ageing and being alone
Why do single male or female look for companionship after the age crosses sixty? (this was the question that a young journalist asked me three years ago, and since not much has changed, i am posting it now.)
Any pursuit is passionate and purposeful. It is always towards the target-mostly with awareness, though in a few instances, a subconscious search for an end product that can be cherished and relished.
As the perseverance of passion is an activity predominantly associated with youth, the elderly human preparing for (and arranging adequately) a partner for life after she/he cross sixty years of age, is more often a matter of curiosity if not ridicule. In the Indian context, sixty plus denotes the coming of `old’ age. The elderly are expected to behave, that is in other words, suppress their still alive emotional umbers, and fume within while maintaining a serene, old wise façade on the outside. If proper behavior is an act of suppression and denial, the ensuing result can only be frustrations of bitterness, and an externalization of inner resentment. Though psychological jargons are available to explain why a human being seeks a companionship even when the sexuality is not at a properly performing level, the elder’s search and solace in a companionship can never be understood without a clear comprehension of the cultural and social milieu of the individual. Indians are thus in a state that no English, French or German textbook on behavior can aptly summate.
In those days when family bonds were so sacrosanct that even a romantic brief indulgence would have incurred the wrath of not only the inner family but by the whole society, most of the men and women who wished to stay outside the shackles or shadows of marriage, had no choice than to resort to a pseudo or real philosophical and religious veil that would cover their mind’s kaleidoscope of yearning. Spiritual leanings were not only the convenient escape route, but also the one that had been prescribed down the ages. Not just the scriptures, the myths too forced a system by which one should at this age cross over from family duties in order to pursue philosophical puzzles and discover (perhaps even invent) spiritual truths! The elder lady or man had no choice. In some cases the men were given a social nod on account of their wealth and status, but a woman, however rich and beautiful, was never ever allowed to express or act out her wishes.
This is where the story of YAYATHI becomes a psychophilosophical metaphor that is in no way less relevant or significant than its Greek counterpart. In this (story condensed for want of time and space) the king in his old age declared that his riches and all would go to the son who would exchange his youth for the old man, so that the king continues his youthful romantic or rusty behavior. What did the old man gain or lose? The answer to this riddle is what is potently lurking in the question asked at the beginning of this article,
Why do single male or female look for companionship after the age crosses sixty?
Here we have to be clear in defining the terms `single’ and the term `companionship’. As is evident the question is not just about developing a friendship, but about starting and continuing a deeper (mental and physical) partnership. Sexual connotations and intentions may or may not be present in these cases. It is the perusal of the present and the promises of the future that dictate this odyssey at this age.
The most rhetoric question that reverberates in the minds of these elderly individuals is- Siete Sola? (Which means `are you alone?’) As is invariably the case, every one at this juncture of life would say YES. Even if many people run around at their beck and command, and many children, their spouses and grandchildren profess a profound affection, the loneliness factor is always present in these minds. Company is the remedy for malady of loneliness. As physical limitations of movement seep into the frame of life, the sought companionship is generally long term, and succinctly, subtly conveyed as `till death do us part’. On a social and legal front it may be termed as an affair or a marriage, but at this age it is mostly just for sake of having a companion, with whom one can relate in reality and not just imagine a relationship as one does with the unseen and unanswering God. A relationship under these circumstances is not a happening but a creation. Like the relationship with a pet-
(as described in this poem by Erica Jong)-
“we made them in the image of our fears/
to cry at doors, at partings- even brief/…
to at us with those big aching eyes/
stay beside us when our children flee/
& sleep upon our beds on darkest nights/
cringe at thunder/
as in our own childhood frights/
we made them sad-eyed/
Loving, loyal, scared of life without us/
their dependency and grief/
we keep them as reminders of our fear
we love them/
as the unacknowledged hosts/
of our own/
terror of the grave- abandonment…”
If this were to be true, even approximately, then the relationship sought and built would ultimately and undoubtedly yield only bitterness and bad taste. but then, though many are the people who prefer to be alone, almost all the rest would never prefer loneliness. The bliss of ignorance vanishes with insight. Though ageing will be accepted as a social permission to be friends with the opposite sex, between the smiles of the minutes pause the pain of inadequacy. The elderly human is allowed some license to lurk with the opposite sex, of whatever age group, but those relationships besides arousing conflicts within, most often than not, earn from the world, only a superficial compassion under which simmers contempt. All relationships are about sharing, the extent determining and defining their nature. In the relationships that a female/male seeks after the age of sixty, sex cannot be the major criteria. In this context we have to analyze the form and magnitude of rewards that are not economical or physical in nature. The emotional tangible benefits of these relationships are always based on trust and understanding. The walking stick is the preferred option to a static pillar.
The empty nest needs at least a stuffed toy. Fantasies are no more enough in sustained dreams. The person needs another person, not to just share the bed, but to share the jokes and pokes, laughters and tears of life. If sex is not a major criterion why seek the opposite sex? That is the design of destiny.
As the old Arab saying goes, if you lack freedom, you cannot give it to others. Freedom in this context has to be construed as economic freedom and emotional freedom; the shackles of societal pressure invariably crumbling with economic status. Once that front is in a safe mode, the hardware of the brain utilizes the software of the mind to compute results even if they are definitely simulated and not real. Unless the person is economically liberated and consciously indifferent to the societal sarcasm, a relationship cannot begin and grow after sixty.
Usually when the mind asks itself “siete sola?” it answers itself, “vita brevis“. And, when life is understood as short, after the age of sixty every sense seeks a support system that can only come from and in the form of another person. Seeking and cultivating a relationship with the opposite sex is just a socio-genetic twist to the tale.
Women and men seek after sixties a pet animal that can reply in their language, which can nurture and nourish itself, and make the long days filled with even nonsense in the place of silence. When it is another male/female life becomes more interesting, not anatomically or physiologically, but simply like the white needing the black pawns and bishops of a chess board. The opposite color adds meaning to these pieces, and sometimes though the moves are destiny’s dictation, a challenge, for the morning to not mean as waking up into another empty day that waits to become another empty night. It is the mind’s self-confirmation or the reaffirmation of the denial that the splendor of youth has dulled itself and is now devoid of the sparkle. Ageing is challenged and meanings are purported. Life with all its myriad moorings seeks another solace, even though the resting place may be thorny. For some, a few little pains are better than a long drawn discomfort; for some, life is too short to be spent in the vacuum of loneliness. Therefore the known gamble is taken with prayers and hopes that this time there will be victory, over life!
written in october 2005, for ritz but since it appears still relevant, maybe we can talk about it!