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Midlife and Integration of the Masculine: How Dating Has Shaken My Shadow

Posted on 17 May | 6 comments
Midlife and Integration of the Masculine: How Dating Has Shaken My Shadow

I am a single woman who is entering midlife. I am a therapist and a poet. I am also a woman who is struggling with a drive for internal freedom, external connection, a shift in the manifestation of my masculine and feminine energies, and a strong desire to explore what my innermost being needs to be happy versus the prescriptions of happiness that have been doled out to me over the years. I am virtually separating the wheat from the chafe, as we all do, only I am hoping that at this time in my life, I am doing so with more intention and consciousness.

Please note that recently, nothing has made that more challenging for me than dating. Not only have I come up against the strange stigma of being a single woman entering midlife, but also the oppressive buzz of how a woman should behave if she is going to, *ahem*, “catch a man” (I say that pejoratively, in case you didn’t catch that). Add reaching a milestone that implicitly includes a low tolerance for other people’s expectations and/or careless hijinks, and you get a woman that has bouts of frustration, outrage, sadness, and despair. Thank God that I have a sense of humor.

Still, I want to change the world so that I can get what I want: a nice balance of individuation and true connection. I am old enough to know that these two things do not have to be separate, and yet, living in a culture that likes to categorize things into neat and tidy boxes (including male and female stereotypes for both sexual preference and gender role identification), striking this balance is not an easy task. Besides, I can only change myself.

So here’s the back story: I went through a break-up a while back. I grieved hard. I encountered self-doubt. I came up against the strong opinions of others, and much of those opinions were in relation to my role as a woman, what men want, and what I supposedly need to do to change myself because of what men want. I was worried that perhaps I was an emasculating woman (note, there is not a word in our culture for “efemination”—worth paying attention to).

Being vulnerable and thus easy prey to the relentless marketing sludge designed to offer me a false sense of hope, I am embarrassed to say that like countless other women I know, I started reading online newsletters about how I should change myself as a woman. In truth, some of the information was helpful. I would highlight that focusing on one’s own happiness was the helpful part. I would also highlight that being happy to “catch a man” was the part that makes me want to severely chide the front men and women for this popular online marketing campaign. Talk about the quintessential double bind. Be yourself for him, not for yourself. I still can’t quite wrap my head around that one.

Another aspect of these marketing campaigns is the discussion about how men think and how women think, what men want and how women should be to become wanted. The basic psychology very explicitly is stated as the following: attraction is unconscious, and thus the rational mind can’t change it—it is not about reasoning. It is about being primal men and women. For example, women are to be passive and mysterious, and men are to be dominant and simple. Where does that leave a shy, quiet man? Where does that leave an outgoing, motivated woman? Inadequate, unhappy, and single, apparently.

So what does that mean for a woman in midlife? Or even not in midlife? What does it mean when I am entering a phase in which I am more interested in moving beyond the conditioning the first half of my life steeped into my brain like red wine on a white carpet: expanding my role, breaking free from social stereotypes, being assertive rather than passive, enjoying being sexually aggressive, developing a poetic voice that reveals rather than conceals (I guess I can say goodbye to being mysterious), understanding the heroine’s journey, and in a more condensed way, exploring what Carl Jung (1964) called for women, animus (i.e., the female shadow of exiled male energy).

Enter, stage right, my new fascination with Patti Smith, rock icon. I always appreciated her, but didn’t find myself exploring her as ardently as recently until some fellow women artists revealed their mutual love of Patti Smith. I started listening to Patti read her own book, Just Kids (2010) in my car at the recommendation of another artist-therapist, discovered that my own therapist was in the throes of love with Patti Smith, and even more amazingly, discovered that a client of mine was also having a very healthy Patti Smith binge. The parallels were nothing short of synchronistic. It was Kismet.

Enter stage left, a dream I had just prior. I was in a large city courtyard at night, surrounded by mist and under a full moon. Dozens of short haired women dressed in sheer gauze were holding hands and running fast in geometrical patterns. I could see the outline of their bodies through the gauze beneath the moonlight, and the mist clung to them. I wanted so badly to be a part of those women, to sing and dance with them, and I wondered if there was room for me. Next, I entered a small room. A woman was lying on a Freudian couch in an exotic dress, bare shouldered, arms falling back as if she were tied down. A man I found myself attracted to was facing her and taking her picture. I then looked over to a large set of French Doors. A little girl with short brown hair dressed like the women dancing in the moonlight emerged and walked up to the exotic woman on the couch and placed a large pair of fake, red waxed candy lips in the woman’s mouth. As beautiful as the woman was, she looked miserable, bound and gagged. I felt sorry for her, and suddenly a strong urge to get out of that room as fast as possible came to me. I went back into the city courtyard to the shorthaired women dancing their collective, creative dance, and a single word flashed over my head like a bright red neon sign: “freedom.” I knew I wanted to be one of those dancing women. I didn’t just see it, but felt it with great clarity. Being in the androgynous sisterhood of embodied creativity would bring me freedom. Becoming a dolled-up spectacle to gain the attention of a man would be utter bondage.

In her exploration of Anne Sexton and the midlife crisis, Ilene Serlin (2008) writes of a case study about a woman named Maria who was struggling. Serlin observes of her client “how was Maria part of a tradition of women, from Anne Sexton to Sylvia Plath to Marilyn Monroe, who identified with a tragic heroine whose creativity led to death? These women wrestled with the ultimate existential concerns of freedom and limitation, but in a way that was unique to their particular roles as women” (p. 147).

Serlin continues:

Many of the talented women I have worked with, most of whom had not had children, balanced the needs for autonomy with the needs for relationship, felt vulnerable, and faced aging alone. Their creativity was not in the service of work and consciousness, but in the service of the unconscious; they immersed themselves in journal writing, doomed love affairs, and dreams. Like many women generally, they knew how to swoon, and their form of surrender was sexual, mystical, and ecstatic. Darkness exerted a strong pull and death a romantic fascination. (p. 147)

Most poignantly and relevant here, however, Serlin noticed that for many of these women, their fascination was “an escape from living” (p. 147).

So, here we have women grappling with the shadow, the unlived part of themselves. We have men and marital status as a huge distraction from the joy of being. We have brilliant, creative women who don’t know how to integrate. They are up against the culture. They are up against their own confusion, but not all of them. I am thinking of Patti Smith as this young woman who, as a friend of mine stated, epitomized androgyny. She was sexy in a very strange way, and yet she was not a sex symbol. She lived for her art. Her partnerships fed her art and vice versa. She explored, did not close herself off, was curious, and made her impulse to create the focal point of her path. She did not seem to struggle as hard with the expectations of other people. And as she aged, she confronted her losses with grace.

I look to this very true statement about women who suffered, even to the point of ending it. Yet, I look to this woman who exemplified freedom, demonstrating it as a model of internal and external exploration and expression. Smith did not hold back and even stated very plainly that she did not let gender define her. She was who she was. She loved and she lost, but this is a woman who did not use art or her men as an escape. Rather, she was fully engaged and very much alive.

I really didn’t expect the dream I had. I really didn’t expect to have an amazing synchronistic experience around Patti Smith impact me so deeply. The lovely surprise is that I am finding myself breaking free of the bondage of so many expectations that relate to the roles men and women have been cast in. I have renounced dating etiquette. I have renounced what it means to be happy and successful in life as a woman. I have looked around me to find that I am surrounded by love.

Looking through the creative eye helps me to realize that love is a dimension through which we enter, not something we achieve through the alteration of our personalities. The popular marketed dating rhetoric is nothing short of metaphorical plastic surgery, the message being that “there is something wrong with your core self, but for a monthly installment of $39 we can make the correct alterations and thus make you perfect, desirable, and married.” It’s like selling one’s soul to the devil. I won’t do it. If being more “feminine and attractive” in order to be partnered means reversing the process of integration, healing of culturally perpetuated splits, and sacrifice of my spiritual quest for wholeness, I’ll take being single, thank you very much.

Please understand me. I am not anti-feminine. I am not anti-relationship and marriage. I am not anti-children. I am, however, pro-choice in the sense that there is more to exist for than those things, and that life will bring many possibilities that transcend those messages. I want to be open to my process and the good things that I have and that come to me naturally.

Really, what I am against is the oppressive male-female split and how it manifests itself mercilessly in the dating world to the point where unhealthy models of being are pandered to vulnerable women who are afraid of being alone. These splits only perpetuate a sense of failure and heartache. If most people derive their attraction from an unconscious place, well then perhaps I am looking for a more conscious partner. I may not find one, and that’s OK, because as nice as it would be, my desire for a love connection is secondary: my primary aim and measure of success in this life is to shake up my shadow and bring it into the light, animus NOT sold separately.

I hope this personal disclosure inspires other women, whether young or old, to foster a sense of adventure in their exploration of all aspects of themselves, and ultimately brings them closer to a sense of internal freedom and personal integration. I also hope that it inspires men to the same aims. I realize that I have not explored the oppressive side of my brother gender. I am not a man, so I do not have tacit knowing of this. I do believe, however, that the central message is applicable to both sexes. Life will unfold as it does, but no matter what the outcome, finding joy lies within learning to be as whole as is possible in this lifetime, and the sense of freedom derived from that wholeness. Good relationships will allow this, not hinder this. Then you will be free, whether partnered or not. Just be yourselves. Just “be.”

References

Jung, C.G. (1964). Approaching the unconscious. In C.G. Jung (Ed.) Man and his symbols (pp. 1-94). New York: Dell.

Serlin, I. (2008). Women and the midlife crisis: The Anne Sexton complex. In K. J. Schneider (Ed.) Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Guideposts to the core of practice (pp. 146-163). New York: Routledge.

Smith, P. (2010). Just kids. New York: Ecco.

-- Candice Hershman

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Comments and Discussions

There are many "Reasons Why

There are many "Reasons Why Men Pull Away". It is biologically confirmed that Women are prewired to get devotion earlier than men, although man take some time. Men avoid talking about any difficulty with their other half; it's just the property of men's behavior. Sometime they require some space for them but females get emotionally connected to their partners, they trying to involve them but men avoid doing this. This is big one reason. The second reason is: males are more social as to women, they pay main concern to society but ladies pay priority to their partner mainly; which is once again a contradict between their concept.
how to keep a man interested

"struggling with a drive for

"struggling with a drive for internal freedom, external connection" with this phrase Candice captures the heart of the matter.

American culture  values self-realization.    For many the goal  of "being all you can be"   out weighs social, family and interpersonal commitments.  Christopher Lasch (1978)  explored  America's culture of narcissism.   Bellah (1985) in a study of individualism and commitment in
American life  describes a common cultural type, the  utilitarian individualist.  We refer to the baby boomer generation of  the  70s, 80s and 90s as   the "me generation."     Adam  Curtis (2006) in an award winning  BBC documentary  presents a telling account of  "The century of the self."    Otto Rank,  writing about Freud, Jung and Adler observes: "In their different attempts to work out a psychology of the individual, all three seem to have reached a similar conclusion, namely, that the evil from which our personality suffers is over-individualization."

How many great psychotherapists  eventually recognize the limits  of work with the individual? Their concern for  humanity  drives therapists out of the  consulting room  into  the social world.  Therapist  become social philosophers, social anthropoligists, social activists;  social activists, social anthropologists,  social philosophers become therapists.

Psychotherapy and other  forms of inner searching  may free the human consciousness, but the free individual must still contend with  environmental, cultural, economic  and social forces.
Restructuring society and  nurturing  genuinely mutual relationships  become as important as restructuring the human psyche.

Being all you can be as an individual has its limitations. Fitting in  is wanting.  Is there a third alternative?

Perhaps we have three identities:  one is a private identity,  the other is a public identity, the third identity is  the outcome of a negotiation between our private and public identities.   What might we call this third identity?   We seek an authentic self; is an authentic social self as important?  

All our efforts to empower ourselves,  to assert who we are, what we want to be,  inevitably, aggressively or furtively,  turn toward finding loving acceptance  from an other and within a community.   Who does not fear being known?    Can we really understand the magic in  a genuine interpersonal relationship and an  authentic social relationship?  
 
We are each the woman in the picture that accompanies Candice’s article, up on our toes trying to maintain our balance as we dance between the self and the other, searching for something in-between.

We are always challenged to existentialize our ramblings. Candice shared her experiences. Thank you. Here is an interesting, challenging, embodiment of the balancing act between private, public and authentic social self. Courage and vulnerability.

Lana Wachowski's acceptance speech for the Human Rights Award.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crHHycz7T_c

Your writing is, as always,

Your writing is, as always, so expressive and eloquent. It is nice to know that there are a few of us who dare step out of the mold and fully explore what it means to be a woman at every stage of our lives. Yes - we all fall prey to societal expectations and who among us has not heard the critical voice in our ear "what not married...and this is relationship #?". But for me the re-entry into dating is both confusing and wonderfully fun. What are the rules at our age - if there are any? Some dates are just inexplicably odd - and provide a lot of fodder for laughter with friends later. And for me each relationship, short or long allows me to explore a different part of me. At our age we hope to be able to hang on to ourselves no matter what - and I think we get better at it despite expectations of men, families, society, and self-help columns. Still it is fun to try on different roles as we might try on different clothing to see how it looks and feels. We do it both alone and in the context of relationships. Relationships add a different dimension and texture to these explorations. Today I might feel exotic and a little naughty, tomorrow adventurous, and maybe another day I want just plain down to earth comfortable. But in the end, it all feels like "me" still just trying to "find myself" and more and more being happy with what I discover.

Lovely response - yes, I

Lovely response - yes, I relate to everything you're saying. I think at this point in my life, I'm much more fluid in my being . . . and some of those dates are downright laughable. However, I've had a few scary dates too. Dating requires a certain level of caution . . . for the most part, it is what it is. I'm tired. I just know one thing: good relationships are hard work, so why would I want to work extra hard for something that works against me? And I think I failed to mention the avoidance of an existential reality of relationships, which is this: we can be our best selves and still not receive the love and affection of people we are initially attracted to. Maybe it has nothing to do with us. Let it go. Just be. :-)

Wow...WOW is all I can

Wow...WOW is all I can conjure up as I let your post digest. I am constantly defending myself to my family on my thoughts of life, relationships, marriage, and children, etc as you mentioned. I think I will print this out and have them read it, as you have so eloquently summarized many of my thoughts. I think I have to read Patti's book now solely based on this entry. THANK YOU!!!

I agree 100%! Thank You,

I agree 100%!

Thank You, Candice Hershman!!

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