I have a number of old school acquaintances - middle aged people like myself with high school age children - who are divorced. It’s not unusual for my generation, which features a much higher divorce rate than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Touching half of all my peers’ marriages, I guess I am unusual to still be married - and to the same person, even. Being a foreigner married to a Japanese puts me in an especially high divorce bracket, too, with 80% of international marriages ending that way. Or, that’s what I’ve read.
When I communicate with friends in Canada I sometimes hear their middle aged tales of continuing to look for a life partner, someone to grow old with after their divorce from number one. On the one hand, this chronic quest for partnership is a human signature and simultaneously compassionate and perplexing. But on the other hand I must wonder why my acquaintances are still looking for a life partner in middle age? Not that it’s too late. No. It’s never too late. But why? They have their homes and their children, their jobs and their hobbies and since pretty much all of us agree nowadays that sex is a natural and healthy adult activity there is little preventing them from being sexually active with whomever they please with impunity and without marriage in today’s society. Didn’t they learn anything from their first youthful forays into the romance market? I have to ask, do they have the stamina for it now and, if they do, where do they get it from? I don’t mean the stamina for physical lovemaking. Middle aged and older people have that. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I mean the emotional stamina to venture back onto the battleground of courtship where boys and girls, men and women have a proven propensity for hurting one another unnecessarily. The fact that children are habitually and casually cruel with each other is only the start of it.
It seems to me that adolescents and young adults naturally have more stamina for this than their elders, and they are more in need of it, too, because the lives of the young are a wasteland, a graveyard, a slaughterhouse, a blood-splattered midden, a highway of carnage, a train wreck, a purgatory, a charred battlefield, a permanent lost and found, an apocalyptic playground, a psych ward of broken hearts, hurt feelings and other damage inflicted both deliberately and residually. Young adults might look healthy and strong with a radiance of youth and hormones and potential. Are their really any unattractive youths? But in another real sense they are relationship zombies who devour each other, and like vampires they spread their condition among their peers.
Of course, youths lack experience. When you grow close to another person and open yourself to him/her more and more the feelings are wonderful. It’s love heroin. But that degree of closeness is the seed for terrible emotional ills if/when it all goes to hell. Parents who do have the experience and ought to know better in these matters are little help to their youngsters because they don’t know how to instruct/inform them, or they hesitate to broach the matter, or they resist that kind of intrusion into their children’s increasingly private lives. And for their part, young people are not prone to listen to them anyway. Neither are they prone to imagine their parents as romantic or sexual people. So the kids have to discover things and make things up as they go along as if they were the first ones in human history ever to discover - or invent - love, or experience yearning and then suffer because of it. Isn’t that always the way of it? I dearly wish when I was a youngster that adults would have counseled us more how to be careful with each other, gentle and respectful in our nascent relationships. Most importantly, how do you break up with a person? And when it comes to that, what do you do next? I grew up in an all-boy family with the emotional depth of a block of wood. Soft wood, as it turns out. But I am trying with my two children - a girl smack-dab in the danger zone, and a boy about to enter it.