“Why is thinking something women never do? And why is logic never even tried? Straightening up their hair is all they ever do. Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?” These much beloved lyrics are from Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady, which poses the immortal question: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Two weeks ago I penned a column on the male mind, wondering if it ever really changes from its halcyon days of adolescence. Always striving to be fair, I have decided to tackle a parallel exploration of the female mind. Although I am a professional in the venue of the mind, I know from prior experience that whenever I venture into the mysterious realm of the female psyche, I am treading on very thin ice.
I decided not to rely on my own experience about this subject and to ask my female “advisers” insight on the workings of the female mind and how it evolves with age. Mostly I received positive responses. Many echoed Ann, who wrote: “I think more and more kindly of myself, warts and all. I enjoy being able to be more open and loving to everyone, without worrying about their reactions to me.”
Rose got a bit more down and dirty about the subject. She had one word to capture the evolution of her female mind: vibrator. “Didn’t discover this little wonder ’til a few years ago when it seemed like my husband and I somehow switched places — he’s the one who’s too tired or has a headache. I’m even beginning to learn the male skill of fantasizing about taboo other men. There is an unleashed quality to aging that is very pleasant.
Carolyn would agree, but her tool of choice is not a vibrator but a chainsaw. She is challenging herself by developing a homestead in the wildness of the Canadian north, and intends to chop up the 1,500-foot-tall birch trees herself for firewood. “I could hire to get that done, but hell no, I want to do it myself. It contributes to a wonderful, renewed sense of independence — something, by the way, that is not at the expense of my sense of myself as feminine or my relationship with my adorable husband.”
My female correspondents consistently reported this sense of greater freedom to assert themselves, to “be impatient with phony people with agendas and eliminate finally toxic people from my life” (said Margo) or to rediscover the “buried crazy, irreverent, nutso bits of me I used to love” (said Kathy). What many women see as a greater mental freedom to be their own person, men have reported to me as “demanding,” more confrontational, and generally less appealing. I asked Dr. Barry Miller, training analyst at the Los Angeles Jung Institute, about this. He pointed out that women’s minds, after midlife, often can become seized by the “masculine,” just as the male mind can be overtaken by the feminine. He said: “For both, this psychological condition is one where their inferior aspects take over and dominate the personality … Men can become maudlin and sentimental while women can become oppressive and controlling.”
As you can imagine, this scenario rarely results in harmony between the sexes. What needs to happen is for both men and women to integrate their “opposite-sex mind” into an internal harmony. It is an essential psychological task of the second half of life.
But I can’t let a couple of male psychologists have the last word on this subject. I will give that to Pam Taveggia, one of the first female minds that captured my attention back in the day, during moonlit nights on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. According to Pam, who contacted me by email, many things have changed for her since then. For one, she has had to adjust to the fact that she no longer stops traffic whenever she has a flat tire (she now calls AAA). But she reports that three things have never changed for her: “Do I want sex? Yes. Do I want chocolate? Yes! Do I want love? YES!”
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.