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Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2000/ 13 Elul, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity -- SENIOR CITIZEN Gloria Steinem joins the Feminist Hall of Fame of outspoken women who change their minds. (Isn't that just like a woman?) After saying she wouldn't marry -- "I can't mate in captivity'' -- she did. Either she's changed her view of marriage or mating in captivity doesn't look so bad at age 66.

She follows Simone de Beauvoir who railed against the mother-daughter relationship but who adopted a 30-year-old daughter when her sometime lover Jean-Paul Sartre died. She wanted someone to take care of her, both emotionally and physically, in her declining years.

What both these feminists learned late in life is that needs change. Dogmatic youthful notions of what it means to be an independent feminist change, too. After reading about a number of powerful men in their 70s, who married nurses to care for them in their old age, I once proposed a book about the changing nature of courtship and marriage among senior citizens. The publishers invariably said nah, no thanks, it wouldn't sell in our youth-oriented culture.

Gloria Steinem's marriage may change some of that.

Vows, a popular feature in the Sunday New York Times about fascinating marriages, frequently includes seniors. Charlotte Mary Cassidy, for example, was 60 and still single when she met Michael Chamberlain, a widower, 72. She seems to have a lot in common with Gloria Steinem. Charlotte liked living alone and Michael thought he was content with his orderly life, his books, his dog and writing cranky letters to his congressman. Suddenly a spark ignited romance. Everything changed. One of the wedding guests said Charlotte belongs to a generation of women who were too independent and outspoken to marry when feminism flourished. As these women grow older, they look at commitment and compromise differently.

Few women (and few men) want to be senior and single. Cosmetic surgery, good diets and exercise enable many women to look "great for their age,'' but the chronological facts of their lives eventually betray them and they may not be as fortunate as Steinem in finding men to call their own. Older widowers and divorced men usually want to marry younger women. "I want a nurse with a purse,'' an old codger in a Florida retirement community once told me. He doesn't want the reverse, to take care of an aging wife.

All this goes into the category of life-is-not-fair. The dating and mating game for seniors poses other problems. There are simply many more widows than widowers, and the competition is fierce. Of the 9 million Americans aged 65 or older living alone, more than 80 percent are women. There are four single women for every single man over the age of 75. Many women in this category, having grown up long before the sexual revolution, have known only their husbands in the intimate way. They're likely to have married young and grown old with a life-long companion. Such a woman would never have cheered Nora in Ibsen's "Doll House,'' walking out on husband and child to enjoy the free air of independence. Such a woman loved the independence that came from dependence, and now, in the lyrics of Jim Ed Brown's famous country-music wail, she's invariably "looking back and longing for the freedom of my chains.''

The life expectancy gap between men and women at the turn of the century was quite narrow, 45 years for men, 46 years for women. By 1950, the gap grew to five years. Now it's eight. By the year 2020, it's expected to be 12.

One Florida dating service specializing in seniors boasts it has helped men in their 90s find mates, but it won't even try to fix up women older than 78. When one retired plumber, claiming to be in his mid-70s, put a modest personal ad in a South Florida newspaper, saying he likes short trips and Bingo and wanted a companion, he received 57 replies.

"The Case for Marriage'' by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, runs down the latest research that supports the subtitle of their book: "Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially.'' Married men and women also live longer than the single and the divorced.

Time magazine recently featured a cover story of the actresses who appear in "Sex and the City,'' the HBO sitcom about single women in their 30s who run in the fastest lane of sex and money. Time observed that many such women are saying "no'' to marriage. But the telling contradiction of Time's premise is captured by Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of the show, who is married to actor Matthew Broderick. She lies to her single friends about how boring marriage is and how lucky they are to enjoy their freedom: "It's just a fun thing to say to make single people feel better.'' But once older, few actually do.


09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate