We call the elderly "adorable." We call love in the golden years "cute." We should stop, says Joan Wickersham. She makes a powerful case against the infantilization of the elderly with a simple story. Writing in the Boston Globe, Wickersham recounts her mother's "stormy" relationship with a man she met while in assisted living. "They were two adults conducting a complicated adult romance," she says. "Their bodies were frail ... But their minds were sharp, and their feelings were intense." Her mother debated dumping the man when he arrived late for meals or ignored her to attend to other women. She laughed at herself, saying it reminded her of high school.
Partly she meant that she had not expected to be hit hard by love at this point in her life--to feel so giddy, so raw, so turned on, so uncertain. She'd believed in the myth that love among older people is wise, mature, asexual--that all the wild oats of youth eventually get boiled down into some bland porridge called "companionship." My mother and her friend certainly valued companionship. They played bridge and Scrabble together, listened to music, talked about their lives and their families. But my mother also got an aide to take her to the mall in her wheelchair, so that she could buy a negligee.
Why, asks Wickersham, do we "infantilize older people when it comes to love and sex"? Perhaps, she muses, "we're scared of the idea of frail bodies and strong passions. We want to tame old age, make it diminutive and cozy." Perhaps it's the only way we can deal with--or deliberately not deal with--the prospect of our own later years.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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