“Nearly fifty years after saying, “I Do,” they have made the decision to say, “I did, but not anymore.”
They got married in 1970.
It was the year Paul McCartney announced The Beatles had disbanded. It was the year that the Apollo 13 mission to the moon was aborted. Richard Nixon was president. DisneyWorld was about to open it’s gates for the first time and admission was $3.50. A gallon of gas cost 36¢. It cost 6¢ to mail a letter.
And now, after nearly 50 years of marriage, Grandma and Grandpa are calling it quits.
Actually, this isn’t unusual: more older Americans are getting divorced these days than ever before. Growing old together, sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the retirement home, reminiscing about the lives they have built together, may be a fading memory.
Grandma and Grandpa aren’t happy. At age 75, they believe that statistically they have a good 10-20 years of life ahead of them. Grandma doesn’t want to spend her final decade or two with Grandpa by her side. Grandpa wants to spend his last decades doing what he enjoys without feeling any guilt. He’s tired of being “dragged along” to the things she wants to do. They have been growing apart for years, and now have completely different interests. Grandma wants to travel. Grandpa wants to stay at home. Grandpa wants to move to a renovated condo. Grandma wants to stay in their three-bedroom ranch. Grandma wants to play bridge and surround herself with laughter and activity. Grandpa wants to hang out in his garage and work on his 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
So, nearly fifty years after saying, “I Do,” they have made the decision to say, “I did, but not anymore.”
People are living longer, and the idea of spending 10-20 years with someone who you don't really love anymore can be a devastating and depressing thought. That’s a mighty long time. Forget love. That’s a long time to hang out with someone that you don’t even enjoy spending time with - period.
Marriage doesn’t have an “at fault” anymore and divorce doesn’t carry the stigma it once did. Simply growing apart, and realizing that they would be happier alone, has led many older couples to uncouple. With more dual-income households, and more independence on the part of both men and women, the traditional need to stay married for financial reasons seems to be disappearing. Grandma went back to work after the kids started high school and she’s financially independent. Grandpa learned to cook and “fend for himself” when Grandma traveled for work. The traditional roles they held when they first married have blurred and disappeared.
What about the “in sickness and in health” part of their wedding vows? Certainly growing older is statistically where those vows would come into play. Not anymore. Who is going to take care of Grandma and Grandpa “in sickness”? Likely, it will be one or more of their children. Yup, the “sandwich generation” just got sandwiched a bit more.
It’s sad when you think about how much history they have together. They moved six times during the course of their marriage. They have friends dotted across the country from Seattle to Charleston. They have three adult children and five precious grandkids. They have 50 years of savings together that now need to be divided. They live in a house that carries no mortgage. They have pensions and retirement plans.
And, all of that history – five decades worth – isn’t compelling enough for them to say, “We’ll suck it up for another one or two decades.” Instead, they are opting to divide and conquer. They will divide up the life they have built, and conquer the judgments that others will make of them.
They know that people will talk and cast judgment. It will seem absurd to so many people that after this many years they are calling it quits. “You made it this far… seriously, you should just go enjoy your golden years together.” The problem is just that. They want to enjoy their “golden years,” but the thought of enjoying them together is painful.
But, it is what it is. Grandma and Grandpa are getting divorced … “You reach a point where you say, ‘This is not the way I want to live,’ and you move out and move on.” No more Christmas Eve tradition eating dinner at Applebees. No more mountain hikes with the grandkids. No more family game nights.
This is unchartered territory for so many families, and also territory that more families are finding themselves exploring. AARP-eligible couples are choosing divorce and this late-life divorce has been branded “Silver Divorce.” According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, in 2014, people age 50 and above were twice as likely to go through a divorce than in 1990. For those over 65, the increase was even higher.
The ramifications are tremendous.
What do you think?
Post-Note: Grandma and Grandpa as described in this article are an amalgamation of several people, and are not a direct reflection of my parents! (Right Mom? Feel better? Caveat delivered!).