Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Retired Spouse Syndrome

I'm reading an excellent book right now. As Time Goes By - Abigail Stafford - it has the subtitle :- Boomerang Marriages, Serial Spouses, Throwback Couples, and Other Romantic Adventures in an Age of Longevity!
It's of particular interest to me because, like so many of my generation, I'm "unplanned" single at a time of life when companionship is so enriching. I was widowed four plus years ago and have dabbled in a couple of promising relationships in that time. In reading this book I see why they were destined for failure - in each situation we were at vastly different stages of life and the common ground beyond a strong physical and intellectual attraction was non existent. Sure, we had interests in common but not life stage in common. In one case he was throw caution to the wind, adventure above all and stability be dammed; in the other he only identified through his career, no sense of self existed beyond that sphere and so the chance to really connect with another human being was doomed from day one. No balance in life in both cases.
Today the New York Times reports a bright note in the economy - a upsurge in Matchmaking Services and both and E Harmony report large increases in subscribers over the past six months. We want to be connected and even more so in troubled times. The idea of weathering out a storm alone holds little appeal; there is comfort in a hand to hold; in companionship.
The Retired Spouse Syndrome that Stafford writes of hit close to home recently. A long married couple in my circle are contemplating divorce. What started out as a throw-away line over dinner has now become the topic of serious discussion. They agree that they are "used to " each other but that they don't enjoy being around one another all the time. He recently retired from a high-powered position in the financial world and admits to missing being "important". They bicker constantly and at a recent dinner party, the atmosphere was so loaded that it was uncomfortable. The latest bulletin is an agreement to spend some time apart to "think things through". She's going to visit a sister in New Zealand and he's staying at home claiming, "travel isn't what it's cracked up to be, been there done that". I have the feeling that she will see the world as an exciting place offering opportunity while he becomes increasingly bitter and isolated. What a shame. Being at the same stage in life appears to be crucial to a relationship in this third age.
Lots of food for thought on a bright, brilliant blue sky Tucson morning. I'm just back from the local coffee shop and I watched two older couples, "retired" stamped on their foreheads (in one case literally - on the bill of his cap!), sit and gaze outwards. In each situation they appeared to have nothing to talk about - a bit like strangers sharing a bench at a bus stop. A third couple came in literally vibrating with energy - she whispered something to him as they stood in line and I watched as he responded by pinching her behind! Lovely. Wonder what the difference is. What creates their energy.

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  1. Wonder what the difference is indeed! As another "unexpectedly single" who hasn't given up hope, it's an important question to answer. Matching those life stages is so important and so difficult. Newly divorced and long-time divorced is another tricky one. Wonder why it's so frequently men who want to settle in as they get older and women who want to venture forth? Very thought provoking article!

  2. People are often amazed when they see my partner (33 years) and I together and still very much in love. Maybe it is because we had our challenges early in the relationship.

    What creates that energy? A deep, abiding respect for one another and the space to be individuals with our own friends and activities - connected at the hip no longer applies - and a delight in still discovering new things about each other.

  3. Both provocative comments and thank you. Let's get a conversation going about this in Connections for Women or here. I think with so many of us moving into "third age" with health, vitality and senses intact, the need to rediscover how to really connect is vital. Well done Val on keeping love alive for 33 years...wishing you many more. Care to share more insights?

  4. What causes that difference is the magical human connection. When my husband and I are disconnected we have nothing to say to each other aside from pleasantries. When we are in that magical connected state we whisper and share inside jokes like a couple of teenagers. He knows that the connection is important; we both know that it's easier to keep than it is to repair if broken and we're both works in progress and we both love eachother. I think we'll be OK.

  5. I thought I had it made, we have been married 32 yrs known each other 37 yrs dated, lived together.We probably will retire at different ages my hubby at 55 and myself later.I still love him very much but would rather be alone.


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