“If you marry an older man, one day you’ll be married to an old man,” a woman I met several years ago told me. She’d been married for nearly three decades to a man 17 years her senior. She wasn’t warning me off marrying my older man; she was doing me the kindness of preparing me for what lies ahead. Her husband, in his mid-eighties, was beginning to have “health challenges,” she said, but it was mostly a bother, not a worry.
I’m with an older man but I haven’t married him, even though we’ve been living together for twelve years. However, we are going to get married. We are both finally in the marriage frame of mind at the same time, and I have never been happier with our relationship.
In fact, we planned to be on our honeymoon in the Lake District of England right now after eloping to Gretna Green, Scotland, a centuries-old elopement destination. After we’d waited so long, we wanted to do something special.
Neither of us wants a traditional wedding. We’ve both had that. We wanted to run away and have fun and make it about the two of us committing to each other, not about entertaining wedding guests.
I put off booking the trip. By the time I started looking, there were no vacancies at the hotels we would have wanted to stay in. Does this sound like a thin excuse? Is it a thin excuse? I pride myself on being an expert at making travel arrangements. Why couldn’t I book our elopement? Why did I put it off for several months after we’d decided? My older man is now an old man. Is that why?
He has health challenges, but then again so do I. I’m more vocal about my issues, so it would seem I’m worse off, but he’s just quiet, having been educated by Jesuits. He’ll say, “Let’s not have an organ recital today,” meaning Let’s focus on what’s right, not what’s wrong. He’s not cruel; I’m a complainer.
But his afflictions, silent though he may be about them, have caused disappointment, and I understand that our best traveling days (we have traveled a lot, thanks to his profession) are probably winding down.
We finally went to London and Paris together. We’d both been more than once, but I wanted to experience those cities with him, especially Paris. We went for my 49th birthday. We waited too long, as it turns out.
He has developed foot pain that causes him to be able to wear only certain shoes. After too much walking, his feet burn as though he’s walked on hot coals. He’s okay walking a golf course, which he does regularly, but pavement and stairs can be killers. Try getting around London or Paris without encountering stairs, especially if you like taking the Metro and the Tube; you can’t.
Rodin has a sculpture, “The Eternal Idol,” that I’m very fond of. (Like really, really, very, very fond of since the first time I visited Paris and saw it.) When my older man gave me my birthday present in the form of a beautifully carved wooden box stacked with postcards of London and Paris and facsimiles of plane tickets, tinkling with Pounds and Euros, he had placed on top of it all an article about the renovation of the Museé Rodin, where “The Eternal Idol” resided. The article had given him the idea for my birthday trip.
At the Museé Rodin, after I’d been eager to spot Paulo and Francesca in that pose around every corner but was disappointed every time, we learned that “The Eternal Idol” had been moved to a second Rodin museum outside the city. Rodin’s best-known sculpture is also of Paulo and Francesca, “The Kiss,” which can be seen almost anywhere. In my opinion that’s just, because “The Kiss” is mundane and deserves the ubiquity of a mudflaps silhouette.
When the day came to get on a train to go out to see “The Eternal Idol,” my older man’s feet hurt too much to go. I stayed behind with him. I wanted to see the sculpture badly, but I wanted to see it again with him, or not at all. I cried tears of disappointment. I hid the later, harsher tears. I’m still hiding them. That trip was borne on the wings of “The Eternal Idol.”
In London, my older man trudged up and down stairs, obviously in great pain, but he did not say he was in pain. I felt so grateful to be loved that much, and so guilty that he was hurting because he was trying to make me happy. I hid those tears. I didn’t want to make him cry too.
In truth, he’s in great shape. He exercises every day. He does house work and yard work. He takes out the garbage without being asked. He doesn’t have “his chair,” as such. He doesn’t spend his day sitting, and when he is sitting he is either reading or writing, keeping his 78 year-old mind active and sharp.
He has started forgetting things. I forget things all the time. It’s a normal function of age. I know. But because we knew someone younger than he who developed dementia and died from it, I pay much closer attention to his mental state than I would have. I sent him to a neurologist who specializes in dementia because I think that some of the things he experiences aren’t normal. He forgets entire conversations, entire topics, sometimes minutes later, sometimes a day later.
For example, I’m raising monarch butterflies, and he loves releasing them with me. I test them for a spore before I release them. He’s seen me do it so many times that he bought me a lab coat for my last birthday (five months ago) because I use a microscope to view the samples. A couple of weeks ago when I held a butterfly and took a sample of abdomen scales before handing the butterfly to him, he asked me what I was doing. The same thing you’ve seen me do over and over again! I wanted to say.
I have to remember to be nice when he forgets. It takes a lot of patience, and I need more patience. I need lots more patience. Having patience with my children was natural and easy. Having patience with a highly-educated adult whose knowledge and mental faculties I’ve admired is hard, hard, hard.
And is this normal behavior for him? I don’t know. He scheduled the appointment with the neurologist for 8 a.m., knowing I am not a morning person. He says the doctor’s office told him they only treat patients who have been diagnosed with dementia. “You went there to see if that is the diagnosis for you.”
What did he tell them? That because he doesn’t always listen to what I say, I think there’s something wrong with his brain. According to him, they got a laugh out of it: A man starts to ignore what his woman is saying because he’s heard it all before. It’s an old story. But it’s not the true story, not when it comes to him and me.
Oh, would he love it if he knew I was writing about all of this. He prizes his privacy. He abhors social media. When I take photos of him, he says, “Don’t put that on Facebook,” like that’s the reason I take photos of him. But yeah, I’m writing about this anyway. Our sex life is still more than satisfactory without pharmaceuticals. I wouldn’t tell you that if it weren’t true, by the way. I would simply skip the subject. (I may wish I skipped it anyway, if he finds out I wrote this.) He’s a very sexy man, and when I look at him, I don’t see an old man even though I know he is an old man.
He still hasn’t gotten treatment for his sleep apnea, but I no longer think that because he’s stopped breathing, he’s dying. He’s just loud when he catches his breath sometimes, so I get up and sleep in the guest room if I can’t get back to sleep. I think the only way age relates to sleep apnea at all is that he’s gotten louder as he’s gotten older. Our soft tissues get softer, and that makes the snuffling sounds louder. (I really hope he doesn’t read this. I can hear it now: Snuffle? I don’t snuffle! What is snuffling?!)
I can see the day is coming when I won’t want to ride in the car with him anymore. He’s never been as good a driver as I (he would argue against that), but he no longer has the finesse he once had. Well, I mean, he’ll be eighty in two years. What will I be like when I’m eighty? Will I still be an excellent driver? Probably not. But I won’t know I’m not an excellent driver, just as he doesn’t know he isn’t an excellent driver. That’s the issue. He’s stubborn (so am I) and prideful, and I don’t know how it will play out when I refuse to let him drive me somewhere.
Even though we’ve been together so long and should be bored with this kind of thing, we’re still playful in public when we know someone is looking at us disapprovingly or even when we know they’re trying to figure out if we’re together. One of us says to the other, “Kiss me,” and we give each other a real, loving kiss. We always mean it.
If people don’t like seeing us together, as we say, they’re going to not like it even more. It’s none of their business if we have a twenty-five year age difference. It’s only our business. And it’s not like I’m a young woman who has no sense of herself, who is looking for a father figure or looking to be taken care of. I have children who are grown and married, and I’m going to live the way I want to live and love who I want to love.
I didn’t plan to fall in love with someone so much older. I had been one of those people who didn’t approve of age gaps. But when I met my older man, our differences fell away. I had no idea we would last. I thought I’d date him until I didn’t. It was that uncertain.
Little did I know I would find my favorite companion, the one I spend my days and nights with (he works from home, usually), the one I like more now than I ever did. He gave me a red Valentine’s card that says “I’m still not sick of you.” I keep it near my desk.
The other morning, I woke up alone in the guest bed and said out loud to myself before I even knew what I was saying, “Stupid. You were so stupid.” My first thought of the day was that one day I will wake alone in a bed, and he won’t be next to me or in the bed in another room.
How could I have let myself fall in love with someone who can’t possibly be with me for the rest of my life? No one is guaranteed that we will have our love next to us, but falling in love with someone twenty-five years older? I was only asking for pain, though I innocently believed that our relationship would end in the dating stage and that our end would be natural and easy. I hope it will be natural. I can’t see how it will be easy.
Before writing this, I looked up the woman who told me one day I’ll be married to an old man. She’s a writer, so it was easy to do. I found out she lost her husband not long after she gave me that warning– “unexpectedly,” though he was eighty-six. Logic tells me that it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected. My heart tells me that logic has nothing to do with this kind of love in the first place.
Postscript: Though I struck a cheeky, secretive tone in this post, I read it to my older man the night before I posted it. He was touched. He asked that I change just one word, which I did. No one loves, respects, and takes care of my beloved the way I do.
Five years ago, Suzannah Gilman first weighed in on this topic. Interested in taking a look back? You can read it here: An Ideal Husband? My May-December Romance