Dating for the first time in 27 years, Rosie Green discovers that getting naked with a new man now requires a level of prepping that would make the Kardashians blanch. Cue an extreme (and very intimate) makeover…
My grandmother always said it was a tragedy that only one man (my grandfather, I’d like to think) had seen her naked. She was the town swimming champion: tall and shapely with, as she never failed to tell us, aristocratic ankles. Yet, like a dust-sheet-covered masterpiece, her body went largely unappreciated. A beauteous thing seen by so few.
My body, like hers, has not been viewed by many men. I wouldn’t be so boastful as to profess this as a tragedy for all mankind. But, you know, Jack Nicholson once told me I had ‘nice t**s’, so I’m thinking that there might be an audience.
Why so few observers? Well, I was in a 26-year relationship that started when I was 18. You do the maths. Fact: apart from a few forgettable teenage fumbles, I am 45 and have slept with just one man my entire adult life.
I was so young when I got together with my husband that I never had the wild 20s my friends had. The flirtations, the rejections, the uncertainty, the all-consuming lust. The intense highs and lows. While they regaled me with stories of their dates (he wore sunglasses throughout; his size was not proportionate to his… er, size; he rang his mother three times), I listened (sometimes smugly, sometimes enviously) from the safety of my relationship.
Rosie discovers that getting naked with a new man now requires a level of prepping that would make the Kardashians blanch
And now that safety net has gone. For the first time in nearly three decades I am single. While there are good things about being single (sleeping in the shape of a starfish, no one waking you up with multiple nightly pees, chocolates that can be eked out for weeks), I feel, on balance, that they are outweighed by the negatives (no one to warm your cold feet on or kiss you goodnight).
Which means I’m dating again. Who am I kidding? I’m dating full stop. There’s no ‘again’ about it. So the prospect of getting naked in front of a new man is very real, which is scary and thrilling at the same time.
‘Of course, I could just stay reassuringly dressed, but also remain single and sex-free,’
When I talk to my single friends, being naked with a new partner seems to top their lists of worries. More so than going to parties solo or having to deal with a broken boiler or pest control issues on their own.
Because naked, if you look at a dictionary definition, means ‘exposed and stripped’. The thesaurus lists its synonyms as raw, defenceless and vulnerable.
It’s weird that naked, our most natural of states, conversely feels the most uncomfortable for lots of us. You’d think naked might mean free, liberated, entirely at one with ourselves. And perhaps it does to naturists, the Kardashians and Lady Godiva, but there’s plenty more who can think of nothing worse than stripping off in front of a virtual stranger.
But, for me, getting naked physically is less worrying than exposing myself emotionally, dropping my defences and letting somebody get that close to me again.
Oh, and then there is the sex. Let’s face it, the opportunity for embarrassment here is high. After 26 years of being with the same person, you know which way someone leans in to kiss; how they kiss. You know what makes them smile and what makes them squirm. You can laugh about the messy, unpredictable thing that is real-life sex, rather than movie sex. You are in a sexual comfort zone.
In a new relationship, will all those old schoolgirl insecurities surface? Do I know enough? Do I know too much?
But I do know that baring both my body and soul is essential if I am to move on; if I am ever to get past the pain and the hurt of divorce and avoid a life of celibacy, with lots of cats but zero hugs.
The big mental block my friends seem to have is the worry that their bodies will be substandard. I guess the obvious point is that nakedness throws our physical flaws into sharp relief. There’s no hiding your lumps and bumps with control underwear. No accentuating your waist with some strategic colour blocking.
It’s your body and it is just what it is.
But we women are not so good about being philosophical. We torturously compare ourselves to models and actresses. We think about what childbirth has done to our nether regions and the toll gravity has taken on our skin.
We all have body insecurities – having worked (as a beauty editor and stylist) with lots of A-list beauties, I can tell you that they are as paranoid as the rest of us, and my slimmest friend won’t wear a bikini on the beach, so paranoid is she about her cellulite. Another friend doubles up her Spanx when she goes on a date (she looks enviably curvaceous but is inclined to perspire – it’s a trade-off).
But sometimes we women find it hard to believe that others are riddled with the same self-doubt. I once wrote a piece for a magazine about the body thoughts that zip through my frontal cortex like tracer fire. After two children, is my stomach as wrinkly as a shar pei’s face? Do my buttocks look more part-baked roll than desirable buns?
My article got dissed by none other than Carol Decker, the lead singer of 1980s pop band T’Pau. She called me ‘disingenuous’. Carol – I’m china in your hand.
But in a way she was right, because I’m not really disgusted or ashamed of my body. Most of the time I quite like it – but that’s not the same as wanting someone else to see it.
Of course, I could just stay reassuringly dressed, but also remain single and sex-free. Alternatively, I could get into bed with a new man and perhaps orchestrate a blackout so he never catches a glimpse of cellulite. Both seem quite extreme.
So if I am going to get naked there are some practicalities that need to be taken into consideration. My naughtiest friend Nadine (think Samantha from Sex and the City on steroids) last week informed me (very loudly in a crowded restaurant) that any man under 35 is going to expect zero hair down there. She also generally implied, in a not so subtle way, that I needed to up my grooming game.
In what felt like a pincer move, my friend J then told me my underwear drawer needed a complete overhaul. She’s right – I’ve barely bought any smalls since Labour were last in power. When you’ve got a house renovation project, two children and a crippling mortgage, lace nothings do not take priority. And nightwear? A greying vest and some boxer shorts ‘borrowed’ from my ex were my go-to for way too long.
But as my friend Lindsay wondered out loud, if you prep both your body and your underwear drawer, are you also prepping your heart and mind for a new relationship? In the same way that a new haircut makes you feel great, which in turn makes you attract more admiring glances, maybe investing in your undercrackers can have a positive effect.
I decide to take charge of my smalls. I am ruthless in jettisoning baggy pants and saggy bras. I visit a lingerie department and get measured, and the ladies (who always have cold hands) tell me that my real size is 32D, which I ignore because a) there were no pretty bras in that size; b) if you’ve ever seen my boobs, which I’m thinking you haven’t, they are patently not a D, and c) the bra felt so tight it gave me back fat.
Then I actually do a dry body brush – I’ve been preaching but not practising this skin-improving activity for years – and apply Dove gradual tanner so that I don’t look ghostly pale. And I decide to get my unwanted hair lasered off. (Nadine approves.)
I go to see Dawn at my local beauty salon and she looks at me from behind her false lashes, shows me a diagram of nether regions and gets me to mark out how much hair I want left. Then, as casually as if she were asking if I want milk in my coffee, she says ‘and what about the labia?’ I nearly choke on the boiled sweet I have purloined from reception.
It’s a whole new world.
Oh, and after going on a running date (yes, that is a thing), I decide I need to take charge of my pelvic floor. The only way I had of ensuring zero chance of embarrassment on said date was to adopt a nil-by-mouth approach for the previous 12 hours, which I’m thinking is neither a safe nor strategically sound idea.
After recounting this story, a friend tells me about the Emsella chair. You remain clothed while sitting on the ‘throne’ for 30 minutes. Electrical pulses stimulate the pelvic floor, effectively doing the hard work of exercising it for you. It also has the nice side effect of tightening things up in that area. Which can only be good, right?
I visit the glamorous Dr Galyna Selezneva at the Dr Rita Rakus Clinic in Knightsbridge. She is fighting against the idea that women beyond a certain age or post-childbirth should just accept a lifetime of trampoline avoidance and crossing their legs when they sneeze. As well as the Emsella chair she suggests I have the Ultrafemme 360 treatment. This involves a probe (it looks like a vibrator; sorry, but that’s the most accurate way to describe it) that uses radiofrequency to help strengthen the pelvic floor and create internal tightening and increased sensation. She prescribes six Emsella sessions and three Ultrafemme. Hmm. I decide not to ask if that’s more than the average woman requires after two kids.
All of this makes me feel empowered, if slightly nauseous. But if the year since my split has taught me anything, it’s to not fear the unknown. That good things can come from bad situations. That I am stronger than I ever thought.
So I decide that, rather than feel scared, I am going to feel excited.
I think about the enjoyment that comes from new kisses. Of desiring and feeling desired. The butterflies, the snogging, the flirty texts.
I mean, I could just live in fear of getting naked, of making the wrong moves, of not having perfect thighs. I could opt for being abstemious, celibate (possibly ending tragically – being mauled by alsatians, Bridget Jones-style).
But I choose not to.
So I will expose my body and my heart.
This is yet another moment – like taking charge of the joint account and the first time the kids and I went on holiday as a family of three – that will require me to take a deep breath and a leap of faith.
And as – developing story – the prospect of sex with a new man really is imminent (perhaps by the time you read this) I am very glad that I prepped my body and mind in advance.
I only hope there is no gasp of horror. Or audible retching sounds. #prayforme.