Do Men Really Get Sweeter With Age?

Katie Young
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Wednesday - June 01, 2005

Twenty years ago, you never would have seen a bumper sticker that read “I love my wife” on the back of Uncle Ted’s red Ford truck. Such public professions would have gone against every ounce of manliness in his body. And he had a lot.

So why the change of heart?

When I asked Ted what was up with the brazen bumper sticker, all he could do was shrug his shoulders and smile. “I dunno,” he admitted.

I turned to his wife, Lisa, who said, “It’s funny. When we first married, it was hard to even get Ted to hold my hand in public. He’s very macho and was never keen on expressing his love for me openly. But in the last few years, he’s changed. He doesn’t care so much about if other men think he’s ‘The Man.’ He’s sweet to me. The bumper sticker was his idea, amazingly enough. I didn’t have to twist his arm or anything.”

I looked at Ted for acknowledgement, thinking he’d put up a fuss about the sticker being his idea, but he was still sitting there smiling. And now he put his hand on his wife’s shoulders and rubbed them lovingly.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The two lovebirds cooed at each other like they were the only ones in the room for the next 10 minutes.

When Ted got up to refresh our beverages, Lisa let me in on a little secret: As men get older, they grow sweeter.

“Is that kind of like the longer you leave an unripe melon in a paper sack, the better it will taste?” I joked.

“No, it’s more like it just takes men a few years to get comfortable enough in their own skin to show those emotions that used to make them feel like a sissy,” Lisa explained. “Ted and I have been married for 30 years, and it was only in the last five that he’s let down his guard and been so openly affectionate.

“He was always a decent man and a good provider,” she continued. “But that tenderness was rarely seen in our home.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I know quite a few crotchety old guys who have done everything but become docile with the passing years.”

I was also thinking (though I kept it to myself) that if Lisa’s big plan for life was women should have to wait three decades or more to coax the “sweet” out of their husbands, I just didn’t have the time or patience for that.

Lisa really didn’t know why her husband had suddenly grown so gentle and loving, and truthfully, she didn’t particularly care to ask. Don’t rock the boat.

So it was up to me to get the truth. I marched straight up to Uncle Ted, who was still carefully mixing his wife’s margarita (blended, with a little salt on the rim), and said, “Uncle Ted, I have to ask you a question.”

“Sure, honey, what is it?” he stopped his bartending to listen. That alone was a definite sign he was a sweeter man. He actually paused from his task to pay attention. “Umm … I was just curious why you seem … different,” I continued.

“Different how?” he asked.

“Well, sweeter,” I said, “like with that bumper sticker. I know you said you just felt like doing it but I was wondering if you felt more … open or loving lately?”

“Nope, don’t know,” Ted concluded after a brief moment of thought. “I guess I just love my wife. She’s the mother of my children and has been my partner and best friend for the last 30 years. If that’s not deserving of some love, I don’t know what is!”

Uncle Ted trotted back to his beloved with margarita in hand. The two sipped their drinks and giggled like children the rest of the night, leaving me to ponder if the older man — the seasoned man — was really the sweeter man.

I realized that with my own father and grandfather, openness to affection did increase with age. And Sebastian swears if I’m just patient enough, he’ll become a big softy years and years from now too.

“I think it may not be universal for everyone, but it’s not unusual,” says clinical psychologist Thomas Glass, also a past president and current member of the Hawaii Psychological Association.

Glass says that several factors may be involved in this metamorphosis.

“On a physiological level, testosterone decreases as men age,” he says. “Some of that male ‘feistiness’ may be driven by that.

“In terms of our social society, when men are younger they feel more pressure to be competitive.

They’re struggling to advance themselves in their careers. In older age, that may subside. They accept where they are and as they near retirement, there isn’t the need to be so competitive in the business world anymore.”

In addition, says Glass, as men get older, they may gain a different perspective on their own relationships.

“They think about ‘What’s really important here?’” says Glass. “It’s their family and cherishing the ones they love. Maybe that’s a perspective that doesn’t come when you’re 20. It comes with life experience and it becomes easier to put those values out there.”

So Lisa’s deduction was correct. It was mostly about Ted feeling more comfortable in his own skin, and about appreciating all that his marriage had brought to his life.

Uncle Ted took me aside before I left the party to impart one more secret of life: “Some women,” he said, “get softer and sweeter over the years too.”

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