Why DO older men find it so hard to fall in love again
00:23 GMT, 30 May 2012
Ever since my partner died eight years ago, I have been looking for another life companion, someone exciting with whom to walk into the sunset for our remaining years.
So far, this special man has eluded me. And I am far from alone in this. So many of my female friends of a certain age are searching for love, on the internet or elsewhere, and coming up with precisely zero.
It’s not that we don’t meet available men — we do. But somehow they are not what we are looking for. They all end up disappointing us, and we have had endless chats, lunches and drinks bemoaning that fact.
So many of females of a certain age are searching for love, on the internet or elsewhere, and coming up with precisely zero
Time and time again, we ask ourselves and each other: what’s the matter with them Why do older men make such dreadful partners
It has led me to conclude that though ever more of us are looking for true love in our later years — in fact, dating sites aimed at the over-50s are the fastest growing among all age groups — the fact is very few of us will ever find it.
I wrote an article to this effect for this paper a year ago, but it turns out it wasn’t just me being cynical — psychiatrist Dennis Friedman backs me up and has some answers to boot.
He is the author of a new book, The Lonely Hearts Club (his first work of fiction at the age of 88), which is closely based on his decades of clinical experience and research into what really goes on inside relationships.
Dr Friedman tells the stories of about a dozen men between 50 and 80 — all but one divorced, widowed or never married — who are composites of his former patients, and investigates why there’s such a cavernous gulf between them and their female peers. He wants to explore why, despite the fact that more of us than ever before are finding ourselves single later in life, we are incapable of pairing up with each other.
Friedman’s male characters are discontented and disorientated, wondering where they have gone wrong, and whether they can put things right. Above all, they agonise over whether they will ever again be able to find happiness in an intimate relationship.
They may be partly fictional, but they certainly ring bells with me; they are all examples of the kind of standard issue, unattractive older men I come across all the time.
Perhaps one of the most incisive points Dr Friedman makes is the fact that older men are often totally incapable of opening up to new women. Over time, they have forgotten — or maybe they never knew — how to fall in love properly or even begin to inch closer to someone.
Dr Friedman says older men suffer these problems because they were brought up differently from younger chaps. They may have been able to form relationships in their youth, but the world was less touchy-feely then — men were left to be men and weren’t required to talk of emotions.
‘Nowadays, there is a lot of emphasis on bonding, hugging and kissing babies, but in the past, boy babies especially were left to tough it out, far more than girls,’ he says.
One of the most incisive points Dr Friedman makes is the fact that older men are often totally incapable of opening up to new women
‘So, if they have never experienced affection, how will they be able to give it These men simply don’t know what a close relationship feels like and, of course, it’s very late to learn.’
He adds: ‘I’m not saying every single man is like this, but because of their upbringing, older men are likely to have learned how to button up their feelings.
‘Of course, men can fall passionately in love when they’re older, but it is less likely because there is less spontaneity and less emotion at this age. There is also less of a reason, less need to form a relationship, especially after their children have grown up. So even if older men are looking, it’s not with the same urgency.’
Dr Friedman also highlights the fact that many older men harbour outdated, chauvinistic views — an attitude unlikely to find favour with modern women, even older ones.
One of his characters says, without any irony, that a woman’s place is looking after her children and not having them brought up by a nanny. And Dr Friedman is sympathetic.
He knows such views might sound rather old-fashioned, but is unrepentant. ‘All children secretly have a wish for their mother to be in the home, to have the sort of security an old-fashioned housewife used to provide,’ he says.
‘Men tend to hark back to when they were children. So though women now have more freedom, men will always prefer the traditional set-up.’
Dr Friedman explains that underneath apparent inflexibility lies fear. It is fear more than anything else that prevents men relating to women properly in later life
It’s certainly true that there were more incentives for women of my generation to move with the times — after all, the changes that came with women’s liberation benefited us so much. Meanwhile, many of our male peers stuck their heads in the sand and remained culturally fixed in the Fifties — only to find that when they wanted to re-engage with women later in life, there was a huge gulf between them.
Dr Friedman explains that underneath this apparent inflexibility lies fear. It is fear more than anything else that prevents men relating to women properly in later life.
Older men are afraid of new, unknown women, afraid of trying to access their feelings, which have become buried over the years, and afraid of branching out into the ups and downs of a new relationship — and this attitude only increases the chances of it all ending in tears.
Personally, I think it’s their inability to talk about their feelings that makes them so unsatisfactory.
Recently, I was having a candid chat with a successful property developer in his 70s. We were talking about his lonely childhood, and just as I thought we were touching on something real and interesting, the shutters came down.
‘Well, I suppose I’d better get back to earning money,’ he said. That was a matter he did understand; feelings, on the other hand, were too complex.
When I asked one of them what he had to offer me, he replied: ‘Well, nothing really.’
A friend has had similar problems. She started a relationship with an older man, but grew frustrated by his constant avoidance of anything vaguely personal.
Whenever she tried to pierce the surface of why he is as he is, he would reply: ‘That’s a conversation for another time.’
They just don’t get it, do they
At the moment, I have three rather persistent admirers — one is a friend of my late partner and I met the other two through mutual friends — but there is no rapport or chemistry between us.
When I asked one of them what he had to offer me, he replied: ‘Well, nothing really.’
On another occasion, he asked me whether I loved him. We have known each other for seven years, but feelings haven’t deepened in that time — so I told him so. He replied plaintively: ‘Can’t you lie’
Is it any wonder I would rather be on my own than with old-timers such as these
Dennis Friedman has been married for more than 60 years to novelist and playwright Rosemary, and they have four daughters. The secret of their long marriage is that they are both hard-working professionals who continue to have a sense of purpose.
In their home, they each have a study (and his and hers stairlifts!) and keep set hours of work. Dr Friedman also still sees patients.
So many older people looking for partners have absolutely nothing to do, and that is another problem. They are advertising for a woman to accompany them on cruises and holidays because they have nothing constructive to fill their days.
The danger with meeting a retired person is that they may want to spend every minute with you, which is something that does not happen when you are young and working or bringing up families.
All THE men Dr Friedman writes about are retired or semi-retired, with loads of time on their hands.
Though this means they can sit and chat endlessly to each other in cafes, they remain lost souls outside the group.
The end of the book is pretty bleak. All of the characters are just as alone as they were before, in that none has found a new partner.
The final message is that, deep down, older men feel far more comfortable with other men than with trying to embark on a relationship with a new woman, especially when there is no real need and when their overwhelming sexual urges have died down.
Many men have told me that they are basically very shy, but that when they are overcome with sexual desire, this makes them bolder. Then, when that fades away, they become shy again.
The majority of mature men, it seems, are just not comfortable with women as equal companions. When a couple of women infiltrate Dennis Friedman’s Lonely Hearts Club, the dynamics start to change, and not for the better.
As older people, we will chatter more readily and naturally with members of our own sex than with the opposite sex, and this goes for women as well.
So perhaps the final truth is that we think we want a new partner of the opposite sex, but actually we have outgrown this need.
We are entering the realms of fantasy when we imagine we might find someone wonderful, harking back to our lost youth.
Even so, I don’t think I will give up quite yet . . . you never know.
The Lonely Hearts Club will be published by Peter Owen on June 14 at 9.99.