A lot of first marriages break when people reach 40, unfortunately. In your late 30’s and early 40’s most people who were married in their 20’s and early to mid-30’s have children. There are many family obligations when your cuhildren are dependent on you. You still interact with your ex, and sometimes that is a source of conflict for the new boyfriend or girlfriend.
Merging familes is not a piece of cake. It is much easier when one of you do not have children and are willing to become a step-parent figure; as long as you don’t demand exclusive attention from your partner. If both have children, it is easier to understand the demands that parenthood entails. It is easier to arrange your routine around the children. However, it can also create a whole slew of problems, namely because you are trying to integrate two families with different values and habits into one. There is also interference from the other parent. No easy task, and I don’t envy couples in that situation.
When you become single in your 50’s though, a lot of the complications with children are generally gone. They may still be in College, but they are not dependent on their parents on a daily basis anymore. That is a great phase for dating again: you both have time, freedom to travel when you wish and lot’s of energy-you are still young. I see the greatest harmony in couples that age.
Finally, the maturity they have achieved make the petty stuff not so important; jealousy is not so much an element any longer, a sense of calm and understanding prevails, a sense of “we don’t have that many decades ahead so let’s make the best of life”, a sense of accomplishment, may it be professional or having successfully raised your children, an interest in causes and other bigger things than worries about money and kids, less need to impress, more personal confidence, less attachment to material things and less sexual addiction-relationships are more based in common interests and companionship than lust. Hopefully, 50 plus folks get to find someone who they want to spend their old age with, since being single and isolated in your later years is one of the biggest causes of early death.
What are dinks? That is how you call couples who have double incomes, no kids. Obviously childless couples that make a choice not to have children fit into that category, but I want to discuss the ones who are now empty nesters and middle aged. If you happen to have a good marriage and your kids are grown, living on their own and financially independent, you can have the best of lives.
When does middle age start and end? Somewhere from 45 to 65. Some say middle age starts at 40, some say at 50. Anyhow, since we are all living longer and looking a lot better at 50, I think that age group has been pushed forward.
This phase of your life can be the best in many ways. Your health should be good, provided you take care of it. Your finances are usually more secure, provided you have not been a victim of the job loss and economic upheaval of the 2008 recession former President Bush left us with. Having two incomes, sharing a house and not having any financial or time obligations with your kids does allow you to travel more, invest more, remodel more, enjoy hobbies, eat better, exercise more…the list of benefits is long. Not everyone though is lucky to have a companion at this phase of their lives, especially with the high divorce rate. And some people do very well on their own, financially and emotionally. For people like myself though, for whom having a loving relationship rates as a priority, being part of a DINK is just the ideal situation to be.
A myth that is perpetuated by many Brazilians is that there are many mentally ill people in America compared to other countries. Mental illness is a condition that can affect any human being, anywhere.
America has a higher number of serial killers, although the crime du jour seems to be senseless shootings of as many people as possible. Brazilians like to say that in Brazil there are more crimes of passion while America has more crimes of hate. In reality, there is a lot more crime per capta in Brazil, fueled by money and goods (cell phones, watches, cars..).
When it comes to the urban myth that Americans are crazier than other nationalities -which can encompass from slightly nerdy to violently murderous-here are some possibilities:
1) The nuclear family is less prevalent in America. Many single parents, higher divorce rates, more lonely seniors, more never-married folks.
2) The decentralized cities, the far-out suburbs, higher dependency on individual cars instead of walking and public transportation; less human contact overall.
3) Winter. Long months of short days, grey skies, uninviting cold temperatures that make people cocoon. It is well known that people get more depressed in the winter and rainy days.
4) The Protestant work ethic. More work, less play. Long hours, 3 jobs, long commutes. Less time for family, friends and community.
5) A more materialistic society. Acquiring goods only promotes temporary happiness. There are many poor folks in developing countries that claim to be very happy with very little.
6) The gun culture. The “cowboy and war movie” culture. The glorification of violence instead of diplomacy and negotiation.
7) Lifestyle. More processed foods, less fresh fruit and vegetables. Less walking and biking compared to other countries. Low nutrition diets and lack of exercise do not promote mental health.
8) Extreme individuality. The idea that everyone can “pull themselves through their bootstraps” makes people not look for help and suffer alone. Selfishness in intimate relationships that makes people never commit because they are waiting for the bigger better deal.
9) The cost of therapy. Mental health was not included in many health plans. Now, under the ACA, it will be. Nevertheless, most people cannot pay their share of the cost. Free services are few and sometimes not quality based, and people do not know where to find it. Clergy do not have the qualifications to help mentally ill people and sometimes only make it worse with religious prejudice.
Here are some staggering statistics about mental health in the US vs the rest of the world (from 2004): http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20040601/rate-of-mental-illness-is-staggering
Disclaimer: as with all my posts, there are always exceptions to the rule and this is only MY OWN observation. Others may have a completely different view:
There are many circumstances why people don’t have children. Some people never wanted children, and that is a personal preference that needs to be respected. Others never had the opportunity nor was it a goal in their lives. Others threw themselves into their demanding careers and never thought about having children (sometimes regretting it later). Others wanted to have a free and hard partying lifestyle, and settling down with one person and being unable to enjoy life for maybe 2 decades seemed like hell on earth.
Whether it was a personal decision or just life circumstances, adults who never had children differ a bit from others from my observation:
First, having not gone through the stages of parenthood and all the sacrifice it entails, people over 40 who never had children seem to have a more selfish lifestyle. They are not used to care for others, only for themselves. They don’t have to think what someone else wants to eat, take them here and there, take care of them when they are sick, change diapers and stay home while their friends are partying. They party well into their 50’s and 60’s as if they were still 25. They relate better with younger people who have no family obligations. Their lives have no structure: they don’t have regular meal times and tend to go to bed very late and sleep in. They are used to living alone and resent sharing their space or personal belongings. When in a relationship, they usually make decisions that don’t involve the other person, since they don’t have the habit of considering others’ needs.
People without children tend to have more pets, often dogs or cats who they treat as their kids. They also tend to spoil their nieces and nephews-people with children don’t often do that with theirs. On the other hand, while people without children may become more selfish over time, they sometimes also feel the need to assist others more-which is a good thing. It may derive from their need to “father” or “mother” someone, to nurture. Finally, people without children seem to invest more time in charities and causes-often a substitute for taking care of children, and sometimes like to work in professions that involve children (think headmistresses, clergy, nuns).
There is no right or wrong way to live one’s life. To have or not to have children is totally an individual choice, but there are some differences in the way people live and act.
I recently had an experience in my life of moving from a 8000 sq. feet new mansion to an older 1,200 sq. feet condo. The house had 6 bedrooms and 8 full bathrooms. My rented condo has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (thank goodness for the second bathroom!).
Which one do I like best? Obviously, the big house! Which one I am happier living at? The condo! And here is why:
1) The condo is close to work. My commute is 8 minutes as opposed to 40 minutes or more. The quality of life you gain in not being stuck in traffic is tremendous.
2) I always felt guilty living in such a huge house knowing that so many people have very bad living conditions.
3) The big house was isolating and far from other people. The condo is near everyone and everything. I can walk to shops and grocery stores.
4) I feel I have everything I need in a condo, except storage space. All you really need to live is a bed, a bathroom, a table to eat, a TV, a couch and a kitchen. Furthermore, lap tops and tablets are making the computer desk/room a thing of the past.
5) My community has a pool. My mansion had a pool. I was often alone in my pool whereas at my community I enjoy seeing and meeting other folks who live near me.
6) Even though I had a big house, not many people would come over, since the United States does not have the culture of visiting people at home. People prefer to meet in bars and restaurants. And how many big parties do you really throw in your life (unless you are someone famous), especially during a recession?
So for all those envying the beautiful big houses you see in advertisements or movies, ask yourself if the people inside are really happy…
There is a very big difference between working class immigrants and immigrants who arrived with a College Education in the United States. I happen to know many immigrants who had a middle to upper middle class upbringing in their country of origin and who decided to move to the United States because of better opportunities, higher salaries or less crime. Some of them came with their parents who were diplomats, military personnel or post-graduate students.
The interesting thing is that these people have a harder time living in the USA than those who were really struggling in their countries. The reasons are listed below, and it does not apply to everybody as usual. Just some food for thought:
1) The USA is a “do it yourself” country. Many immigrants with privileged backgrounds were raised with maids who did everything from making their beds to pressing their clothes. They have difficulty with sometimes simple tasks as putting together an IKEA piece of furniture (ok, it’s not that easy…).
2) These foreigners still have the class system frame of mind. They still see themselves as “superior” to the working class folks. Therefore, when they are treated the same as everybody else, they resent it. They are used to being “respected” and getting their way.
3) At work, they feel they are “above” certain menial tasks and expect others to do the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively.
4) They don’t really belong to any groups. They are shunned by the working class immigrants from their countries who see them as too “snobby and classy”, they are shunned by white Americans who see them as too foreign (even if they happen to be Caucasian) and they are shunned by other ethnic communities that are more closed off. They end up having a few European friends or other few upper class immigrants from their own countries.
5) They have a more hedonistic nature that does not bode well in former Puritan America. Working hard is not something they are very used to, and they miss the long vacations and perks they used to know in their countries. They don’t understand why Americans only seem to work. Their favorite theme when with their friends is bashing America and Americans.
However, they don’t go back. And if they do, they come back once more. Why? Because deep down they know their country’s big class gap also means that there is more poverty. And they can’t stand seeing poverty and economic injustice anymore. When they go back to visit, they are appalled by inefficiency, lack of urban planning, dirty streets. Furthermore, they might have lost the connections they had when living in their country, and they fear not being able to have the same quality of life as in the USA. One of the ways for immigrants who came from a privileged background to feel good in America may be to either stay within their own cultural and class group or to become as Americanized as possible, shunning their accents & customs.
I have always been a defender of gay people. In the early 90’s I was a panelist in a debate show on TV in the city of Curitiba, Brazil, as a Sociologist. It was kind of a “The View” where many different topics were discussed, especially controversial ones. There was a moderator and 3 other professionals. One was a psychologist. There was also an audience that could make comments and questions. For many years I participated in this show until I moved away from Curitiba.
In one particular show where homosexuality was discussed, I recall saying that gay couples should have the same “rights” as heterosexual couples. I did not say “marriage” or even “legal union’ since back them gay marriage was not on the plate worldwide. Nevertheless, the first studies showing that gay people are born gay were being advertised, and I felt that discriminating and making gay people ”ashamed” of being gay just led to immense suffering and unfair treatment.
Which brings me to an interesting difference between gay men in America and gay men in Brazil: in Brazil, gay men are more out. They like to dress different from other men, and mix some feminine styles with a masculine wardrobe. Simply put, there is no doubt they are gay. They also act and talk more effeminate, oblivious to stares or sneering behind their backs. In America, gay men seem to hide their feminine side more. A few dare to wear earrings or a colorful scarf. The majority just dresses like any other guy. I have seen women hit on gay men without realizing they were not interested-because they were gay.
Does that mean that the Brazilian society is more tolerant to gay men? I don’t think so. Brazilians are more “out” in everything, including sexuality. Women dress sexier and show their bodies more. It is normal for straight men to wear small swim trunks (so called Speedos in America) and walk around without a shirt even in the streets. The entire nation of Brazil is more out, in every aspect. Therefore, gay men (and women) seem to be more out about their sexuality as well.
However, Brazil is far from accepting gay marriage. The Catholic Church makes sure of that (and now the growth of Evangelical churches makes it even worse). Abortion is not legal in Brazil, which is absurd. While in America discriminating against gay people at work or in life is protected by law, in Brazil people still make fun of gay people without any consequences. Gay couples walking hand in hand are cause shock (for that matter, most parts of America are also like that). But as with many other social advances, the gay cause is becoming stronger in America (I foresee gay marriage accepted in more and more states), which will spill over to Brazil eventually. Hopefully Brazil will also become a more secular society, with less influence of the old fashioned Catholic Church.
Here’s a good article about how gay people are born gay, for those who think they have a choice: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/jquirk/detail?entry_id=48335
I have done a lot of house hunting in the Washington DC suburbs over the past 13 years. I‘ve seen all types of houses, townhouses and some apartments. I have been to 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and brand new houses. It is quite fascinating how the changes in the way people live are markedly influenced by changes in society.
In older houses for example (even the ones that have been remodeled), bedrooms and bathrooms were much smaller. Closets were also small. People had a lot less toiletries. A woman would have a face cream, toothpaste, one lipstick and one perfume. A man had this shaving gear. Nowadays people have tons of lotions, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, eye cream, hand cream, hair products, make up, sunscreens, etc.
Clothes were much more expensive before they started being made in China and created with synthetic fibers. People had a lot less items in their closets. Shoes were very expensive, and so were sneakers. When I was a child jeans became popular but were still pricey, so you had one or two pairs of jeans and that was all.
Nowadays you can buy clothes for the price of a hamburger! Clothes are almost disposable items. You can wear them once and give them away or throw them out after a short while. Young women have 10 or more different pairs of jeans. People have clothes in every color and for every occasion, even those who just make ends meet. Some women have a huge collection of shoes. Therefore closet sizes have grown considerably over the last few decades.
The focus now is in the master suite. The couple is the main attraction, since the kid’s one day leave. Master bedrooms have grown in size, sometimes having a “sitting room” and its own fireplace. Even the spare bedrooms have grown in space to accommodate toys, TV, computers, etc. No one wants to sleep squeezed between two walls.
Higher ceilings became the norm. I won’t go as far as to say it’s because humans are taller, but it does give homes a more pleasant and open feeling.
Once a place to be hidden, kitchens became socializing spaces. People want to show off their kitchen and the use of expensive materials such as granite and steel appliances are becoming the norm. You don’t find this trend in Brazil because many families still have maids. As a remnant of the slavery days, the kitchen is still the place for servants.
Living rooms and Dining rooms:
Formal living and dining rooms are disappearing. People tend to socialize in open areas that include the kitchen, so a separate living room and/or dining room is rarely used. Why waste space with rooms that are not going to be used?
Computer rooms came to replace the former office, which was usually used by the head of the house. Computer rooms started showing up in houses in the 90’s, and I predict they will disappear once we have screens all over the house that double as TV and computer and more mobile gadgets such as tablets.
Every decade had its mark in the houses I have visited in the East Coast. I believe other parts of the United States, specially the warm areas such as California and Florida have had a different experience. What trend awaits us for the 10s? Are the MacMansions from the recent decades going to be extinct? Are new homes going to be smaller? Are homes going to be comprised by a large social area that includes a family room/kitchen and some big bedrooms with big bathrooms and big closets?
There are people who get older and complain all the time about how horrible it is to get older. These are the types who always see the glass half empty. Then there are those who are completely in denial of the effects aging have in their body, and like to repeat the mantra that “age is just a number”. They always avoid any reference to their real age and try to dress and behave like someone much younger. These are the types who see the glass always half full.
I think a better balance is to be a realist. You know there are changes happening to your body (and later unfortunately, to your mind) and you need to deal with them. However, you can have an active life and enjoy it as long as you live. There is no age where enjoying life and doing things you like is too old. Don’t let people tell you you are too old for this or for that. Do you want to go to medical school at the age of 60? Do it if you wish. Do you want to get married again at 80? Why not? Do you want to jump off a plane at 75 (like Bush Senior did)? Who can stop you? Do you want to wear boots at the age of 70? The hell with the naysayers. Do what you want and what pleases you.
As for the effects of aging, they are undeniable. If you are in the denial group, you can pretend they don’t affect you, but they will. Some women start feeling the effects of perimenopause in their late 30’s. Most people start losing their reading vision after 40. Very few don’t. That is a major impairment in the quality of one’s life, when you need reading glasses for everything, from reading instructions in a box of food to reading the panel of your car. As far as I know, there isn’t a laser eye surgery for farsightedness yet. When you get older, your bones and muscles give you more trouble. You feel more pains in your body, whether it’s on your feet, legs, back or neck. Even people who are athletic feel the strain in their muscles and bones. Your sleeping patterns change too. You are more plagued with insomnia and you start going to bed earlier, and waking up earlier too. As you age, your hearing might also not be the same anymore, and you need to raise the volume of your TV (especially for the “disco” generation like mine who used to dance in very noisy nightclubs and listen to music in “walkmens”..).
When it comes to your appearance, there are many things you can do to look younger. If you exercise daily, eat a healthy diet and moisturize your skin, you can slow down the aging process. If you do exterior maintenance like coloring your hair (grey hair ages a lot, especially in women), dressing young and wearing the right make up, you can also have a much more youthful look. However, no matter what you do, you can look GOOD for your age, but you will never look young again.
One of my friends works in a designer store where she talks to rich old women in a constant basis. Some of these women have plastic surgery from their forehead to their toe, and actually look nice. But my friend said that no matter how much surgery they had, she can tell exactly how old they are by looking at little things like their upper arm, neck and hands. Dead giveaway. That makes you think that you can’t hide your age forever, and that becoming obsessive about plastic surgery will only put your health and bank account at risk.
I understand that for middle aged folks looking good is important for their careers. In a recession and with a depressed job market, that is even more essential. In Brazil, more women hide their age than in America. Not only they hide their age more, they also lie a lot about it. The pressure to look young is worse in Brazil, where it is more acceptable for a man to date a much younger woman.
Aging is not fun and it is not easy, but somehow we have to accept that as a reality of life that affects everyone, and that the generations come and go. Try to be as healthy as possible and keep your health in check by going to the doctor and taking all the recommended tests. Do what makes you feel good. Don’t be in denial and obsessed with looking young but don’t see yourself as a has-been either.
One of the things that catch my attention in the USA, one of the largest and richest countries in the world, is how little health prevention is reinforced. We read articles about health but the focus seems to be in “miracle diets” and “how to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks” instead of how to eat healthy and exercise thus preventing several killers like heart disease and diabetes.
Add to that the cost of health insurance and the fact that many Americans don’t have any public type of health care, and you see why the hospitals are full of sick people. Many people wait until they are very sick to finally seek medical care. My daughter is a medical student and she sees it every day: people who are very unhealthy because they’ve destroyed themselves with bad foods, lack of exercise and smoking.
We do not see many government ads on TV about eating right and exercising. Public school cafeterias still sell garbage to the students. Many people get their food from convenience stores, which is filled with white flour, fat laden and sugary treats. There is little to none physical education in school. Kids now sit in front of the computer a lot and don’t play outside enough. Parents are overworked and have long commutes, so dinner sometimes is pizza or take out from a fast food restaurant.
Except for some advocates such as Anderson Cooper on CNN, little is said about prevention in the national media. The big food corporations fill TV ads with candy, soda and chips ads on channels viewed by children. I applaud Michelle Obama’s initiative when it comes to teaching children a more healthful lifestyle but I think it is not reaching enough people. The message is right but somehow it is not being effective. Fast food and processed foods are ingrained in the American lifestyle.
I have also not found one doctor in this country who told me I should eat right and exercise (see my post about the 5 minute doctors). There is no holistic approach and no interest in teaching people how to maintain their health. They are too hurried trying to see the most number of patients a day. There is actually a shortage of doctors in many areas in America.
The number of obese people, including children, in the USA is a shocker for the rest of the world. Somehow the past administrations have not been able to reach these people. It is a national disaster. When being fat is considered acceptable, and feeding children bad foods is a norm, the future of the citizens is compromised.
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