Got Maturity? Fighting Is Tricky When You're Older

red boxing gloves hanging on...
red boxing gloves hanging on...

A few days before my 38th birthday, my best friend and I were enjoying a gossip session on her backyard terrace. We sipped wine, nibbled on cheese and she told me about her father's latest fight with his live-in girlfriend. He was 78, she was 73.

"This might be it," my friend chuckled. "Last night she locked him out of the house and threw his suits, shirts, underwear, and shaving stuff out of their bedroom window." We guffawed. Old people acting like -- well, the rest of us. How gross is that?

Now I know that senior love affairs are every bit as physically intense and emotionally draining as those of the young.

Older couples' brawls, not unlike those of their younger counterparts, are usually triggered by minor annoyances. Something that would ordinarily be written off is magnified (she stayed too long at the office; he threw his dirty socks on the floor). Underneath lie the substantive reasons, the ones that are rarely acknowledged.

All couples battle, and sometimes someone packs up and heads for the door. Here's where it gets more complicated for post 50s than it is for younger pairs. Google "breakup" and you'll find a ton of advice for 20- and 30-somethings, all of which adds up to, "Get over him/her and get ready for your next love."

This is good advice for someone who's looking to live out another six or seven decades. But time will be less generous to 50-plus couples. What if a serious fight leads to a permanent break? If you're over 60 you could be alone for the rest of your life. This is especially true if you're a woman.

According to a Harvard Health Publications special report on sexuality and aging, "a woman's chances of finding a new mate in her age bracket dwindles yearly," and because there are only 7 men for every 10 women by the time we reach 65, women are in for a scramble if they want to find a partner. Numbers aren't the whole story, of course, and men face barriers too, including things like performance anxiety and guilt about starting a late-in-life relationship.

No, the answer isn't "Don't fight." Fights happen. The answer is more like, "Keep fights reasonable and get over them fast." Reasonable means:

  • no name calling
  • no cheap-shot accusations of sexual ineptitude
  • no invidious comparison to persons dated earlier, then discarded for cause

Some time ago, before we learned better, I had an unreasonable fight with my live-in partner, whom I like to call PASHA. "You're demanding -- exactly like ________ was!" he stormed. I was dumbfounded. "Get out!" I snarled, and during the hour it took him to angrily pack up his things, I mostly stayed with my "good riddance" feelings.

Because our relationship thrives on a silly humor which, if heard by outsiders would brand us as geezers even older than we actually are, his phoned plea for reconciliation ended with a quip. " won't take me -- they dropped their over-the-hill category," he said wryly, underscoring our shared understanding that "get over it and get ready for your next love" sounds ridiculous at our age.

If you're in a teen-type hormonal tizzy, a measured and careful way of fighting will seem lackluster in the extreme. Those who are young -- and those who imagine they are -- are known to instigate down-and-dirty mêlées purely for the pleasure of making up with equal vigor. "Don't go to bed mad; stay up and fight," Phyllis Diller famously said, and her comment certainly implies some physical intensity -- both in the fight's duration and in its much more fun and juicier denouement. I admit that this recreational style works well for some. It's a time-honored ploy.

PASHA and I are honoring time with our own ploy -- we stay away from pushing the hot buttons. It never leaves our minds, this miracle of finding new love after suffering the deaths of our beloved life partners. Knowing that for us time is compacted, we don't want to waste a minute playing "gotcha" in a game of trivial complaints.

Sienna Jae Fein blogs at