Confessions Of An Old Lover
I am 17 years older than Maria, I am not old but certainly closer to the end than the beginning. Thomas Merton says at this age, we are beginning to be old. I am healthy and happy and ridiculously active, but I know where I am.
One way or the other, Maria and I do not have as much time together as either of us would have wished, or that couples who are roughly the same age can expect to have – even if that is not, as we know, always the way it works out. Life always has its own plans.
I joke sometimes with Maria that I have a have a lifetime of wisdom and experience beyond her young years, and it is a joke, but also, in a way, not a joke. Seventeen years are a long time, and I was a reporter for a good long time, and like a lot of police officers, I've seen more of the world than I sometimes cared to see, and got out of it before my soul hardened too much, and got too comfortable with what I was seeing.
Still, I often have to fend off cynicism, even despair. Hope lies in faith, not always experience.
Given the chance, people are good, I think. But good or bad, life can be hard and unpredictable.
I am an ex -racetrack gambler, I often play the odds, and the odds are that I will leave before Maria does. I see it all the time.
When we first got together, I was worried that people would think I was her father – she is very youthful, there is a vibrance about her that makes her both beautiful and young.
People don't ever think we are anything but lovers, and I asked a friend why. She said it is because we are always touching and looking at one another in the way that lovers do, not the way that fathers and daughters do. People can see that, she said. It must be true.
The older man/younger woman is sometimes a cliche in our world, not always a pleasant one. But I know you can not listen to other people when you make the big choices in your life. This was a good one, for both of us. But in our daily lives, we are hard pressed to even remember how old I am.
I suppose my first shock was sexual. I had not had love in my life for some time, I found that my body had changed. I couldn't do all of the things I once did, but a therapist explained to me that this often made men better lovers, they had to be more creative, patient and sensitive. I was pleased to take up this challenge, it is very important to both of us.
Neither of us will ever have a loveless relationship again, no matter how long I live or what shape I am in. It is better to be alone that without love, and I have been alone.
I am here to reject the awful stereotype of aging that the media and the popular culture puts on us older lovers. We love to have sex, and more than anyone, we need to have sex. It means we are very much alive. Love is the ultimate connection, the spiritual tryst, the joining of the soul.
I suppose the big difference is perspective. Maria is 52 years old but there is a big difference between 52 and 68. We each grew up seeing different things, values, watching different TV shows, different politics, seeing different movies, listening to different music, reading different books. We had to get to know each other, it would be easy to be disconnected. We are not.
The thing about aging is that is a continuing process, every day takes things away and brings new things. There are many things I cannot do now that I could do a few years ago. And many things I could not do that I can do now. That process will continue and I have no idea how quickly it will proceed or how it will affect Maria and our lives together.
Older men feel acutely responsible for their lovers, perhaps because they know they might not be around forever. The young are blessed with obliviousness, it gives them the strength and courage to take chances. The older lovers have seen too much, perhaps, we move more slowly.
Maria and I both took the risk of creatives lives, we do not have the security or savings we are told we are supposed to have. That was our choice, and we do not regret it, not for a second.
I have worked hard to let go of this idea of being responsible for Maria. It is both patronizing and sexist, a throwback to another world. This was one of the diseases of my generation of men. It is not a good weight for us to carry on our backs. We are responsible for ourselves.
Maria can take care of herself, wants to take care of herself, she does now, and will probably have to in the future. In the world of writers, I will not be able to leave her a ton of money, the million dollars we are supposed to have when we get old. I have to let go of the idea that I have to take care of her and her future. That is hard, but I am doing it. She will figure it out. She is charismatic, smart and gifted. She has all of the tools, she is better prepared than I ever was.
I think older men love more maturely and wisely sometimes. I think a lot of the bad genes die off as we get older, the testosterone fades away. I see the world with more patience and humor, and much more sensitivity. And so much less anger. A marriage often fills up with little irritations and annoyances, they can add up. We do not acquire them. I don't care if there is fog on the sink, she does not care that I am chaos machine, I can clutter up any space anywhere in the world in seconds. We accept one another as we are. We celebrate each other, we know what is important, and what is not.
When you get so much closer to the end than the beginning, you have seen things and learned things about life. You just see the world in a unique way, the other older lovers I know understand this intuitively, we often hug one another, something most men don't do.
If you apply the lessons, life gets better. I finally know a thing or two. That helps in relationships. I have made so many mistakes, I know what not to do as much as I know what I ought to do. I know when to laugh and when to shut up and take a walk. I know to remember the little things and to make sure she knows every day how much I love her and how much she means to me.
I want a kiss every time one of us leaves the house for any reason, or go upstairs. When we have to, we talk about my age and how we will deal with my getting older. I see, she said this morning, that there will one day be things you just can't do. It is sad to hear that, but also a relief. Love is truth in its own way.
Somehow, I have learned what is important. Younger people often do not know what might be important one day, why should they, and how could they?
I see time differently than I used to, and sometimes, differently than Maria does. I want to make her happy every day in every way that i can, I want to cherish the time we do have and do what I can do, every day.
There is an urgency to that I never had before, and that men rarely seem to have. Sometimes, in the night, the enormity of aging envelops me like a shroud, and I am frightened. I hold Maria close to me and feel her heart beating next to mine. She is younger, she stays asleep. I am older, I stay awake.
In a sense, my open heart surgery was a wake-up call for both of us, a preview of down the road. Maria had to take care of me for a while, I couldn't drive or lift anything or even dress myself for a bit. I had bottles of pills lined up like figurines on a mantle. She had to help me go to the bathroom, something that nearly killed me, but did not bother her. I was a vet tech once, she told me, I don't care.
I remember the first time we made love after the surgery, I wanted to dance around the room. Yes!
I saw that she would take care of me, and wanted to very much. She did not resent me for it, or love me any less. I hate the idea of her having to take care of me, but she does not hate it. I trust that, we will each do for one another whatever it is life calls upon us to do, that is the contract of love, not obligation. We will love to the very end, whatever the end is.
We have a good friend whose husband had a sudden and debilitating stroke, and just like that, their lives and love changed and they moved to the other side of the shadows. They are working their way back, and doing well, but it is also a reminder of the way life works.
We are walking on air, we control nothing, especially us older lovers who happen to be men. We are living on borrowed time. Some of us remember what it was like to live without love, we will never take it for granted.
So time matters, I am determined to use it well, to tell my love every day that I love her, to make love to her as often as I can, and as lovingly as I can. To think of the big and small ways to make her happy and support her life. More than anything, I want her to be fulfilled. I want her to look back on her life with me and say with an open heart that I supported her in every way one person can support another. I want to be her cheerleader and great friend, the one she can always trust and count on, the one who always makes her feel better about herself and not worse.
It helps to be proud of her. And I am.
That is my standard, that is the creed of the older lover. We older lovers are done with wasting time, needless quarrels, angry posturing, throwing away opportunities, closing up, and taking life for granted. I will not be a fussy, grumpy and irritable old men, that may take some work, but I will do it.
As I get older, I know that I will diminish. Everyone does. Many of the things I do now will be difficult. I have to pay more attention to the cold, to the heat, to weather, to ticks, to medications and their side-effects, to the steepness of hills, to the shoes I wear, to driving at night, to carrying bird seed from the hardware store to the car, too good orthopedic shoes, to the rest I need. I am not there yet but I am edging closer.
My gut and my doctors tell me I have a good long time to live my life if I take care of myself, and I am doing that. Love, my doctor told me, is the best medicine on the earth. I take this medication daily, it is free and no insurance company can refuse me or make me pay more when my time comes in the donut hole, no government bureaucrat can manage my care.
So I am proud to be an older lover, and I want to take a moment to speak on our behalf. Life is always a series of trade-offs, the older lover knows this as well as anyone. We are wise and mature, like old and beautiful trees in the forest. We know what it important and what is not. We cherish time, and understand its great gifts and awful limitations.
Do not pity or patronize us, we know what is important in life. Love is the point, and we can love as well as any lover on the earth, maybe better.