As I pointed out in my last post, there
doesn’t seem to be isn’t a rash of late life divorce in either the US or the UK. This however doesn’t discourage the media from its full court press to sell divorce to older women. Most of their sales pitches are typical hamster food, like the article in The Times by Helen Rumbelow: An inconvenient truth about late-life divorce. The subtitle pretty much says it all:
The separation after 40 years of Al Gore and his wife Tipper reflects an increasing trend for splitting up in old age — but is it such a bad thing?
In the article we get the usual doses of “everyone is doing it”, along with female martyrdom, linking divorce with empowerment, and the empirically inaccurate assumption that divorce makes people happy:
In talking to people who escaped a marriage when they were issued with their Freedom bus pass, I realise that I kind of admire them for not crumbling away into her kitchen and his garage and silently rancorous mealtimes.
If I had to grade the author on her skills at selling divorce, I would give her a solid B. This kind of consistent plodding is how the war on marriage is won. There isn’t anything imaginative or flashy about it, but she has her fundamentals squared away and turns out a solid article selling divorce. She also does a bang up job of confusing her readership on what the AARP actually found when studying late life divorce:
A study of post-40 divorce by the American support group for older people, AARP, found that 60 and 70-year-olds appreciate life after divorce the most of any of the ages, citing a fresh lease of life from forging a new identity.
A rookie might have noticed that the AARP study actually found that women often fared quite badly after late life divorce, and avoided the study altogether.
But not everyone at The Times is satisfied with good enough. Dr. Louann Brizendine clearly has what it takes to go the extra mile. She came up with the ingenious plan of telling women that they will make their best decisions while in the grips of menopause! Her masterpiece is titled: All Change (H/T Dan S). The piece opens with a typical female martyr, who of course is fit and attractive and sure to find a better man:
Sylvia woke up one day and decided, this is it. I’m done. I want a divorce. It had become clear to her that her husband, Robert, was unavailable and ungiving. She was tired of listening to his tirades and fed up with his demands. But what really pushed her over the edge was when she found herself in the hospital for a week for an intestinal blockage and he visited her only twice. Both times he came to ask questions about running the house.
At least this is how Sylvia, an attractive woman with brown hair, bright blue eyes and a spring in her step, explained it to me during a therapy session. Since her early twenties, she felt she had spent most of her time taking care of needy, self-absorbed people. She had fixed their problems, pulling them out of alcoholism or abusive situations, and in return they had sucked her emotionally dry.
At 54, she was still very attractive and felt full of energy.
I know this is all standard fare, but even when creating your masterpiece you can’t omit the fundamentals. Next we learn that Sylvia’s new found marital angst is not due to her being in the throws of a life altering hormonal change, but in fact the opposite:
What astounded her more than anything was that she felt as though a haze had lifted recently, and she could see in a way she hadn’t been able to before. For 28 years she had chauffeured, nurtured and loved her three children, made sure home-work was done, dinner was eaten and the house didn’t fall apart. Now, out of nowhere, she found herself asking, why?
If we took our MRI scanner into Sylvia’s brain, we’d see a landscape quite different from that of a few years before. A constancy in the flow of impulses through her brain circuits has replaced the surges and plunges of oestrogen and progesterone caused by the menstrual cycle. Her brain is now a more certain and steady machine.
Having explained that menopause causes women to make better decisions, the author masterfully ties this back to the themes of female martyrdom and women being trapped in marriage:
This can happen precipitously and the problem is that Sylvia’s family can’t see from the outside how her internal rules are being rewritten. One day she turned to Robert and said: “You’re a grown-up and I’m finished raising the kids. Now it’s my turn to have a life.” Robert couldn’t believe what he was hearing. For instance: “Make your own damn dinner or go out by yourself. For the last time, I’m not hungry. I’m happy painting right now and I don’t feel like stopping.”
Next the author takes on the common misconception that menopause can make women less rational. She explains that the real problem was in the past, when she was more likely to moderate her emotions:
But as Sylvia hit menopause, the filters came off, her irritability increased and her anger wasn’t headed for that extra “stomach” any more, to be chewed over before it came out. Her ratio of testosterone to oestrogen was shifting, and her anger pathways were becoming more like a man’s. The calming effects of progesterone and oxytocin weren’t there to cool off the anger either. The couple had never learnt to process and resolve their disagreements. Now Sylvia confronted Robert with regularity, venting decades of pent-up rage. The children were also affected. Sylvia had reported that her daughter had said: “Mom, you’re acting weird and dad is getting scared. He’s afraid you’ll do something crazy — like take all the money and run away.” Sylvia wasn’t crazy but she wasn’t the same woman. She told me that her husband had once screamed at her: “What have you done with my wife?” Sylvia had changed the rules of the relationship and no one had told Robert.
Now it is time to weave in the “everyone else is doing it” argument:
It is commonly believed that men leave their ageing, chubby, postmenopausal wives for fertile, younger, thin women. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Statistics indicate that more than 65 per cent of divorces after the age of 50 are initiated by women. My suspicion is that much of this female-initiated divorce is rooted in the drastically altered reality of postmenopausal women. (But as I have seen in my practice, it could also be because they are tired of putting up with difficult or cheating husbands and have just been waiting for the day when the children leave home.)
Note that the author doesn’t get caught up trying to explain why menopausal women initiate divorce at the same rate as non menopausal women. This would only confuse her audience.
After some more female martyrdom and uplifting tales of how divorce empowered our menopausal hero, the author adds one final sweetener while removing another obstacle in many women’s minds. We learn that Sylvia ultimately gets back together with her husband, now having benefited from the power she gained by showing him she would divorce:
There’s a lot of life left after menopause, and embracing work passionately allows a woman to feel regenerated. Two years after their separation, Sylvia realised that she missed Robert. He was the only one she could talk to about certain things, including their children. One day he invited her to dinner and she decided to accept. They met, talked calmly about what had gone wrong and ended up apologising for the unhappiness they had caused each other. They also had new experiences to share and over time they rediscovered their friendship and respect for each other and realised that they had already found their soul mates. They just needed to rewrite the contract.
Other authors should use this technique more. Many would-be divorcées are deterred by the bleak dating reality they witness other women experiencing. While they likely haven’t given up their dream of a secret multimillionaire hunky handyman, at some level they probably know better. You need to remove their fear that they could be making an irrevocable decision during a time of great life change. If you feel that it is too much of a stretch to suggest that they could remarry their ex husband after divorcing him, suggest instead that it will make them best friends. Under no circumstances should you share the findings of the AARP study in this regard (P 41):
Divorcees may not have any contact with their ex‐spouses at all, true among almost a third (31%). They may remarry the same person, but very rarely, as occurred among two percent. A total of about one in twenty (6%) either remarry the same person (2%) or had sex with their spouse either occasionally (3%), or often (1%).
In addition, 27 percent were friendly afterwards while 35 percent were not friendly but talked once in a while.