Older female characters are often sidelined in romance novels, but they have just as much right to find their happily ever afters as any other. It’s time to break away from genre expectations and give these ladies the recognition they deserve. As romance readers, we know that age is no barrier when it comes to love – so why should female characters be excluded just because of their age?
This year, I fully committed to writing older characters. I decided to do this for lots of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that I’m in my mid-forties. My twenties are long gone, and to be honest, they aren’t something I’m terribly interested in reliving on the page or in real life. It’s also for this reason that I don’t believe I can write them convincingly. My knowledge of what “the kids are into these days” is peripheral. I don’t know the slang, I know very little about the music, I barely watch the tv shows. Basically, I am very uncool. I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t see the need in knowing trendy things outside of what I find interesting! But I love watching the kids flourish and write the types of things they want to see on the page.
And then there’s an even simpler reason…
Older characters, older heroines specifically, deserve to have their stories told.
Many of us are coming of age at a later age, rediscovering our passions and interests, changing careers, ending stagnant relationships to find new love or finding true love for the first time! Those stories deserve to be told and read and not just as an embittered tertiary character in a romance about twenty-somethings.
Seems simple, right?
So why does it seem like such a revolutionary or niche idea? Well, it really boils down to one thing: the myths about older women.
Myths About Sexuality and Why Older Women Deserve a Romance HEA too
Unfortunately, there has been an ageist undercurrent to romances for decades now, which leaves many readers feeling alienated – particularly those over 40. Along with that ageism, there are some common myths surrounding sexuality and aging that have been perpetuated in these romances. These should be shed once and for all so that everyone can experience more inclusive romance stories with Happily Ever Afters (HEAs). I would love it if we focused on how it looks when women over forty are given agency in their romantic lives!
Myth #1 - Older Women Can't Be Sexy
Beauty and attraction are not confined to youth. Many people find the confidence and life experience of older women very attractive. This is a common misconception that is portrayed frequently in both the media and society. One that is steeped heavily in misogyny and patriarchy as if women lose their value when they are closer to or are no longer of reproductive age. Hell, I’ve even see talk of a woman in her thirties as old and used up. This statement is often made by trolls on faceless social media accounts, so they deserve zero energy. Pay them dust. However, we have an opportunity, particularly as romance authors, to dispel this myth. Besides, in my opinion, there is nothing more alluring than a confident and experienced woman who knows what she wants. Whether she's in her 40s, 50s, or beyond, an older woman can exude sexiness simply by owning her femininity. Some of the most popular and well-loved actresses are older and wiser, and depict characters who prove that age is just a number when it comes to being sexy.
Myth #2 - Older Women Don't Want Romance
This misconception - that older women don't want romance - is yet another stereotype that fails to recognize the individuality and depth of human desires, reducing them to a mere age number. Age does not determine a person's capacity for love, affection, or their desire for a romantic relationship. Older women, just like their younger counterparts, have emotional needs and desires. They crave companionship, understanding, and intimacy. They appreciate romantic gestures and they value deep, meaningful connections.
In many cases, older women may desire romance even more deeply. They have lived through a variety of experiences and understand the significance of having a loving partner by their side. They have a clearer idea of what they want in a relationship and are often more open and honest about their expectations. A late-in-life romance can bring a host of benefits for women. It can provide companionship, reduce feelings of loneliness, and even boost physical health and well-being. Being in a loving relationship can add a sense of joy and fulfillment that enhances the overall quality of life at any age.
It's also important to note that romance doesn't always look the same at every stage of life. For older women, it might be less about grand gestures and more about genuine connection, mutual respect, shared experiences, and emotional support. Or maybe she wants the grand gestures now because she never experienced them in her youth!
The notion that older women don't want romance is not just flawed. It overlooks the fact that the need for love and connection is universal, transcending age boundaries. Women of all ages have the capacity for and the right to love, romance, and companionship. What they may have a low tolerance for is the bullshit that they put up with in their earlier relationships.
Myth 3# -Sex with Older Women is Unnatural or Wrong
This myth is deeply rooted in societal stereotypes and ageism. It's a misconception often perpetuated by media and cultural norms, which tend to unfairly emphasize youth and marginalize older individuals, particularly women.
These views are not grounded in reality.
However, if the thought of an older woman as a romantic lead makes you uncomfortable, it's worth considering why. Is it because you're applying societal norms and expectations? Or is it because you're viewing older women through a lens that defines them only by their age rather than seeing them as whole individuals who continue to have desires, needs, and the capacity for romantic and sexual relationships?
There's no expiration date on sexuality and desire. Tracey Ellis Ross, for instance, is a perfect example of a woman who exudes confidence, attractiveness, and sex appeal, proving that these qualities are not confined to youth. And she's not an exception. There are plenty of older women who lead fulfilling romantic and sexual lives well into what society considers old age, just like men do!
Let's also remember that romance novels featuring older women cater to a specific audience - people who appreciate and find such narratives appealing. These readers understand that love, romance, and passion are not bound by age. They appreciate the depth, richness, and authenticity that such stories offer, often brought about by characters who have a wealth of life experience behind them.
More to the point, this is a damaging stereotype that we need to challenge. Sexuality is a natural and vital aspect of human life, and it doesn't disappear as we age. Instead, it evolves and transforms, offering new dimensions of intimacy and connection that should be celebrated, not stigmatized.
Myth #4 Older Women Can’t Reach Orgasm:
This myth is not only rooted in ageism but also a result of ignorance about female sexuality as a whole. Orgasms are a physiological response that doesn't simply disappear with age. While it's true that hormonal changes associated with aging can affect a woman's sexual response, they do not eliminate the ability to achieve orgasm.
Also, the process of reaching orgasm is often more complex for women than it is for men, involving both physical and psychological factors. This doesn't change with age. Older women, like all women, may need more stimulation or more time to reach orgasm compared to their male partners. They may also find that their orgasms are different – perhaps less intense or accompanied by different sensations. However, this doesn't mean that orgasms are unattainable. With patient and understanding partners, and good communication, older women can continue to have satisfying sexual experiences. This might involve exploring different types of stimulation, using lubrication to address issues such as vaginal dryness, or trying different sexual positions to find what works best.
Having that said, many older women report that, while their bodies might respond differently, their sexual experiences are often more satisfying than when they were younger. This could be due to increased self-confidence, a better understanding of their bodies, or a deeper emotional connection with their partners.
Creating an Authentic Romance Story with Older Women
The beauty of an authentic romance story lies in the natural complexities of two people finding love amidst life's obstacles. But what if those people happen to be older women, who have lived rich, varied lives and are looking for a second chance at love? This presents a unique opportunity for writers to delve into a demographic that is often overlooked in romance novels. These women have lived rich and varied lives, overcome numerous challenges and are still looking for love.
Here’s how you can showcase the depth of women 40 and older:
1. Develop Complex Characters: The key to crafting a realistic romance story with an older heroine is to focus on developing the characters. Don't fall into the trap of stereotyping older women as simply shriveled up ladies waiting to die. Instead, create a character with her own backstory, passions, and dreams. She has perhaps children or grandchildren, a career, friends, and maybe a pet. This complexity will showcase her as a multi-faceted individual with a full life ahead of her and a second chance at love.
2. Highlight Life's Obstacles: Relationships are not always sunshine and roses, and the same goes for older women finding love. Highlight the challenges that she may face such as societal pressures and ageism, sharing families, illness or death of a spouse or a renewed independence and sense of freedom. These challenges not only add realism but allows you to showcase the strength and resilience of an older heroine.
3. Emphasize Personal Growth: As she seeks love and connection, let your heroine grow and develop emotionally. This emotional growth is key to an authentic romance story. Your heroine could begin as a cautious and guarded individual hesitant of falling in love again. Show her breaking down walls, opening herself up to the new possibilities of love, and achieving a sense of self-discovery which will in turn be a journey for her newfound love.
4. Show Dynamic Relationships: One of the biggest advantages of an older heroine is that she has already experienced much of life and in this experience, she has built a network of relationships that can contribute to her personal growth and her romantic relationship. These relationships could include children, in-laws, and close friends, who can offer her emotional support and new perspectives. The dynamic relationships that she has will determine how she interacts with her lover, adding an extra layer of depth to your story.
5. Deliver an Empowering Message: As your story comes to a close, make sure to incorporate an empowering message to leave your readers with something more than just a happy ending. Your older heroine may have learned to rely on herself, shed societal expectations, and redefine her priorities. This message resonates in real life with many readers, and can be an empowering read for any age.
Why Giving Older Women a Happily Ever After is Important
It's no secret that popular culture has long been obsessed with youth. But as we grow older and gain more life experience, it becomes clear that these stories often represent a narrow version of love and happily-ever-afters. That's why it's so important to depict older women experiencing joy, passion, and companionship in their golden years. These women have spent their lives giving to others, raising families, and working hard. They deserve to have their own love stories written and celebrated. No one is harmed by writing stories about empowered older women who find love and fulfillment, we can expand society's definition of what it means to live happily ever after.
Older male characters have been featured for decades, and now it’s time to flip the script and bring older romance heroines into the spotlight. Let’s give them a chance to prove that romance is ageless! There are so many stories out there waiting to be told - and romance fans everywhere are ready to embrace the older heroine.
It’s time for romance novels to rise up and showcase the stories of these amazing women! Have you read any books with older female characters recently?
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