My wife has a new gynecologist, a woman. Till now, Marsha has stuck with male specialists, mostly cute ones with bad hair. Peri-menopausal since radium was discovered, or thereabouts, she may be hoping, like losing teams that fire coaches, that one radical change will beget another.
The party line is, if a woman goes twelve months without a period, she’s considered menopausal. At the rate she’s going, Marsha may one day be using Depends as a feminine hygiene product. Three months go by, then five, we start to get our hopes up… then it happens: a wallpaper-peeling shriek from her bathroom: “Ahh, shit!!!” Would that it were just a case of not making it in time.
Unfortunately, you can’t induce menopause as you can labor. You just wait for it to arrive, like good children for Santa, coping as best you can. As geriatric couples rhapsodize when the band strikes up some old chestnut from their courtship, Marsha and I have adopted songs with pertinent titles and refrains to ease the situation satirically: Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” and “Hot And Cold” by Katy Perry. (If they ever play those when we’re at a party, though, the band may be ducking chairs.)
Women sometimes say that their period is their business, period. Maybe for cultures with “red houses,” but for the rest of us, the physical and emotional shifts that accompany menstruation involve the partner as well. Especially leading up to The Change.
There was a time when Marsha and I had complementary body temperatures in the sack: she, absolute zero; I, BTU buns. I slept without a stitch on, Marsha wore half her closet. And that’s quite a closet, folks.
Not any more. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that heat dissipates. We’ve disproved it. The closest our heat comes to dissipating is in clouds of steam produced by perspiration from Marsha’s hot flashes colliding with, now, two sets of burning buns, like lava rolling into the ocean. Pundits and ecologists continue to debate the most efficacious forms of green energy. The problem is already solved. Ask any of the millions of midlife couples whose nightly thermal output, if harnessed, would leave wind and solar power in its wake.
And just as yo-yoing hormone levels affect a couple’s sleep, they also (and that goes for men, too) disrupt intimacy. Whereas once you were all over each other like leeches on liver, now you’re running a symposium on celibacy. “Wanna snuggle?” “Nah. Zorro’s on the bed. Ain’t he cute?”
There’s a cruel irony here for people with kids. When they were small and you were horny, they were always around, so that you practically had to do it in the crawl space under the porch. Now that they’re spending so much time at the mall or at Sarah’s house they need a visa to get back home, you have no desire to get it on. On those rare occasions when the bedroom beckons, foreplay becomes the refrain from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”: “’I am weary, aweary, / He cometh not,’ she said.”
But if the physical changes of midlife aggravate, the emotional ones triggered can be devastating. Mania, depression, feelings of emasculation and worthlessness swoop down without warning like a raptor, leaving you shaking in your shoes. Drugs, Ben and Jerry’s, and cradling each other’s head help keep you on terra firma. But sometimes nothing helps.
A decade-and-a-half into the miracle of adoption, Marsha still sometimes feels like a cosmic clown. Cheated. Deprived. Like she studied, and studies, for a doctorate in a field that no longer exists. Being unable to conceive--- especially after a lifetime of dysmenorrhea--- has left a hole that no amount of Chunky Monkey at midnight, or orders with free shipping from HSN, or sessions with surrogate Jewish grandmothers--- let alone assurances from me that we’ll grow old together--- seems to fill.
That’s a song no one can play.