In my 20s, I happened to have attracted a number of married men. I am sure this isn’t unusual. Men in their upper years have been seeking out nubile, younger women since before the dawn of time. I was also married young, so I was an even safer bet. Young, no kids and no strings (assuming I agreed to an affair, which I never did). Whatever the reason, for a good four-year stretch, there was a string of at least 10 married men in their 40s, whom I met through my work as a reporter, who would call, ask me out and tell me about their marriages.
Though I never had an affair with any of these men, I did befriend some of them, and their stories were all shockingly similar: They had married young (ish). Some in their late 20s, others in their early 20s. They had kids. And now, in their 40s, their wives had little to no interest in sex. It had dwindled to once a week (or even less, in some cases). And they were bored.
Same. Story. Every time. Talk about boring.
At the time, I was a young married person myself, enjoying nightly sex romps with my husband, and I couldn’t understand these women with a lack of sex drive. Who were they? I would never be like that. Now, a good 10 years later, with three kids of my own as I approach my 40th birthday in a couple years, I see the reality of it all. It’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. And sometimes the sex drive is the first thing to go. But it does, as they say, take two to tango. And what I realize most of all now is that all those men were lazy liars. If their wives didn’t want sex with them, it was, in part, her fault. But it was also theirs. Was he taking her on dates? Appreciating her? Asking her questions about her day?
There is an epidemic in our culture of men who go out on boys’ nights and complain about their wives. Watch any sitcom about marriage and there is always some bawdy joke about how marriage means never getting laid again. The cliché plays out across movie screens, television screens and in real life. I remember my husband telling me when we were newlyweds that he had a boss in his 40s who told him not to get married. “That’s when the sex ends,” he’d told him. And somehow, inexplicably, it is always the woman’s fault.
Well, I am calling B.S.
I spent a long time feeling sorry for these men and wondering what their wives were up to, but after continuing to hear this story throughout my 30s, I have a new perspective: The men complaining about these things are bad husbands. Not only because they shouldn’t be talking about their marriages that way to anyone outside a therapist or their wives themselves (honestly, guys, does no one understand how marriage and privacy and communication work?), but also because there was no sense of personal responsibility. If their wives didn’t want sex, isn’t it possible that at least part of the fault lay with them? I can’t say for sure that these men weren’t trying. There certainly are marriages in which one person loses all interest in sex and that is not the fault of the other person in the marriage at all. But that can’t happen every time, right? That can’t be every woman in her 40s, right? This has to be a joint issue. At least half of the time.
Life gets infinitely harder as we get older and we add more responsibilities, more obligations and more demands on our time. We are also aging. Our bodies are changing, our hormone levels are shifting, thanks to pregnancies and age, and parts of us that were once strong and fierce weaken a bit. This doesn’t mean we have to dull completely, but it does mean that our husbands need to keep up their end of the bargain. It’s awfully hard to be attracted to a man who simply doesn’t get it.
In my own marriage, we work at it every day. We don’t attack one another with the same vigor of a decade ago, but we both work hard in the gym, have weekly date nights, take trips together and spend time texting and emailing and talking and cuddling. All of that leads to more sex. We both work at it. If one of us stops trying, our sex falls off. It’s a joint effort.
When I look back on all those men, I feel sorry for them. I am still about 10 years away from the ages they were when I met them, but I am also 10 years older and wiser than I once was. They all told me “wait until you are older, you’ll see how marriage turns out.” Well, here I am, a decade later. I see how marriage goes. And my view from here is pretty clear. Marriage takes two people who are fully invested and doing their best.