Are men spoiled rotten?

WEDNESDAY, AUG 1, 2007

Men in their 40s keep breaking up with me because they want to have a baby. How selfish.

Dear Cary,
The third relationship in a row has ended because the man I was dating suddenly decided he wants children of his own. I’m 47 and the men were about my age. All said at the start they wanted a serious, long-term relationship, then Boom! They love me but I’m too old.
I’m not alone. You’d need a statistician to count the attractive, interesting, single women of a certain age who have been dumped for breeders.
I’m not talking about a clutch of pathetic broads sitting in a bar swilling cheap white wine and whining. We all go out on our own, do things we’re interested in and keep a sense of humor about it all. But when you do all that and see the slop computer matching comes up with, and are kind and polite when your 50-year-old ex introduces you to his 27-year-old wife and their new baby, it’s safer to stay at home and watch Bette Davis movies.
I’ve never lied about my age, and unless there’s some way — that only men know about — to bend the space-time continuum, men are aging at the same rate women age. So what’s with the baby wishes? Is it a cover for fear of commitment or are they just selfish?
I’m leaning toward selfish. My theory is that men of my generation have just had everything given to them. They grew up with at-home moms who took care of them. They came of sexual age before AIDS, when women were becoming independent, sex wasn’t evil anymore and being unmarried but living together was OK, so they didn’t need to commit. They got good jobs, they had independence plus relationships, and now they want to be young again, and with a young wife and children. They can be at 50 what they might have been at 30, only with money and a convenient excuse, age, for not meeting some of the more energetic requirements of parenthood.
I’m trying not to go from anger to fury. OK, I’m already way past fury — from sadness over another breakup to despair over never finding a romantic partner. How can I keep being optimistic despite disappointment after disappointment?
Thinking Men Are Spoiled
Dear Thinking,
Your theory about men is certainly interesting.
If you had a good title — some kind of “syndrome,” perhaps, like the “Combover Syndrome,” or maybe “The Pot-Bellied Peter Pan,” you could do a book. Maybe you should. It might sell.
But whether your theory is true or false you’re still a modern person in the modern world and you have to make choices and look out for yourself and not let people fuck with you.
So let us look at the simple truth. You had a series of disappointing experiences with men. You were hurt. You feel bad. You are trying not to go from anger to fury to sadness to despair. You want to keep your optimism.
I wonder why you want to keep your optimism. This optimism seems dangerous.
Why do you want to keep it? Of what value is it to you? Is it a shield from a bleaker view? Is it a bulwark against a bottomless despair?
See, I have my own suspicion that sometimes what we call optimism is more like a suicidal, willful naiveté, and that rather than shielding us from despair it leads us there. I haven’t worked this all out in my head, you understand, but something tells me that optimism is not your friend.
So what if you were not optimistic? Could you continue to date men? What if you continued to date men but assumed that every man you dated was an inveterate selfish bullshitter?
I guess maybe that would ruin it. OK, how about this: How about you continue to date but instead of optimism you carry with you a wise, careful, self-protective wariness and skepticism, perhaps paired with an inner certainty that you don’t need a damned fucking thing from any man. Nothing. You don’t need nothing from no man. Like the fish needs the bicycle, OK? You’re inert, self-contained, wary, observing, amused, detached. And you just pay attention to what you’re feeling. When your bullshit detector goes off you excuse yourself like you’re getting a phone call. And you quickly try to figure out what the fuck is going on. What do your instincts tell you? Are you being bullshitted again? Are you giving in to a wish, some wish that comes from someplace where wishes are never granted?
Your theory could be right or wrong. Certainly the historical conditions are there. But I’m not into making sweeping generalizations about men. You’ve still got the problem of personal choice. If certain patterns are repeating in your own life, then you are wise to look into what you are doing. You have to investigate it. You have to protect yourself. You have to stay away from men who do this to you.

I can’t stand losing my beauty as I age!

Write for Advice

 I’m 43 and I’ve always been beautiful, and now I am in a state of shock at what’s happening!

 Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, NOV 15, 2007

Dear Cary,

I am a 43-year-old woman. I have been married and soon will be again. I do not have children.

Without sounding like an arrogant jerk, I am very pretty. I have taken this prettiness for granted my whole life while thinking (somewhat hypocritically) that “looks aren’t that important.” Certainly I have not consciously coasted on my looks — I have held very senior positions in very well-recognized companies. My looks might not have hurt me in my jobs, but certainly I did not coast to the top of a highly competitive field without something to offer other than a pretty smile.

I’ve always known that people admire me for my looks; I’d have to be blind and deaf not to perceive my effect on most men. I’ve always been impatient with women who talk about how “lucky” I am, or men who presume that I can get whatever I want because of my beauty. Even pretty people have to earn a living; even we get taken to task for our capabilities, if we presume to test them, which I have. To that end, I am a well-rounded person — I read a lot, I recorded an album of acoustic songs and sometimes play at gigs. I am good at a few sports — very good at one. I am well-traveled, speak a few languages, and I’m a pretty good cook.

So it’s been with some surprise that, as I entered my 40s, I have realized that my looks are becoming more, rather than less, important to me. I find myself scrutinizing women all around me — usually in a critical way. It’s horrible — I don’t recognize this voice that has suddenly taken over my head at all. It picks apart young women and derides older women. No woman, it seems, is spared from this internal critical monologue. As for women over 50, forget it. I see them dressed up or getting their hair done at my salon, and I think, “Why does she bother?”

I have always been somewhat “low maintenance” — no makeup, simple hair, very little fuss. I like nice clothes but I frequently wear jeans and the kind of clothing you can find at REI. I do not dress to call attention to myself, and I’ve never consciously tried to appear sexy. When the Botox craze first came to light I was horrified that women would do that to themselves. I’ve always been pretty disdainful of plastic surgery, too.

And now, suddenly, I am buying magazines about just these procedures, surfing the Net late into the night, eagerly looking at all the things I can do to myself to preserve my looks.

I don’t understand this at all. It makes me feel miserable about myself. And then I project that misery out onto the world and find myself making up reasons to resent young women and the men who are attracted to them. Which is silly — I don’t blame men my age for being attracted to women half their age. I certainly can appreciate the beauty of a guy half my age. I’ve dated a few.

Is it death that I am afraid of? Or just aging and losing the power of my beauty, the power of being the center of attention even when I don’t seek it? And if it’s the latter — well, why are all of my many accomplishments suddenly not enough?

My boyfriend is two years younger than me. He is very good looking — but looks his age. I have studied the signs of aging on his face and feel nothing but affection for them. His crow’s feet and sun damage do not detract at all from his appeal, in my view. Why can’t I relax and assume that other people can be as forgiving toward my signs of aging as I am toward theirs? I find myself very uncomfortable if someone stares at me. Whereas I used to dismiss it as another guy admiring me or trying to get my attention, now what I think is, he’s noticing the lines on my forehead, or the way my skin isn’t as smooth as it once was.

I read your column regularly and know that if you publish this certain mean men are going to eagerly jump out of the woodwork and gleefully tell me that I am finally getting what’s due me, that men don’t find women my age attractive ever. The thing is, I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this and yet I am afraid that it is so, that if every man in the universe were to take a quiz and be totally, totally honest about what kind of woman he’d prefer to be with, he’d pick “young” over any other attribute. But isn’t it funny — I never felt that way when I was young. In my 20s I always felt at a distinct disadvantage around the older, more sophisticated female executives around me. I never took the admiration of the men around me very seriously — I felt their admiration was quite impersonal, not really directed at me, but at the idea of me. I could have been anyone — there was nothing personal at all in their regard for me.

So what’s causing this terrible antipathy toward aging (and not just aging — female aging)? Why now? And how do I stop this?

Aging Beauty

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Dear Aging Beauty,

I think this is not so much about death as it is about the loss of social power, and, moreover, the loss of a certain daily vitamin of high regard that sustains and energizes the beautiful.

Most of us are only really lovely for a few short years in childhood. But not so for the beautiful. In the day-to-day world, where most of us lose so much of ourselves and are granted so little in the way of courtesy and love, the pretty person absorbs love out of the air, off the street, in the stores, absorbs love like a child cared for by a loving mother and an adoring family whose faces light up every time she enters the room. The beautiful are constantly absorbing love from the world in a way that is scarcely recognizable to others and even to herself — for has it not always been this way?

To accuse you of taking this for granted is needlessly unkind: How could you not become accustomed to it? It is not vanity, I don’t think, but the lucky satisfaction of a natural need to be loved on contact, just as who we are, just because we are there. To whom does this happen otherwise than the beautiful? Only to children! Only a child can walk into a room and find herself a delight to all, having done nothing, having prepared no performance or recited no lines, just because she is who she is, we turn to her with delight and love.

But of course for most of us this period of automatic love and warmth is very short. We soon find that we are mostly a nuisance, and have to work for every smile of praise. But the beautiful? Go to buy a cup of coffee, walk down the street, sit on an airplane — yes you are often the object of boorish affections and resentments, but you also receive a constant hidden dividend of high esteem. That is not to say that you have it easy. I do not mean that at all. I believe everything you say about your accomplishments and I do not for an instant think that your life has been all that much easier, only that you have had this more or less constant vibe of approval, of pleasure in the way people regard you.

And then it vanishes! One day the admiring glances cease!

It may have been happening gradually, but you notice it suddenly, in the loss of a table or an overlooked invitation — We were going to invite you, of course we were, of course, how could you doubt that?

Your notice magnifies it all: Harsh disregard is everywhere now!

You would expect the sudden withdrawal of this wonderful feeling of acceptance to be painful and upsetting. And indeed it is.

So what to do? How to age gracefully? How to adjust to this new world in which your presence is either ignored or treated as a bother, in which your needs are attended to begrudgingly by unconsciously beautiful young things who do not even seem to see you really, who do not even seem to look at you, who make you feel, in a thousand little ways, that you do not belong in their world?

Argh. Well, you could just get plain nasty. You could use your money and prestige to make the lives of others a living hell. There would be some satisfaction in that, you must admit. But it would only make things worse in the long run.

No, I think really what we must do, those of us who experience this jarring shove into irrelevance, this undeserved demotion in the esteem of strangers, what we must do is content ourselves with our pleasures as we find them.

Oh, what a stupid, empty cliché that is! Jesus! Can I do no better than that?

And the truth is, no, not really. I have no solution. This is how it goes. This is youth’s revenge. It was ever thus.

What can you do? You used to breathe in high regard from the very air; it used to be what you swam in. Now it is rare, hard to find, you have to seek it out. It is all around you but you have to dig for it. It is in art and music, in the love of friends, in all the other clichés that I now find spilling out of my brain.

You have to find it in your intimates, in your family, in those who love you and will always love you, to whom you will never be anything but spectacular.

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My dad threatened to shoot us all and chop us into pieces

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I’m not sure how much filial devotion
I owe my father, now that he’s talking
about buying a rifle.

Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, APR 4, 2007

Dear Cary,

Since our mother’s death four and a half years ago, the burden of caring for our elderly father has fallen to my siblings and me (particularly my oldest sister and my brother). When my parents retired they moved far away to a rural area in another state, which is difficult to reach by plane and is easily an eight-hour drive. My mother was never particularly happy there, and we were never very happy about having to travel so far to see her. Nevertheless, my father’s law ruled and she remained there until her death, lonely and isolated.

My father, to put it bluntly, has never been a particularly likable person, and he has alienated virtually everyone he has ever known. He is narcissistic and selfish, self-pitying and mean, insulting and dismissive. He has virtually no friends where he lives and is barely tolerated by his neighbors and fellow churchgoers. None of us feels any particular bond with him, outside of a feeling of obligation that we must care for him. All of us have admitted to each other and ourselves that we do not love him.

From afar, my sister pays his bills, makes his doctor’s appointments and schedules repairs for his tractor and appliances. My brother, who is disabled and doesn’t work, has made several extended-stay visits with him despite the severe emotional toll these visits take. Though we have persistently lobbied my father to move closer to us since my mother died, he has stubbornly refused to acknowledge his dependency on us or the excessive toll caring for him is taking.

In the last several months a few events have happened that have pushed the situation to a crisis point. First, an aide we hired to come to his house to assist him with medicines, buy groceries, etc. has become a romantic obsession for him. This came to our attention after he asked her to buy condoms so that they could “have sex ” because he is “in love” with her. Since she entered his life, he has attempted to transfer all of the duties my sister had been performing for him (and before that, our mother) to her, and became very irate when we interfered with this make-believe relationship by limiting the amount of time and types of activities the aide could perform. Next, his license was suspended (and will soon be revoked) because he is not fit to drive, an event we hoped would “wake him up” once and for all to the situation he is in, but it only gave him an excuse to rely more heavily on his aide. When she is not available, he continues to drive, putting at risk his own life and the lives of countless numbers of people unlucky enough to share the road with him.

Last weekend my sister and her husband drove down to his house to disable his car and ask him once again to come back with them, but unsurprisingly he refused. Then, he got it into his head that my brother-in-law must be at the bottom of this conspiracy (when in fact he has only been an exceedingly patient observer) and came after him with fists up. My brother-in-law restrained him, telling him he didn’t like the way he was treating his wife and the rest of his family, to which my father replied, “She’s my daughter and I’ll treat her any way I like.” When they decided to leave, my father ran after them, telling my sister that although she was once his “favorite” he didn’t love her anymore, and that he was soon going to buy a rifle and kill us all and chop us up into little pieces.

To say the least, we are fed up and disgusted. After the considerable investment of time and emotional energy she has contributed to our father’s cause over the past few years, my sister is devastated. He was a shitty father always, but when our mother was alive she was a buffer between him and the rest of us. It has only been in the last several years that we’ve had to face, so starkly, how much we truly do dislike him.

The question is, what to do? If he won’t help himself, and refuses to let us help him, what obligation do we have to bend to his whims? We can no longer care for him from where we live, and we no longer want him to move closer to us. It may sound cruel, but as the situation is not likely to get better, we would prefer to distance ourselves from it altogether. If he wants to be alone and as isolated from us as he is from the rest of the world, what obligation do we have to subject ourselves to his abuse and disdain?

Practically Fatherless

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Dear Practically Fatherless,

I would say you have very little filial obligation at this point, aside from the bill paying and medical scheduling that your sister is already doing. Because the relationship with a parent is felt to be so special, we sometimes neglect to consider the ways in which it is just another human relationship that must conform to the same norms and standards that every other human relationship conforms to. We overlook behavior that is in fact beyond the pale and intolerable, and that leads to insoluble conflicts and impossible situations.

It is understandable that you feel the age-old pull of fatherly gravity, that you are susceptible to an ancient wish to make things right. But not only do your well-meaning efforts meet with resistance — they seem to make matters worse. So remember this:

Your father is still capable of making choices. They may be bad choices, but they’re his choices.

In this case, he chose to chase the car down the road, threatening to buy a rifle and shoot you all and cut you up into pieces.

His threat may indicate that he is mentally unstable and in need of care. So I advise you to consult local psychiatric social services about what you can do in this regard. For while your obligation to involve yourself further may be limited, you do have an obligation to understand the legal and medical situation, so you can make informed choices. If he were willing to give up certain of his rights, by appointing someone his guardian and/or assigning durable power of attorney to someone, then you would have certain powers to conduct his financial affairs and restrict his movements. In this area, in addition to consulting with social services, you should get a full accounting of your legal rights and responsibilities from an attorney with experience and expertise in elder law. The SeniorLaw Web site lists many resources. An aging person, with certain indications of dementia, does not proceed neatly one day from “competent” to “incompetent.” Rather, for a period of time one is lucid at times and not at others. So I think unless and until he is declared incompetent, you must judge him by the standards you would use to judge anyone else.

All this becomes moot once he buys the rifle.

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Few prospects are more chilling than filicide. And, as this short monograph on Answer.com reminds us, Freud maintained that where there is a prohibition, there is a wish. Else why the prohibition, eh?

And parents do not just kill their little babies. They also kill their adult children. According to “Classifications and Descriptions of Parents Who Commit Filicide,” a research report authored by Linda Cylc while she was doing graduate work in psychology at Villanova University, “fathers generally kill older children. Murderous fathers frequently have histories of drug and alcohol abuse, previous criminal records, and very high levels of environmental stress, and the murdered children often have had previous injuries (Palermo, 2002; Stanton & Simpson, 2002) … One more stressor seems to be important; fathers who kill their children are very often going through a separation from their wife or other marriage/relationship problems, and this can be seen as an additional risk factor (Marleau, et al., 1999).”

So do what you can, and absolve yourself of guilt. Consult with legal and social services to get a firm understanding of what your options are. Try to define a trigger point at which you would petition the court to have your father declared incompetent. Otherwise, stay out of his way. And warn the neighbors!

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