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Midlife Women’s Discovery 3 Day Retreat in Cheshire, UK

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Do you find yourself wondering what life’s about at times, or struggle to find your purpose? Maybe your lacking passion and inspiration or want a new direction.

Our retreats are designed to help you tap into your emotions with journaling, look for opportunities in the universe with tarot and unblock your energy with reflexology and Qi Gong.  Also included are 3 yummy vegetarian meals a day plus homemade vegan cake, because life is always better with cake. The cottage is located in stunning nature with an award winning pub nearby – just saying! Walking, talking, laughing, the odd drink and a dance if the mood takes you, are all on offer.

Dates: 10 – 13 July & 13 – 16 July. Prices from £295 with discounts for AoA members.  Soul Sisters looks forward to having you.

My Love Affair with Italy

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Annie Llewellyn has an academic background in Psychology and has lived and worked in Wales for many years. She is grateful for the years she spent in academia because she was able to teach and research In Europe. In 2002, she met and married an Italian and has never lost her love for this amazing country. She is now resident in Italy for much of the year and works remotely while still trying to work out the bureaucracy and the language.

The route to Italy began when my daughter came home for the weekend with a copy of an advertisement that she had found in the Sunday Times ‘Lonely Hearts’ section and I think she wished to divest herself of coming to seek me at weekends so that she could spend more time with the current boyfriend. The advertisement said that the gentleman concerned had a cottage in Wales and a house in Italy and was looking for someone to share his life with and I put it on one side thinking he would have loads of applicants.

One day I was feeling particularly lonely, and I decided to phone him, bearing in mind that I hadn’t seen a photograph as this was before the days where you swipe left or right based on physical characteristics. We had a chat on the phone, and I felt quite excited to be asked out on my first date. I dressed very carefully in a red dress and high heels (never usually wear these things). I found my date waiting for me in a high street in a mid-Wales town and we went to a rather seedy pub full of slightly inebriated locals. To say it was ‘love at first sight’ was simply not the case and in fact, it was very much the opposite. He was a slightly rotund, very well-dressed businessman whose accent belied his private education and his Italian ancestry. We looked slightly out of place I have to say in this rather run-down Welsh pub on a Saturday night.

The conversation though was interesting, and we spoke of many deep things such as the sudden death of his previous partner at a young age and his heartbreak at this. I saw a survivor and someone who was very likeable. I spoke of my yearning to travel to see other countries now that my children had grown up and I had time on my hands not to mention the unfaithful but long-lasting relationship with a younger man (we can go there another time). Richard – yes, that was his name – talked of how he longed to wander the beaches with his dogs on a rope lead and divest himself of all connections with money and become a gypsy. I have to say I only found out later than he knew how to sell himself, but I digress from my story.

I got ready to leave and said that I had enjoyed his company, but I didn’t think we were especially suited. I also thanked him for arranging to meet and moved to get up and go and I wished him well with finding the right person. He then said: ‘Would you like to eat?’ and I had to admit to feeling peckish and so we found a local Indian and we ate a good curry. He confided that I was the fourth date of the evening and that there had been 350 applicants so far, but I was the best of them all.

Of course, after the troubles of my previous relationship where I had lost not only my husband but most of our worldly goods which went to buy his new younger model a house and car – this somewhat bolstered my ego. We parted as friends and he said that he would phone me before he left for Italy the next day to complete on his house and I wished him a good trip and drove away thinking that I would never hear from him again. Yet, the next morning I received a text thanking me for a beautiful evening and promising to ring me on his return from Italy. My thoughts returned to him during the week as I wondered whether he had completed on the house and then on Thursday morning he texted me to say that he had completed upon the house. And I replied that ‘I am delighted that you have achieved your dream’ as he had been born in Florence and the text came back to say ‘you are my dream’ and I honestly had to get out of the bath to read it properly because the bath was steaming up the screen of my phone. I had never considered leaving Mid Wales again let alone taking up with a foreigner who admitted years later that he had sent it over a drunken lunch with his sister.

During the time that Richard was away, there were several gossipy lunches with girlfriends and the consensus was that what had I got to lose? Well, there was the issue that he wasn’t my physical type; my style of man was more along the lines of a tortured poet but as my friends pointed out my last attempt at tortured poets had certainly not gone well. A week after Richard’s return from Italy he invited me to his farmhouse in South Wales and we sat outside drinking gin and tonics and the first night he cooked me a beautiful meal of roast duck with all the trimmings and the housekeeper had put flowers in the spare room next to my bed.

We spent the days exploring the nearby market town and getting to know each other and, in the evenings, we ate out in Abergavenny. It is true that Italian men have the gift of romance and this one played Maria Callas, and I began to enjoy the ease of his company. Despite the heavy romancing, I continued to sit on the fence but four weeks later the school holidays were drawing close; and Richard made me an offer of two weeks in Italy followed by two weeks in Spain and I was absolutely hooked. I had probably been planning to spend the holidays scrubbing the skirting boards and put that against jetting off to a country that I already loved and of course, I accepted.

Before we left, I was introduced to the Italian mother and she was utterly lovely a gorgeous, lithe lady in her late 80s living in Fulham. She had once been part of the Folie Bergère in Paris where she had met her Italian Count but sadly the Florentine family didn’t feel the same. I too was similarly dismissed when I met Richard’s children who apparently treated all his girlfriends in the same way and would clearly have preferred him to return to their mother so that they could resume their private education.

I had anticipated a lazy drive down through France to Italy but any hopes of that were dismissed as we navigated the M4 to the ferry. Once Richard joined the motorway down to the South, I began to realise there is no such thing as a lingering road journey to an Italian. It was hot and he drove very fast and in mid-France, I began to dream of flights wondering how much more I could take of this road trip with Puccini blaring from the speakers. I quickly learned that Italians manage their women in a manner that is subtle but designed to get their own way.  We arrived at the house 18 hours after we left Dover having navigated the long incline to the house, a truly nail-biting drive and one of the most dangerous in Italy. There are 13 hairpin bends and some of them are the switchback type. Passing places are few and it is a single-track road much beloved by cyclists and people in camper vans seeking a rural idyll after the joys of Florence, Rome, and Sienna. We arrived about 3 am in the morning. I was absolutely shattered and planned to catch the first flight home from Pisa as soon as morning light dawned.

I awoke the next morning to warm sunshine flooding the room and threw open the shutters and I was blown away by the view. It was literally love at first sight as my eyes took in the rugged mountains, the breathtaking views and the valleys shimmering in the warm sun below. I would come to love that view and I drank it in every morning and was there until late evening draining the last drop of prosecco from my evening aperitif. You couldn’t hear a sound and after the hectic drive and the journey, I felt that I had come home. Many people experience this when they first come to Italy and indeed, I had felt this on my first trip, but something gripped me on that visit that has never left my soul. I love the bones of Italy and I don’t feel the need to do the touristy things that Italy offers to many (although I do them in passing) but it is the experience that grabs me more than anything. It is being alive under the Italian sun as it were and simply being and there is no more pleasurable meditative state.

Every day I fell further in love with Italy and Richard. I would sit and people watch, and few words were exchanged between Richard and me as I immersed myself in people watching and eating dinner late in the evening at different restaurants. I loved to peek into doorways as we paused to gaze at the tranquil gardens where I imagined sitting in the evenings. The Italians, of course, rarely sit in their gardens during the day preferring to shade themselves from the sun. I lit candles in the evening on the terrace and Richard prepared simple food, which we bought from the market vendors during the day.

Richard and I were not lovers before we embarked on the trip but I fell in love with him during this trip. It wasn’t my usual passionate kind of encounter but the simple love of a man and woman who meet in mid-life and are appreciative of the time they spend together and are merging in a kind of simplicity that is hard to define. We spent long hours listening to the voice of Maria Callas singing arias from Madam Butterfly and indeed the aria was played at Richard’s funeral some eight years later. Richard admitted that the trip was one of the happiest that he had ever made to Italy. Just us and the landscape – what a joy!

We returned to Italy every few weeks (flying, of course). Richard didn’t change, and many times he dragged me from the sanctity of the house back into the hire car to various sites of interest such as Florence, Siena, and Assisi where I was expected to drink in the atmosphere in a few hours. Richard proposed after a visit to Bologna to see his sister and he bought me the most beautiful diamond ring and I think I was the happiest I have ever been. We married in Florence just before Christmas eighteen months later on a beautiful frosty, snowy day in the Palace Vecchio. The wedding ceremony was conducted in Italian by candlelight with beautiful frescoes in the background and centuries of history surrounding us.

The years I experienced with this man were years that I will never forget, and he never made life easy, but he did his absolute utmost to make me happy. When he became ill six years after we married, it didn’t slow him down and he didn’t involve me in his treatment. He died two years later, but he gave me something that was beyond money. He introduced me to a different way of living and a life that I had never experienced before. In the last two years of his life, I gave up my job and we spent time in Tenerife because he liked the climate and the small mountain house remained closed. I was with him in the final stages of his life and his last words to me were ‘don’t leave me’ as he sank into a morphine-induced sleep.

I was heartbroken and it was two years before I was able to return to Italy as I couldn’t face returning to the house and life there without him. He left me his share of the small mountain house and I knew it would be hard in practical terms to live there full time and so started to think that selling the house was my only way of keeping afloat. I hadn’t realised the extent of the practical problems that living in Italy inevitably brought until I started to engage with bureaucracy. I spoke only a little Italian and even now it is a work in progress, I learned that Richard’s way of dealing with taxes was to ignore them. This is not so easy for the person left behind. I came to realise that the man whom I loved so deeply had left me his part of the house but not the income to support it. I returned to my job and picked up the threads of my life and paid off all the taxes that were owed. Healing came more slowly and there were relationships post-Richard, but they were not important.

I yearned to spend more time in my Italian home and popped over for brief visits to pay bills but I couldn’t face spending longer without the man I had loved so much by my side. It was the support of a loving therapist that made me see that I could create new memories and that Richard would want me to return and I began to want to give it a try. I cleared the house of memories and had the place revamped and so I started to appreciate once more the peace of the country I had come to see as home. I decided to cash in my pension to give myself some capital and a monthly income, but I also negotiated a few hours of teaching on Zoom and I managed to sustain a level of income that would make living in Italy work. I was faced with loads of practical problems such as driving on the other side of the road in the terrifying mountainous area in which I live, but is something I was able to overcome.

My week is now punctuated with visits to the Wednesday market in the nearest village after navigating the thirteen hairpin bends where I buy locally grown fresh vegetables and fruit often for as little as one euro. I also buy a spit roast chicken from the rotisserie in the marketplace, and I eat this with fresh salad or pasta.  On Saturday, I get on the local train to visit Lucca and enjoy a cappuccino with a friend and perhaps wander around the market to see what bargains are available. I have picked up designer cashmere sweaters for as little as 5 euros. Once a month there is the antique market where people gather to buy the beautifully restored, shabby chic furniture and magnificent chandeliers. I often join friends for lunch and revel in the odd purchase I make such as crystal chandelier droplets for my Christmas tree. Trains are cheap in Italy, and I can travel to other places quite easily to experience a different side of Italian life.

I live in the moment in Italy and appreciate the compensations of my life as I get up to greet the dawn on my terrace and gaze down to the valley below watching as the sun clears away the clouds. I can often be found swaddled in a blanket, sipping my morning tea alone on my terrace engulfed by the silence. I am alone but the airport is not far away and I am only half a day’s travel away from my children and friends.

Single women are drawn to Italian life and there are always people around who will chat and readily express their envy when they realise you are not a tourist but live there. Friends who visit are drawn to choosing their own place, but when they return home; I return to my life of silent contemplation where I read by my fireside in the evening, or I light a candle and enjoy a glass of frizzante wine alone. I don’t often feel lonely because I have found my peace and I have memories from the past and hopes for the future that I am planting as I go. There is no rush even though my memories of Richard remind me that life is brief and that all we have is now. However, I know that I have everything and that is more than enough.

“Deep in the soul, below pain, below all the distraction of life, is a silence vast and grand – an infinite ocean of calm, which nothing can disturb. Nature’s own exceeding peace, which passes understanding. That which we seek with passionate longing, here and there, upward and outward; we find at last within ourselves.”

Richard Maurice Bucke

Why I’ve Always Loved Younger Men

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Why I’ve always loved younger men….

Younger men… now there’s a damning phrase if you are an older woman. Branded as cougar, cradle-snatcher, why is it that all those rather unpleasant epithets never get showered on men who prefer ‘a younger model’?

I’ve always been open about my preference, recognising it’s fundamentally part of who I am, rather then just a midlife need for a good fuck… (Although of course that never goes amiss.)

So grab a coffee, and enjoy…

Clear as day I remember standing in the Sussex kitchen of my mother’s best friend. The three of us. Exasperation at me was written all over my mother’s face. I was 16, so most would find this unsurprising. But this emotion had been on her face whenever she looked at me for most of my life. Nothing new there.

The discussion turned to boyfriends – a delicious wayward boxing half-blue, history student at Cambridge was my current choice. Older – yes, a little, more experienced – quite definitely. My mother and friend both knew how much I was enjoying it, him.

But the comments that followed changed my perspective forever. The world went quiet. My heart stopped. The seismic plates shifted. No-one else noticed – but me.

‘Hmm the thing about Erica is she needs a strong person. To control her. To ensure she doesn’t do anything stupid. Someone much older. A real man who can tell her what to do. How life is.’

Throw-away comments maybe. As if I wasn’t in the room. But those few words resonated into my future. I absolutely knew I never wanted an older man, a father figure, someone who knew best. Those words still make my heart go cold.

What I wanted, had probably always wanted, was a playmate, a partner in crime, a lover who was up for exploration, someone as wild-minded, intense like me. Who loved passionately. I wanted someone to ‘see’ me. And this man was always going to be my age or younger. From the get-go. A sort of sexy Peter Pan, combined with Jack Sparrow. Insouciant. Fresh-faced. Smiling. Light of body, mind, heart.

Life went on. I married a man my own age. I loved him passionately. We had happy times and lots of children, but his childhood damage claimed him. So there I was back in the world of dating again. Time to imagine next steps. And it was never ever about someone older.

After licking my wounds, eight years ago I threw myself back into the maelstrom that is internet dating. Curious and worried.

I was facing 50 – with all the uncertainties of the menopause ahead, of being ‘past it’, of thinking life was on a downward spiral from here on. To my surprise – I was thrown a lifeline from a really unexpected quarter. Those younger men who had always featured in my mind’s eye came up trumps. To them I was catnip. I was a person to be courted, fantasised about, enjoyed and spoiled. They wanted to engage with me, just as I had always wanted to engage with them.

The reasons to enjoy them are many and varied…So here’s my list – once sampled you can add your own…

• Younger men understand personal grooming really well.
And if you don’t believe me – compare younger men’s profiles to those in their 60s and 70s on any dating site. If you did the same comparison for older/younger women, the difference is much less stark.

• Yoga is something they’ve tried and probably do.
Supple bendy men are wonderful lovers. Health/wellbeing is part of who they are. Most of the younger men I have dated have done yoga… Older men? Nada.

• Your/their gene pool really is irrelevant.
You may have children already, or be past those years… Yeay, they are happy not to have to factor that into any dating equation. Not so with women closer to them in age.

• If you are lucky, you have your own space, so are not looking to them to provide a roof over your head. What they earn and whether it can support a mortgage/rent is therefore not important. Nor is a pension for that matter – you’re more sorted anyway.

• You know what you’re doing in bed and boy, is it fun exploring all sorts of new stuff… Toys, apps, you name it.

• They love the fact that you are older…

Be prepared to have the whole world feel they can make personal comments about you/your relationship/their prejudices about the inappropriateness of older woman/younger man together with impunity…

I dated a very beautiful 6’3” triathlete – eye-candy of the highest order. If I went to the loo in a bar, girls young enough to be my daughters would feel they could express jealousy/horror and everything in between. Until you explained that they, when older, could be doing just the same. Hah! That put it in perspective in a way they’d never anticipated.

He too was asked what it was like ‘shagging his mother’… Not expecting the ‘best sex ever’ reply his laddish inquisitors got. But what amazed him was how many men wanted to talk about it more, and more, and more. And then would ask us about it together.

It would seem that there is a need for ‘fact site for dating older women’ somewhere.

• Those younger men are up for adventure – big time.
Whereas an older guy doesn’t get why you want to have sex in as many car-parks as you can round London to see where the CCTV cameras can’t reach, my playmate at the time thought it was a crazy, fun-filled way to spend odd weekday evenings. We saw parts of London I never knew existed, in ways I hadn’t anticipated!

Windsurfing and sex – tick, kayaking and sex – tick, sleeping outside in all weathers and sex – tick.

• Yes I did have my fair share of sexual problems to deal with… premature ejaculation, lack of erection, etc. Sometimes I wondered if I’d become the sexual therapist some of these men needed, but being able to talk about it to me was an unanticipated bonus – for them.

• They get why the roof off the car, loud music at 2am on a frosty night is the only way to get home from a party.

• Importantly – I love younger people…
Most of my company’s clients are in their 20s, 30s, early 40s – I’m mixing with them on a daily basis, building their companies with them, understanding the issues they face. I talk their talk, walk their walk. And some of them are hot as hell. Although clients are a definite ‘no, no’, it’s not rocket science these are the types of men I engage with emotionally, or physically. And I’m not interested in retiring (well, other than to a well-appointed bed with some delightful company). There are too many things to do, people to see, places to go… I find the ‘slippers/pipe’ mentality in older men unbelievably dispiriting. Please no, don’t unhook me from the mainstream.

• Younger men don’t get M&S, or the National Trust
This may sound a little odd. But next time you’re in M&S – look around you. No-one hot and tasty in there, is there? No, see my point. So I run in, buy Rosie HW’s silk bras and dash out again, a little worried I might have been seen by my latest squeeze. Who just so happens to love removing said silk 
bras, cami-knickers and cashmere sweaters that M&S does so well, priced so reasonably. And what hot date has ever asked you to go round a NT property – unless of course they were the tree-surgeon?

• Younger men appreciate the menopause could be a good thing…
My breasts are having a great mid-life career at the moment. Post-menopause they are getting bigger and bigger (and I was never poorly endowed). Whilst the rest of my body is fit, lithe, responding to exercise, healthy diet and yoga, my breasts have decided they are having none of that. They are big, beautiful and objects of wonder to my lovers. Older men have that sort of ‘seen it all before’ ennui.

And of course – pregnancy is no longer an issue. Condoms are for sexual health, not contraception. Ah, pregnancy.

Therein lies the rub when you are in the wonderful world of dating younger men. Because many of them will make fabulous fathers. If they are not already.

My deal with younger men has always been that when they meet the girl they want to be the mother of their children, be honest, say so. Because it can’t be me. Be truthful. They know I’ve loved being the mother of 4 – how on earth could I ever hold them, keep them from experiencing this too. So sometimes even though your heart is aching because you love them, you have to let them go to someone closer to them in age.

• You stay under their skin, in their souls…

So despite the sad point above, bear in mind one key thing. Told to me by a male friend I’ve known since I was in my late teens… If you have enjoyed loving and being loved by a man very much younger than you, he will never ever forget you. You will always be part of his life, who he is, how he loves. And if things go wrong, as sadly they do – it is you that will be on the speed-dial once the worst has happened. Because he knows you have years of life to call on to help him through. Not wisdom. Just years’ of life practice.

Go out and enjoy the smorgasbord younger men can offer. And you know one of the really great things about getting older? There are even more younger men next year than this year! Enjoy.

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