Retirement From Sex

A better title for this essay would be Retirement From Life, but the word sex attracts more readers – don’t worry, I’ll get down to the juicy parts soon enough, just consider this intro foreplay.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about retirement from work, but I realize the word retirement can encompass far more than just that one part of life.  Retiring from work is a major transformation in one’s personality, but as we get older we go through so many transformations that can also be called retirement.

For instance, I’ve long ago retired from going out to bars to hear live bands.  That used to be part of my personality, listening to live music, but I’ve gotten old and can’t handle noise.  Even loud restaurants feel like psychological torture.  My wife hasn’t retired from live music, so she still feels youthful in that regard and I feel old.  I know lots of guys who have retired from going to the movies.  I haven’t yet, but only because it’s a major way to socialize with my lady friends.

Another area that I will be retiring from is heavy lifting.  Guys like lifting heavy stuff because it proves they are still young and strong.  A woman mentions she needs a 25″ TV carried up three flights of stairs and you volunteer, to make a point about your maleness.  Women don’t need men for much, but lifting is something they seem to appreciate.  So to retire from heavy lifting means checking out of the strong male club and it means you are admitting you’re weak, like a woman.  And this is a big change.  It’s humiliating to have to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up something that heavy.” 

Men retire from the heavy lifting club slowly.  As you get older and something needs to be picked up and younger guys are around, you start letting them show off.  But if you’re the only guy you keep trying to prove yourself as long as possible.  George Carlin recently joked about this in his new comedy routine about turning seventy.  He tells his audience, once you turn seventy you never have to lift anything again.  Oh, you might pretend to try, but a younger person will rush over and do the job for you.  I’m only 56, so I still have to lift things, but there are times when my wife talks about helping friends move, and I’ll remind her of my back problems.  Of course, if a lovely young woman at work is in need of heavy lifting help, I don’t worry about my back so much.

Retirement from work means a huge change.  Work means you are useful to other people.  It’s more than just earning a living, work is social and it defines an essential part of our personality.  The first thing people want to know when meeting you is what you do.  Saying you’re retired is like saying you’ve stop being somebody.  Of course, you solve this problem by becoming somebody new, but that’s hard to explain, especially if your hobbies are rather piddling.

Now, back to sex.  Sex is a big topic, but few people express the personal details of their sex life, and neither will I.  Let’s just say I’ve reach an age where I can see an end to my sex life.  I feel sort of cheated by that because I remember back in the 1960s seeing documentaries about how people in their nineties could have active sex lives.  I think there are some people who are still balling when their age hits three digits but they are few and far between.

Sex is not something I want to retire from, but I’m starting to see the dirty writing on the bathroom wall.  I am appreciative for all the sex my wife gives me, and I do know on her part she’s doing a lot more giving than receiving, because she’s been closer to retiring from sex since menopause.  (At least with me, I don’t know about her and her boyfriends.)  She feels guilty about retiring from sex, which is lucky for me, but it’s not an emotion I want to play on for long.  I’ve joked with her that if she doesn’t want to change the cat box then maybe I can find someone else for the job.  She told me to go for it, but I think she’s confident that few women want the chore of being kindly to an overweight old bald guy.  I guess she knows, it would still be changing the cat box to them too. 

I don’t think I’m the only guy in this situation.  I’ve gotten hints and jokes telling me the well is running dry in other marriages.  Some of my friends even allude to losing interest themselves, and a couple joke like Al Bundy when he complains about having to service Peg.  Although,  I have heard rare reports of lucky older guys who have wives with matching libidos, but those guys might be lying, just like how some guys lied about the frequency of their sexual successes when they were younger.  But statistically, I know the world is filled by all kinds, and anything is possible.  Of my male friends who dine alone, they just make jokes about how happy they are they don’t have to move furniture all the time.

What surprises me about retiring from sex is how men are so much different from women.  I know a lot of divorced and widowed women my age, and older, and the common consensus is they are overjoyed to be out of the sex provider business.  I find this a little hurtful because it makes me wonder if they ever really liked making us guys happy.  I always ask my single lady friends if they wouldn’t like to get married again, and they universally groan. 

There is one common joke I hear, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind marrying a rich guy with a bad cough.”  This strikes me as severely mercenary, and makes me further wonder about the motives of the women I knew when I was younger.  I know books, movies and television shows are all about romance and sex, but I’m starting to wonder if pop culture hasn’t been perpetuating a long standing urban myth.  I just assumed women were different before and after menopause, but now I wonder.

Retirement from sex means learning who you really are.  When I was at Clarion West Writers Workshop I wrote a science fiction story about a guy who volunteered for an experimental treatment to temporarily turn off his sex drive to see what life would be like without his little slave driver.  The story got a violent reaction in the critique group.  The night before my older classmates, both men and women, told me how much they liked the story, so I went into the critique the next morning thinking I’d have a hit, but I was blasted by the young people.  Some of the younger women called the story misogynistic, which was scary.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  On one hand, it could have been true, on the other hand, why was the story admired by some and hated by others, and the dividing line seemed to be age?  If a man turns off his sex drive does that mean he devalues women, or even hates them?  Since the younger women were writing romantic stories, I could see my anti-sex story as anti-romance.  What’s funny is women become anti-romantic after menopause.  Well, that’s not quite true, they become anti-sex romantic.

Jane Austen is the queen philosopher of post-menopausal women. All my older women friends want a Mr. Darcy for dinner and dancing, handsome, rich, dashing – and a man who never expects the heroine to leave her Empire silhouette gown.  Retiring from sex for men, means fulfilling a new role for women, one more fitting for a Jane Austen tale.

Don’t get me wrong, young women also love Jane Austen, but they either want or expect to unsnap their jeans for Mr. Darcy.  Retirement from sex means changes in personality for both men and women.  I think many woman are happy to go off to their little houses to live alone after their children grow up and their husbands leave them through death or indiscretion.  And I think with older married couples, the concept of romance changes with them too, with women preferring their husbands to retire peacefully to their workshops or computer rooms.

In the life-long battle of the sexes I’m never sure if either sex understands the other.  Women smugly claim to understand us males, thinking we live by one single motivating force, and claiming we don’t have a clue about their fairer sex.  I think men have multiple drives, with sex just being the obvious one.  It’s like asking little kids about going to the bathroom, inquiring if they need to go do #1 or #2.  Well, there’s a lot of males hopping on one foot needing to go to #3, and that’s all women see.  Sometimes it’s, “Oh, how cute,” and other times, it’s “Can’t you wait.”

I know when I go out with my women friends and the dinner check comes, they whip out their purses insisting to pay their half.  I’m amused by this because I wonder if they are thinking, “I don’t want him believing I’m going to put out for $18.35 plus tip.”  Like I said before, many of my lady friends have joked they would marry an old rich man with a cough.  I’ve got to wonder if there is an incentive that would bring them out of retirement that falls between the price of dinner and a large inheritance.

Retirement from work means withdrawing from the complex social life of the office.  Retirement from sex means withdrawing from a life of close physical contact.  I don’t think men and women experience this retirement in the same way.  I think the constant intense biological pull that women feel to be mothers and wives disappears after menopause, so they actually feel free and relieved to be independent.  Whereas men who have always been free and independent feel psychologically cut off from people when they retire from sex.  Men often die after retiring from work, and they often die when they have to live alone, and sometimes I wonder if they die when the final realization comes that the little guy is not going to have any more fun.  Old women seem to thrive on independence and their retirement from sex.

What’s weird about thinking about having to retire from sex is how it changes my personal opinion about myself, and what it reveals about my personality.  Gays and lesbians teach me a lot about sexual identity, in a rather round-about way.  We define ourselves by who we want to get naked with, but what happens when we never take off our clothes with other people?  Do we lose that identity?  Do we suppress or bury it, or does it just slip away like time.  Already I feel my sexual life has regressed to what it was like when I was a teenager, when I considered getting to first base a major goal.  I’m back to wondering why women are so stingy with their riches.

Does retirement from sex mean a total regression, a devolution back to virginity?  The phrase “old men and their toys” takes on a whole new meaning.  Or will retirement from sex be the undiscovered country of my future?  Or should my work retirement goal be to become an old man with money and a bad cough looking for a younger women willing to trade a few years of cat box changing duties for a long term retirement plan of her own?  Or should I admit that I am not Mr. Darcy in anyone’s eyes and I should just develop a new identity, but one without sex?

Time Goes By, is my guide to getting old, and even Ronni, my elder guru, discusses the waning life of sex in, Been There, Done That. What’s Next?, although she is quick to defend that elders are having sex in, CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke, which reports 73 percent of people 57 to 64 are still having regular sex, and 53 percent of people age 64 to 75, and 26 percent for people 75 to 85, are still getting it on too.  So retirement from sex, is like retirement from work, not everyone retires at the same age.

My point of this long-winded essay, is retirement is all about change, and fundamental changes, changes deep in our personality.  This makes me not want to retire in any way, and keep on going the way I have been.  On the other hand, I’m ready to rush into this new undiscovered country and start exploring.  Escaping death is not an option, but I’d like to think everything else is, but that may not be true either.  A lot of men would prefer to die at their desk, and I can understand that.  And a lot of guys joke about coming and dying at the same time, and I can understand that too.  The harder thing to imagine, even scary to think about, is living twenty or thirty years without work or sex or the ability to lift heavy objects.


Young @ Heart – Don’t Wait for the DVD

There are some films that you need to see in theaters, and Young @ Heart is one of them.  I’m not the kind of guy who cries, but if I wore mascara my face would have been a mess during this great feel good movie.  I’m curious if this show has any impact on those are are currently young of body, but I think any middle-aged person will find this story of the oldest rock-and-roll cover band to be uplifting and inspire great reflection about dealing with getting old themselves.

This is a little story about a chorus of old people who don’t give up no matter what, even when two of their own die in one week, and their little revue gets an emotional jet assisted take-off by being seen on the big screen in the dark theater.  I never admired wrinkly-old-people more, because this tribe of oldsters rocked out and kicked my ass when it comes to living and gumption.  At Rotten Tomatoes its rated 87%, and I’ve got to figure that other 13% of reviewers are Dead @ Heart.

Sure these old farts would get the boot from Simon and the American Idol tribunal, but songs like Coldplay’s “Fix You” was totally owned by a really fat old guy with an oxygen breather in tow.  On the big screen, the lyrics of these songs were totally showcased in a way that made them sound far more meaningful than when sung as anthems to the young.  “Road to Nowhere” by the The Talking Heads and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones took on whole new meanings.

I’m listening to Coldplay sing “Fix You” right now and it just doesn’t have the impact it did in the movie.  But I now admire the lyrics all the more.  I’m reminded of another movie about music I saw a few weeks ago, Once, and how the songs just don’t translate with the same impact off the screen without being able to see the tortured faces who were singing words that matched their expressions.

I can imagine some viewers thinking that all of this is camp, or stupid oldster tricks, but I found the ancient ones hard core for getting up and doing things I’ve been too scared to do all my life.  Janis and I sat up close and I think seeing these little people on the big screen magnified the issues of standing every day with Mr. Death in the room.

I think Young @ Heart had major impact with me because I’ve been around a lot of dying people in recent years, and I can read much more into the scenes than the film maker really worked to show.  The more you know about pain, suffering, deteriorating bodies and death, the more real this movie becomes.  Unless you have some inkling of what it takes to make such an effort late in life, then you’ll not truly get this film.  It might be fun and a lot of laughs but you’ll miss the Sigmund Freud lessons.

It’s one thing to rock in your teens, that’s fucking easy man, it’s a whole other thing to rock out when you’re in your eighties and nineties.  I think I’ll go play Mr. Young’s “Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  I’ve got to keep remembering those lessons.

[Here are a handful of YouTube clips to give you an idea, but they don’t work like being at the theater.]


My Perfect Routine Day

Daydreaming about retirement makes me wonder just what I would do if all my days were free from the 9 to 5 job.  My biggest fear is I would become a couch potato and die soon after retiring because I’d let myself go.  What I need is a good routine, a way to pace myself and maximize the use of my free time.  Now this is all speculation because I’m not going to get to retire soon.  If I’m lucky I could retire in another year and work part-time, but only if I’m brave enough to find a good part-time job.  It would be so easy to just keep working where I do because I like it so well.  Thus I want to contemplate this possible future to help make it happen.

For now, I’d like to imagine my perfect routine day.  To begin with I want to get up early – I don’t want to waste any precious free time.  If I had discipline, I’d get up at 5:30 and do yoga and Bowflex exercises for a half hour and then shower and dress.  To be honest, I barely exercise now, beyond walking a few times a week, doing some half-ass make-up-my-own yoga to help my back when it gets stiff, and a rare bout of Bowflex when my arms feel particularly flabby.

As you can see, my perfect routine day also involves becoming a new person.  I wonder if that’s possible?  I’ve been meaning to change myself since I was a teenager and it hasn’t worked yet.  A recent article in Wired, “Brain Scanners Can See Your Decision Before You Make Them” suggests that we lack will power or free will.  I’ve read other books about the brain that cover this territory, suggesting that we have subconscious actors in our head that make the real decisions and our conscious minds go along thinking they decided and are the real bosses.  Thus, I’d add to my morning schedule a bit of meditation hoping I could tune into these inner mechanisms and wrestle control.

I don’t know why, but I’m the most inspired with writing ideas during my morning shower, so I think my routine should be built around this.  I’d like to start writing right after getting dressed and maybe eat breakfast at my desk.  I start the day fully charged and slowly drain my mental batteries as the day progresses.  I’d want to use my best time and mental energy for writing.  Devoting mornings to writing and focusing on fiction is the key to optimizing my energy curve.  This should take me to nine or ten o’clock.

At this point I’d like to read a single non-fiction essay that has great inspirational impact.  Detailed facts are a major fuel for my mental fires, and I need something I can contemplate in my spare cognitive moments for the rest of the day.

About now, if I have to work part-time I’d like to go off for my four hours.  I should snack some because I’d want to work through the lunch hour.  It would be great if work was close enough to walk or bike so I could combine exercise with transportation time.  I’d also listen to books on audio while commuting – thus providing triple multitasking.  During this phase of my life I will be getting most of my book reading done through my ears.  I’d listen to books during housework, yard work, travel and exercise.

Even if I could afford to quit work full time it might be good for me to have one or more part time jobs.  Working in a library or bookstore might be rewarding.  Computers are my work life now, and it would be good to get away from them and do something different, but on the other hand I could be very useful as a Old Geek Computer Fix-It man, and it might be more profitable.  On the other hand it would be more of a challenge if I could start a business developing custom software.  However, running a business usually means 60-80 hour workweeks, and I most definitely do not want that.  I think whatever I do, my perfect daily routine would want me to work more with people and less with machines.

After work I will need a small meal and a nap.  Currently I need two naps a day and I don’t expect to change.  I wish I was one of those people who can sleep five hours and run like a race horse until the wee hours.  I’m not.  Currently I need to nap in the early evening so I can stay up late.  I can’t stay in bed 8-9 hours at a stretch because of the arthritis in my hips.  I get pretty stiff and hurting after 5-6 hours, and I even have to spend part of my night sleeping in a La-Z-Boy.  Getting old and breaking down presents some interesting problems to deal with, and sleeping and living with a growing pain load are two of them.

I know my perfect routine days will coincide with the slow downward slide of health.  I’ll be Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill and to beat the system I’ll have to squeeze as much positive life out of the time I have.

After I get up from my nap I’d like to have some socializing time, either with my wife or friends.  This will be a good time to watch TV or movies, and eat dinner together, or even play group games or share hobbies.

I’ve always loved television, but I don’t know if I want to waste too much of my freedom on the tube.  I love having a good show to look forward to, like Lost or John Adams.  I like watching television with other people.  For each day I wouldn’t want to watch more than one show or movie, which means devoting no more than 1-2 hours to sitting in front of my HDTV.  I’d want about one-third fiction to two-thirds non-fiction mix.  The world of documentaries have gotten to be a fantastic genre in recent years. 

Shows like The Universe, Planet Earth, Frontline, NOVA, The Miracle Planet, Independent Lens, Naked Science are amazing sources of information and entertainment.  I can’t believe I know so few people who watch these shows.  I’m surprised so many people as they age lock into their favorite entertainments and hide from the current world.  Modern cable television with its hundreds of channels is a sixth sense that allows us to roam the globe and keep up with countless human endeavors.  The Internet gets all the press about social change, but cable television is just as powerful.  Its another medium that brings the people of the world together.  I expect to be watching cable television when I pass on – I want to go out knowing as much as I can before I die.

Part of my perfect routine day will involve blogging.  I hope as the years go by blogging becomes even more sophisticated.  Probably after my social time I’ll take another nap and then get up and spend the rest of the evening blogging and working on hobbies.

I have a number of hobbies I’d like to pursue, but the one that I think would be the most fun is to recreate the experiments from the old “Amateur Scientist” column in Scientific American.  I bought a CD-ROM that collected them years ago and put it away for my retirement years.  Amazon doesn’t seem to sell it anymore, but v. 3 appears to be still for sale here.  I think it would be a fun hobby to work out lesson plans for schools on how to do basic scientific experiments.  Combine the Make impulse with Teach impulse.

I’d also like to experiment with robotics and artificial intelligence, but on a kid level, something like Lego Mindstorms kits.  I guess when guys get old they want to play with toys again.

Finally, I’d like to close out my day by reading a short story.  I find short stories to be intense compact communiqués from deep within the souls of other people.  I’m surprised they aren’t a more popular art form.  To me short stories offer the most bang for the literary buck.  Short stories combine feats of imagination with encapsulated emotion – and a good story should bring tears to your eyes, whether it’s dramatic or comic.  Great ones should make the top of your scull feel like it’s lifting off your head, like the rush of an intense but quick acting drug.  Short stories should leave you drained like you’ve just mind-melded with another human for an hour.

I’d want to leave this fictional rush to just before bed time hoping it would affect my dreams.  I’d like to get to sleep by 11:30 so I could get a good six hours sleep and be up and at it again by 5:30 the next morning.  As you can see I expect to cram a lot into my retiring years.  I’ve been working for decades, during the best years of my life, and this has been zapping all my energy.  I’m hoping my golden years are ones I can get a lot done and make up for all those years I was too tired to do anything but veg out in front of the boob tube.


Do not go gentle into that good night

The title above comes from the Dylan Thomas poem and I encourage you to take a moment and follow the link and listen to it.  It’s about death and dying, not a particularly popular topic for the young, but the ghost that haunts anyone past fifty.  I am only fifty-six but thoughts of Social Security, Medicare, retirement and getting old invade my thinking regularly.  We Baby Boomers tend to believe everything is about us, but I’m finding it interesting to watch the generation before ours get old and see how they face death.  This generation is sometimes called The Silent Generation, but I’m starting to hear quite a racket from them.

The Baby Boomers were born from 1946-1964, and the Silent Generation are from 1925-1945, basically from Paul Newman through Pete Townshend, giving a whole new meaning to the song, “My Generation.”  The generation before them were the G. I. Generation (1900-1924) that included my parents.  So the Silent Generation are those people who were college kids when I was little, and the driving force of the pop culture we Boomers grew up with.  Now they are number one on the runway ready to take off for that famous unknown destination.  I, and all of my generation, have a lot to learn from them.  And what got me focused on this group, is this bit of humor.

Awhile back I discovered a great site, Time Goes By, to observe this generation, the brain child of Ronni Bennett and her promotion of Elder News.  She doesn’t like the label elderly because it implies frailty, and prefers old or elder.  Ronni focuses on elder blogging and through that I am finding doorways to the people of the Silent Generation.    Interestingly, Ronni lists Auxiliary Memory in her blog roll called ElderBlogs – and by her definition I’m in the elder group, and I’m happy to be so.  Her site is for the Silent Generation but includes us Boomers who right behind them.  The Internet is generally thought of as a hang-out for the geeky young, but Ronni often points out her elder crew are one of the largest growing segments.

I wished I was retired and had all the time in the world to read all the RSS feeds from Ronni’s ElderBlogs.  These are people I identify with, and people exploring issues and experiences I’m exploring now, or better yet, people who are going through experiences I’m will soon experience.

I constantly tell friends my age about blogging but they say they don’t have time, or they aren’t into computers, or friendships you make online aren’t real – but I’m finding the movement of Elder Blogging to be a major cultural trend and feel my friends are missing out.  It makes me think back to high school days when my hippie friends felt too cool to go to the proms.  I know now I missed out by being too cool.  I think my friends are missing out by thinking the blogging world as being too young, too geeky, or even too impersonal.

Ronni is onto something by making her reporting beat the elder bloggers.  I think the people expressing their feelings on her ElderBlogs sites represent a new social bonding that is just as real as any connections made at church, bridge clubs, retirement homes or in bars.  Sure, it lacks the warmth of intimate friendship, but so does most of our day to day social contacts.  Where blogging shines is hearing the deeper thoughts of people, thoughts beyond the surface topics you often hear at work like “did you see the game last night,” or “think it’s going to rain tomorrow.”  Blogging allows you to get to know a lot of strangers in a way you’d normally not in real life – just click down Ronni’s list of Elder Bloggers and see what I mean.


Retiring While Oil Prices are Rising

Remember the 1970s?  You personally might have been discoing, but the economy had a heart attack.  Two oil shortages.  Inflation.  Stagflation.  Recession.  Investments took a dive way before the fifteenth round.  Luckily the rise in oil prices were artificial due to political influence, and they settled down to allow us to have two decades of growth and relative prosperity.  We baby boomers have been building for our retirements during a time when the investment future always looked rosy.

Now oil prices are climbing up again and the future is returning to the past.  This time oil prices are rising, blowing through the top of the derrick, and it’s not artificial.  The only way oil prices will ever go down is if demand goes down.  And how likely is that?  A big recession could take a bite out of prices.  Everyone could start driving an electric car and put solar panels on our roofs like Jimmy Carter wanted and demand would go down, but how likely his that?

We constantly hear promises that oil prices will drop to the good ole days of $50 a barrel or less, but it’s not happening.  Remember inflation and how fun those times were?  Our leaders claim there are no gloom and doom shortages of oil.  They’ve been promising things should be stable for decades to come.  Then why is oil over a hundred dollars a barrel?

Our retirement future is based on a steady but reasonable growth that nurtures our savings and investments.    If inflation returns we’ll have less to live off of from our fixed incomes.  As long as oil prices rise we’ll have inflation, and maybe worse.

We can effectively cut the price of oil in half by being twice as efficient or using half as much.  If we had followed the policies set up in the 1970s – yes Jimmy Carter was right – we’d have pushed this current crisis ahead in time two generations.  Instead we bought SUVs and drove them fast and now it’s time to pay for our speeding tickets.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like getting old, besides the growing aches and pains I don’t like uncertainties and becoming dependent.  I want to stay in control.  78 million of us are in the home stretch for the Medicare finish line.  As we all queue up waiting to blast off to heaven we’ll have ten, twenty, thirty and maybe even forty years of living off our fixed incomes, savings and investments.  It now appears that the quality of those years could be directly related to the price of oil.

Is there anything we can do about it?  Maybe.  The price of gasoline has always been unnaturally low to begin with because of government subsidies.  With oil production leveling off and new demand from India and China, it’s really a matter of supply and demand which might be beyond our control.  

It is possible if our society quickly switches to alternative forms of energy that we’ll beat the oil crisis and maybe spur continued economic growth so our investments will grow as we age.  If our leaders drag their feet like they have been doing since the 1970s when the problem was obvious, we’ll see some very bad economic times.  In essence, back in the 1980s we collectively said, let’s party while we have oil and then worry. 

Having a society built on irrational greed hasn’t helped.  The housing market soared off the charts with unrealistic values.  The Bush years of wars and occupations, Katrina and Rita, the housing loan crisis and Republicans spending like Democrats has left a big debt.  In other words, there is no trend to believe we’ll suddenly start acting rationally.

So how do rational individuals plan to retire when oil prices are rising?Can we get AARP to promote energy efficient, conservation and the development of alternative forms of energy?  The issue doesn’t seem to be a major topic in the presidential debates.  Does buying solar panels and an electric car make economic sense during retirement years.  I could retire early, next year after 30 years on the job, but I doubt it’s practical.  I’m thinking I should retire and get another full time job to save money for another ten years before thinking about retirement.  I’d like to retire and write those science fiction novels I’ve always wanted to write, but that won’t be practical now.

And if the cost of living is going to shoot up, where’s the best place to retire?  And do I need to rethink our 401k programs?  Planning for the future seems to have suddenly changed.