[This post is part of a series, inspired by the book Why Men Lie and Women Cry (2003) by Allan & Barbara Pease. Previous entry: Chapter Twelve]
The main premise of this chapter is that because of “the different brain structure and different priorities that men and women have”, retirement is a much harsher and more traumatic experience for men, and “can even contribute to premature death”. According to the book, this health warning also “applies to men who win the lottery or inherit large sums of money, and the younger it happens, the worse their experience.” (p. 296) I’m always a little confused when I read reports about lottery winners killing themselves, claiming the money ruined their lives, because I have specific plans and dreams which could only come to pass after I’d won a massive windfall. (In case you’re curious, I’d go into film production, so that I could not only get my own scripts made, but also ensure that my favourite auteurs got the financing they needed, and that my favourite performers stayed on the screens where they belong… whether the general public want them there or not! True, my company would probably fold after four or five years, because I’d focus more on making Art, than making Money… but what a legacy we’d leave!)
Anyhoo, as the title suggests, this ennui is all down to man’s evolution as a “hunter” whose highly developed “visual-spacial” awareness allowed him to throw pointy things at furry things, before using his bulging biceps to drag the carcass home for his family to nosh on. But then… oh noes! “By the end of the eighteenth century, advanced farming techniques meant hunting for food was no longer a priority. To deal with the frustration of no longer being required to chase and hit a target, men used two substitutes – work and sport… Consequently, 90% of all modern ball sports originated between AD 1800 and 1900 as a replacement for hunting.” (p. 298) Even worse than that, advances in medical science meant a gradual increase in life expectancy, resulting in the invention of what we now call “retirement”. The typical male brain, hardwired as it is for achievement, reacts poorly to being rendered unemployed… which is something even a work-shy fop like myself can relate to, because I hate not having a script or a blog entry to work on… neither actually puts food on the table, of course, but they do give me a sense of accomplishment and productivity. Yay?
Women, on the other hand, “tend to move smoothly into retirement without problems and just ‘get on with life’… [because] women usually judge their self-worth by the quality of their relationships.” Also, a “woman’s identity is multifaceted. She can be income-earner, carer, mother, grandmother, homemaker, socialiser, companion, wife and lover, at any given time, and often all at once. When a woman’s income-earning life ends, she continues on with all the other facets of her life. In other words, a woman retains her identity.” (p. 299) So… women FTW there, because it’s this very loss of identity that seems to do men the most damage. Now I’m getting flashbacks to Death of a Salesman, and the deterioration of Willy Lomam’s grip on reality, as his prowess as a provider wanes, and he attempts to recast himself as a consultant and mentor. “Even if they never much liked their work, [men] still want the ‘hunting pack’ to need them to continue the chase… [but] the newer generation have their own ideas and solutions, and now feel free to implement them and trial new ways of doing things without consultation” (p. 302/3) Again, I can relate to this, because I got a little taste of it when I graduated… I had been heavily involved with the student magazine for my three years at uni, and couldn’t quite give it up, even when I started working a proper day-job. “A man’s loss of identity is, in many ways, similar to the death of a loved one. They begin with denial, followed by depression, anger, and hopefully, eventually, acceptance.” (p. 303) The book’s description of the depression that can set in after retirement also sounds worryingly familiar.
Meanwhile, I see a lot of my own parents in the description of how resentment can grow between retired couples, as their dynamic changes, and the amount of time they spend in each others’ faces increases. As ever, a good rule of thumb seems to be that “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, and the rest of the chapter is taken up with advice on how a retiree might constructively organise and fill their remaining time on this plane of existence. Rather disappointingly “spiritual activities” are given short shrift, casually shrugged off in just three lines of text, with meditation and yoga being described merely as “hobbies”. (p. 311) I take it from this that the authors are not especially spiritual people… well, from this, and the 310 pages that came before it! Ho ho. Still, I do owe the Peases my sincere thanks for giving my monotracking brain a good workout over the last two weeks… and, now that we’ve reached the final chapter, I am left to see how everything I’ve learned will filter through into my own writing, as I stare out into the abyss of unscheduled time, and the blank page beyond. Eep!
[In case you’re wondering about the pictures, I should probably explain. Ever since I started reading this book, the references to our cave-dwelling days kept reminding me of the Harold Ramis comedy Year One (2009)… and, more specifically, of Juno Temple dressed in a skimpy fur outfit flirting with her tribe’s hunkiest hunters, while snubbing Michael Cera’s shy and sensitive “gatherer” type. Technically, Jack Black’s character does “retire” from the hunting pack at the start of the story, so it kinda works… but mostly, I just wanted to post these screencaps. And now I’m left wondering if there’s a gap in the market for a female-fronted sitcom set during our primitive past… like a cross between Chelmsford 123 and Gladiatress? Those shows weren’t terribly successful, of course, but all the more reason to take another swipe at the material, I guess. Hmmm…]