Thursday, 12 May 2011

Growing old together - the statistical advantages of living with the younger man

Apparently living with a ‘toy boy’ now makes me something of an academic talking point too.. 

On Monday evening, I was enjoying one of those rather special, quintessentially English moments, watching my son playing cricket for his under 15s team at a leafy green cricket ground. I was relishing the warmth of the setting sun on my face and the gentle sounds of laughter and leather hitting willow, when another parent strolled over to me and struck up conversation.
“Ah, I was hoping to run into you.”

As we’ve only ever exchanged a few pleasantries in all the time we’ve known each other, I was a little surprised.

“I was wondering,” he continued. “If I could use you in my teaching?”

It turns out that Mac is a demographer - or to be more precise, a Professor of Longitudinal Social Statistics – and, from his point of view, the fact that I’ve chosen young Ad Man as my partner, has made me a more interesting statistic than most other 40-something women. For some reason, I found this strangely satisfying.

Surely, being a widow
 doesn't mean it's the
end of your life?
He explained that, according to research, most women, as you’d expect, tend to settle down with someone who is a couple of years older than them. That, combined with the fact that most men tend to die younger than women (men seem to achieve about 75 years on average, and women 80) means that most women can expect to have seven-plus years of life on their own, at the end of their days.

“So,” he continued, “I always suggest to the female students in my seminars, that they should be finding themselves a toy boy – someone ten years younger ideally. But of course they always la..”

He stopped, the word ‘laugh’ frozen on his tongue, suddenly aware that, if he finished his sentence, there was a chance I might be hugely offended at the thought of a roomful of students laughing at my love life. I helped him complete his point to try and reassure him that I really was fine about it.

“So you want to use me as living proof that women actually can hook up successfully with younger men?”

“Well, yes!” he said, relief written all over his face.

“That’s fine by me!” I replied.

But later, it made me think about my twilight years, and how I may feasibly end up spending them. And found myself strangely unsettled by what Mac had pointed out. Inevitably I suppose, we tend to look to our own parents’ lives as an indication of what may lie ahead for ourselves. My father died way back in the Eighties, and my mother has lived alone ever since, so I suppose, subconsciously, I’d always imagined the same would happen to me. Of course, if I’d given it any real thought, I’d have realised that was now pretty unlikely, as my father was 16 years older than my mother – and not ten years younger, as Ad Man is.

Halle Berry will never have a
day to herself in her retirement
Mac’s recommendation to his female students that they embrace the Cougar lifestyle came from an assumption on his part that they would rather not be prematurely widowed, and would prefer their husbands to be at their sides until the very end. But having been witness to my mother’s lifestyle, in comparison to that of her married peers, I wouldn’t be so quick to agree with him.

I think of my mum as 78 and single, not 78 and widowed.  The word ‘widow’ to me smacks of tired resignation to a quiet life of meals for one, headscarves and shopping trolleys with wheels, whereas my mother’s life is far more about cracking open the Chablis at 6pm, scouring the shops for designer clothes and going on exotic holidays. The only trolley she owns is her golf trolley, which is hauled around the country club as a quick precursor to lunch or drinks with ‘the girls’.  Although my father is still very missed, he was always a man who erred on the side of caution and thrift, so the upside of his absence is that there is no longer any need for her to compromise or bargain for what she wants. If she spots a great handbag, she buys it; if she fancies a new flower bed, she digs it herself, in the spot of her choosing – and, like the bright, blousy tulips she has planted there, she has blossomed in her second single life.

If anyone ever wonders why she hasn’t remarried (and with her glamorous sense of style, persistently auburn hair and twinkling green eyes, there’s been no shortage of interest), her answer is always the same:
“Why would I want to wash someone else’s socks?!”

As I’ve been brought up to be just as independent, and happy in my own company, I suppose I’ve always assumed my retirement would be similar. But, my chat with demographer Mac, made me realise that of course it won’t be..   Ad Man and I are statistically very likely to be stuck with each other now, right to the end, which means a lifetime of compromise and bargaining – not to mention the washing of socks..

But then, I reflected, the compromising and bargaining with Ad Man is actually part of the fun of being together - even though it has its frustrations at times. And I can’t imagine him not being a part of my life as I get older - even if he has a view on where the flowerbeds should go.

My mother was in her twenties when she married my Dad. So, by the time he died, they’d already shared 30 years together, whereas Ad Man and I are still just beginning. If I’m lucky, like my mother, I’ll get 30 years or so to share with Ad Man – and that’s a statistic I’m quite happy with after all.

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