“I can’t believe it is the same man I married!” Sounds familiar? The athletic, energetic, macho “I’m taking on” man that some twenty, thirty, forty, years prior was the poster boy for everything youth stands for. Now you vacuum around him, move the furniture while he is still sitting on it, and you can’t get him off the couch if your life depended on it. The remote is firmly implanted in his hand growing out of his body like a grotesque limb. He has also developed selective hearing: he can’t hear you when you point to the thrash piling in the kitchen corner like Mount Everest, but he perks up at the sound of a neighbor with a six pack of beer! Gone are the snazzy jeans and shirts; in are the plaids, braces, and weird shoes. Comfort has taken a life of its own. And if he could, he would sleep and rise in the same clothes he has worn for the past week.
What happens when men grow older? Why do they seem to wallow in the glow of age and comfort whereas women are gearing up to take on life? Why is it that when women reach their “golden age” they develop a devilish energy to take on the world, whereas men seem to shrink in a caricature of their old self? What happened to the energy? What happened to the “get up and go”? Where has it gone? Men take on age as a cat takes to a couch. It is comfortable. Once retirement hits they tell themselves that “hey, I can grow roots!” Why the difference?
I have a theory: most women spend their youth taking care of someone or something. If married, their life is spent between taking care of kids, volunteering with kids, school conferences, kid outings, school sport, cooking, cleaning, and driving everyone and everything around, and let’s not forget the husband side of the equation. That could include entertaining him, his bosses, and his friends. They have no time to sit and wonder what old age would be like. If they also hold down employment I doubt very much that ever have much time to sit down and think at all. Once kids leave home and the “nest” is empty and quiet, they are awakened to a strange concept called: self awareness. This discovery is overwhelming in its simplicity. Realizing that intellectual conversation beyond the mundane is possible, thinking beyond cooking, cleaning, children, and husband is incredible They also make astounding biological discoveries that they had little time to consider like the possibility of manicured nails growing to a normal size, styled hair, attractive clothes that fit, high heels on feet that ran marathons around the house, kids, and husband. This self-awareness becomes as exciting as a National Geographic discovery of rare species. They finally wake up to the realization that they are singularly and individually viable!
To continue on my theoretical hypothesis: men are socially advantaged early in life and like gluttons they wallow in what life and society offers them: good paying jobs, golf, beer, poker, football, fast cars, and sometimes even a fluff or two. All in good fun! They embrace life and its opportunities like King Kong embraced Fay Wray on the Empire State Building. Quoting a line from one of my favorite movies The First Wives Club; Bette Midler describes her husband’s mid-life crises by relating how he accused her of holding him back “because I would not go roller blading with him. Next he had an earring…” Men renounce their adulthood for the first forty years of their lives when women are busy asserting theirs for the sake of either a family, a career, or in some cases; both. While men are frolicking in child-like pastimes and exciting opportunities, women are nurturing children and preparing them for their adult life. They put their own “frolicking” on the back burner. So as soon as the children leave home and the nurturing abruptly stops, they get a second chance and wind at what they missed in the first third of their lives.
Are men better at handling age or do they talk themselves into believing that they accept it graciously? Do they realistically become tired of their fast life and look forward to sedateness, or do they accept sedateness because they are realistic? So let’s be realistic: as years hit men’s bodies, hair, and stomachs, their egos start to deflate like air in an oversized balloon. Their jokes are no longer funny and they realize that it is time to slow down and enjoy the years ahead: they want to relax. No to stereotype: we have all known some relative or other who takes on getting older by attempting to look younger. They “botox” here and there, add hair implants, in an attempt to hold on to what they considered the “swinging” years often ending up looking pitifully ridiculous. Unfortunately the transition from “swinger” to old happens simultaneously as the woman discovers life as she has never known it, and starts to tick off items on her bucket list faster than a kid playing a video game . She takes on life with gusto like Chef Ramsey takes on Beef Wellington. She is now older, wiser, and more capable than before. She has had years to develop will power and character. She raised a family, took care of the house, and made sure that her husband never left the house with his bedroom slippers on. She is ready to start living.
I was asked by a man a few months ago why I thought that some marriages are folding after 30 or more years. I explained that by nature women are nurturers and they tend to take care of either the family or someone else in their lives. Married women sacrifice their youth to raise a family and sometimes hold down a job as well. Their lives are so inundated with responsibilities that they miss out on what their male counterparts get to do. When the children grow up and leave, women realize that a huge void has suddenly appeared in their lives. Some also realize that the children were the ultimate glue that held the family together, and once gone the nurturing aspect of the marriage disappeared with them. They start looking for activities that may fill up the nurturing void, and when they find them they go at them with a vengeance. This happens simultaneously as the husband grows older, tired, and is ready to pass out on the couch “until death do us part.” So while one partner is ready to drop the proverbial couch “anchor,” the other is gearing up to start a career and a new life.
Do men enjoy growing old more than women? Society is partial to blame for the age and gender stereotype casting. A man gets gray hair, puts on weight, and is “distinguished.” A woman shows her first streak of gray hair, puts on a few pounds, and she might as well pack it in. The former can still remain on top of his game in Corporate America, the latter has to color her hair twice a month, and lose a few pounds before being considered for anything more serious than a Wal-Mart Greeter! To conclude my hypothesis: by gender and social characteristics men are more comfortable with “themselves” than women are. Therefore they would logically consider growing older another opportunity to do what they enjoy: watch football, drink beer, golf, and anything else they consider “fun.” Women on the other hand have always been held to tougher standards socially and by gender; therefore, growing old is taken as another disadvantage bestowed upon by no other than Mother Nature. What men consider as an opportunity for “comfort,” women see as another challenge to be overcome.
My mother is 97 and has been a widow for over 30 years. My father was an energetic active individual who had little time or patience for what he called “sissies” and slow-paced people. My mother stayed home to raise seven kids, whereas my father went to work at a job he thoroughly loved, rode a motorcycle until the day he died, and swam in the Mediterranean until the water got too cold to dip in. My father never really grew “old.” On the other hand, my mother never took on age as a handicap either but embraced it matter-of-factly; letting her hair grow silver as the years piled on. In her late 80’s she was still helping out “old” people at a seniors’ home. My mother and father were both “comfortable” in their age. That is the answer: whether a man or a woman and at whatever age; we must remain comfortable in our age. If I ever reach the age of 97, I hope that I can be as wise and beautiful as my silver-haired mother who makes being old “comfortable,” elegant, and more than acceptable.