I loved writing this column because it reflects my life these days.
‘Is this how we’ll end up?” I ask my husband. “Is this how old age will be? Bickering and arguing over small things like all the old people do?”
We are surrounded by the elderly – the apartment complex we live in has a few dozen and over the years, we’ve got to see them all in action. They throng the cafe that I go to, lured by the free salad bar.
I see them sit across the table from each other, these old couples with platinum hair. They shuffle up to fill their soup bowls or get more croutons. They eat with nary a word to each other. Is this how we’ll end up?
I watch my beloved uncle and aunt bicker with each other about when to leave for a wedding as I arrive to collect them. My uncle stands fully dressed at the entrance, muttering into space. “For once, just for once, I wish she would be ready on time. She knows I hate being late,” he mutters.
Over the years, he has stopped trying to tell her what he mutters, perhaps because she – normally a mild lady – explodes with bad temper when he hurries her. “What is the point of going to a wedding before even the bride shows up?” my aunt mutters into the mirror when I go into her bedroom to nudge her along. “I don’t know why the man insists on showing up at a wedding before the whole town.”
I clear my throat gently.
“You can go tell him that I am coming,” she says, adjusting her sari, combing her grey hair and bending her arthritic knees to adjust her shoes. She won’t let me do it for her; she is too independent.
Both of them have become curmudgeons – restless, impatient, slow and forever in a bad mood.
“Is this how we’ll end up?” I ask my husband.
“Probably,” he replies. “If we last that long.”
Going out is an issue. Travelling is Herculean. The same pattern repeats itself for all the dozen or so couples that I know well. The men want to stay home; the women want to see the world.
Having stayed at home for so long – to take care of spouses, children and grandchildren – women are hitting their stride at 70. They want to go on pilgrimages, attend faraway family weddings and connect with long-lost cousins. They ache to visit craft fairs and bookstores.
The men, after a lifetime of going to work and hanging around bosses and colleagues they disliked, simply want to stay home, ideally with their wives fussing around them.
One aunt puts it this way: “Your uncle wants me around the house all the time even though we hardly have conversations these days. He is watching TV in his room and I am putting away dishes in the kitchen. But he hates it if I am not there. What is a woman to do?”
I can see this trend reaching into my own household. My husband will return from Hong Kong after a whirlwind two-day trip. I have a lot of news for him: a new French chef is in town, perhaps we can go out tomorrow night? We haven’t been to a movie in ages and there is the new James Bond movie in theatres. A friend has invited me to an art gallery opening and I want my husband to accompany me.
But I won’t say all these things as he walks in through the door. His tired face will put pause to that. Plus, I know him. His idea of a terrific weekend is to stay home and “potter around” with the family.
Early in our marriage, we reached a compromise with respect to staying in and going out. I like to go out – a lot. If I could, I would go out four nights a week. My husband is the opposite, so I figured out ways of going out on my own, joining foodie groups, wine clubs, book clubs.
Since our children are young, it suits all of us to have my husband stay home – he likes it, they love it and I am not fussed or guilty about leaving them alone with a sitter.
But I am in the minority at art openings, dinners and book readings. Most people come with their spouses.
“Is this how we will end up?”, I asked my husband last week. “You staying home and me going out?”
So he came up with what he thought was a huge concession: “Once a month,” he said, “we’ll go out without the children. You pick the place and date. We’ll go to the movies, we’ll try out new restaurants; whatever you want.”
But what I want is for us to go to art openings, to my foodie clubs, to book events.
“You mean I have to meet strangers?” he asked, making a face.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir