Thursday, January 26, 2012

Of Demi and Ashton

You most likely heard that Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher split up.
The news of the split had us commoners talking and tweeting, with some saying “You Go, Girl!”, some others saying “It was written on the Wall!” and a few others saying something about “Oedipus Complex”. The last one had me wondering. Really?
Because Ashton isn't a boy. He is 33. Demi is 49.

We see many older man - younger woman relationships.
In celebrities: Harrison Ford, Mathew McConaughey (phew, I spelled that), Newton Gingrich, Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), Warren Buffet, Clint Eastwood, Paul McCartney and more. Sometimes a child from an earlier marriage becomes a chronological peer of the new partner!

Examples of the reverse where the woman is older do not easily come to mind. But they exist.
A few extraordinary women artists have had younger partners. The woman's creativity perhaps allowing the partner to see past the age factor.
Margaret Wise Brown. Good Night Moon. My World. What delightful books! But she died tragically before her wedding. She had emergency surgery two weeks before the date. Excited, she kicked her leg high up to show the visiting doctor the extent of her recovery when a blood clot traveled to her heart and she died of embolism. She was 42 and was engaged to James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., 26.
We have Carol Burnett, adored by many. Hugh Jackman. Lalit Modi. Ralph Fiennes and Francesca Annis (separated), Shakira and Pique (as of now).

Stars and celebrities dwell in a rarefied field, considerably freer from societal pressures and approvals. So acts of free spirit sometimes begin there.
But how about regular people? Where the older person is not a celebrity? I personally don't know a couple where the woman is older by more than 1-3 years. But I know couples where the man is older by 7 to 13 years.

Why is that?
One would think that the hormones which ply in a woman's body during a window cause the buzz around her. But even in scenarios where reproduction and these particular hormones aren't in the picture, there is a mindset or even bias.
The bias against older women is strongly dictated by culture. Western cultures are much better, though not at zero. The more repressive a culture towards women, the more the disdain. I'm not talking about affection for family members.

But something is changing in the ordinary world. There is ever increasing all around affirmation for qualities in women outside the defining domain of “Reproducer&Nurturer-in-Chief”. Carving a separate, viable identity outside of being a care-giver is now the standard.
No mistaking here- bearing and raising children- if chosen- still remains a very rewarding and the hardest work there can be. Having the staying power through these years while allowing one's charm, humor, sensuality, talent and self worth to naturally evolve is no mean achievement. (Think Tina Fey).
But it is happening, this quiet revolution.
Single moms, moms with children who are sick, severely income strapped moms or those with special needs have it much harder while maybe women who did not want or could not have children have it different, if not easier.

When I look at people growing into age, I see art on their faces. Their faces are like live sculptures.
With age the collagen gets lower, so the mask drops, the face get etched with what is felt and thought. What you see is what you get. Each fold, crease and wrinkle a memory of a mood and expression worn in the play of life.
Some faces are beautiful. Like this lady I occasionally come across on my evening walks. If I have to guess, I'll say she is in her sixties. Tall and graceful, she gives a big, warm smile and walks with unhurried determination, her healthy gray hair flowing out. So happy and fulfilled she seems.

Aging. Maybe that is what it was all about. The fear of aging. The quest for perpetual youth. An insecurity so large in some of us, young or middle or old. The young mock the older, hoping to increase their invincibility, the older seek interventions at any cost to decrease their fallibility. With culture, community and family shaping the fear and outlook.
In this fear-pool, people in middle of the age spectrum are special targets, especially if perceived to be trying to hang on something considered not theirs anymore. Celebrities banking on sole looks to carry them through the aging process are ridiculed.
When looking for a partner especially the second time around, men prefer women younger than themselves because it makes them feel younger.

Personally though, I can't see how a marriage with a big difference in age can work, irrespective of who is older. Without a shared growing-up period marked by common events. How we view the world, how we voice, how we feel is dependent on our age. Can the marriage take the discrepancy in outlook and tone?
Does one give in and carry the burden of acting different from their own age? Who? Can the marriage bear the strain of anyone of the two not doing that? Relationships are hard enough without this baggage.

By itself, seeing more couples where the woman is older in society doesn't mean much but it means a little something. It says something about extent of unevenness of the playing field. But there are a lot more issues ahead of this waiting in line, like talent discrimination.
In some eastern cultures, we wouldn't even know where to begin, we are so far out in the equality thing.
Attitudes and opinions in various pockets of a culture trickle outward and seep into all other levels of society. No level and no one has blanket immunity. 

Each age stands on its own ground. That is, if one is fortunate to stand apart from sickness, dysfunction, poverty and accidents.

Mid-life crisis probably has its roots somewhere here. A person may reach his mid-40's or 50's, somehow not feeling the security of that elusive, fortified sense of self while at the same time experiencing the vacuum from less energy and motivation. A crisis indeed.
If the positives of the middle and old ages don't set in all we see are age related physical issues. But those who seamlessly move into middle age or old age are so natural that their younger selves become an integral part of who they are. They accept the now, as wholesome as is.

And Demi Moore? A split is tough, the aftermath is sometimes even tougher. But she has chutzpah. Like in how (I heard) she did those scary back-flips on the David Letterman show, while carrying a nearly full-term baby. We'll wait and see.