We had been together for 27 years when I discovered my husband was having an affair. I had imagined us growing old together, jockeying to be the first to hold our grandchildren and reading the Sunday papers with one pair of glasses to share between us.
We loved each other deeply and it never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t be married for ever. But neither did it occur to me that the bitter, unexpected end to our 22-year marriage could herald a remarkable sexual awakening for me, and that I would catalogue my journey — the good, the bad and the ugly — in a book. My brother was adamant that writing about my experiences would be cathartic.
My goal was for the book to be raw and real when it had to be, but mostly funny.
This memoir did not come out as I had intended, however. The zippy story of the single, middle-aged mother of three striking out and finding her sexual mojo was not, in fact, the only tale I had to tell.
The deeper story was how I came to the revelation that I’d become complacent, coasting along while roiling underneath was a woman yearning to live life on her own terms.
Laura Friedman Williams (pictured) reveals what its like to have sex for the first time after a mid-life divorce – and is now on lover number nine!
Michael and I were just 20 when we met and, up to then, my sexual experiences had been limited. In our marriage, yes, I enjoyed sex once I found the energy, but if I’m honest, I could take it or leave it.
I’d given birth three times (Daisy, now 18, Hudson, 15, and Georgia, eight), nursed three babies, fought gravity with only middling success and — frankly — aged. I’d thrown myself into motherhood with gusto. I took parenting as seriously as the UN takes world peace.
My needs and desires? I had not considered them for ages.
So how did I come to be in a hotel bedroom at 46, naked, with a stranger on the other side of the bathroom door?
The news of Michael’s affair shocked everyone. Yes, we bickered, but we loved and often adored each other.
Made suspicious by an extravagant Valentine’s Day bouquet (he had never bought me fancy flowers before) I checked his phone and found a WhatsApp chat peppered with loving messages between him and a woman 20 years my junior.
Michael was not only sleeping with someone I knew, but he had been contemplating divorcing me to be with her.
For several months, I was so miserable I could barely scrape myself off the floor to care for our kids. He moved out while we tried to figure out if reconciliation was possible.
I wanted to burrow in my grief and hibernate.
A stay-at-home mother, although I had worked in publishing before my children were born, it was all I could manage to coach myself out of bed each morning, feeling nothing but dread for the day ahead.
I would spend hours talking to friends or sitting alone at home, thinking and crying. I stopped reading newspapers and tried to keep reading books, my most cherished activity, but I could not track the words across the page.
The New Yorker opens up about finding her sexual mojo at 46 in new memoir, after her 22-year marriage to her husband Michael ended (pictured on their wedding day)
My friends kept urging me to go out and flirt to shake off the sadness. Finally, five months after Michael’s affair was revealed, I relented and found a local bar where a band was playing, bought myself a ticket and put on a dress.
I felt equal parts brave and foolish: less ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ and more ‘I am lonely, newly single, timid woman, hear me whisper.’
When a tall, muscular man with a full head of dark hair — let’s call him Man #1 — walked in, my radar activated. He was a stranger, just visiting the area for a few days.
We chatted, I flirted, he kissed me and I ended up back at his hotel room. It sounds seedy, but he was handsome and charming and I really didn’t want to pass up a seemingly perfect opportunity to kick my life forwards.
I gave myself a pep talk: ‘It doesn’t matter what happens here. It’s like the first attempt at a jog after years of being sedentary, you will never see him again. You can do this.’
But at that point, it occurred to me I was wearing a beast of a strapless bra with a wide back and four hooks. There’s no way this man would be able to get it off gracefully and I didn’t even want to imagine how matronly it would look.
Then there was my belt! It had a clasp that you have to twist just-so to undo and if he had to tackle that he would surely feel defeated before even getting to the bra.
Decision time: I quickly removed all my clothes and folded them on the desk. By the time he emerged from the bathroom, I was naked.
I had never felt so wholly out of my body, or so certain that I did not belong there.
I knew it was not too late to retreat, to reach for my clothes, get in my car and backtrack to the life I had known for decades. To say this moment felt dreamlike is an understatement of epic proportions.
I might have lost my virginity 30 years earlier, but this experience felt remarkably similar. All that was missing was the worry my parents would find out.
Then the voice in my head said: ‘Jump!’ And slowly I nodded my head in assent.
I had worried I would miss Michael like a stabbing pain, but sex with this man felt profoundly freeing. This was the sex I remembered from my youth, ravenous, raw, and thrilling — the kind of sex that took my breath away.
It gave me a reprieve from the sexual identity I had adhered to during my marriage.
As I drove home, I realised I’d only been gone a few hours, but was returning a changed woman. From that point on, a voice in my head urged me to keep going, to leap forward, don’t look back, pedal faster, have more sex, learn more, explore more, discover more —more, more, more.
Over the next year, I had nine different lovers. I found myself looking for men all the time. Suddenly I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be flirted with and touched. For better or for worse, I felt free and very, very available.
I had given so much of myself over the years, gradually disappearing as I put all of my love and energy into my children and maintaining as perfect a home as I could. But now there was something inside stirring — not just sexual arousal but sexual curiosity, too.
Man #2 was a builder who’d once worked on our house. We bumped into each other at a food market and went out for a drink. But back at his place our passion was interrupted by Floyd, his devoted and very jealous German shepherd (I’m not a dog person). I was clearly making progress and felt proud of the sexual confidence I was gaining, the newfound comfort with my body, the knowledge of what it could do and what it would respond to.
The rural area in upstate New York where I lived in the summer was not fertile ground for meeting single men, and I was painfully aware my past bar tryst (Man #1) was likely to have been a once-in-a-lifetime event. But on a rare night with no childcare responsibilities, I ventured out again.
The mother-of-three is now dating a man in an open relationship and her advice to others is to shave your legs, don a lace thong, slip into a pair of sexy heels, and go with the flow
Sitting in a different bar, I felt ridiculously and conspicuously alone, but was following the new rule I’d made for myself: one drink, a few songs and call it a night. As my kids used to chant in nursery school: ‘If you don’t try, you don’t know’ — so I was trying, knowing that when I returned home alone later still feeling empty, perhaps it would provide some consolation that I did, at least, try.
Just as I was about to leave, a good-looking man walked in alone. I felt like a cat that had spotted her mouse. Man #3 and I had a delicious summer romance. Throughout this time, I shared my dating and sexual experiences with friends and they encouraged me to keep writing them down. They all had sisters or friends whose marriages had imploded, too, but who had turned inward, not wanting to go out, feeling undesirable. These women had not embraced their newly single status with my vigour.
I knew my book would expose desires that extended beyond those allowed for a woman my age with kids to raise and a reputation to keep intact. As I told my friends my brazen stories, they would cheer for me, expressing delight that I had momentarily emerged from my paralysed stupor.
Still, I worried what my mother and kids would think.
Then, one night, I confessed everything to my mother. I explained I was worried this book would scandalise her and I wouldn’t want her to read it for its many graphic scenes, but she completely surprised me by saying: ‘So I won’t read it, or I will and I’ll be sorry I didn’t do all the things you did.’
It wasn’t Michael’s fault that our sex life had become humdrum and monotonous — he was a passionate lover. If I’d even slightly reciprocated his desire, I’m sure he would have been thrilled. Perhaps I was no longer attracted to him, or perhaps I was no longer attracted to myself when I was with him, I don’t know.
I had viewed sex during my marriage as mostly ho-hum, but in my life post-marriage it was proving life-affirming. I was now free to reinvent myself in whatever way I chose, to shed the sexual persona that I had rigidly assigned myself.
Suddenly I could have sex with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted and only if it made me feel sexy and powerful, not because it met someone else’s needs.
Man #4 was a blind date set up by a friend. Six years younger than me, his virility was matched by my insatiable curiosity and thrill at being desired.
I was surprised by how nourishing I found lying together after sex. When I was married, I would curl in a ball on my side of the bed, so relieved that this obligation could be ticked off my list and I could be left alone. That had all changed. Now the desire to be touched — not just sexually, but any kind of physical connection — felt potent and primal and appeared to prove wrong everything I thought I knew about myself and my needs.
I saw Man #3 and Man #4 concurrently for a while, then I experimented with internet dating. I had one bad experience (which I try to forget and refer to as Man #4.5) before swiftly moving on to Man #5 (a muscly part-time fireman), Man #7 (a lawyer who snored) and Man #8 (with whom I discovered I have a G-spot). In between seeing these lovers, I reconnected with a newly single old friend, Man #6.
Man #9 was the flirtatious guy selling coconuts on a family holiday to the Caribbean — we had steamy sun lounger sex as the kids slept.
Two years on, to our surprise and delight, Man #6 and I are still dating. When I have the chance, and the time, I have sex with other men and I tell Man #6 when I do.
He understands that either he accepts me as a complicated package, or we part. He has embraced this, which might change some day, but we don’t worry about it — we are here now, and it works.
Man #6 has everything I want except for one significant thing that is impossible for him to provide: newness.
Laura’s full story is told in her new memoir, Available, out now
I still want to be noticed, desired, flirted with, seen in all my naked glory; I want to peel clothes off men and run my hands along their skin. No matter how fulfilling a relationship, it doesn’t negate the part of me that wants to be noticed and wanted, that enjoys the flirting and the hunt.
All my life I’ve been a fixer, doer, plan-maker, strategist, needing to know what’s coming. And now, for the first time ever, I simply don’t need to know. Security and stability are less important to me than self-awareness, independence and choice.
I am a woman and a mother, but no longer a wife, no longer looking for the sure thing that will keep my life tidy, my future certain.
But in going out, meeting men and having sex with wild abandon, I have found a part of myself I never knew I needed or wanted. It has been so shockingly good and life-affirming that if you asked now, I’d say I wouldn’t take my old life back, even if offered.
The realisation that I could have stayed with Michael astounds me. I had a choice: go back and salvage what I could, or forge ahead alone. I had been terrified, but I gave myself a chance anyway.
I can now see the fault lines in the marriage were there all along, but I was unwilling to acknowledge them until the earthquake erupted and gave me no choice. I embraced motherhood so completely that I neglected the woman underneath, and the worst thing that had ever happened to me — Michael’s betrayal — set her free.
Divorce is an ending and a terribly painful one, but it’s also a beginning. My advice to anyone trying to decide whether that door is opening or closing is don’t overthink it.
Shave your legs, spritz on some perfume, don that lace thong bought in an optimistic moment, slip into a pair of sexy heels, and let the momentum carry you forward.
Extracted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Available by Laura Friedman Williams (Borough Press, £14.99). © Laura Friedman Williams 2021. To order a copy for £12.74 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Offer price valid until July 8, 2021.