When you're young, your love life seems infinitely simple and impossibly complex all at once. You worry about things like whether or not your crush will call you back, and who should make the first move. Still, it's easy when you're young to get swept up in the headiness of new romance. As we get older, it's far less simple and far more complex, because our worries are compounded by the lens through which society views older women and sexuality. Getting carried away can feel like a far-off concept, since we spend way too much time in our own heads mulling over things like perceived standards of desirability.
We live in a society enthralled with youth — with taut skin and supple bodies, sometimes to an unnatural degree. Hardly a day goes by when a woman in Hollywood doesn't stand up and lament being handed a script for a woman who is decidedly un-sexy, simply due to age. Yes, this includes women like Olivia Wilde and Anne Hathaway who, in not so many words, have been told they're "too old" to play a desirable, sexy character. When Wilde was delivered that blow, she was 28.
So what gives? Why is there such a negative attitude toward women and sexuality as we grow older? Ageism is insidious and invasive, and it tarnishes cultural expectations. The more society insists certain women are "too old" to have for something, the more it seems to stick and permeate popular opinion. And if you think you're not quite at the point where ageism is shaping your romantic and/or sexual experiences, you might be mistaken. Here are a five ways ageism can affect your love life.
1. It Can Make You Feel More Inhibited
In Western culture, such a premium is placed on looks that conventional attractiveness is typically defined in context of age — young is sexy and flirty and fun. Sadly, such qualifiers often stop being used for women as they age. This makes women feel less desirable and, in turn, more inhibited. Who among us hasn't been distracted at some point during the throes of passion because we're stressing about lack of perkiness in our no-longer-22-year-old boobs or wondering whether the light spilling in through the window is illuminating our crow's feet? It's a gosh damn travesty a woman can't get her swerve on without feeling insecure due to internalized ageist projections.
2. It Fosters Unnecessary Restrictions
Remember that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie walks in on Samantha, ahem, servicing the FedEx guy? It leads to a big fight between the two friends, with Carrie ultimately admitting she judged Samantha — the implication being a woman of her age was getting "too old" for that sort of thing. But, seriously, what jackelope is setting these parameters? Such pretend boundaries are damaging because they they can perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies, i.e. we actually start believing there is an age at which we're "too old" to fall in love or use dating apps or enter into a new romantic or sexual relationship. Which is obviously bunk. I think Samantha says it best: "I will not be judged by you or society. I will wear whatever, and blow whomever I want, as long as I can breathe and kneel."
3. ...And Reinforces Outdated Gender Norms
On the flip side, ageism can underscore negative gender norms in a way that actually puts undue pressure on a woman as she ages. Instead of feeling like she can't do something because she is "too old," she feels like she has to. I can't tell you how many of my early 30-something female friends have said they feel pressure from friends, family and society to "settle down" and "start making babies." While it seems laughable such outdated gender norms persist, they do — and it has a lot to do with the fact that ageism is so pervasive in our culture.
4. It Can Derail Your Dating
We touched on this a bit above, but one way in which ageism can affect your love life is the way it makes you view yourself in the context of dating. This perception, of course, is driven by how society views women dating as they get older. There are certain dating apps that are essentially off-limits for women who aren't in their '20s or, if they happen to cross that threshold, can prove disheartening fruitless. Then there's traditional dating. If a younger women goes to a bar and meets a potential partner, people may not bat an eye. But often (and unfairly) older women who do so are pegged as "trying too hard" or, you know, branded as "cougars."
5. It Discourages Casual Convos About Sex
It is my firm belief that one of the greatest treasures of having close girlfriends is being able to spill about your sex life with reckless abandon. Hands down, those are some of the best conversations you'll ever have and, more importantly, they can help you to work through issues in your love life or see things from another perspective. Hell, I've gotten some pretty great pointers from my BFFs along the way. There's definitely a stigma surrounding sex and women as they get older, though. The unspoken rule is just that — our sex lives should remain "unspoken." You've seen it play out, right? Older women are sex-shamed by internet trolls. People tout the ick factor when it comes to women being sexual or talking about sex as they mature. Which, c'mon, is total BS. But, still, it can discourage women from opening up about their sexual experiences.