What is so wrong with twilight romances?
The Straits Times
| Oct 24, 1993
By: Tan Sai Siong
TWO items in last Monday's
edition of The Straits Times caught my eye and stayed in my mind
this past week.
One was a photograph spread over five columns of the eight-column
page, showing couples who had been married for over 50 years being
honoured last Saturday in Taiwan ahead of the senior citizens' week
there. The women were decked out in their elaborate bridal best.
The other was a report of what an MP for Jalan Besar GRC said. Mr
Peh Chin Hua, speaking at a folk dance event for the elderly over
the same weekend, touched on the rise of "a new social disease"
- senior citizens having extra-marital affairs.
If the two items had been carried in separate pages, they might
have had less impact. But juxtaposed as they were in the same page,
they turned two fleeting moments in the long lives of the old people
concerned into something memorable and thought-provoking.
The picture of the Taiwanese couples affirms that marriage can last
through more than five decades, even though half the world and more
has changed. What Mr Peh revealed paints a somewhat different situation.
But I would be hypocritical if I do not also confess that I found
the sight of grandmothers and great grandmothers dressed as brides
rather distressing and bizarre.
Shades of Dickens' Miss Haversham in her cob-webbed and tattered
wedding gown kept interrupting valiant attempts to convince myself
how beautiful it must have been for the old to re-live a highlight
in their lives in this romantic extravaganza.
But reality and honesty force me to think otherwise. Or perhaps
it is the conditioning that I and my peers have been subjected to
that makes us reserve certain ways of dressing and behaviour for
those who have more years before than behind them. We squirm when
they are adopted by those who can hope to see sunrise only in another
We have been conditioned to think of love and the young going together
like the birds and the bees with spring-time; as for dressing, who
has not used the cruel expression "mutton dressed as lamb"
to describe those too old for the glad rags of the brat pack?
Sure, TV series like The Golden Girls suggest that there may be
love after retirement and menopause but they are sit-coms and their
messages are good for a laugh, not to be taken seriously.
Thus, it came as no surprise that while discussing this column with
my editor, the usually dour Leslie Fong broke into uncharacteristic
chortles, as he spluttered out: "Imagine Sai, someone romancing
you at 75!"
I could think of funnier possibilities but the mirth is more to
hide the embarrassment we feel at the incongruity of rheumy eyes
lighting up at a face more wrinkled than a walnut shell or gnarled
hands holding equally gnarled hands. They look wrong because they
are not the pictures we know.
It is probably reasons like these that prompted MP Peh to highlight
a bit of "hanky panky" going on in senior clubs. He cautioned
that "the new disease" could affect the old folks and
their families, bringing pain and suffering. For the old people,
it would not be worth the trouble, he added.
Mr Peh's comments are sensible and proper. The only trouble I have
with them is that they are directed only at the old. If adultery
- or even flirtation - is out for the old who are married, it should
also be out for the young and middle-aged of the same status.
But nary a word did he utter about them. Is one to believe that
no such impropriety exists except between the silver-headed? Those
who believe this must be naive.
The conclusion one is forced to draw is that the young could indulge
without open condemnation whereas the old will be censured. But
why should the young escape?
If the elderly with a glad eye and roving hands have to be shown
up because they "are role models to the young", then the
morals of younger parents - who are no less role models for their
children - should be subjected to equal scrutiny.
But if their bedroom morals are not pored over by zealous politicians,
then senior citizens "who have contributed to nation-building"
have a similar right to privacy on how they conduct their personal
Perhaps the middle-aged will be less scandalised on discovering
that their grey-haired parents can be as frisky as their own twentysomething
children, if they can accept that emotions do not always fade with
the colour of the hair.
However, for such understanding to become more widespread, most
of today's adults would have to change the way they view old people.
That change will have arrived only when talk about heart problems
citizens does not bring cardiologists and by-passes to mind immediately
That change must come, because before this generation's young parents
become grand-parents, one in four Singaporeans will be over 60.
There will be more people living longer and leading more active
will be more social inter-mingling, with which will come opportunities
to meet the opposite sex and dream the impossible or even do the
With that, I predict there will be more cases like those cited by
Mr Peh surfacing.
Then what? Have moral classes for senior citizens? Keep warning
them of the dire consequences? I am sure they are well aware since
they were not born yesterday and have "eaten" more salt
than their critics have rice. In my view, energy at reforming what
may be perceived as the wayward elderly could be better and more
kindly directed at ensuring that their young will be there to provide
a shoulder to lean on should their twilight romances come to grief.
Until we reach our own twilight, we may not appreciate fully how
frightening it can be for those who have only a vast rolling eternity
before them. And confronted by Andrew Marvell's certainty that "the
grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace",
it is not surprising that some will want to have one last fling
before the dark envelopes them entirely. The least those who have
more days ahead of them can do is to show some understanding.