CC was the first man I ever objectified. The first man I ever consciously wanted purely for sex. He had the most beautiful body I'd even seen, and a face — though weathered, in the way that those who have lived hard or fiercely often wear their years — to match. Think Kevin Costner's younger, rougher brother. CC was a former surfer who had once resided along California's Venice Beach, and in Hawaii. I met him in Nashville in early December of last year, in a honky tonk called Robert's Western World, where live bands play rockabilly loud and the barmaids serve frothing, ice-cold cans of PBR alongside bologna sandwiches they fry on a grill. I took one look at him and he took one look at me and we both knew where the night was headed. There was a recognition that passed between us in that first moment, quicksilver fast and white hot, like a lightning strike on a deserted beach. Two broken-not-bent souls acknowledging the wildness within each other.
He kissed me not five minutes later.
We spent the rest of the night moving from honky tonk to honky tonk, songs of busted love or rowdy love or love slow and steady trailing behind us, like smoke, as we sauntered down the neon-lit street, laughing and clutching hands. When the bars closed, as even on Nashville's Lower Broadway they must, I brought CC back to my hotel room. He was a skilled lover, ardent. We used our fingers and mouths to pleasure each other. His hands were roughened from carpentry work. His tongue, hot and seeking. Running my hands over CC's strong chest, pinning my mouth, tender from his kisses, to his hard abdomen, I felt something unmooring inside me. When we'd finished, CC curled himself to me like we were two cats in a patch of sunlight. We slept like that, easefully.
I'd been celibate for six months before CC and I came together. A long time, for me — the longest in my life. I'm 50 years old, and I've spent nearly my entire adulthood in relationships, a series of them, mostly one right after another. I've been married once, in my 20s, and engaged twice. But my last ex-boyfriend, the man I expected to live the rest of my life with, smashed my heart apart when he left abruptly last June. I didn't know it was possible to hurt the way he hurt me.
So, from June until December, when I met CC, I focused on healing. I made a promise to myself: No more damaged men. No more addicts and rageaholics. No more men who made their hearts into small, cold stone. They always seem to find their way to me, attracted to my boisterous spirit I suppose, as if I'm a shiny penny to be picked up and dropped in their pocket. I've always let it happen, drunk on the thrills that new relationships, particularly ones filled with turmoil and yearning, bring.
Being alone isn't easy for me, and being celibate is even less so. I've always been sexually driven, but when I entered my mid-40s I found myself experiencing greater pleasure than ever before. I began to not only want sex more, but need it. Hungry is the best word to describe this newly impatient urge. I know what I want: a reflection, I think, of finally beginning to discover who I truly am. The lovers I'd taken in the off times of my on-again, off-again relationship with my ex reflected my emboldened desire — and, I suppose, my growing confidence. The gorgeous, half-Sicilian high-fashion photographer in Milan. Fabrizio, with the sleepy eyes. The cowboy in Wyoming, 6'5" and massively built. Bob, who guided me on horseback through the foothills of the Tetons and showed me scars from his years in rodeo. And dear Thomas, a brawling, Black Irish madman who rescued orphaned kittens and old men who had fallen into rivers. I lived with him in Ireland for a spell.
I know I'm not the only one, the only 50-, or, 40- or 60-year old woman feeling this way: in a state of perpetual half-arousal. We (Americans, I mean) are just now beginning to admit, to understand, that exuberant sexuality is not exclusively the prerogative of men, or females in their 20s. In fact, I'll wager we older women are often far better lovers than the younger versions of ourselves we see flitting, without a care it seems, through boutiques and markets, magnificently vital and as yet untouched by life's casual brutalities. We've got strength. After all, we've made it through divorces and parents dying and careers tanking and all sort of horrors. And we've got experience, too. When CC, who was just a year older than me, said, "Older women are hot," I simply smiled. And when he said "You're awesome in bed," I simply smiled even bigger. I take pride in my ability. Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't any woman?
Because for eons and eons we were told sex — desire, in particular, pleasure — was wrong. Old habits die hard, even with repeated viewings of Big Little Lies. Still, pop culture celebrating the libido of middle-aged women helps, doesn't it? (Even if with a show as terrible as Cougar Town.) So does seeing the new French president's wife, Brigitte Macron, sexy and vibrant and 24 years older than her spouse. You can tell she loves a good romp in the hay, the same way you know Helen Mirren, who looks smokin' in a bikini at 71, does. A couple weeks ago New York Magazine's online vertical "The Cut" explored Claire Dederer's new memoir in a feature titled, "." According to the article's author, the book is "the story of what happens when a devoted wife and mother in her 40s, a woman in a basically loving and healthy marriage, stops taking care of everyone, stops subsuming her own needs to those of her children and husband, stops repressing her unruly sexual desires, and starts acting like, well … a man."
Apparently this doesn't lead to Big Little Lies-sized indiscretions (one stolen kiss was the sum result) but how rousing it is for a book to seriously scrutinize the sexuality of older women. In this case it's all about the MILF, but the article, which asks, "Does sexual freedom belong only to the young?" fascinated currently-single-and-forever-childless me. What really snagged my attention was the idea that the stage in a woman's life that comes later, in middle-age, has the potential to be so juiced with creativity and power, and sexuality, too, that "a culture that disempowers women has to disavow it. This is why middle-aged or old women are witches and crones in fairy tales. It's why they're ugly. And if they're not ugly, they're dark. We have to make that power dark."
CC never seemed disturbed or concerned or irritated by any feminine power I exhibited that weekend in Nashville. He feasted on it, on me, the way I did him. We spent much of our second night talking. CC was a loner, living in a van he drove around the country anywhere he chose. A brawler, he had practiced Buddhism for years as a way to control his temper and still meditated every day. He was estranged from his family, had never married, and was largely self-educated in the service of "freeing his mind." I was the first woman he'd been with in more than a year. He was kind to me, sharing himself freely, without hesitation. He told me of his youth growing up poor in Ohio with an alcoholic father. I told him my brother died of a heroin overdose.
He was nearly literary in his fearless individualism, like a character out a Kerouac novel, and I wanted more of him. I wasn't sure if we'd see each other again, though: CC was in Nashville; I live in central Pennsylvania. I'd only been in Tennessee because I'm a travel journalist. But he called me a few days after I returned home, and he kept calling. I texted him late one night, wrote him that I was thinking of how we had lain naked and smooth together under that white, soft sheet in Nashville. We should see each other, he replied. New Year's. We met in the middle, exactly halfway between, in Charleston, West Virginia, and he wasn't irritated I was hours late. I could hear the sound of his guitar as I walked down the motel hallway and when I opened the door he smiled.
We spent much of the three days in bed, making love and napping extravagantly, emerging only to hike the nearby hills, stripped bare of greenery, oddly lovely in the flat winter light. We rang in 2017 in a dive bar renowned for its strong cocktails and surly bartenders, but CC pulled me out of it right after the clock chimed midnight, as if I were Cinderella. He didn't like to drink, perhaps because he'd seen the damage it had done to his father and uncles. They were Native American, he told me, Cherokee. I could see the heritage in CC's strong brow and high cheekbones, though his green eyes came by way of his Polish mother.
I wanted CC, though I knew I couldn't, shouldn't love him. He was more of the same, the kind of man I'd sworn off. But I couldn't resist asking him to go with me when I went on assignment for a magazine story, a road trip through the South exploring the region's musical heritage. In early February I drove down to Nashville, where he met me in my hotel. I tore at him, pulling off his clothes, my hands too eager to stroke his body, feel the muscles ripple under my fingers as he strained against me. We spent a few days in the city, as I renewed my acquaintance with its honky tonks, chatting with band members and jotting notes feverishly. And then it was just us two and CC's guitar in his throwback maroon van, shiny with chrome.
We stopped in Memphis for a couple nights, our hotel room overlooking the Mississippi and within walking distance to legendary Beale Street. Not yet satiated, we explored the boundaries of what we each would do with the other, finding the confines murky, permeable. My ex, the one who had so devastated me, had been unsatisfyingly prudish. CC was not. He allowed me to play, to push, and I did the same for him. Wrapped around him, I felt that same unmooring sensation I'd experienced our first night together, which I finally recognized as freedom. We moved on to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the place where bluesman Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul for his ability to play the guitar like no one before him.
We holed up in a renovated tin shack perched on an old plantation, part of a series of such lodging, collectively known as The Shack-Up Inn. After we'd brought our bags in, CC sat down on a chair in the kitchenette, the harsh overhead lighting rendering him more striking. He picked up his guitar and began to play "Wish You Were Here," the achingly delicate and wistful Pink Floyd song that he knew I loved, the one that reminded me so much of my brother. I reclined on the bed, watching his thick fingers pluck the strings, the day outside growing darker as the sun set. He put down his guitar, came to me, and the room filled with the sounds of our sighs.
But cracks were already showing, slivers of discontent and misunderstanding pushing us apart. We were at opposite ends of the spectrum politically, resulting in fiery discussions with voices raised, neither one of us willing to back down. CC didn't seem to understand that the purpose of the trip was for me to hear the live music of the South, to interview musicians about the country, or jazz, or soul they played. He wanted to stay in at night, with me by his side; I have no patience for men who don't understand how seriously I take my job. By the time we made it into Red's, the dilapidated juke joint lit entirely by crimson Christmas tree lights, I knew, even if I didn't want to admit it, that when we said goodbye at the end of the trip it would be final.
We continued on, down to New Orleans, roaming the bars on Frenchmen Street, and back up north, stopping by the legendary recording studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Along the way CC told me, "you can't base a relationship entirely on sex." I didn't voice what I was thinking: that it was all I currently had the emotional stamina for, that it was exactly, in fact, the kind of relationship I needed. It occurred to me belatedly that he had been seeing this trip as perhaps the start of something serious, a trial run before we moved into a more meaningful, deeper connection. I liked CC so much, perhaps loved him a little, but that had never been my plan. He was the sort of man I'd promised myself I would never commit to again. Nevertheless, after we'd finally kissed goodbye, in an anonymous hotel off a stretch of Kentucky highway somewhere north of Nashville, I cried.
I guess that's the difficult thing for me: I love easily, if not always deeply. I celebrate my libido, still stretching and intensifying as I age and am deeply grateful society seems to be finally acknowledging, even celebrating, the erotic desires of older women. I want to exercise my right — the same one men have had forever, young women more recently — to explore my sexuality with the lovers I choose, in whatever way I want. But my heart so often gets involved, a dangerous thing for someone not seeking, or ready for, emotional attachment. And so since CC, four long months, there have been no more partners, casual or otherwise. I sit waiting once again. For my heart to finish healing, for someone new to catch my eye. For what, I'm not sure. I'll know, I suppose, when it happens.