I’m not sure what category to put this one into:
An Enlightened Man’s Guide to Sailing with Women: Part 100 Self Preservation Tips for Men.
Tantrum Prevention 300: Please Don’t Say What You are Thinking
Sailing with Anxiety: Fuck the World I have No Estrogen
I decided to start a new category of “Goddess Issues.” Because goddesses are badass entities who can be benevolent, wise and abundant or wrathful, powerful, and destructive. I think especially women who take to the high seas are a unique kind of human who definitely can encompass all of the above. We have to in order to keep up with the moody nature of water, and let it be clear: the water always wins. Our job is to be savvy on navigating all aspects of it. Hormones are the same.
Few really talk about what happens with women in perimenopause. Many don’t even know what perimenopause is. Often we mistake the stereotype of a cranky middle-aged women with crazed hormones as menopausal. Menopause is a fucking relief, it’s the calm after the storm people. Menopause is when your cycle has stopped for good. Perimenopause can last 2-14 YEARS before that and is the real bitch. This is when our hormones fluctuate all over the place as our bodies slowly say enough on the fertility front. It’s like the longest most confusing backwards puberty of all time.
I have 12-year-old girls come into my office saying how they just randomly feel angry or sad for no reason and confusingly flip out on their families on the regular. Oh honey, I’m 43 and do the same thing with basically anyone who is around me. I spend a lot of time alone if I can. As the 12 year olds estrogen is ramping up to build boobs, bleed, make babies and create families; mine is winding down with irregular bleeding, less elasticity for said boobs, no drive to make babies and very little patience for families. Basically the 12-year-old is hormone driven to forge relationships and build tribe while the 43-year-old is giving less and less fucks literally and metaphorically.
This isn’t to say that a perimenopausal woman is crazy, or doesn’t care at all, or isn’t horny. On the contrary, we are wise as fuck with mad skills to cope with a deep river of empathy and care. Sex can be the best ever in middle age, it is usually quality not quantity and foreplay better include good conversation and help around the house. The thing is: we just don’t care about BULLSHIT anymore. When a nuclear bomb can go off internally at any moment that feels like it’s melting your face off and no amount of frigid air or water can cool you, all the little stuff can go fuck off. I have no time or energy for idiots, assholes or time wasters.
While young women are prized for their robust physical signs of fertility, middle age women become increasingly devalued and invisible as we age. While this irritates me to no end in our youth obsessed culture, it has its perks. The less you care about how I look, the less I care about how I look, and the more I invest in more important things: like who I am. The more I invest in who I am the less I give a shit about pleasing others and the more authentic I become. This, my friends, is opportunity to cultivate power and freedom. It is an opportunity to be honest, real and create the life you want.
The irony is that the middle-aged men in our lives are going through a hormonal phase too. Andropause is when their testosterone starts to lower. It is a more gradual process that starts as early as mid 40s and goes on for the rest of their lives, losing more testosterone each year. What once made the 16-year-old boy brazenly sexual with a penchant for risk taking and irrational invincibility is now softening him not only erectily but emotionally. They start to have more empathy and care, some even become depressed in the process as they process through repressed emotions and contemplate their lives. It’s a huge opportunity for many men to wake up to their feelings and create more emotionally intimate connections in relationship. The paradox of women hardening and men softening in mid-life is fascinating and makes me wonder about the yin and yang of it all.
When you are on a boat with people in small spaces for long periods of time it creates all kinds of unique dynamics. Taking hormones into consideration and talking about it is an important factor. Hormones are not a scapegoat here, they are not something to be blamed. Both the 12-year-old girl and 43-year-old woman randomly lose it, but it’s never actually over nothing at all. Hormones are like a temperature gauge, they just turn up the heat on stuff that’s already there. When I have some estrogen I can cope with some bullshit, I have internal biological space to keep the peace, keep the tribe happy and let it go. When I have no estrogen the wrath of god comes into play and the tribe can go fuck off, every man for himself.
Fatigue, vaginal issues galore, bladder issues, skin issues, weight issues, temperature issues, mood issues, memory issues, sleep issues, thinning hair, hair in places you don’t want, gravity: I mean, with all that going on who wouldn’t want to blow up buildings with laser-beam eyes? That’s probably why women don’t have laser-beam eyes. I’m not going to lie, I wish I had laser-beam eyes.
When you can go from happy to angry to sad to angry to happy to irritated to exhausted in one minute, it can be hard to stay homicide free. These mood swings can also lead to interesting dynamics in relationships, especially those we spend the most time around. Knowing how to care for tantrums is essential because middle-aged woman tantrums can be self-righteous, epic, and also very destructive. Hopefully the examples below might help your boat mate to stay alive on the water and keep you out of jail. (Please note all homicidal references are tongue-in-cheek. Violence is always bad, don’t do it.)
Here are some examples, they are definitely fictional, because everyone knows I hate to cook. You can insert whatever issue for cooking, because it’s never actually about the cooking. It’s always about some relational dynamic of feelings and needs under the cooking or behavior. I have provided translations to hit it all home.
Conversation with Estrogen:
Eric: “What should we eat for dinner?”
Jenn: Said casually with care, “I don’t know, I was thinking maybe fish?”
Eric: “Sounds good.”
Conversation without Estrogen:
Eric: “What should we eat for dinner?”
Jenn: Said with red face, gleaming eyes and sharp tone, “I don’t know Eric, what should WE eat for dinner? What the fuck are you going to make for dinner?’
Eric: Silent look of terror and bewilderment.
Jenn normally gets irritated with Eric for being indecisive around food and for not cooking. With estrogen Jenn is able to cope and just deal with it because it is easier and her cooking is better. Without estrogen she snaps with the built up irritation of years of Eric not making domestic decisions or cooking.
Ideal Solution 1 to No Estrogen:
Eric: Responds to Jenn gently with empathy, “Wow, you are really irritated about me asking about dinner, you want to talk about it? How are you feeling today?”
Jenn: Explains to Eric assertively why it is irritating, “I am exhausted today. I get so frustrated that I usually make all the decisions and preparations around food. I wish you would participate more.”
Eric: Being proactive and decisive, “I can understand that, lets figure out a new way to do it. How about I cook 3 nights a week and take a class so I can make yummy stuff. Tonight I’m taking you out for tacos.”
In this scenario Eric is a complete angel and I am so lucky and love him. Ending an evening with tacos is the best! This is unfortunately not how it usually goes. Mostly it goes like this:
Bad Solution to No Estrogen:
Eric: Said with bewilderment, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you being so bitchy?”
Jenn: Volume increasing with Eric’s bewilderment, “Bitchy?! What’s wrong with me?! How many times have I asked you to cook more? What the fuck am I, your mother? Why is it my responsibility to cook?!”
Eric: Said defensively, “I cook! I cooked breakfast last week! You never appreciate what I do, you are always bitching!”
Jenn: Contorted look of rage and disgust, “OMFG! Seriously? One meal and you think that’s gonna make this all better?!” Now the bit starts where I bring up every little thing I am irritated about for the past year or more. Then, as he argues and defends angrily in return I finish with, “Get off my boat!” (Insert laser beam eyes here.)
These are ugly and hard scenarios that take care and reparation later when everyone is calm. In this bad solution I decided to verbally eviscerate the poor man and he tries to fight back. We continue to push each other’s buttons until someone dies. (Not me.) That was drama for effect, no one dies, it usually ends with both of us exhausted followed by an emotional hangover. Often we can’t even remember how it started. Oh ya, what to have for dinner. That makes sense. (Insert eye roll here)
None of this is about cooking. It is about unmet needs and challenging feelings. This is about Jenn’s need for equality and support in the relationship. She feels like she cannot trust Eric in being decisive and pulling his weight without her reminding all the time. This makes her feel frightened and overwhelmed, she wants to rely on him. Eric is needing appreciation and respect for what he does do. He feels insecure within himself of not being enough, he wants to be relied on and helpful. He also wants calm and safety in the conversation and feels irritated and confused as to why Jenn is being this way when other evnenings she is calm. If you notice, everyone’s needs and feelings are valid and reasonable here. When the volume is turned up on irritable feelings we lose touch with any rational thought and shit goes sideways fast.
Ideal Solution 2 to No Estrogen:
Eric: What should we have for dinner?
Jenn: I feel so overwhelmed right now, I wish you could take over dinner today.
Eric: Sure, I know we have been talking about this a lot lately. I will figure something out, I want to support you. Can I give you a foot rub after dinner?
I had to throw the extra foot rub in, since it was ideal. Part of the second solution is that Eric and Jenn have been discussing their issues regularly and in times of calm so they are not building up to explosion in hormonal moments. They know the advanced translation and their issues. They have come up with a way to communicate that works for both of them and brings about connection. The key is that both people feel safe to express how they feel and know they will be heard. This includes Eric sharing his insecurities with Jenn and being vulnerable. When we connect like this throughout time then we can navigate the stormy places easier. Foot rubs greatly help as well.
It is important to note how our bodies are impacting our mood and talk about it. Eric can read my body ques pretty well at this point to know when to approach and when not to. He’s excellent at making sure I eat as my perimenopausal blood sugar gets whacky fast which leads to irritability and aggression. He makes space for me on days when I am feeling irritable at the world and doesn’t take it personally. This helps because most of the time my irritation is misplaced onto Eric and is actually about how I feel or other aspects of my life that have little to do with him. We tend to be hardest on ourselves and those we are closest to.
We also have a code word and if things are going in a bad direction one of us uses it and we physically get space to calm down before we talk again. It is an invaluable strategy, although on a boat getting space can be hard. I remember one time we were anchored out for a few days and I said, “Dammit Eric, (CODE WORD) I am going to the bow to read. You are to stay in the aft of the boat, you are not to come forward. You are not to talk to me for at least an hour.” I got a snack and my book and started to relax. About 20 minutes later Eric pops his head up through the forward hatch and cheerily says, “Can I get you a drink?” It was like a lightening bolt went down my spine as I sat bolt upright, turned and said, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!?! THIS IS NOT THE AFT OF THE BOAT AND YOU ARE NOT TO TALK TO ME!” He wisely sunk down through the hatch and disappeared quietly. We like to laugh at this one now because Eric just wanted to connect and make sure I had a beverage. I get it, no ill intent, but rules are rules when you have a goddess on your hands and I was done for that whole fucking hour. Later we snuggled and made up under the stars on deck. This is where I turned to Eric and said, “We may need a bigger boat.”
Lastly, the book Moody Bitches is a great read for all women, and especially perimenopausal women. She outlines just about everything you can think of quite eloquently. She talks a lot about self-care for women in perimenopause and I couldn’t agree more. This is a time in life where your baseline starts to change dramatically and we are forced to slow down and do things differently to function. It can be an amazing opportunity to see what hasn’t been working, sometimes for over a decade, and alter it. We have to because we physically and mentally just can’t fucking deal with it anymore. It’s a rich time of self-exploration and transformation. Honestly, I think we just get better with age. We prioritize more wisely, we are called to be more discerning and boundaried, and we actually love and appreciate more deeply.
We have to be compassionate and patient with ourselves as we go through this change. When I put the orange juice in the oven or lose my keys in my pocket for the third time that day, when I forget everyone’s name, including mine, and can’t seem to juggle the 50 things a day I once did with ease, I need to give myself a break. It’s just my body saying, “Slow down, breathe, calm.” It’s an oppporutnity to pause, come into the moment, reset and ask, “How do I feel, what do I need?” Then take care of myself and communicate that with others. The rest will follow.
May we all sail in peace.
Note: Eric approves anything I write with him in it before I publish. He lovingly said about this one, “I was entertained and it was educational. I think it’s good for men to know how to navigate the dangers of a middle-aged woman.” I asked him if all the effort in communication and understanding was worth it and he said, “Absolutely! We both just keep getting better!” This, my friends, was an ideal response. Good job Eric!