Your Grace, please let the record show that in the old and wise societies (which we call “primitive” these days) the men and women live apart. I notice here, among the geriatric set today, you go to group events, like parties, and the sexes separate, as in the prepubescent days of yore. How come? What for?

My sister-in-law has a one-frame cartoon on her fridge: A middle-aged couple are lying in bed on their backs, side by side. The guy is a dog and the wife is a cat. They’re both propped up on pillows and each holds an open book. No telling what the topic was that led to their dispute, but she appears completely pissed, and glaring, hisses this: 

“Because I am a goddam cat! That’s why!” The dog just cowers, mystified.

We complement and agonize Anyone who’s ever been in a coupled relationship will recognize that often it comes down simply to that: your mate and you are different. A basic principle of physics – opposites attract – is not without its downside, after all. There’s no free lunch. The very same things that attract you to me (and, of course, me to you) will potentially drive us both nuts. And, it’s part of Odd’s Plan. The universe seeks balance and yet, paradoxically, that balance is attained through stress, collision, and disharmony, resulting, when the storm subsides, in some new equilibrium – until it all begins again next month. The Big Bang never ends, you know. Oh, dear.

On a slightly more local and personal note, I’ve noticed this: Most of my friends are old and married, except those who’ve “lost” their “better halves.” The wives are often younger and more active than their mates, who seem to be declining faster – maybe due to misspent lives including hard work and “success,” and contact sports and motorsports, and drink and drugs and lechery, which clearly take their toll.

The guys are less commanding than they used to be, of course. The wives commendably take up the slack, becoming caretakers as their mates wane; reminding him to comb his hair and take his meds and zip his fly, making appointments for him, then reminding him of them, and sometimes even driving him to town to see the vet. His wife becomes his mommy, so to speak. We “babies,” in our seventies (or more!) require care. Caretaking an incompetent does not increase respect. (Let’s just leave changing diapers out of this!) As time limps by, the wives display both love and tenderness, devotion and responsibility, but less respect. The guys, who were once alpha males, or at least tried to be, are well aware that they’ve declined. They, feel diminished and infantalized; often ignored. They used to be larger, and stronger; perhaps even buff, and were probably good in the sack, when the going got tough.

Alas, no mas. We cannot hear; can hardly walk. We feel emasculated, and we are. Not by our wives, but Time. It’s no one’s fault. (Part of Odd’s Plan.) Time passes and all things decline, but they decline at different rates. The winner’s simply she who moves more slowly down the drain. And, frankly, who could blame a woman who, throughout her life, was overshadowed (even bullied) by some larger, bossy male and then becomes aware that she now has the upper hand, and consciously or not, inclines to exercise her clout.

Most men die younger than their wives; “Enough!” they whine or shout. “We genuinely thank Thee, Lord. This sucks, please let us out!”