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Aged to Perfection: What Terry McMillan Wants You to Know About Sex, Love and Life After 60
by Dontaira Terrell
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April 14, 2020

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15 Minute Read

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Aged to Perfection: What Terry McMillan Wants You to Know About Sex, Love and Life After 60

I was first introduced to Terry McMillan’s work back in 1995, with the movie adaptation of her #1 New York Times bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale. At 10-years-old, I vividly remember the excitement my parents, aunts, and uncles experienced as they made their weekend plans, which included a couple’s date night with dinner and a movie to see the film’s debut. It was a cinematic event in the Black community and is still a cult classic 25 years later. Let’s not forget, the soundtrack is a holy grail in itself, but that’s another story for another day. 

We were definitely too young to understand the layered complexities. Still, my friends and I would playfully refer to ourselves as one of the characters, but as I got older, I realized I could truly identify with all of the women in one capacity or another. With this realization came a greater appreciation of McMillan’s work as a storyteller. Throughout the years, her wit, wisdom, and authenticity to showcase everyday realities of life experiences have created not only a safe space for Black women to be seen and heard. But also a therapeutic escape to take a deep-dive into the learning lessons of motherhood, love, heartbreak, sex, and grief.

"It's Not All Downhill From Here" (Photo courtesy of Terry McMillan)
“It’s Not All Downhill From Here” (Photo courtesy of Terry McMillan)

Never one to subscribe to societal mindsets, the 68-year-old debunks the notion that after reaching a certain age, it’s all downhill. There’s beauty in aging, especially when you have your girls by your side to help you power through the hills and valleys and dodge the curveballs that life sometimes throws your way. Her latest release, It’s Not All Downhill From Here, has already lit up the literary landscape by adding another book title to the New York Times bestselling list. “I just hope they [readers] are moved, encouraged, and inspired. And get some good laughs,” McMillan said. 

After chatting by phone with the Michigan native, I was reminded about the beauty of friendship and sisterhood, especially in times like these. But most importantly, forgiveness, and healing wounds because change is inevitable, and tough times don’t last always. It is a central theme deeply woven in her stories. Now more than ever I’m ready for the journey towards the woman I’m becoming and embracing her fully with open arms. A resonance many women feel after reading any of Terry McMillan’s writings but especially after exploring her newest novel. 

BlackLove.com: We are experiencing uncertain times. How are you managing your mental capacity in the wake of everything that is taking place around the world?

Terry McMillan: Well, I recently tweeted that I put on my makeup like I’m going somewhere, not every day, but most of the days, and I’ve been reading. I’m now in the process of actually reading my own book. Usually, a couple of days before the publishing date I always read it to see if I still like it. If I get lost in it, that’s a good sign. But also, I’m online a lot. I take walks and I have a couple of extra dollars, so I’ve been donating. It’s a good time just to be good to each other.

Related: How I Found the Courage Within to Be My Own Best Friend

BL.com: With your new novel, It’s Not All Downhill From Here, what did you particularly want to achieve?

TM: I don’t have a goal when I set out to write a novel. It’s a journey for me, much like it is for a reader. I don’t know the ending. I don’t know everything that is going to happen. It’s much more organic than that. All I know is that I wanted to write and tell a story about a woman and her friends. Her girlfriends. Her BFFs. They’re on a journey where they have to deal with the whole notion of aging and the stereotype behind it that it’s “downhill from here.” But I just never bought into that.

I wanted to be able to excavate and show how these women live their lives. How much there is still left to live if you see it that way and do a lot of things that make your life brighter instead of doing things that subtract from it. Also, accepting responsibility for a lot of the things that do happen to us when we have control over it.

BL.com: I’m thankful for your voice, and people like you who make it socially acceptable to find joy in aging. When I was younger, my grandmother and great aunts always said a woman never revealed her real age. When I lost my mom five years ago, I believe I had a transformation in terms of realizing there’s so much beauty in getting older because the opposite of aging is death. There were a lot of lessons I learned, which allowed me to look at things from a different perspective. My friends and I have different things going on in our lives, but just embracing those seasons has probably been one of the biggest lessons and going to therapy!

I love the idea of coming to terms with how the people we loved, sometimes contribute to what kind of person we are and what kind of person we become.

New York Times bestselling author Terry McMillan (Photo courtesy of Matthew Jordan Smith)
New York Times bestselling author Terry McMillan (Photo courtesy of Matthew Jordan Smith)

TM: There’s nothing wrong with therapy. You get help where you can get it. As long as it’s not toxic, I’m a firm believer in it. I haven’t had therapy. That’s not to say that I probably couldn’t have used it, but that’s one of the reasons why I write. 

I try to figure things out. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I lost my mom when she was 59, and three years ago, I lost my sister. She actually took her own life, which doesn’t happen a lot in our community. I didn’t know a lot about how she was feeling in terms of being depressed. 

People tend to keep secrets when they’re afraid, scared, or hurting. Sometimes it shows up in ways we were not aware of. In a way, I consider my work to be kind of a tragic comedy if you had to think of it in those terms. Even though there may be some things in my book that could be depressing, you’re not going to stay stuck there, and neither will my characters. 

BL.com: But isn’t that what makes your books relatable when you write those characters? Because it creates a safe space or a community for Black women. 

TM: I try to tell stories where my characters are being tested and see how they play out. A lot of losses feel like it is the end, and sometimes it is, but there’s a lot of things that can come out of those situations. If you’ve been married and you have a bad marriage, it ends, it feels like a death. But also there’s a stereotype about aging, especially for women. A lot of people think at age 50 or 60, you can just forget it. We don’t fall in love, and we don’t have sex! It’s just all wrong. 

Related: Tonya Lee’s Gotta Have It: Marriage, Motherhood and Mastering the Art of Love

BL.com: Do you have a favorite character or a particular one you feel most connected to in any of your books? 

TM: In one of my previous books, the character went back and tried to look up all of her old lovers and boyfriends to make amends with them if they ended poorly. But also to see how they were doing. I thought she was brave for this. Apparently, I’m not as brave because I’ve never done it, but I’ve always wanted to. I love the idea of coming to terms with how the people we loved, sometimes contribute to what kind of person we are and what kind of person we become. It says a lot, much more than I ever thought. 

BL.com: I don’t know if I would be able to do that! It would open emotional past wounds, especially if I haven’t gotten over the situation.

TM: That’s the whole point! But she wasn’t in her 30s like you, so you haven’t even been through it yet. Life is a series of hills and valleys. That’s the bottom line. Sometimes you’re in a valley, and sometimes you’re on that hill. So ride it when you’re up on that hill, and when things are low, I look at it as an opportunity to feel what you feel. If it hurts, feel it. If it scares you, feel it. But know that it’s only temporary. It’s not going to last forever, because God gives us the capacity to heal and to forgive. 

I think it’s God’s way of testing us and giving us opportunities to see what we’re made of. We can add something healthy to our lives and to the lives of other people by what we come to learn and respect; otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. Sometimes you have to do something else to get out of a rut, and sometimes we’re also wrong. We owe people apologies. Even if they did something deliberately that harmed you, I look at it as, it was their loss, and they’re the ones who still need to learn something, but I can move on.

A lot of people think at age 50 or 60 that we don’t fall in love, and we don’t have sex! It’s just all wrong.

BL.com: When it comes to sex and intimacy, what would you say is the biggest misconception, both men and women receive? 

TM: That you don’t have any sexual desires. I think a lot of people believe that, especially as women, that we just aren’t as exciting or as interesting as younger women. I don’t want to take anything away from younger women because I respect women in general, and I was young, 30 years ago, but being smart, there’s no age on that, and there’s no age on being sexy. 

BL.com: How do you want to be remembered? 

TM: I want to be remembered as being an honest person who cared about our humanity and our evolution as African American women and what we have to leave in this world. 

BL.com: What would you like people to think about your work as a whole?

TM: That I wrote about strong, vulnerable women, so they knew who they were. If some of them were confused about it, part of the reason that I chose them was so they could discover it and keep living. Those are the kind of characters in the stories that I’ve told. I don’t care how much somebody loves you. No one can treat us better than we treat ourselves. We have to accept more responsibility for how we live our lives and the quality of our lives. At 68 years old, I know this to be true.

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