After 6 Decades of Marriage, No More Sex but Plenty of Intimacy

"I see friends' spouses die," a husband writes, "and it scares me. Losing my wife is my biggest fear."

old couple Flickr:Tobyotter.png

Flickr/Tobyotter

My article "Is My Marriage That Different from My Grandparents Marriage?" solicited email from older, married readers willing to describe the institution as they see it. What follows is one of several responses I'd like to share. Another is here. I'd love to read more responses, especially from women, who've yet to send any. They can be emailed to the address at the bottom of the item.

The reader writes:

My wife and I were born the same year during the Great Depression. We married at 19. We are still married and very much loving partners. Even though intercourse has gradually gone away, intimacy hasn't.

Would we have married later had attitudes toward sex been different? Perhaps. I am sure that mattered. I remember being refused condoms when I tried to buy them at the small town drug store where my college was located.

We have five children.

Like many in her generation, my wife stayed home with the kids till the last one was in school. She then completed her BA and MA degrees and had a very successful career. As an academic who came on the market during a time of educator shortage, I had the opportunity to move easily. I changed high school jobs three times before moving to complete my Ph.D. After that, we moved five times for professional reasons. The last, from abroad back to the U.S., was to follow a professional opportunity for my wife. We had moved abroad partly because she was unhappy at her job. In her late fifties, a foreign adventure also seemed attractive, and the salary was high.

We have an old fashioned division of labor. She does most of the cooking and house work. I manage the family finances and budgets. We do have a twice weekly cleaning person who does the heavy stuff. We also eat out four or five times a week. We travel three months each year, and I do all the planning and arranging for that.

How is our generation's notion of marriage different? First, we expected to stay married. We would have never thought about it not working out. Second, we didn't think about individual payoffs, but about being part of a unit, a family. We planned together and talked over any decision about what we did and where we went. I remember teaching a public speaking class and hearing, for the first time, a young woman speak about Betty Friedan and the need for woman to find fulfillment. I went home and asked my wife and her friend, also a young mother, if they were fulfilled. They laughed and said they were too busy to think about it. I don't think a young woman now would say that.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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