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Relationships - June 2016

Bill Bailey


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Bill Bailey

When the man who is now my husband proposed to me 21 years ago I refused him. I refused him the second time too. A year later he tried again, I am happy to say, and this time I accepted. Why the delay?

He is nearly 14 years older than me and I needed to be sure that that difference would not make our relationship too difficult in the years to come. I wanted time to question myself and to talk about my concerns and doubts with him.


The very fact that I could take my time and he didn't drift away, that I could discuss my fears with him of possibly being 'left alone early’ and he took them seriously, was where our relationship, already one of great mutual enjoyment, deepened into something much more firmly based on respect and honesty.
 
Since then we have travelled much, moved house a few times, bonded with each other’s children and loved and nurtured our shared grandchildren. We have supported one another through bereavements of close family members and celebrated the birth of each grandchild.

It would be silly to say that the age gap makes no difference. In day-to-day life there are plenty of things we do not share, but they are often of low importance and the differences are either worked on, so enabling closer mutual pleasure, or tolerated and respected as a key marker on the other partner's life-line.

I am almost as happy as he is to watch The Third Man again, listen to Sinatra or a Schubert Quintet, or to watch a sparky House of Commons debate on BBC's Parliament channel...well, occasionally... so long as it IS sparky!

Last night we went to see one of my favourite comic entertainers, Bill Bailey, perform in Bristol, his home town. My octogenarian husband was, as he quickly noticed, probably the oldest person there. In my eyes, Bill Bailey is a gifted musical genius and a man who sees the absurd as well as the serious side of life. He is as capable of describing the ludicrous mannerisms of a Heavy Metal rock guitarist as he is of waxing poetical over birdsong, the scent of a flower or the wind in the trees.
But there we were, in excellent seats, with me laughing until I doubled over at times, and my long-suffering husband leaning over at regular intervals saying "What was that?" or "Who's this Justin Bieber he's poking fun at?"

Bill Bailey's hilarious demonstration of how growling the words would make Heavy Metal rock music darker, or his references to 'Sauron' or 'The Sith Lords', were leaving my poor man cold. He has no interest in rock music - in fact it turns him into a rather angry person - nor has he seen Star Wars or read any of the Tolkien books - in spite of studying at the university where Tolkien was then a professor. So, given the lack of connections with the subjects of the humour, the effect of the occasional blast of rock riffs and his own need to wear hearing aids, much of the evening was a puzzle to him.
I think we usually manage to maintain our efforts to share each other's enthusiasms where possible, but that night could have gone one of two ways - into the 'negative memory' bank or into a new shared enjoyment.

This morning I heard Bill Bailey's voice coming from the computer upstairs. My man was watching him on YouTube! Not wanting to be beaten by the downsides of our evening, he was listening without the close ambient noise of other people's laughter unbalancing the sound through his hearing aids, which he ended up removing anyway, and by turning down the obligatory rock solos. I admit I'd felt a little sad after the show that we couldn't both celebrate how darned funny it had been. The reason, of course, age - either through the physical effect of being older or the experiential markers of his generation differing from mine. But, by going online, my husband had refused to be left out of this experience. He came downstairs after about an hour to tell me just how funny and clever and talented Bill Bailey was, having been able to watch and listen more clearly, and was pleased he had seen him live.
I’m telling you about our experience to flag the possible pitfalls of being in an age-gap relationship, and to emphasise the importance of being able to talk about them before they arise.

We definitely talked about them all those years ago, but an event like last night could just have tipped us into one of those negative feelings. What prevented that was my husband's unwillingness to be left out of the fun merely because some of the references made were too modern. I realise we have both done that over the years - not always totally successfully, but in general it has only brought us closer together.
Marrying for a second time, in later life, means each person already has many memories and individual experiences which remain important to them - not all of which we wish or need to share. In accepting each other because those experiences have made them the person we have grown to love, we remove any threat of the past becoming a block to the future. On the contrary, they are our stepping stones to fresh, neutral pastures that we can make our own.

I have been to piano recitals – although not all excited me, some have thrilled me. He has accompanied me to movies he would never consider worth seeing but has enjoyed them. I’ve become a snooker fan, sitting with him for hours watching the championships, and we have developed a love of visiting ancient churches together whenever we can. Travelling together has grown into a joint collection of memories and, once our photographs are collated, we share our travel diaries. I then create photo-books and have them printed, which we love to look through together.

And here is the magic rune...be prepared to step out of your own realms of experience, your own comfort zone. There are often pleasant surprises to savour.

But - a word of warning. Not every interest can or even should be shared - nor need we always do everything together. Every individual has something which is a singular pleasure. As long as such interests are neither harmful nor illegal, the freedom to pursue them occasionally is also a strength in any relationship.

So now readers, let me ask YOU something. How often should I expect him to come into the garden and give me a helping hand now and then?!



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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