I don’t follow a lot of blogs. The ones that I do follow are mostly personal journals and (IMHO) especially well written. Life is too short for any-old prosaic prose. In one of those blogs recently there was a post where the young(ish) author was wondering if her parents might be headed for divorce because she observed that they seemed to be arguing and fighting with each other far more than she ever recalled. I considered writing a direct response, but my style tends to be too verbose for a mere “comment”.
I, myself, will turn 61 this month and my last wedding anniversary was the “pearl” one (not that we honored that archaic tradition), so I am probably much closer to that author’s parents in age and status than to her and I may have a deeper perspective on these things.
I have noticed in myself that as I get older I am becoming increasingly less and less “tolerant” toward many things. Although I would smugly contend that it is not true in me, one of the more obvious ways that this can manifest in some people is as more conservative political views and stands on the social issues of the day. It is the cliché that “old people” tend to be right-wing, Fox-News types desperate to return to the “Good Old Days”, no matter how unnaturally rose-colored those hindsight views might be. This seems to be as evermore when seeing the liberal-progressive beatniks of the 50’s and flower-children of the 60’s (and whatever the 70’s and 80’s had) morph into solid, upstanding, flag-waving Republicans. And yes, dear children, this is a natural progression and it too will more-than-likely be your fate in another 40-years or so – mark my words.
I really do think that this creeping intolerance naturally affects us all as we age and the consequences can manifest themselves in other more personal ways as well. There seems to be a general attitudinal sclerosis that develops right along with the physiologic symptoms of arthritic joints, paunch and dry wrinkling skin. By the time we turn 60 we know what we like and that’s what we want and any deviation from it is simply annoying. At the interpersonal level, the quirks of a partner that used to be invisible or even endearing become so much sandpaper scraping across our ever more sensitive nerves. Some completely unconscious habits of my wife that I know she has had for 30-years have now become so irritating to me that I cannot stand to be in the room with her during an outbreak. To be fair – I am quite positive that I too have such habits that grate equally hard on her. In the case of our relationship we have always adhered to a strict non-critical approach however. It is not true that marriage gives anyone the right to “mold” another person to be an extension of them, or even that it involves subscribing to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Even within a decades-long marriage the key to happiness is to view the other person as a completely separate and independent individual to be shown all the rights and courtesies (and hopefully even more) that you would extend to a casual acquaintance. If you wouldn’t pick at and fuss with and bark at and criticize a co-worker for some silly if annoying behavior, then for God’s Sake don’t do that bullshit to your spouse, of all people!
I have declared that “attitudinal sclerosis” is natural, and I believe that there is a natural explanation for it too. Something that I am only now beginning to truly appreciate is that as we get older, life gets harder (sorry all you 20-somethings – but your own future-self will confirm that all you’re “going through” now is a piece-of-cake compared to what awaits you). As our bodies begin to deteriorate and our mental acuity declines many people will go into denial, but whether we acknowledge it or not, the result is that we have to work harder and harder just to get up each morning and make our way through the world and function in society. Simple little things that used to be thoughtless reflex now take more concentration and effort. It’s not that we “mature adults” can’t do things; we just have to apply more focus and energy to those simple everyday tasks. The more effort that we must expend on the basics of navigating life, the less we can tolerate deviations because we just don’t have the spare “cycles” to process it anymore. We want everything to be as easy (read: “familiar”) as possible because that requires the least amount of energy and we need every ounce of that energy to overcome the ever-increasing inertia that each new day brings.
It is like swimming in the ocean and feeling the tug of a riptide at your feet. You need to stay focused on keeping your head above water and it takes all of your effort to keep moving forward, and you just can’t tolerate any distraction from that objective even as others continue to “fool around” about you, oblivious to and unconcerned by this existential threat that you, perhaps even unconsciously, can feel. As we age we naturally become more and more intolerant of any disturbance from the well-known and comfortable because at its ultimate extent such distrait can threaten to tear away our faltering grasp on life itself.