Why it Gets Tougher with Age

Not so long ago, I was wondering about why things are so difficult with people in the dating world. It seems to work about the same as it does with kids. At an early age, you can just walk up to a kid and say, “Hey! You wanna be friends?!” and they probably will say yes, or they will call you a stinky pants and run away. I’ve seen my own kids make instant friends with kids on the playground before and they will never see them again. It doesn’t really seem to bother them too much.

Friendship, as with dating, when you are an adult gets harder the older you get. Sometimes people attribute that to “I’m too old for this bullshit” and they are usually fine with their own circle of people who will eventually begin to die off beginning in your forties and fifties. By the time you are in a home and too cranky to make new friends or date anyone, you’re hitting the end of your life yourself.

I could probably count the number of new friends I’ve made in the last couple years on one hand. Even then we aren’t that close.

One of the big reasons for this is not because we harden off like tree bark or something. It’s because as we get older, we develope a value system. For those who are heavy into the church, there is a preassigned value system that gets bought into. “Are you into Jesus? I’m into Jesus!” then they get married and the church tells them if they are a happy couple or not.

Okay, that was a little cynical. But I’ve seen it. Like, no, really.

The thing is that in your middle years, you have seen some stuff. You’ve been hurt. You’ve hurt others. You’ve made mistakes. But it’s less of sticking your hand in the fire and getting hurt and more that over the decades, you’ve build an accepted system of values. And given enough time, your values can get pretty dialed in.

When I was just hitting the dating scene in college, I went on a couple dates. Neither romances lasted all that long. A big reason was because I confused values with differences. One girl called movies “flicks” and for some reason that bothered me. Next! The other girl didn’t know the difference between R2D2 and C3PO. At the time, that was something I thought somebody ought to know if they were going to be around me. Neither of them worked out.

Those were not values. That was just having a large enough pool of available women to be ridiculously picky. There is a long list of stupid excuses I have had over the years to not be with someone. Those reasons had very little to do with values.

But as you get older, you do acquire values. You see how someone might treat a server or how they talk about their kids or how they treat animals. I once dated someone who said they would let their dog run all over the mountains and if it got eaten by a bear, then it got eaten by a bear. WTF?! There are important values that might not mesh with your own and it is up to you to decide whether or not it is worth your time to continue in a pursuit. After all, none of us is getting any younger.

Some values are okay to examine and you don’t have to tell yourself you are being picky. I’ve heard and seen for myself a lot of these kinds of things. The list is not in any order of importance, and isn’t exhaustive.

  • Drug use
  • Alcoholism
  • Empathy (or lack thereof)
  • Psychological disorders
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Their opinion of children
  • How they treat animals
  • Ethics
  • Their views on monogamy/sex/etc.
  • Faith/religion
  • Politics
  • Communication style
  • Effort
  • Personal hygiene
  • Mental health
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Respecting boundaries
  • Honor, loyalty, respect, etc.

In my case, I dated someone on and off for three years. She hated coffee. She tried to get me to quit. That was a red flag and I should have stayed the hell away. It’s right up there with someone saying “I hate dogs. If you want me around you’re going to have to get rid of Penny.” Nope.

The vice wasn’t the problem. It was her desire to determine what mine were and how should could influence them that was. The nice little carrot and stick she used was she wouldn’t kiss me if I had drunk coffee in the last 24 hours.

When I was a kid, I was taught to identify values based on a person’s vices. A family legend tells that once someone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to drink beer and carouse like my uncle Gary. People laughed. My mom was probably secretly scandalized.

Vices reflected values. No matter that some of the best people I know have vices. And some of the worst I’ve known would have fit that mold of being squeaky clean and virtuous that I was raised to identify. I don’t have a lot of vices, because I was taught that having vices showed whether you were a good person or a bad person. As I have gotten older, I have learned that vices have nothing to do with being good or bad. But, my lack of vices probably means I’m not as fun at social events. And I was a judgemental prick for most of my adult life. And some of those who didn’t have vices that I was involved with turned out to be snake mean.

Values determine values. Vices usually just mean that someone has made a personal choice and it isn’t up to me to judge them for that unless they are hurting someone else with them. In my opinion, vices are fine in moderation. Just like anything else. I’ve got some of my own. You do you.

But values are important. Values establish foundation for boundaries. Somebody who is mean to kids or animals does not fit with my values. I could list what fits in with my values, but that’s my business. I’m not building a resume here. Sometimes values don’t mesh and they don’t have to.

I think people have enough wiggle room to allow for some variance in values. But some are that hill you are willing to die on.

Knowing who’s who in Star Wars is a lot less important to me now, and I also know it isn’t a value. The older we get the more specific we become, so that is where tolerance fits in. And if we don’t find tolerance, we have to have the security in knowing that we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and it’s fine doing our own thing.

Values aren’t the pop you drink, the truck you drive, or other things like that. Values are how you treat yourself. How you treat others. Some of these were are all still works in progress. But it is good to understand what works and what doesn’t. Some are things we can live with. Others, not so much.

So when your friends are asking you why it’s so hard to meet new people (dating or otherwise), and a lot of that probably has to do with their value systems. Otherwise, not worrying about dealing with someone else’s systems might be a lot of work, especially if you find yourself tiptoeing around it. Or discovering a lack of values.

Last Looks

There’s a quote that is attributed to Buddha, but I guess its veracity is such that it might as well be something from Mark Twain. “The problem is we think we have time.” It resonnates with Solomon in Eccelsiastes. And even if the Buddha didn’t say it, it rings true. We always think we have more time. Even now with the world behind held hostage in this pandemic. Our life expectancies have gotten higher than any other time in history. And yet…it isn’t just death, but the ends of things we take for granted.

I have several moments in my life which were last looks I had with someone, though I didn’t realize it until later. I’m tired of those moments, though I’m sure my life will be riddled with them until that ultimate Last Look.

In just a couple days, it will be the seven year anniversary of the beginning of my journey through divorce. Or lately as I’ve called it a house fire that has been burning for the better part of the decade. I talk about it plenty of times because when I was heavily considering making that change in my life, there wasn’t much out there to support me. The first page of a Google search was a lot of links to “Work harder to preserve your marriage.” They advocated counseling, all sorts of things that had been tried and were only perpetuating an unhealthy situation. That fire had already been burning and it was time to get out.

The last look I remember on the morning of Halloween, 2014 was that of my then-wife frantically clicking on the computer to buy Christmas presents on Amazon because “The kids should at least get Christmas.” She had found out that the papers were about to be served and wasn’t happy. She didn’t even look up from the computer when I walked out of the house. The kids were another story. The older kids were dressed as Walter and the Dude from the Big Lebowski for their Halloween parties at their middle school. As I dropped them off in front of their school, I called out, “Hey! I love you!” My son didn’t even look back. Just the unidirectional purposefulness of his mind telling him to get to class. My daughter turned and looked back, but didn’t say anything back. She just ran to class. They were never the same after that.

About a month ago, I was walking to get the mail. A former classmate of mine who I never really got along that great with was turning the corner as I was crossing the street. He raised his hand in a rare greeting, and for once, I waved back. A few days later, I learned that he had been found dead in his tiny apartment later that day. I might have been one of the last people to see him alive. What a strange moment to reflect on.

In August of 2009, I stood beside my grandpa’s hospital bed. My aunt was there and she called to him “Grandpa! Clint’s here!” His eyes fluttered open for a moment and his head lolled over to look towards us, but they closed again. His leg was black with gangrene. His kidneys had stopped functioning. I signed off on the papers that said “no heroic efforts” and they stopped treatment to clean his blood. They kept him comfortable, as they say. By the afternoon, he was gone. It was a last look I could have skipped. But it gave me closure, knowing that he was no longer suffering. That he had reached the end.

In March 2020, we were at the beginning of this pandemic. It was a Sunday night and my girlfriend at the time was about to spend Spring Break on a road trip with her family. I was originally going to go with them, but my youngest was coming back to me from Spring Break before their trip was going to end. So I bowed out. We spent the day together and ended the evening watching TV together on the couch. Her head in my lap as I brushed her hair to spoil the hell out of her. She nearly fell asleep like that. When it was time for her to go, it was beginning to snow. A chilly, wet evening with big heavy spring flakes falling almost like slush on shiny black streets. We knew quarantines were coming. Two weeks to flatten the curve. We kissed and because I was standing in the cold in my sock feet, she told me to go back inside before I got cold. She rolled up the window and waved as she drove off into the night.

Six weeks later, the quarantine had changed the world. We talked almost every night until the end, but I never saw her again. I was blocked. Erased. Forgotten. So easily too. No second chances. No regrets.

In July, I didn’t know I would have another moment like that. But, you never really see those moments until it seeps into your consciousness that they have happened. Kissing someone goodbye on their porch. Too many times. Maybe you knew it. Maybe you could have stopped with one kiss “until next time” but it became half a dozen until you were both laughing and they were telling you “Go!” and laughing with every kiss. Maybe you knew there would be no next time. Maybe you always know at those defining moments. If you realized it at the time it would break your heart. You’d never have been able to leave.

When I was a kid I wasn’t much of a reader. I could hardly get through a Dr. Seuss book. In Jr. High I started reading the Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, in which a bunch of college kids get sent into a Dungeons and Dragons type universere and are stuck there for the rest of their (usually short) lives. After that I read a LOT. One character in particular, a thief/frat guy by the name of Walter Slovatsky became one of my favorite characters. He had a series of quotes known as Slovatsky’s Laws. The one that seems resonant with all of this is this one:

When you say goodbye to a friend, assume that one of you is going to die before you ever get to see one another again. If you want to leave something unsaid, fine…but be prepared to leave it unsaid forever.

Walter Slovatsky

Things like this hit differently when you are older. It fucks with your abandonment issues. Your lack of closure. It’s not always a death, but certainly the end of something. You have to grieve the good and the bad. Grief is what allows them to become memories. Pile on enough of those memories and I guess that’s what gives us baggage. It’s hard out there. It’s hard to stay “good” when you just see patterns repeating. When you begin to suspect that every look back could be the last.

If you live long enough, I’d imagine it becomes more and more likely that those last looks back could be your last.

Wiggle Your Big Toe

Sometimes you don’t get the happy ending you’ve always dreamed of.

You don’t get the apology you deserved.

You don’t get the goodbye they always promised if the time came.

“Lots of excuses come from lots of fears,” someone once told me.

You don’t get a consolation prize.

What you do get is the freedom to move forward.

To forgive without ever knowing if you were forgiven.

To fill that numb void with other things.

To convince yourself that it didn’t mean something.

Smile and don’t let anyone see that you are like the Cheshire Cat and the smile is the last thing to fade once the rest of you is gone.

To stop bleeding on other people who didn’t cut you.

To wiggle your big toe and start walking again.

Now.

Wiggle. Your. Big. Toe.