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Romance is about sex?

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, June 14, 2008 0:05 EDT
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Wow, people really suck. Look, I can understand why people can rationalize their antsiness about their teenage children’s sexuality, even as they know full well that they were having those feelings and screwing around at that age and managed to survive intact. You’re never going to be young again, so you’re not putting your own interests in jeopardy by resenting and trying to control the sexuality of teenagers. But resenting and trying to control the sexuality of the elderly seems self-defeating to me, because, Disco Ball willing, you’re going to be an old person one day with a lot of time on your hands, and having Teh Sex might be a fun way to pass that time. I know I hope to be randy into my twilight years.

But apparently, my entirely rational position on this is lost on a whole lot of people, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to interfere with the sex lives of elderly people living in nursing homes. The story in this case is about “Bob,” 95, and “Dorothy,” 82, both widowed and living in this nursing home. Both have dementia. They started a love affair, and at first, everyone thought it was cute how they were dressing up to see each other, and getting excited and lively in each others’ presence. All cute, right, until we remind ourselves that outside of fairy tales and what the counselors chaperoning the Christian summer camp dances would like to believe, romance is that heady combination of Teh Sex and Teh Love. And the former makes people all sorts of upset and controlling.

Naturally, the dating couple did what dating couples do, and got it on. It seems the nursing home, realizing that it was making both patients healthier and happier, tolerated it as long as it was during the daytime, and not at night when the night nurse needed everyone in their own beds. In fact, they did more than tolerate it; their reaction was a lot like mine—it gave them hope about their own demented old age.

Downstairs, in her bright, tidy office, I met the woman who runs the facility—one of the nicest I’ve seen, with tea service in the lobby and white tablecloths in a dining room that’s dressed up like a restaurant. In 30 years of taking care of the elderly, she’s seen plenty of couples, but none as “inspiring” or heartbreaking as Dorothy and Bob. Which is why she keeps a photo of the two of them on her desk.

Bob’s son was the one who put a stop to it, and his controlling nature and sex phobia are all over this story. He didn’t want his dad getting laid. He openly said that old people should sit in a chair and rock. He was grossed out, and he thought that justified being an asshole about it.

And his sputtering cell phone call reporting the scene he’d happened upon would have been funny, the manager said, if the consequences hadn’t been so serious. “He was going, ‘She had her mouth on my dad’s penis! And it’s not even clean!’ “

He eventually moved his dad to another home to put a stop to it, which nearly killed Dorothy, who ended up only recovering because her poor memory lightened her grief a lot faster just because she couldn’t quite remember how much happier she was in love.

This story fascinates me, because it’s like all of what makes Americans fucked up about sex rolled into one package. There’s the idea that feeling something is gross somehow equals a moral argument, which is of course the main argument that homophobes have against homosexuality, and which makes no sense in practice. Most of us, thoroughly worked over mentally by our sex-saturated culture, don’t want to think about anyone having sex outside of ourselves and those young and thin enough to populate porn, which means that if you’re over 25, you’re out by the gross=immoral standard. But there’s also the weird way that our prudish culture has created a disconnect between romance and sex. Like this example:

The private-duty nurse who had been tending Bob also had strong feelings about the matter, said the manager: “At first, she thought it was cute they were together, but when it became sexual, she lost her senses” for religious reasons and asked staff members to help keep the two of them apart.

Yeah, the crazy Christians are in love with romance and are paranoid with sex, and the result is that they try to convince themselves that the two are separable, even though romance is basically the word we have for sexual love. Sexual love is so wonderful without the sex, or else it’s creepy. That makes a lot of sense, yeah.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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