Leslie Morgan is a Washington, D.C., native and a former general manager of the Washington Post Magazine. She is the author of “Mommy Wars,” “Crazy Love” and “The Baby Chase.” Morgan read from her latest book, “The Naked Truth” (Simon & Schuster), on May 29 at Kramerbooks & Afterwords. Learn more about her work at lesliebooks.com.
Question: This is your fourth book. Your other books have explored work–family balance, relationship violence, and infertility–surrogacy. What’s this one about?
Answer: “The Naked Truth” is a memoir that explores the astonishing (to me, at least) intersectionality of aging, sexuality and self-confidence of women after age 50. My first job out of Harvard was writing for Seventeen Magazine in New York. All my books focus on women, and I’ve spent most of the past 15 years traveling around the world speaking at conferences about women. What I learned is that very few women approach aging and sexuality with a positive attitude. I wanted to change that.
Why did you write “The Naked Truth” as a memoir instead of a general nonfiction work?
When I got divorced at 49, I realized not only had I lost my marriage, I’d lost myself along the way, too. The intensity of marriage and motherhood, along with juggling work and family demands, can result in women (and men) losing touch with ourselves. Our culture actually encourages women to lose themselves in motherhood and marriage, and our partners tend to be baffled about how to help us. This book is a road map for finding your confidence and sexuality again, at any age.
Give us a snapshot of sex and women over the age of 50.
There are more women over 50 in this country today than at any other point in history, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.
The statistics on older American women’s sex lives are shocking:
One-third of women in their 50s haven’t had sex in a year.
Fifty percent of women in their 60s haven’t.
Despite the fact that older women enjoy sex more and have more intense orgasms! This is ridiculous. “The Naked Truth” is my attempt to show older men and women that aging and sex go together rather fabulously.
Is online dating part of the answer for older women?
It’s actually part of the problem. Online dating is especially tough on older women, even though more than one-third of marriages today start via online dating. Men’s desirability peaks at 50; women’s peaks at 18. (Which is part of why I do not do much online dating.) It’s particularly important for older women to be more assertive when it comes to dating and relationships, and also in terms of safeguarding our financial security throughout our lives, so that we never feel we need to find a man for economic reasons.
So, how do you meet men?
First, let me explain that I’m a heterosexual woman, so my views reflect that perspective, but feel free to change the genders here, because I think this advice holds true overall. Men (or potential partners) are everywhere. On the sidewalk, at coffee shops, in yoga, at the airport. You just have to start seeing them. And, when you see someone you like, have the guts to introduce yourself, get their contact information, ask them out and remain unfazed by rejection. Men start learning these skills at 15; most women are never taught how to do this. But if you want to fill your life with interesting people, you need to put yourself out there on a daily basis, which is what I did and still do.
Part of your story is that you dated younger men. How did this evolve?
Society’s rulebook says that a woman who gets divorced at 50 needs to get remarried as soon as possible. I thought this was a depressing and absurd reaction. Instead, I did what older men do: I bought a sports car, I started dressing younger, and I started dating much younger partners. And you know what? One of my naked truths was discovering that this formula worked for me – exactly as it has worked for older men for centuries. I also discovered that it’s only very confident, interesting, attractive younger men who have the guts to go out with an older woman. Ironically, younger men made me feel appreciated BECAUSE I was older and wiser and more experienced sexually than women their age. Older women need to widen our dating pool – in the exact same ways older men do. We need to date older AND younger — and seek partners outside the traditional ethnic–educational–economic constraints we used when we were looking for “mates” in our 20s and 30s. As a 50–year–old divorcee, for the first time I approached men like a buffet – taking what I wanted – without worrying at all about how to please a man or be valuable to him or to follow society’s rules about women and relationships. And it worked.
You called your dating strategy “the five boyfriend plan.” Did you ever think the men you dated simultaneously were using you or that you were using them?
Consensual heterosexual sex is not something men take from women — it’s something we give to each other and ourselves. The sex was all consensual, and it was all pretty great sex. If anyone was actually using me, I have to say thank you, because it made me feel beautiful and sexual and treasured in a way marriage never did.
Society makes so many judgments about women’s sexuality. How did you confront those as an older woman?
If a 50ish man who’d ended a sexless marriage dated five women in a year as I did, we’d all be cheering for him, not judging him. Popular society gives women three choices when it comes to sexuality: you are a prude, you are a slut, or you are desperate. Especially older women. I was none of these, as you can tell from reading “TNT.” One of the first naked truths I learned: I like sex a lot, I always have, and having fabulous sex with amazing men was a surefire route to feeling better about myself and life. These “boyfriends” helped me see that I was still beautiful and sexually attractive, beliefs I had lost during a long marriage. This was a priceless gift that I kept long after those men had left my bed and my life. Despite my emphasis on men, “The Naked Truth” is not a book about finding your soulmate. It’s a book about figuring out how to feel comfortable and beautiful in your own skin, no matter your age or physical appearance.
Not to give away the book’s ending, but are you single now?
Yes, I am single! Everyone asks me that — which is revealing in itself, right? Because we still think that the only legitimate fairytale ending for a woman means getting married and living happily ever after. But one of my naked truths is there is no such thing as prince charming and you must be your own fairy godmother. My happy ending is that I’m living my life and collecting new material for the sequel to “TNT.” What I learned through a year of “adventurous” dating is that this is an inside job. My most important message to women is that valuing yourself is not about physical perfection — one of the blessings of aging is that you are freed from that aspiration and can finally, truly see that beauty comes from within.
Do you have any advice for women (or men) who want to stay married, but be happier in their relationships?
My advice for women is to think of your life as a pie chart. 50 percent mom; 30 percent work; 20 percent husband. Usually, we women leave ZERO percent for ourselves. Don’t give into the pressure to stay silent, and put yourself last. Be frank with your husband or partner about your needs and your level of happiness in the relationship. Take good care of you (especially if no one else is!) Men – as much as I love them – are NOT going to take care of us, and it’s not smart or fair for women to assume men will do so.
Many of the naked truths I discovered pertain to women. But I learned a great deal about men, too. Most men are encouraged to focus on stroking their egos through relationships, and they are not taught how to nurture women. This is why men often make women so miserable in long-term relationships – women need a deeper level of compassion and care and connection (the three Cs) than most men have any clue how to give.
My advice to married men: appreciate your wife and tell her what you love about her; work on your own issues, and shoot for greater intimacy with your partner, because that is what marriage is really about.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a sequel to “The Naked Truth.” Men keep on giving me absolutely unbelievable material.