I have heard the siren's song of Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is" echoing in the background, as mid-life men and women complain about each other's inability to commit, moving from partner to partner in some abstract and increasingly apathetic, masked ballroom affair. Fretful, ambiguous lovers, sing sweet sonnets of longing for the one, while their secret song whispers in morbid tones; commitment is the death of all possibility.
Boomers are an experiential people. It has been their strength; the courage to explore, to reach out for something different, something new. However, it may also be their weakness, failure, and curse, as they have wandered through innumerable liaisons, never staying long enough to fully experience the heights and depths of intimate, meaningful, and long lasting relationship.
And it came to pass
Mid-life men and women are the products of a generation of parents who, due to the economic realities of the time, had no leisure, freedom, or respite from responsibility or commitment. In addition, these parents endured the literal life and death struggles of World War ll. Their reward was the opportunity to see their sons and daughters explore and examine the possibilities, released from an unending struggle for survival. Boomers were taught, early on, to take their time, see the world, and enjoy the fruits of their parent's labor. It was a monumental exercise of social and sexual freedom, of going to the moon.
The Re-Definition of Womanhood
The Baby Boomer generation is also one of the first to attain some semblance of equal financial opportunity and independence for men and women. The young women of that day, now mid-life, did not and do not need men as they once did, and mid-life men have endured a lifetime of absorbing and adjusting to this great change. And yet, no one is to blame, as mid-life and older women have trail-blazed their way in the world, forced to re-imagine multi-generational notions of committed love and relationship along the way.
However, both sexes may have stubbed their toes on this new road of relationship, resorting to less than honorable behaviors in a misguided attempt to hold on to distorted views of freedom; failed definitions of choice, control, and responsibility to one another.
Foggy Faithfulness, a term taken from Brent Mattingly's study on ambiguous and deceptive relationship practices, may be emblematic of how some Baby Boomers stave off intimate and long term relationships. Floating definitions of commitment may be purposely kept ambiguous, so that extradyadic behaviors cannot be examined to closely for fidelity. Private internet relationships, sexting, texting, and misdirecting, along with the time honored, omissions of truth, may simply be defense mechanisms against intimacy and commitment for a generation culturally hard-wired to a grass is always greener approach to life.
Experience, Growth, and the Richness of Relationship
As a long term addicted optimist (why? it's simply, more fun!), I am constantly preaching the gospel of awareness, leading to understanding, then progressing to managed changes of behavior. We grow tired of our distress at the way things have been, and weary of our feelings of unfulfillment. That is the beginning of change. Many mid-life men and women have had a lifetime of experiencing unsatisfying relationships. They are ready to lay their cognitively distorted cards on the table; to re-imagine life with another, and the nature of long term, committed relationship.
I have heard that writers Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber, and singer Peggy Lee, had disagreements over the meaning of "Is that all there is," with the writers holding a nihilistic viewpoint that nothing we do really matters, while Ms. Lee said "It's about the experiences you go through in life, necessary for growth." I'm going to walk the line on this one and agree with both sides. While our successes, failures, accomplishments, and defeats may mean nothing in the end, it is through cherished relationship along the way, both with our environment and with people, that we experience richness in our brief journey.