Crushing On Right Now: Bob Guccione, Jr.   +Digital Hugs this shirt would look great with your eyes.   +Men of a Certain Age Whose Style Could Keep You Up at Night. By Dish Stanley There is nothing showy in Mike’s attire, but in 2022 he started to regularly rock a trucker’s hat with his tailored shirts and turtlenecks to add some forward-leaning fashion sense.   +Our Song of the Week  


Hello Crush,


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

A periodic column where Dish lets off steam.


"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 thik 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 offers a stark list of choices they have 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.

It's also the knot faced by the author of "My Marital Arrangement" in our TOPIX  column this week. Here's how he (and his wife) are managing it. We are, of course, only hearing "Mike Johnson's" perspective here, but my hope is that we take it in with the open-hearted curiosity and empathy that all the involved parties deserve. There are no easy answers, and what is the right answer for one or some, is not an option for another.

TOPIX is about how starting in midlife we reach a point where we begin to realize that our lives (or our friends' or family's lives) didn't turn out to be the romcom fairy tale starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks that we expected. So we craft the relationships that actually work, inside the lines (or out). Thanks to "Mike" for sharing his story.

TOPIX: My Marital Arrangement By: “Mike Johnson”

Midlife has always been that point when we begin to realize that life is getting short. Too short to worry about what other people think. A turning point where people begin to craft the kind of friendships and romantic relationships that actually work for them, inside the lines (or out). TOPIX is our way of getting opinionated, courageous conversations started on what living and loving really looks like in midlife now.


My wife of almost 40 years stopped having sex with me over 20 years ago. She had left her career to be the primary caretaker of our three daughters, while also taking on significant volunteer work. At the time I was traveling the globe relentlessly for work.

We went to marital therapy. I wanted to stay married and keep our family together, and at the same time, I needed what I’ll refer to as a fully intimate, loving relationship. In other words, sex. With her. Preferably with her. That’s what I wanted. She wanted to stay married and keep our family together and did not need, affirmatively did not want, sex to be part of it. She said we had “lost each other” in some irreconcilable way that was integral to her wanting sex with me. That wouldn’t change even if I made changes to be a better husband to her. She wanted to stay married to me, just without the sex.

I asked, but never got a response to, the question of whether, in her conception of our marriage, she thought I should just be okay with an entirely sexless life (as it relates to other human beings). I am using sex as a shorthand for intimacy here, but I think we can all acknowledge at this point that sex is the one critical thing that many men need to feel loved. Like if you talk about the “five love languages,” sex is a man’s number one love language. Or at least me and every man I personally know. But sure, I don’t know every man alive.

My wife and I never reached an agreement on the key irreconcilable point. Sex. But having hit a mutually acknowledged wall, if not an understanding of how to scale it, we stopped therapy. I’m Italian and she is Jewish and our nuclear family has always been highly intertwined with our respective families of origin, not to mention with the families of our kids’ friends. So the marriage continued. I felt unloved, ignored, rejected, displaced, ugly and unhappy. Deflated. Eventually, I had an affair, fell in love and I left my wife. She was furious. And shocked, no less.

The separation was brutal for me. My daughters, teens at the time, aligned with my wife and would not speak to me. Refused any contact. Talk about shock. I did not see that coming - losing my daughters. I believed I had close direct one-on-one relationships with each of them. I went to nearly every game, performance and parent-teacher conference — I arranged travel around that. We hosted them and their friends overnight at our weekend place; I played games with them, was the primary chef, drove them anywhere and everywhere. But then again, of course they didn’t (still don’t) have the full picture, and just wanted their family to stay together. On top of that, their mother was upset and she was their primary caretaker so I suppose I was a fool to be so surprised.

To be clear, it wasn’t just my immediate family that I lost. All the families that we are friends with, my kids’ friends and their parents. My wife’s extended family.

At any rate, I grew up in a tight-knit devoted family. The experience of being estranged from my daughters was brutal for me. I went over to my parents house one night for dinner and crashed there. I didn’t get out of bed for a week. For months I went between bursts of getting the bare minimum done at work, and days in bed.

After eight months I went back to my wife. My girlfriend was long gone at that point. My wife and I did not have any real conversation beyond her asking me if I was just showing up to get something from the closet or had decided to come back. I responded by going to my study, shutting the door, logging into my computer, working and then sleeping on the couch. My girls were thrilled that I was back and our life as a family resumed.

That pattern — of me working and then falling asleep alone on the couch — has continued ever since. But we also fell into a comfortable, calm and effective, if not loving, everyday partnership. We don’t fight, we just get on. After I went back, because I was cast as the villain, I have bent over backwards to get along.

About a decade into that, which is about a decade ago, I began to enter into what became a series of exclusive caring, sexual relationships. Exclusive in the sense that I was involved with one woman at a time, with whom I was from the outset entirely transparent about my marital situation. I was going to remain married to my wife and my availability, as well as the scope of our activities together, would be restricted by that, I always explained. The women have been, for various reasons, at stages of their lives where they were okay with that. One was separated but not divorced and eager to keep things discreet. Another was planning to move across the country once her son graduated high school and didn’t want somebody who might mess that up. Another was not wired for commitment. All of them believed that some real intimacy in the context of an ongoing, caring (if not long-term) relationship was better than their other options, like completely going without. In each case, given the limitations, emotions were kept in check. Goodbyes were warm and not without sadness, but also not conflict-filled or dramatic.

My wife caught on but admitted she preferred this arrangement to divorce as long as I am discreet and my relationships are contained. As in, they don’t interfere with my family, which has a geographic and time component to it. I am rarely not around my family. Under my arrangement(s), things get scheduled after/around my wife. She likes to travel with her girlfriends. If she schedules something, I will then schedule something. I’d say I’m seeing whoever I might be dating once a month for 2-3 days. Of course, I go long periods without a girlfriend. My family spends the whole summer together at our weekend house (my daughters have their friends out, there is plenty of room for everyone to work remotely) so I don’t see anyone I am dating over the summer, for instance.

It is not perfect for any of us. It might not look like it but it is much better for my wife than anyone else involved, either me or the few girlfriends I’ve had. My wife recently admitted that she had just lost interest in sex with anyone. Now I realize that by staying married to me in this arrangement she doesn’t have to have sex with anyone. Presumably if we divorced and she wanted to be partnered she’d have to confront the issue of possibly having sex with someone else. For me, I’d prefer to have a sex life with my wife. I hate that if my secret life is ever discovered I look like the one betraying my wife. I don’t think that’s fair because it is a form of betrayal to give up on taking care of your partner’s most intimate needs. “To have and to hold,” is literally the promise. And as far as the women I’ve been involved with, it has worked for each of them for a while but they are clear that they are not my priority, my family is, and ultimately the relationships aren’t sturdy.

I am certainly not advocating this for anyone else. I am not even defending it. I am explaining how I get by. I understand this series to be a way to be honest about how we are actually dealing with the balance of responsibilities, needs and realities we have at this stage. This is how I’m dealing. For what it’s worth, I feel like I’m choosing love. My family’s love. Last Thanksgiving we hosted 27 people of family and friends. I looked out across the room and felt deeply fulfilled. My oldest daughter is now engaged, so grandchildren will be part of the picture soon (I hope). Being in the fold of that loving structure, more precisely is what I have chosen.

It is like the “too-short a sheet” analogy Dish made in a recent Crush Letter. {TheCrush Letter No 99.} In life, you are given a sheet that’s too short. You have to choose what stays warm. My choice is to be wrapped in the blanket of warmth I get from being part of my family’s structure. But my arms are shivering without someone to hold. That’s life.

Stay tuned to this continuing series. Got a TOPIX? Write to me! Dish@PrimeCrush.com.

Three Things I’m Crushing On Right Now: Bob Guccione, Jr., Founder and Editor of WONDERLUST

1.   Folktale Wines (various prices)
I love wine. This does not make me unique, I understand that. And I know nothing about wine, which makes me, frankly, even less unique. But I know what I like and lately I’ve been loving the wines of Folktales Winery and Vineyards. (The name sounds redundant, right? But it accurately describes the boutique producer they are.) They have a small vineyard, from which they make a couple of wines, and the rest of their production is relatively tiny numbers of bottles from meticulously sourced small, nearby vineyards. They make about 24 different wines and I have had about [scrambled… static…inaudible] different bottles. I didn’t have a bad one. My favorites are: The 2019 Creator Pinot (outstanding!), NV Folktale Orange 3 Year and 2020 Folktale Carbonic Sangiovese.

Not really in stores, so order from here.

2.   Inspector Montalbano novels ($25, give or take)
I voraciously read crime fiction, my escapism of choice from my everyday life, which involves reading and editing millions of words a year. I particularly adore/quasi worship the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, who died in 2019, at the rich, life-lived age of 93. The books, all superb, are set in Sicily in a lazy — except for the murderers, they’re not lazy! — coastal region around the imaginary seaside town of Vigata. The mafia pervade like humidity, and control most of daily life just as invisibly. Montalbano, surrounded by a gloriously entertaining, mixed bag of officers, is a complicated, never fully resolved, often insecure, organic character, who solves crime in a particularly Sicilian way, which means some things are sometimes deliberately left unsettled, and some people spared an indignity that would serve no one.

Start with Rounding the Mark (because I did). Do not read the last book until the very end…

3.   The Blue Fox Motel, Narrowsburg New York  ($200 - $400 a night)
It’s not natural to want to go to a motel as much as I like going to this place. So I better explain: First, it’s not really a motel, it’s a chic, luxurious intimate hotel spread across a glorious hollow of land surrounded by huge, sky-poking forest, that was once a boy scout camp, then a hunting camp and finally a bog-average motel, curiously, and somehow legally, only for Russians. Present owners Jorge and Meg took it over a few years ago and started repairing the dilapidated property, and refitting rooms in exquisite and sometimes wonderfully quirky ways. It has a retro feel but a modern shine. At night you sleep the sleep of peace that Heaven promises. The restaurant is country casual and convivial and gastronomically superb.

Digital Hugs. Easy & Free!

Men of a Certain Age Whose Style Could Keep You Up at Night.  By Dish Stanley

Here are some of the splendid men of style and substance I follow on social media who I think you'll be better of spending some time with, too.

@chuckpollard60

Chuck Pollard starts almost all of his reels with an a happy-feeling "Hey everybody, hope you're all well!" He then moves into a brief and celebratory explanation of what he's wearing that day – why he has paired this particular tie with that particuar suit and shirt. He is the Founder of SARTO, a quarterly publication that explores the habits and habitats of refined gentlemen. He is joyful because he loves to "turn it out," as he says. Which to him often means a kipper tie, which I've learned since following Pollard is a style of tie that was fashionable in Britain in the mid-60's to 70's and is known for being colorful and wide. Pollard is a proponent of dressing "for yourself" and dressing conscientiously – deciding the face you want to show the world. The face he chooses to show the world is friendly, warm, cheerful, beautiful and civilized. He is sophistication wrapped in warmth and good wishes.


@georgehahn

George Hahn reminds me of a modern day Dean Martin, known in his day as "The King of Cool." Hahn refers to himself as a "humorist, urbanist, satirist [and] sartorialist." He is as much a true New Yorker as Fran Lebowitz, and his version is just as opinionated and sardonic. Also culturally in tune, stylistically sharp and very, very handsome. Hahn has a minimalist clean-cut look that, combined with his "I'm not impressed" attitude, reads ever-so-slightly edgy. He is as sharp as he is good looking, and on insta Hahn drops witticisms and observations as he walks his beloved dog (and us) through Central Park. On his blog he drops all the tips you need for a well-considered lifestyle, everything from his skincare routine (thank god, because his skin radiates) to the components of a perfect pea coat (one of his favorite designs in the history of men's wear – "a distinctly masculine garment") to his coffee method of choice (Chemex, of course).  

In a recent piece "The Post-Smoking Weight Gain Is Real" he writes of his slight weight gain: "This is the obvious result of falling off the fitness wagon and eating a lot of feelings instead of smoking them over the last year." I'm a pretty close follower of Hahn's and I hadn't realized he smoked (though I can easily picture him with a Dunhill). I can only say, "George, thanks for quitting." I, for one want to follow you around Central Park for a very long time.


@miketrap

Our very own Crush Reader Mike Troiano favors a casual, handsome, rugged look with straightforward tailoring, classic chunky glasses, and precisely selected watches. Everything in his look adds up to I'm a “solid, cerebral, outdoorsy family guy with good taste and a soft side.” Hell, yes. There is nothing showy in Mike’s attire, but in 2022 he started to regularly rock a trucker’s hat with his tailored shirts and turtlenecks to add some forward-leaning fashion sense. And oh boy, on Mike it works.

When you’re not checking out his watch collection, you may want to pick up tips on making steak chili, bolognese or Zuppa di Farro.

Mike shared his recipe for Bad Girl’s Pasta with us in a previous Crush Letter:

Love & Mike’s “Bad Girl Pasta.”
Mike’s “Bad Girl Pasta.” It’s a bowl of love.I wrote about The Sex Object Stanley Tucci[https://www.primecrush.com/stanley-tucci-the-sex-symbol-nice-to-see-it-its-just-not-new/], and how The New Yorker just recently realized that Tucci is a sex symbolthough some of us have known since he starred…

Got a guy you follow on social media that my life would be better for knowing about? Write me! Dish@PrimeCrush.com

Social Media I Loved This Week.  By Dish Stanley

Song of the Week

Just Like That by Bonnie Raitt

How wonderful was it that Bonnie Raitt's title song from her latest album snagged her a Grammy? I was so happy about it.

Listen Here

Bonnie Raitt's Grammy Acceptance Speech

The PrimeCrush Toy Tester Project. (Hint: You Need to Subscribe to Get All Our Reviews.) By Dish Stanley
Note: this page is about our PrimeCrush Toy Tester Project, in which actualPrimeCrush Readers agree to try out and review for the rest of us a range of sexproducts (toys, lubes, books, vibrators, you name it). We are sharing our reviewof Great Sex Starts at 50 by
Hot Thots. By Dish Stanley
Hot Thots. Dish’s Column.A periodic column where Dish lets off steam. An Annual Reflection: What’s At The Center. By Dish Stanley “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.
TOPIX - A Series: Exile in Normalville
TOPIX is our way of getting opinionated, courageous conversations started on what living and loving really looks like in midlife now.
Three Things I’m Crushing On.
In this new series, readers like you share recommendations for the things they love the most, right at this moment. Three Things I’m Crushing On: Bob Guccione, Jr., Founder and Editor of WONDERLUST 1. Folktale Wines (various prices)I love wine. This does not make me unique, I understand that.
Ask Dish: Answers to Your Stray Questions
From the sublime to the ridiculous, I get a lot of random questions. I answer some of them here. Got a stray question? Submit it using the link below.

Don't forget to hit me up with your burning question!  Ask Dish: Stray Questions

Dish Stanley XO,
Dish


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