Having just spent ten days in Portugal and Spain riding 300 miles on a bicycle, I got a lot of time to reflect on my ongoing aging process (not to mention a very sore butt). I never realized before how much I feared growing old. As I reflect on my life, I can see how this anxiety progressed in my conscious mind like a slow rot poisoning my disposition with every passing year. This became particularly true when the thoughts of dying destitute and alone surfaced soon after my divorce from the person I believed I would spend the rest of my life with. I am not the only person experiencing this, for many single people over fifty obsess about their impending end. As the baby boomers generation ages, this fear is apparent in an American saying that is growing in popularity, “as we get old, we look to marry a nurse or a purse.”
The first sign of my aging concerns appeared on the eve of my father’s fiftieth birthday. To mark the occasion, my brothers and I got together for dinner to discuss the seriousness of the situation. The main topic of our repartee was thus; “The old man just turned half a century years old, he can go at any time, how are we going to prepare ourselves for this eventuality?”
Dad lived to be seventy-seven years old, so I think we may have been a little over dramatic with our worry. Laughable as our brotherly worry may appear, the awakening to my dad’s mortality triggered unease about my own.
This discomfort remained somewhat dormant until I divorced. It is now front and center in my life. I live in Florida, which adds a spotlight to my worries. The sunshine state is the perfect slogan to describe this wonderful state, but it also famously known as “God’s waiting room”, a name earned because of the large number of retirees from all over the country that now call Florida home.
The idea of living in God’s waiting room is too somber for me. I prefer to think about my impending death more like I’m waiting in line at the deli and when my number finally get’s called, I get to order a pastrami and American cheese sandwich with mustard, mayonnaise on rye. But, I digress. The fact remains I am surrounded by many people around my age (give or take ten years) and the subject of dying destitute and alone is often reflected in the dating advice I receive. Here is a sample.
Me: “I met a nice woman today, and I asked her out to dinner.”
Miscellaneous Friend: “Does she have money? You are not getting any younger you know and your medical expenses will go up.”
Miscellaneous Friend #2: “Is she younger than you? You know, at your age you better find somebody who can take care of you, especially when you are an invalid.”
Me: “Thanks guys, I think I’ll go home and shoot myself.”
It hasn’t helped matters any that people know the home I bought in Florida as “The Murder House. The story goes that the previous owner of my home, an 81-year-old resident suffering from early stages of dementia, hired a caregiver. Within six weeks of her arrival, they were engaged even though she was already married. Within two months, she moved in with her husband and kids and, as his dementia grew, she went through his money. The story ends horribly for the poor man. The “caregiver” neglected him so much he died of extreme malnutrition and dehydration. The only positive thing in this story is that the woman received a sentence of 30 years for manslaughter.
You are probably asking yourself what this tragic story has to do with looking for a partner at the later stage of life (you are also undoubtedly concluding that I am not a person to seek out for real estate advice), but I think it is relevant. I am not passing judgement on what this poor victim was thinking about when he decided to get engaged to his caregiver, but his story shines a light on who might be out there looking to take advantage of you. If your goal is to find someone who could be your nurse, chances are you will find someone who takes advantage of your situation. If you are looking for someone as a purse, you are not seeing him or her for his or her value as a human being; you are looking to exploit that person’s wealth for your own gain.
Why settle for goals so small and limiting? Choosing a partner as a nurse or a purse is like shoehorning your self into tiny Armani shoes. They may look great to others, but you know they feel like crap.
We are supposed to get wiser the older we get, limiting our options for a nurse or a purse is downright stupid and limiting. I subscribe to the belief we are all taking part as students in an Earth School. This is not a strange belief and authors like Gary Zukav, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and many others advocate it. This belief is simple; the purpose of all of our earthly experiences is to teach us lessons that help us evolve into our highest selves. Here are two quotes from modern day philosophers to illustrate the point.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should always have been.” David Bowie.
“I love getting older. My understanding deepens. I can see what connects. I can weave stories of experience and apply them. I can integrate the lessons. Things simply become more and more fascinating. Beauty reveals itself in thousands of forms.” Victoria Erikson
Attaining wisdom is the greatest advantage of growing old. Regardless of our failed relationships we should use them as learning experiences for our next relationship. These lessons give us the opportunity to find deep abiding love. It is our chance to create the loving relationship that every human dreams about. Our next relationship can offer the crowning moment of our lives. Don’t throw it away or cheapen it by becoming so cynical that you will settle for a nurse or a purse.
Betty White says “The older you get the better you get unless you are a banana.” You may think it has “a peel”, but there is not point behaving like a banana. Live out your life with love, hope and faith that your future will always posses great opportunity.
Also published on Medium.