My Life: negotiating new roles as we age
I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon: men get more introverted as they get older and women more extroverted. I see it in several of my married friends. The husbands want to spend their evenings at home. The wives want to go out.
It may be biological. The men have found their mate and see no reason to go out and fulfil their hunter-gatherer duties anymore. All they want to do now is munch on some peanuts or popcorn and watch the game. The women – having fulfilled their biological responsibilities of giving birth, nursing and feeding – are in the mood for a party.
It was after midnight at a friend’s birthday party. A group of us – all couples with children at home – were making noises about going home to make sure the homework was done and the kids were asleep. With a sigh, I told the group: “After my girls grow up and leave home, I will go out every night.”
“That sounds like a nightmare,” replied my husband.
All the women agreed with me; all the men, with my husband. One man said he hated parties because he had to be “on” all the time. “I do that at work,” he said. “I’d rather meet a small group of friends occasionally.”
“Except that his definition of ‘occasionally’ is once a month,” his wife said. “I want to socialise twice a week at least.”
“We do socialise,” replied her husband. “With each other.”
And so it went. The men couldn’t wait to get home; the women didn’t want to leave the party.
Early in my marriage, my husband would come home, have dinner and grab the newspaper. I would cuddle up and ask about his day, his boss, his feelings. Years later, he told me he hated those talks that I initiated and loved.
“When I get home after a hard day at work, I don’t want to be cross-questioned on feelings and emotions,” he said. “I’d rather let my mind expand and relax – discuss world affairs or sports, you know.” Our daily exchange of feelings, which made me feel so close to my husband, suffocated him.
Things haven’t changed much. I still feel closer to him after an exchange of sentiments, even if it is an argument or a fight. These volatile exchanges drain him.
“I want peace at home,” he confesses.
How to marry my appetite for socialising with his desire for solitude? Twenty years into our marriage, that is the question confronting me. How will we grow old together if I want to go out every night and he wants to stay home?
Why do you like socialising so much, he accuses. I like everything: choosing an outfit, dabbing on perfume, going out, the lights, the flowers, the candles, the occasional compliments, meeting new people and trying to take their measure. My husband hates the superficiality of parties and making small talk with strangers. The parties that energise me enervate him. I think it’s because we focus on different things. When I meet a stranger, I admire his clothes or her jewellery, while making small talk. My husband never notices these things. Instead, he debates public policy. No wonder it is tiring.
Now we have come up with a compromise: vacations. We both like travelling. We’ve decided to go with groups. This way, my husband can satisfy his curiosity while I chitchat with strangers. While he bones up on the history of Egypt, I can socialise with our fellow vacationers.
As for invitations to parties at home, I might just have to resort to going out alone.
Shoba Narayan is a journalist based in Bangalore, India. She is the author of Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes and is working on another memoir called Return to India.
Dear Ms. Shoba Narayan,
First of all let me congratulate you for what you have done so far through your website and other writings. Very impressive.
About your ideas on negotiating new roles as we age, I would like to point out that it is a unique feature of life. For example, some of my friends who did not have enough time even to attend functions in the family circle earlier, are eager to socialize now. It is doubtful if we could generalize on such a subject.
With best wishes,
K S Venkataraman
Dear Mr. Venkataraman:
Your message gives me great hope :)