It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and, since I have something of an aversion to enforced jollity – for example, the last time I recall being up to see in the New Year in was the Millennium and that shouldn’t really count as I’d actually gone to bed shortly before 8.00pm and found myself coming awake again at 11.40pm and so got up, made myself a coffee and watched the London fireworks going off on the television in the corner of my front room as I began the day shift – I have to be wary lest I reveal myself to be a boring old curmudgeon.
In which context yesterday I happened to come across a report in the Daily Mail on the detailing the results of a survey conducted by Gransnet, a new website which is apparently a spin-off from the supposedly fashionable Mumsnet that is specifically aimed at oldies.
Said survey, conducted in association with Relate, was designed to ‘give a true picture of sex and love in later years’ and involved assessing responses from 634 Gransnet users aged between 51 and 85 who were asked what things made relationships last.
Allegedly 98% said that trust was important, with kindness, mutual support, communication and friendship also being frequently mentioned. Following closely behind came love and a sense of humour. Sex was regarded as important only by two-thirds of those surveyed, and approximately 50% said that they were conscious that younger generations didn’t like to think of oldies having sex and/or never themselves mentioned the topic with friends and family.
Although those taking part in the survey who had been in a relationship for over a year – of which the couples involved had racked up an average 32 years together – said that sex had improved over time. Most of them said that a key factor in keeping passion alive was ‘having a good imagination’.
When it came to the real nitty-gritty, just 2% said they made love every day, about a third said they ‘did it’ once a week and a quarter in long-term relationships said they never had sex at all.
In the last group, about 43% said they missed it but the majority (57%) claimed they were perfectly happy without it.
One of life’s eternal mysteries is that of trying to unlock the reasons that two people become attracted to each other – beyond the patently obvious fundamental aspect of sexual desire, I mean.
I’d venture to suggest that two relevant and related factors are firstly, that before anyone can seriously think about making anyone else happy they have to be ‘in a good place themselves’ and secondly, the wonderful experience of feeling that you have met someone who – next after yourself, of course – you would actively want to make happy.
There’s plenty to be said for both.
And yet. And yet, as often as not, there’s a disconnection between sheer animal attraction and the more complex experience of building a life together.
The one is all about random chance and living for today – e.g. eyes meeting across a room at a crowded party, finding yourself sitting close to someone on public transport (crowded or not), or – after an animated or even argumentative dinner party conversation which began with neither of you having any expectations at all – discovering that others have left the room and that the pair of you are suddenly conversing on a different, more intimate, level.
The other is about living day-to-day primarily with the future in mind – pursuing a career or careers, concentrating upon issues of buying a place to live … or indeed the next place to live … and then nest-building and planning a family. And then planning holidays, school choices and responsibly bringing offspring up.
In theory, the two needn’t be – but often end up being – mutually incompatible.
Nearly twenty years ago I was running a company that had a financial adviser working with us for over a year at the behest of a major shareholder, during which he and I became good mates. A year or so after the stint ended, he and I met for dinner and out of the blue he confided in me that he and his wife, both Catholics, were getting divorced.
For all the time I had known him they had seemed a near-perfect couple with four splendid kids now in their twenties and making their way in life, so my first question in response was both natural and inevitable – “Why?”
He replied in a strangely matter-of-fact way that one day he’d woken up the realisation that for the past thirty years (his eldest child was 28) his entire life away from work and been devoted to being a parent. Dealing with school issues, endlessly chauffeuring his kids to school or other activities, organising and paying for family holidays, getting his kids on the property ladder, and so on … all of which had been done with relative success and satisfaction. And now his kids were off his and his wife’s hands, forging ahead with building their own lives.
Being over-brutal and ‘to the point’ about it, one day not long before we dined he had looked at his wife across the breakfast table and come to the realisation that – concentrating as they had upon their family life to the exclusion of almost everything else – they had simply and inexorably grown apart. He became overwhelmed with a sense that, with the kids all having flown the nest, he and his wife now had absolutely nothing in common (well, expect the kids).
A short while later he broached the subject and his wife readily agreed with his conclusion. It was almost as if she’d ‘got their first’ but had not wished to raise the subject.
And thus they agreed to part, he (as a good Catholic would) harbouring a considerable burden of guilt but finding solace – as indeed his wife did, or so he told me – in the theme that, at the end of the day, it was actually a more positive thing to split up and go their separate ways in this situation, i.e. rather than stay together simply out of habit or because somehow ‘they felt they ought to’.
[I ought to add here that I subsequently lost touch with both parties and so have no idea whether today they are blissfully happy living their separate lives, or have found love with new partners … or indeed are both visiting their personal shrinks twice a week in order to give vent to their feelings of general unhappiness.]
Anyway, as an aid to those who are romantically inclined and/or interesting in such things, to finish with today here’s a link to an article that appears today upon the website of – THE DAILY TELEGRAPH