Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Peter Pan Syndrome

Recently a friend of mine had a reunion with a group of neighborhood women she hadn’t seen in over thirty years. Not surprisingly and following statistics, two of the women had been divorced and remarried while the first two remained married.

Each woman had been through the typical trials and tribulations so common with couples today. They had gotten married in a bright rainbow flush of love. They had children and assumed their lives would play out as so many others had. Then something changed along the way for two of the couples. Perhaps it was infidelity or a loss of faith in their partner. Two of the women ended up on the other side of the marriage equation. The other two held steady to their marriage, kids, a career and now retirement with the same spouse.

What struck me about my friend’s lengthy discourse with the two divorced women was an overwhelming consensus that if they had to do it again they would never have gotten remarried at that stage in their lives.

Their reasoning was very clear. When men get old, the women argued, they are not fun to be around anymore. Old men get set in their ways. They look old. They sound old. They talk like old men.

Herein lays the dilemma for many of us. When is casualness in retirement mistaken for slovenliness? When is enjoying a cup of coffee and the newspaper in the morning someone else’s waste of time? When is finally being able to relax doing what you want to do mistaken for a lack of ambition or direction?

There is a freedom of thought and expression on the west coast that extends far beyond the hedonistic pleasures of Palm Canyon Drive. It can be found in the artist communities of Idyllwild. It is prevalent among the hermits, musicians and malcontents of Joshua tree and on the coast with the seaside poets and painters of Laguna Beach.

This creative expression can be found in the visual renderings of imaginative minds, the music of dreamers, the mauling of vernacular vestiges in the name of art and the casual clothing found most everywhere. It’s casualness I’ve embraced in my old age.

When we vacation in Palm Springs I like to emulate the natives. Each morning I put on my swimming suit, flip-flops, and a t-shirt. On chilly mornings a fleece will suffice until it warms up.
I don’t always shave every day. It takes about two or three days for some semblance of a shadow to appear on my face. Most of it is gray so it’s practically invisible anyway. Until the back of my head resembles the great waves on the North Shore it’s not time for a haircut.

On more than one occasion it’s been suggested that perhaps early senility has set in or as someone close to me likes to say “I’m losing it.”

Am I the only male of our species that thinks shaving every day and wearing underwear are two grooming rituals that can be ignored every once in a while assuming the environment is as I’ve described it?  Or must I acquiesce to the proper rituals of male grooming that the other half thinks is so important no matter what the environment? In a nutshell, if I’m working at home in my office and not in public, do I have to shave and wear underwear just because we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s the proper thing to do?

Photo courtesy of Brett Kolles

Photo courtesy of Brett Kolles

I have a middle-age friend who loves to bring his male friends up to his mountain cabin a couple of times a year for a ‘guy’s weekend.’ They have water balloon fights, play soccer, fly kites off the mountainside, ride Mountain bikes recklessly through the woods, and in short, act like kids for the weekend. Is this stupid or just men being men?

Women would say one thing. Men would defensively say another.

Perhaps we’re talking about the idiosyncrasies of older men or just men in general. What is a man cave other than modern days refuse for men to hide from women and just be themselves (or as women would say, just being stupid)

Women seem to have a plethora of concerns for their husbands, partners or significant others as the aging process becomes more apparent. They worry about their men getting old and acting it. They fret about them not shaving every day. Not getting a haircut when it’s needed (their determination, not his) Not dressing appropriately in public or semi-public for that matter. They worry about their man’s personal hygiene.

For those more insightful women they worry about their man not having a lot of male friends. Not to mention a myriad of other complaints from a lack of interest in anything remotely akin to her interests to just plain old boredom.

A few of my blogs have dealt with or at least edged alongside the concept of growing old. Occasionally I like to ponder what it means to get old. At times I wonder if I’m deluding myself with my interest in popular music, new adventure travels, living abroad, athletic endeavors, getting more involved with my grandchildren and a myriad of other activities usually left for the younger set.

Is it the Peter Pan syndrome raising its young head again or something more ominous such as denial of the inevitable aging process? Are sore muscles and stiffness the inevitable results of a life well lived or simply a lack of exercise? Am I kidding myself when I say you’re never too old to grow young again? And don’t fade slowly into the dark; instead leap boldly into the brightness until it burns you up.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that this whole writing thing of mine is a culmination of many goals and desires first initiated during my lost years. It’s spawned a desire to reconnect with old friends, revisit and examine my past and to do so while focusing on my future and adjusting for the reality of my life as it is.

From Snow White and the Seven Seekers to Looking for Susan’s House, this vision quest has become an important part of my life and I’m not about to let it go.

This attitude or delusional meanderings of mine seem to have struck a cord with a lot of folks who read my blogs. So either my readers find something of interest here or they’re just curious what my problems are? Or maybe they simply like to look at the old pictures I post?

The fact is I don’t want to grow up if it means looking and ending up like a lot of the old men around me. So what if I don’t shave everyday? So what if I wear my swimming suit in the morning or continue to listen to classical music (meaning music of the 50s and 60s) while still opening myself up to newer forms of musical entertainment?

I would argue that as long as I’m staying involved and and using my mind every day for something other than mindless chatter at the coffee shop or listening to talk radio, it’s time well spent. For a lot of folks my age long range planning means “What’s for dinner?” I’d like to believe that I can see a little further out than that. I’m not falling apart but simply focusing on things of greater importance in this world in which I’ve chosen to live.

Despite the challenges of old age and calcified ambitions that sometimes have to be pried loose from the rigid assumptions of past generations, I intend to continue my quest to discover, examine and write about whatever it is that interests me.

They say the secret to a long and successful marriage is to let the man handle the big things and the woman handle the little things. Then make sure your marriage is all about the little things. This works for me.

As long as I can wear my Southern California attitude whether I go…with or without underwear.

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