So what's wrong with love among the ruins?

The Straits Times | Oct 28, 1993
By: Don Reeder

JUST a word, if you please, in defence of us Dirty Old Men.

The dust is still flying over a warning issued by a Member of Parliament, Mr Peh Chin Hua, that senior citizen functions were being used by some oldsters as a venue for illicit romances.

Horrors! Old crocks actually having sex? Ugh.
Well, it certainly is not the function of an uncouth ang moh such as myself to comment on the social fabric of the Republic. I have my hands quite full enough dealing with the mess back home in the US, thank you very much.

But as my (much younger) colleague Tan Sai Siong observed on these pages the other day - with her usual deadly aim - the uproar does reflect a worldwide generation gap on how older people are expected to behave.

And on that subject, I do feel qualified to comment. Not to put too fine a point upon it, if I were a Singaporean I would have been retired a decade ago.

I know full well how offensive many young people find it to be told that we wrinkled folk do occasionally kiss, cuddle and even - erm, uh, well - DO IT.

We sometimes behave, in other words, amazingly like human beings.

There is a curious double standard at work here. People do not twitch an eyelash at common gossip that a prominent old towkay supports a mistress, or even two of them. But let a grizzled pair of single oldsters exchange heated glances in public, and the tongues start flapping off their hinges.

If some of our children and grandchildren had their way, I suspect they would stuff our pockets with mothballs and hang us on a hook in the rear of the closet until we had the decency to expire quietly.

Sorry to disappoint you, but yes I still do look at pretty girls. OK, sometimes I forget exactly why I look, but look I do.

I did not realise what a heinous offence I was committing until a young (yes and pretty, too) Singaporean lass told me how disgusting it was to see an older man ogling an attractive girl.

"He's just a DOM!" she sniffed indignantly. "DOM?!" I asked, baffled yet again by the Singaporean passion for acronyms. "Dirty Old Man," she explained patiently.

Little did she know that she was talking to one.

The progression, it appears, goes something like this: lovesick boy, swinging bachelor, middle-aged rake, Dirty Old Man. Not a particularly cheering prospect for the male of the species, is it?

As for the opposing sex: I never have, do not now and never will pretend to understand women. But since it takes two to tango, one may safely assume that lustful thoughts sometimes flit across the minds of geriatric females as well.

Just who was it, I wonder, who decreed that old people have no right to a sex life?

Back home in the American midwest, the oldtimers were fond of cackling:

"There may be snow on the roof, but there's still fire in the furnace!" (Snow/white hair, furnace/loins. Got it now? Very good. We shall proceed.)

What younger people do not understand is this: when we oldtimers view each other with sexual yearning, we are looking beyond the sagging bellies, the false dentures and the bent frames. Instead, we see each other as we prefer to see ourselves - still smooth of jaw and supple of limb, just as we were decades ago.

To brutalise Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice:

If you lure us, do we not gaze?

And if you yield, shall we not love?

But I can forgive you impertinent upstarts for not realising what awaits even you eventually - if you survive long enough. I was every bit as dense myself years ago when I teased an older colleague for his December romance.

The old duffer peered over his bifocals with a laser glare that could have punctured a beer can and snarled: "I'm just old, dammit, not dead!"


Don Reeder is a veteran Washington political analyst and occasional consultant to The Straits Times.