Sunday, February 19

A PRE-ELDERLY, WET LEAF BOOMER?

I'm just a skosh in age from the leading edge of the Boomer Generation and there's a touch of gray around my temples to prove it. So I'm unequivocally part of a demographic sea change about to be loosed on American society, and I feel as if I'm caught in a raging river current in which even the strongest of swimmers can neither return to shore, nor avoid the looming precipice and headfirst plunge ahead.

The inevitability of it all was reinforced recently with the advent of my kid brother's 50th birthday. I think I was more mortified by it than he, as enough years separate us owing to my parents' languorous baby-making that until now I regarded my brother as our family's own version of Peter Pan -- the youngest of four, well-spread-out siblings, who to the others seemed to be cast as forever young.

But then I read recently a column in which those of us in our 50s are now deemed "pre-elderly" by U.S. government statisticians and so a blue funk soon befell me and I grimly informed my brother and sisters that we were now irrevocably nearer the end than the beginning and caught in the dreaded vice grip of insurance actuaries.

"Pre-elderly." Ugh! Why it seems like only yesterday that friends were signing my high school yearbook and writing well-penned expressions of hopefulness, such as "Have a bitchin' summer!" and "Don't work too hard!"

But if the cold splash of water of being "pre-elderly" were not enough, now along comes a chilling piece in today's Houston Chronicle, written by Jeffrey Leving and Glenn Sacks, that the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) recently completed a study that divorce among "older couples" is on the rise and that more and more women are dumping their husbands, instead of the other way around, which is the common perception; and, furthermore, that this phenomenon is most pronounced in Japanese society where long-working husbands who never had the time to develop outside hobbies and interests (as well as deep-seated friendships) are now, in their early retirement years, seen as "wet leaves" by their spouses -- i.e., male mates with a characteristic tendency "to cling to their wives" and spend most of their time "at home."

One Japanese newspaper says "some Japanese women see their husbands as an obstacle to enjoying their sunset years. With few hobbies or friends to turn to, many Japanese retirees, often nicknamed 'wet leaves' for their tendency to cling to their wives, spend their time at home." These "wet leaves" are increasingly being swept aside by their newly independent wives.

In both countries this "Pin the Blame on the Husband" is unfair. For one, the stereotype of the husband trading in his wife for a younger model is by and large a myth. The women in the AARP study were 60 percent more likely to claim that they ended their marriages than the men were, and men were almost twice as likely as women to say that they never saw their divorces coming. In contrast to the Porsche and trophy wife stereotype, the AARP study found that these divorced men had many serious concerns, high among them their fear of losing touch with their children after a divorce.

My God. This is the official "Welcome Mat" awaiting Boomers: to be chronicled as pre-elderly, soon-to-be-divorced, wet leaves? Isn't it enough that swollen prostates and dribbling urine streams await us -- we who drive Buicks, married our high school sweethearts, and have kid brothers nearly nine years our junior?