Jane Glenn Haas
December 23, 2009
If I'm a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave ...
The shootout. Coop's long, emotionless look at the townfolk before he rides off, Grace Kelly by his side. A man's man. A woman's hero.
Well, kiss those days goodbye. The silent, staunch, steel-eyed man is so yesterday. And ladies, it's probably your role modeling that made the difference.
Today, a guy needs to talk about his inner fears.
"Men need to talk about their feelings today. And it's difficult. Even their best buddies won't talk about these issues - about aging or feeling they can't do it in the bedroom or their worries about the workplace."
Robert Schwalbe, a New York City psychoanalyst, specializes in therapy for men and the issues brought on by aging. Specifically, he deals with aging boomers. And there are 40 million aging male boomers in the U.S. alone.
He says much of the aging male boomer angst "is a byproduct of the feminist movement."
"These guys feel they're not getting attention - not only from women but from society in general," Schwalbe said. "It's a common fear among men. The oldest see themselves turning 60 and becoming invisible.
"I don't know if women grab the attention and take it, but they talk and express themselves more. Women are suddenly empowered in their 50s and 60s. And, face it, a lot of these guys married young and then the women want a divorce and they feel abandoned. They suddenly have to grow up."
Schwalbe has focused on male issues for two decades. Some of his conclusions, he agrees, are the obvious ones: a job is a man's identity; men don't talk about feelings; erectile dysfunction is embarrassing and makes a man feel old.
So? Real men don't cry, don't eat quiche, don't hug unless it's on the football field after a score. Go figure.
Even Schwalbe finds it all somewhat confusing. The concept of men probing inner feelings with a shrink is new and, at times, daunting, he says.
But in his book, "Sixty, Sexy and Successful" (Praeger 2009), he acknowledges there is no single prescription for a meaningful life after 60.
"To what extent does preoccupation with health and fitness and looking good enable us to deny the reality of our own mortality?" he asks.
He believes men at midlife need some therapy to pause and get a perspective on their lives. The perspective, he argues, is critical when a man considers retiring.
"I'm against it," Schwalbe says. "It complicates the relationship with a wife to such an extreme that they will need to renegotiate it. There could be resentment.
"Suddenly, a man doesn't have a structure to his life and the wife didn't bargain to have him around all day long. It's intrusive"
If marriages aren't prepared for retirement, they're also not prepared for - um - that can't-do-it sex problem.
"Medication is a saving grace for so many men who feel old when sexual ability declines. But one of the first things I say to men in their 60s is to remember they are younger than their fathers or grandfathers were. Sixty is not old. You have a good 25 years ahead of you.
"You may collect Social Security and Medicare and need some erectile dysfunction medication and fatigue sooner, but you certainly are very much able to participate in the world around you."
Men need to have "purpose and focus and be well-connected," Schwalbe says.
Sounds like the same advice psychoanalysts have been giving women for years. Don't know why it took you guys so long to figure it out. But the truth is, we all want to feel loved, meaningful, sexy and successful - before and after 60.
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