Sitting in the cafeteria last Friday, a young man and I shared a packed lunch. Lunch, it must be noted, that I prepared for myself. While taking out my various Tupperware containers, I noticed that my classmate had nothing to eat. “Do you want some grapes?” I offered. He jumped at the proffered nourishment, and we started chatting about the demographics of the school. There are mostly guys on campus, he observed, but there are quite a few middle-aged women in our particular course. I chuckled and repeated, ‘middle-aged’. He missed a beat, and then followed with, not you of course… I mean, you’re not middle-aged, are you? And what could I say? There I was, eating out of my Tupperware lunchbox, homemade soup and pre-cut fruit. I’m forty, I said, and he said, oh, so you are middle-aged.
I had a pregnancy scare last month. It lasted all of twelve hours. Since my husband had a vasectomy five years ago, the validity of the terror was non-existent. But the reality of my circumstance didn’t prevent me from temporarily imagining my life with a new-born. Shoot me now.
An opposing thought drew me out of my pregnancy nightmare: On the hormone spectrum, I am closer to menopause than I am to the childbearing margin. Perhaps, I reasoned, my period is late due to peri-menopause? It’s not impossible— I have a friend who started menopause at forty-two… but I also have a friend who is pregnant at forty-one. I guess I truly am in that ‘middle age’.
Getting older is complex. I’ve spoken to women who’ve walked the ageing path before me, and in most instances, the journey sounds pretty fantastic. Mostly.
They all, these sassy women, comment about the inevitable ‘invisibility’ factor. It’s the eventual realisation that men (of all ages) start looking past you; you walk around town completely unnoticed.
As all women can attest, the male population have a reflexive habit of sizing up the opposite sex; they don’t hide it, in fact, I don’t even think they’re aware that they do it. And this ‘sizing up’ does not discriminate— if you have breasts, large or small, you will be assessed, your shape and level of attractiveness are secondary to the fact that you are female. As women get older, men seem to disqualify them as ‘viable’ unconsciously and so they don’t even do the most basic of ‘once-overs’.
The absence of the ogle is a relief, but the ‘unseen’ bit becomes disconcerting. I’ve spoken about this at length with a few women, and I feel like I’ve been prepared; I’ll not be surprised when it happens. Not so far in the future, I suspect.
I am, however, very concerned about another phenomenon:
I have not seen an attractive man in ages. Wait. Now, don’t laugh. This is not the disconcerting part of the dilemma. I should probably take a moment to explain this last statement.
I’ve been noticing men, attractive men, since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I can’t help but notice. I guess I’m quite masculine in that sense. I love me a handsome man. And I used to see them everywhere— I point them out to whoever happens to be with me. I’m generous like that.
As you can see, for me, not seeing attractive men is extraordinary.
What baffles me even more than the ‘not seeing’ bit, is the lack of ‘feeling’. I’ve experienced zero sexual tension for, oh, at least a year. It’s true. I’ll define the difference between attraction and sexual tension, just so that Y’all don’t think I’m bat-shit crazy.
Noticing a good looking fella is not vaguely sexual— it’s appreciating art, like, “look at that beautiful painting, nice, right?”
Attraction is the combination of liking someone’s appearance, plus their ‘person’. It implies a wanting and it almost always indicates interest. Attraction is often a single experience. Just because I’m attracted to him does not mean he is attracted to me. On occasion, the attraction is reciprocated, and well, that is how babies are made.
Sexual tension is by definition a two-way street. It’s that unsolicited feeling you get when you are within arms reach of a person of the opposite sex (for me it is always the opposite sex; it would be so much simpler if it weren’t). I always imagine an electric fault line running under my feet and then, bam, this gentlemen steps onto that same current, and it’s an instant connection. Chemistry. It’s almost never an attraction, it’s just, “oh hello, mister. I guess we’re both alive!!” Delicious. Sexual tension is the spice of life. Okay, maybe not the spice, but a spice— paprika perhaps?
Unlike, attraction, sexual tension is non-actionable. It’s not strong enough to illicit desire or a corresponding response. Attraction would do that. No, sexual tension is just what it is, tension; it’s a little bit of shared energy. It is nothing to be ashamed of, or afraid of.
Okay, definitions over. I imagine you’re either horrified by my theory, or you’re thinking, “Yip. I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
So, if you do, why have we not spoken about this before? And, why has my fault current vanished? Am I broken? Or am I just getting old? Because I miss it. So much. I miss the buzz.
The campus I go to every day is teeming with males, like wildebeest on the wide open plains of Africa. In three weeks, I’ve not noticed a single handsome dude. Nada. I guess it’s because I only see their youth— I find myself thinking, you need to see a dentist or your pants need a good wash. Their boyhood is an affront to my middle-age.
Ladies and gentlemen (if there are any of you left reading this estrogen riddled ramble), how about you? Are you a fan of sexual tension? Do you still get a little zing now and then?
I’m relieved to tell you I’m not pregnant or peri-menopausal. I’m also happy to say that I’m very attracted to my husband… especially since he can no longer knock me up. But, it would be good to figure out why I lack this essential chemistry in my life; I just need to know I’m not broken.