Everybody’s horrified of aging. I worry I won’t be as sexy or I’ll lose my edge physically. It will be many years before I’m at risk of losing my edge mentally yet somehow, I worry about that too.
A lot of these worries are in our heads. I don’t think it’s very often that we actually spend time with people over the age of 50, at least not for those of us in our 20s and 30s. Lately I’ve had a chance to spend a lot of time with older couples and older friends. It struck me that the biggest difficulty they face is the one we almost never think about.
I’m no big fan of marriage. That’s not just because I’m divorced, it’s because I’ve had a chance to counsel all kinds of couples before they go on to get married. People like asking a priest or minister for some kind of spiritual advice on getting married. The advice I give is, do what makes economic sense. Marriage is generally about property and finances. It’s not about love—you don’t need marriage to have love. It’s about making this stable foundation or business partnership on the hope that it will be a stronger future for your family.
Some of the couples I’ve counseled are still together, others are divorced. Even the divorced ones are a little better off because if they took my advice they all had prenups and saved thousands of dollars on the divorce.
(Here’s how un-pro-marriage I am. I think the gay marriage “crisis” in the US would be best solved by taking marriage away from everyone. It’s not a legal matter, it’s a religious sacrament. If marriage is a sacred heterosexual institution in your church, some kind of X-rated morality play, that’s fine. We don’t need to debate your sacraments in Congress. For legal purposes, let’s say everyone can designate one individual as their health insurance partner and be done with it.)
So it surprised me to realize this:
Your spouse is your biggest asset when you age.
I regularly get to see older couples who hate each other. They fell out of love decades ago, stayed together for the kids or appearances or whatever, and now it just doesn’t make sense to leave. Maybe they don’t think they can date or maybe finances are an issue. When you’re 65 it’s hard to play the field.
But that’s an excuse. The real reason is: you need someone who can double check your memory. Someone who will see you if you fall. Someone who can help you keep your house running when both of you move at the speed of arthritis.
Most of society ignores the elderly, and your kids will only make limited time for you. That means that your spouse will eventually become your single most important asset: the bulk of your safety net, your advocate and your caregiver. This won’t be true for everyone, but it’s a good bet.
I’m not saying marriage is the only solution. I know many older individuals who are happy and successful on their own. The key for all of them is that they laid a groundwork earlier in their life. They’re single because they decided they’re happiest that way. And they spend their resources accordingly. The ones I know have a paid-off residence, a strong network of friends and they remain active in their professional sphere.
To have those three things at 60, you have to start when you’re 45. Earlier is better.
So if the idea of marriage makes your skin crawl, fine, but make some other plans. Being old and alone sucks. And it’s commonplace. Aloneness is the number one cause of sadness among adults over the age of 57 (says I).
At the same time, I’ve met very happy older couples. Couples who still have that playful attitude with each other, and make a point of socializing together. Sometimes they bicker just as much as anyone else but you can tell it’s just amusing to them. They might not be sexually active anymore but they still touch each other.
That’s called love.
I promote this free lifestyle and for me it’s solo travel to find the gods. But I don’t recommend that for everyone. You need personal freedom too, but yours will be different from mine. Here’s what’s not different: love. We all need love, and we all need someone to tell us where we put the ice cream scooper when we’re 60.
Don’t confuse aloneness with freedom. Either find your soul mate or learn how to do alone right.
Do you ever confuse aloneness with freedom?