I recently saw a man in therapy who said, “Doc, I want to get your opinion. Do women get meaner and more aggressive as they get older?”
I hesitated a bit and said, “You know, no one ever posed that question to me before. But, after you asked, a myriad of thoughts went through my mind, most of which led me to say yes. Let me share some of my thoughts.”
Before I could start, he said, “I already have one notion about it. I think that as they get older, they feel as though they’ve lost the edge they previously had in their interactions with men, because earlier in life, their sense of adequacy came from the fact that they were young, attractive and had firm bodies. As a result, they could easily manipulate men. But, with age, their hard bodies disappeared and some wrinkles appeared. Even if they’re still attractive, their sense of youthfulness is gone, so in order not to feel weak, they get mean and aggressive. I’ve seen that happen in lots of my friends’ marriages. Early on, the man ran the show but over time, the roles reversed.”
I thought there might be a modicum of truth to his interpretation. But I had several other thoughts on the subject.
1. I believe that many of us, males and females alike, get more crotchety as we age. But, generally speaking, I believe there is a decided change in the roles played by men and women in their later years. Men often tend to mellow out as they age. Or maybe they just burn out. Either way, they’re not quite as feisty later in life as they were earlier. I also believe women are unconsciously aware of that change. Even more, that they’re not only aware, they take full advantage of it.
2. One of the reasons this occurs later in life is that change is a very difficult and frightening step for anyone to take. In his book, “The Ordeal of Change”, Eric Hoffer, the homespun American philosopher, stated “People rarely revolt against dictatorships, they usually succumb to them. But, as the dictatorship persists, leaders often become more complacent and considerate, and may even display some compassion. That’s when the revolt takes place. When things seem to be getting a little better, the masses view the improvement in their lives as a reflection of their leader’s weakness. Consequently, they revolt.” instead of being appreciative, they’re resentful, because they lacked the courage to stand up earlier. I believe that’s essentially what happens between men and women.
(I suspect that some of you are already thinking, “I know a lot of old men who got meaner over time”, and I agree. As some people get older, they feel weaker and more vulnerable and they compensate by becoming more rigid, authoritarian and dictatorial than they were before. But I tend to think they’re in the minority.)
3. I also believe that, as men get older, they feel less threatened and have less need to control. This is, in part, due to a change in their overall lifestyle. They’ve had the opportunity to be successful, and to achieve some status. As a result, they are no longer fighting for success. Instead, they are searching love, acceptance and peace. Similar to the dictator, they’ve become more comfortable in their own skins and, to some degree, lost the competitive fire that once burned in their stomachs and caused them to be excessively defensive and explosive, in order to mitigate any perceived signs of weakness.
4. Still later in life, many men decide to retire, without ever taking into consideration that retirement would also bring about a loss of the support system that once gave them a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of worth. As a result, they turn to their wives for their support, which isn’t always forthcoming. Perhaps that’s why so many men die shortly after retirement. They find it too difficult to live their lives feeling less sufficient because they have less evidence of their adequacy.
5. Women not only see that, but perceive it as sign of their husband’s weakness. More specifically, as an opportunity for them to finally exert themselves. That’s when they make statements like, “I married you forever, but not for lunch”, or “from now on in, the only thing I’m making for dinner is reservations”, or “the ideal house would be one designed without a kitchen.” Humor? Yes, but with a thread of resentment over the past and a hint of the role they plan to play in the future.
6. Additionally, with age, men seem to experience more physical problems than women, who generally live longer, and have less serious ailments. Because of that, you later see many women literally changing their roles. They physically and figuratively find themselves in the driver’s seat, the one their husbands previously occupied.
7. I suspect women just got tired of playing the role of the victim, the acquiescent wife who was controlled by a husband and seemed accepting of her role. The likelihood is, many of them felt they compromised or capitulated to their husband’s will for far too many years and were no longer willing to stifle their feelings or to secretly share their resentments with their girlfriends. Nor are they willing to only passive-aggressively express their anger, to use sex as a weapon, or to satisfy their emotional needs through their children. Consequently, they become more active in community affairs, take jobs outside the home where their egos are built up and their endeavors are rewarded and appreciated. Thus, while their husband’s former sense of adequacy is being depressed, theirs is being enhanced.
So, a word of advice to men. You need to be aware that your behavior with a woman early in a relationship can come back to bite you on the bottom later in life if you don’t learn to be a winner, as opposed to a warrior.
To learn more about these roles and the changes that need to occur in intimate relationships, you may want to read my book, “Warrior, Wimp or Winner.” It’s available from Amazon.com, or at my office, at 510 Bering Drive, Suite 200, Houston TX 77057.