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Protecting Vulnerable Elders

Been There, Done That. What's Next?

category_bug_journal2.gif Selling my apartment and leaving New York City was a wrenching decision - the hardest of my life. It was the only fiscally sane thing to do, but I resisted. I was a New Yorker through and through - in my bones - and over the decades I lived there, dozens of people (hundreds? a thousand?), often native-born, said they knew no one who was as much as a Manhattanite as I.

One day, during the months I dithered, while whining to my former husband about leaving the only place that ever felt like home (perhaps not for the first time), he told me to get over it. Circumstances required that I move on, he said, and my 37 years as a New Yorker would always be part of me.

Simple, obvious, but nevertheless a revelation: my New York experience was more than half my life and wouldn't leave me anytime soon.

Although I continued to postpone the decision for awhile, Alex's advice gave me the shove I needed to get on with the next stage of my life. Since then, that wise counsel has had wider ramifications.

Getting old forces change. From the minor, such as declining energy making cleaning the entire house in one fell swoop impossible, to the major, whether it is health problems, retirement from the workforce or adjustments due to reduced income - living day-to-day is not the same as it had been for decades. We can "get over it" or we can spend the rest of our lives lamenting that things aren't as they once were.

It is hard - and sad - to leave one's home as I did, or when old friends die or children move across the country or even the world. But no one can take away the memories - and change brings new experiences, many of which are positive, instructive and just plain interesting if you think about them intentionally.

Take sex. From puberty until my mid-fifties, sex ruled my life - getting it, enjoying it, getting more of it. When there wasn't someone to roll around in bed with, I was looking for someone. For 40-odd years that was the way it was. Even though it sometimes overrode good sense and caused untold complications of the heart, I didn't know life could be any other way.

It takes the distance of years and the waning of hormones to know it can be different, to know that it was all chemically induced.

In a culture as openly sex-soaked as ours in which even clothing for five-year-old girls is sexualized, it is blasphemy to admit that you are indifferent to sex. That's really what the American pursuit of wealth and beauty is about - getting more sex. And if you're not doing that, you're not normal, "they" say, in need of a little blue pill or any number of dubious nostrums for sale on the internet. But we don't need to buy that belief.

Like leaving home, leaving behind slavery to hormones is sad at first and, in our culture, embarrassing - not something you want to admit even to yourself and certainly not others. But on further thought, it simplifies life and leaves time for a lot of other things. Sex was then (and loads of fun), this is now and it's time to move on.

For most of our lives, getting old was assumed to be a gradual ending of many things leading to the ultimate end, death. However, without meaning to sound sappy, each ending, each loss brings a beginning and with it a new perspective and, sometimes, wisdom. Can't run a mile anymore? Then walk a mile and appreciate the time to smell the flowers.

Of course it is sad to let go of old habits, friends, places, pleasures, robust health and other losses that accompany age. But when the sadness eases, as it will, Alex's advice to get over it and move on seems the only sage thing to do. Been there, done that. What's next?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Shannon recalls the thrills of a childhood amusement park in Weelitch's.]


Sad to admit, but memory so often fails me now. I will risk using the wrong person as an example, however. I think it was Norman Vincent Peale's wife who was interviewed after her famous husband died and was asked what she missed the most. Without hesitation she said, "Sex." I remember being surprised at that, but now I understand. We are, after all, animals and sex is the force that makes the survival of the human race possible.

Nonetheless, nature can be kind and after years of forced celibacy you quit missing it and are grateful to be free of the resulting complications, or, as you put it, Ronni, slavery.

While the need for physical sexual satisfaction wanes, the emotional does not. My husband of 41 years and I find ourselves more attentive to one another, more likely to hold hands or hug now then ever. These sensory pleasing acts stand on their own. They bring us closer and often with that more communicative. While the word "slavery" is a bit strong, I understand your meaning. For us at this point in our married life, emotional satisfaction more and more often takes the place of physical satisfaction.

Leaving something behind and moving on to something new. We were actually clued into the process early on in our education. That's why graduation is called a commencement.

Sage words. I often puzzle over the changes that are occurring in me these last years. Thankfully, gradually, but nevertheless irrevocably. I fear that I and many of the women friends I know are all moving away from the sexual or erotic and more towards the sensual and sensitory. It is a difficult transaction because it means admitting to oneself that sex is no longer so important. And ALL of the articles we read in magazines and newspapers tell us this is not normal, not healthy, and it will even according to Dr. Oz shorten our life expectancy.

I don't have the wherewithal yet to denounce the results of scientific studies or the flavour of the month self-help guru, but I'd like to get to the point of doing so.

Brave post, Ronni. Some things will end, are ending. As I pass 60, starting new things is harder, but certainly possible if I simply accept that I am who I am. And I sure prefer the current version to many of the anxious past versions. :-)

"Sex was then, this is now"....just bear in mind, Ronni....not everyone over age 60 is quite so willing to let go of their sexual identity. Many retirement homes can vouch for this. Sex is very much alive and wanted by many over age 60.
If giving it up makes you happy and content....so be it.

Said Cicero of sex: “What a splendid service does old age render, if it takes from us the greatest blot of youth!

Time goes by. At some point in my slow walk through the field of psychology, I realized that adult life can be defined as a series of losses - jobs, homes, parents, friends, lovers, dreams. Maturity appears to be a matter of how well we adjust to these losses.

I drove motor vehicles of every kind for thirty-five years, then one day I knew I had to stop. I was a woodworker for twenty-five years, then one day I had to sell my shop. I spent nine years of education and internships for a PhD, but stopped short of completion.

With each loss I knew about the advantages of calm acceptance, but had to get there through a grieving process - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance (Kübler-Ross), but not necessarily in that order and with some repetition.

Actually, the part I found most beneficial, but not often enough mentioned, was the cathartic relief of just crying and freaking out. Now I try to hold an everpresent and compassionate curiosity as I cry and freak out, both observing and participating as time goes by.

My dad is 84 and an enormous flirt. The women who care for him at "the home" don't seem to mind. In fact, I'd say they encourage it. But I'm embarrassed by it.

I guess I mention that just by way of saying that the forms of sex don't seem to go away in every case, even if the practice does.

Oh I wish I was blessed with the literary ability of you Ronni and also Terri. I could write this much better.
How do I respond to what you Ronnie have shared.
I am 10 years older then you ladies. Chronilogically that is.
Physically and every other way I feel 10 years younger then you Ronni and the way you share. That makes me 20 years younger then my actual age. Say like 50.
My sixtys were continual busyiness with the building of 3 homes and moving 4 time. The home before that I had remodeled. A 100 year old farmhome where I finished raising my children. I was a basket case when I sold. I still have tears in my eyes when I think of the memories. I struck out on my own and there are so many memories. 2 of the most fulfilling relationships of my lifetime were in my 60's. I seemed to be more alive then ever. I was married for 25 years and have 4 children and 5 grandchildren. Now that I look back and becoming more content just to be. I smile and think maybe the best was saved for last. At the moment I do not know what is possible. I just do not seem to be interested. Or rather someone who is irristable has not crossed my path. But I am still of the mindset that if Mr. Wonderful does show up - I do not think I am dead!!!!!!!!

Good post, Ronni. But it makes me wonder: I've always thought that the overemphasis on sex and beauty in our society was to get more money, and not the other way around. We are conditioned from childhood to spend, spend, spend to be more desirable, and that this is an absolute necessity from then until death.

I think you have a good attitude, Ronni, about the things that we can no longer do (or no longer want to do) as we age. I mourn the loss, while looking forward to the next good thing.

A great post, Ronni. And I agreed with what Linda said about the 'sensory pleasing acts' that become more important as the libido wanes.
As a woman whose libido was always strongly governed by the monthly hormone cycle, I certainly experienced a fading of desire after menopause, and that seemed quite biologically appropriate and OK to me. At the same time, one's basic human need for closeness and touch remains unchanged to the end.
But sexuality was an example, not the point of your post. You are talking here about the absolutely most signficant challenge of getting old, which applies right acros the board. And that is to get over it and get on with it. Really 'grokking' that and being able to do it and express it as you have - that's the mark of a wise elder.

You say "That's really what the American pursuit of wealth and beauty is about - getting more sex."

If that is, indeed, what the American pursuit of wealth and beauty is about, I submit that that's because it's still a man's world. I have to guess that most of the media moguls are men.

They say a lot of sex is in the head, in our imaginations, and I might add having the right partner to stimulate that imagination. I think if you meet a person someday who does that and women do start new romances up into their 80s, sexual desire will return and there are creams and such to help the parts of the body that hormone depletion might be making less receptive. For me, it's all about the right person next to me and desire comes from that. There's more that I am thinking but can't think of a way to phrase it without saying too much but staying vital sexually doesn't require a partner :)

At age 66, I think of it as the "Tyranny of Hormones," and am glad to be past that relentless biological push. It's not I've lost all interest in sex, it's just a relief to have its ironclad grip loosened. In plain words, no more need to HAVE to attract a man.

Reading this as I recover slowly from hip surgery (not yet sixty and already on my second fake hip), I've had lots of time in bed (and alone) to ponder sex, among other things. Fortunately, the desire to hunt it down has waned -- it's just too much effort. Also fortunately, however, I am just as easily "awakened" as I ever was. ONly now I know there's an irrefutable connection between the emotional and the physical I must respect - and so must anyone else I encounter as I go back out into the world with a pair of bionic joints.

Ah, I am right with you on this one, Ronni. My long-time group of heterosexual women friends have been commenting on our increasingly waning sex drives for a few years now. Only one of us six is in a relationship with a man, and has been for the past 15 years. He now is being treated for prostate problems, and her hormones are totally gone, she says. She keeps him around, she says, because he makes her laugh and they travel together.

More than several years ago, I saw a program on PBS that noted that more older single women were choosing to live with other women for the companionship. And the older married women were reporting that they and their husbands had become much better friends now that sex was no longer an issue. The older men, as their testosterone levels waned, were becoming more loving husbands and fathers.

And then someone had to go and invent Viagra.

A thoroughly enjoyable post! Straight from the hip. I enjoyed all the comments too. Don't have much to add - my hormones have also faded and with a husband who struggles to breathe (COPD)there is no more sex. I don't really miss it and thought I would terribly.

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