Valentine’s day guilt

February 14, 2012

in Personal, Two of us

There are many reasons you might find Valentine’s day makes you feel guilty, but perhaps the great unspoken one is sex.

There is a pernicious myth around which suggests that couples can continue to be ‘in love’ and having perfect, thrilling sex – for ever. This is nonsense. As are all those miserable suggestions, mostly directed at women, about how you can ‘keep your sex life steaming’..

The fact is that if you have been together three years ANY other woman has the edge over you. And in my case – that’s thirty years, not three – almost to the day.(tomorrow)

So I am way down in the desirability stakes. That rapturous feeling of being overwhelming desirable coupled by weakness of the knees and shortness of breath on encountering  the object of desire is the thing we all long for and which no partner can offer after (slightly arbitrary figure here)  three years. Never mind thirty.

This means that I am actually the least desirable adult woman on the planet as far as Charles is concerned. Nearly. I have proximity in my favour. That’s all. Any woman (you dare) has the excitement and novelty to offer which I lost twenty seven years – or more – ago.

The only cast iron reviver – please don’t try this at home – is one of you being unfaithful. The shock can break the cosiness a loving couple develop and wonderfully recreate the sense of encountering a stranger.

So I feel inadequate on the anniversary of our first amazing encounter. A feeling of failure and loss which will follow – perhaps both of us? – for the rest of our lives together.

Anne Wareham  XXXXXX




Clare Palmer February 12, 2013 at 10:45 pm

The last word was meant to be singledom!

Clare Palmer February 12, 2013 at 10:43 pm

My very own elephant is how much I prefer not to be in a relationship/not to live with someone else, and how much that seems to shock people. Valentine’s Day is merely annoying because Waitrose has bumped up it’s Meal For Two from £10 to £20 because they included a box of chocs with a heart on it. For the first time for 27 years I am really living on my own, as my daughter has moved out, and the succession of lodger/nephews have finally got their acts together and moved out. I admire couples like you two immensely, and I think what you have achieved together is much more than you could have done alone (I think of Veddw often, and it is easy to revisit it in memory – it is one of the most special places I have been to). But I am glad to have arrived at a (kind of) honesty that I was never cut out for relationship. The prevailing social pressure that it’s the desirable way to be, and that somehow you are inferior/to be pitied if you are solo I think prevents many people celebrating singledom.

anne February 12, 2013 at 11:04 pm

I suppose this must be the case and that is astonishing. Perhaps I should ask you for a guest post on the joys and liberation of being single? Sounds as if it should be celebrated? (Certainly 10000 times better than living with Ian!)
Thanks for your kindness re Veddw and hope to have you visit again soon.

Deb February 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Wise words from Clare. During the last six months I’ve found myself for the first time since my teens feeling blessed by my singledom. Previously the thought terrified me, but recently it’s dawning on me that I’m most at peace when I only have to consider my own needs (excepting The Boy, of course). I realise this sounds selfish, but so far I’ve only encountered partnerships which have felt vaguely like I’m wear the wrong size shoes.

anne February 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I know I would never start all over again with someone if I lost Charles. The idea of renegotiating all the things that matter (like sleeping separately) never mind the more minor things (like not doing blaming) is simply unthinkable.

Clare Palmer February 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm

But I can’t resist sharing the sea otters photo on Facebook with you

Michelle Wheeler February 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Anne, what a thought provoking blog. Sex is by no means the most important thing in a relationship of any kind. Of all my past relationships, the ones that meant the most were those that engaged my mind more than in the bed.x

Hope to see you soon.

anne February 20, 2012 at 11:51 pm

And the heart: that matters too?

And hope we’ll see each other this summer, maybe.. XXXX

Michelle Wheeler February 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Yes the heart, sometimes stronger than my mind.


anne February 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Which is wiser?

Sally February 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm

It’s mental torture isn’t it!? The human brain has developed enough so that we all want spiritually/mentally/emotionally fulfilling relationships (our intellectual selves) but yet Mother nature is having none of it. She doesn’t want us to stick with the same mate for years on end, oh no, she wants us to carry on looking elsewhere, to keep on spreading our genes!
I’m only 35, have been with my partner for just over over a year, and already that ‘edge’ you’re talking about is ebbing away 🙁 We love each other all right, he is definitely my intellectual match, but we’ve not even made the 3 year mark, let alone 30 years!
Sorry… This has suddenly turned into a ‘Dear Anne….’ post ha ha!

anne February 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm

(three years was a slight exaggeration.)

I can only say that loving is really important, worthwhile and challenging, and sex is only part of it, despite what the world tells us.

Stay as close and honest as you can? Don’t demand that your lover has to be turned on by you like they used to be, but accept the reality that neither of you can do that or be that.

And grieve for the loss. Grieve – and sympathise with each other for loss of the excitement. Our curse is our hope to have everything but some things are mutually contradictory. Good luck XXXX

Sally February 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Insightful, helpful advice Anne, thank you.

One of the things I found interesting about your blog is that you mainly focused on your perception of your husband’s diminished desire for you. The usual cliched stuff that is trotted out in women’s magazines is about the female losing her libido (particularly after having children), the man’s frustration by this, and then how massive resentment builds, and affairs happen etc etc. You didn’t really say how much desire you feel towards Charles, and whether ANY other man has the edge over him? In the name of feminism, it would fascinating to know of the flip side of the coin!

anne February 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm

I think that’s probably worthy of another post, and I will write one,(or more)- promise you. Meanwhile, my point is that the loss of the knee melting excitement is mutual, and for the same reason, and in the same way. A deep love is not the same thing and doesn’t impel in the same direction.

That women’s magazine stuff is what I am challenging. I think that blaming and guilt tripping is corrosive and dishonest, and this is something of a plea for people to admit reality and stop being cruel about it. Or finding alibis for unfaithfulness, which we must all dream of (for the knee melting…) and then we ought really to take responsibility for how we treat other people and how much we indulge ourselves.

And also let’s forget all that s..t about dressing up in suspenders unless it’s just for fun?

Having said all that I still find Charles very attractive and erotic. Bit embarrassing this stuff I’ve got myself into!

Bethan February 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Someone pass me the tissue box!

anne February 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm


anne February 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm

(It’s there in the picture….)

Libby February 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Wonderfully frank.. as Charles says (in his moving response) you do have a way with elephants in rooms Anne – and I love it! And now I know why you recommended Betty Herbert’s ‘The 52 Seductions’!

And so much truth, wisdom, love and friendship in the responses – I really enjoyed reading them.

The part of your post that made me most sad was you saying that you feel inadequate and a failure. Of course anniversaries are naturally times when we look back and remember what it was like in the beginning and yes, maybe, feel some sadness over long lost passion and excitement that we know we’ll never regain. But that’s mainly just chemicals! Chemicals and novelty! And no matter how hard we try to recreate the feelings that the chemicals created at the time it is, literally impossible. So, dearest Anne, there is not and cannot be inadequacy or failure! 🙂

Again, warmest congratulations to you and Charles. You’re a wonderfully open, giving and generous couple who enhance and enrich the lives of those fortunate enough to know you, not least because of your love, respect and admiration or each other.


anne February 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Not sure I can go on blogging – it’s making me cry! Libby – you are so kind. Thank you and all you other understanding commentators.XXXXX

Alison February 15, 2012 at 9:45 am

What a beautiful and thoughtful post. Tender and sad and wonderfully honest.

anne February 15, 2012 at 10:35 am

Thank you, Alison.

Gillian February 15, 2012 at 9:16 am

Am I allowed a second comment?
Sod sex, romance and all that rubbish, Charles’ comment is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. Well done, Charles. And Anne, can we hear more about the elephants?

anne February 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

As many comments as you like, Gilly – and you’re right about Charles’ gift.


Philippa Perry February 15, 2012 at 12:25 am

We the wise middle aged must rise up against the tyranny of everlasting passions continuing from the first encounter to the grave and must exhort instead the deep joy of sharing the same taste in television programs and a love of completing crosswords together. And for any chance of anything resembling contentment we must abandon the expectation of this long time companion to bear the strain which the human spirit is just too weak to bear that two people, who are historically and organically different from each other be expected to provide a mutually supportive programme of more or less therapeutic ‘understanding’ and emotional tolerance, not to mention sexual indulgence, as to expect such a thing would be stretching the bounds of possibility beyond all reasonable limit. Having said that I do appreciate the help with the crossword. And its nice having someone appreciate the work I do in the vegetable garden. Long live the love that is Pragma and Eros, take a hike.

anne February 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

Long live the love that is Pragma, and Eros, take a hike. Brilliant.

Sue Beesley (@suebeesley) February 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Terribly brave writing about middle-aged sex knowing that one’s life partner will be reading it and inevitably thinking about their side of the same coin..

Here’s my take on it, after 17 years. The complete understanding, trust and security of a long relationship is the perfect foundation for the best sex you can possibly have. And if you just can’t get into the mindset, read, or re-read Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

anne February 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Read Lady C every night? (sorry – shouldn’t be facetious). See also ’52 Seductions’ ..

Sue Beesley (@suebeesley) February 15, 2012 at 9:11 am

Every night? At my advanced age? Good lord no….

anne February 15, 2012 at 10:32 am

You’re just being shy….. XXXXX

Gillian February 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm

That would be the saddest thing if sex was the most important thing in marriage. But it isn’t, so yar-boo-sucks to St Valentine!

And it’s great to see your new blog, Anne.

anne February 14, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Thanks, and in spite of all that the world tells us – you are right.

Charles February 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I understand that the first person to read this (apart from me – of course I read it first!) wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I feel a bit mixed up myself.

Anyway who has read the Bad Tempered Gardener will already be familiar that Anne has a desire – perhaps it is even a need- to say things which people do not usually say in public. Well at least not in the gardening world they don’t. In fact it goes further than that. I think that Anne sometimes actually grasps something that no one else seems to have recognized before and finds a way to articulate it.

You won’t know this but in her previous life (but not previous to me- I was there with her even then), she was a Gestalt psychotherapist. Within a year of her completing her training she was training other Gestalt therapists. Why? Because she had actually come up with a recognition of a pattern of behaviour that we all demonstrate at times and which therapists really need to know about if they are to do the best by their clients. Spotting elephants in rooms is something she is very good at. She doesn’t always know what to do about the elephants but she does see them.

I’m certainly not going to talk about sex here. But I will say something about why I feel so fortunate to still be with her after thirty years. I continue to admire her as well as love her. She bowled me over in those early days when she was my boss, my teacher and my lover. And she still impresses me most with the heart that she has for people when they are in need or distress and her willingness to act and reach out to them. She has enormous courage and her courage encourages my own.

So don’t be surprised to be taken aback by what you read here. I won’t be. And don’t be afraid to argue and disagree with her. I do. Usually something good comes out of it.

Miranda Pender February 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Charles, what a wonderful reply.

anne February 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm

OK. Speechless. Thanks for the fizz!

Sue Beesley (@suebeesley) February 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Quite the most generous-hearted response imaginable to one’s beloved telling the entire world, on Valentine’s Day and on the eve of your 30th wedding anniversary that she feels her sex life has slipped into a middle-aged slumber. And you say she’s the thoughtful one.

Happy anniversary to you both. And keep the fire burning….

anne February 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm

He is! (generous) I think we both hoped there would be people out there who would take heart from this…

Sacha February 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Both of you show a clarity of thought, vision and speech which is immensely valuable. What you have written is so honest and thoughtful, so brave and loving that it brings a tear to the eye. Between you, you have made a life, a garden and a marriage that are admirable and inspirational. What beautiful writing from you two! Have a very happy anniversary!

anne February 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Thank you, Sacha – we’ll do our best to have a happy one – and I do hope that we can keep the loving going. I never take it for granted!

Sacha February 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

To be honest, the Tweets I’ve seen between you and the interaction when we’ve been with you, made me think you’d been married for a few years only. I don’t think there’s any danger of either of you taking each other for granted, which is the best recipe for a happy marriage I can think of!

anne February 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Hmm, well I know I don’t. I wonder what taking for granted amounts to? The idea that someone won’t ever leave? Not noticing them anymore? Must give that a think…But/and thank you for your kind response – takes one (two) to know one (two) ?

Helen at Toronto Gardens February 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

My husband and I will hit the 30-year milestone this summer, and while our fire might not always be blazing, it’s usually ready for a good stoking. But then, we’ve never created anything like Veddw.

anne February 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Congratulations on the thirty – quite a journey, isn’t it? One of the world’s (relatively) unsung joys?

cp53a February 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Oh Anne – that’s the saddest thing I could have read on Valentine’s Day – but I have to agree with you. Not quite 30 years for us tho’ – a mere 19. I’m sending you a virtual hug xxx

anne February 14, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Thank you, Clare – sad mainly because love and passion don’t quite necessarily live together? Cultural expectations and pressures turn lots of us into failures, and that is sad.

anne February 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Off for a look..

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