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A Much-Needed Reality Check for People Over 50

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Monday, February 8th, 2016
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I’m a big fan of hope. I’ve stood on the edge of some grim and horrific precipices, and managed to avoid falling into them because of hope. I’ve experienced injustices and cruelty, and survived, even thrived, because of hope.

But hope does intersect with reality, and sometimes, reality needs to win.

Back in my most active dating years, I would see profiles of the same women (and yes, I’m sure the same is true of men) on dating sites year after year – after year. Full of hope at 55, 60, 65. Full of clichés about seeing the glass half full, about finding true love, about soulmates, about not settling.

I’m confident hopefulness is reassuring to them. But most of these people will not find true love. They will not connect with their soulmate (a concept I have long found damaging and unhelpful.)

They may well find someone compatible and kind and fun and wonderful, as long as they don’t adhere to the ridiculous notion that anything but your ideal mate is “settling.” But many will end up alone. Maybe even most will.

Hope does collide with reality now and then.

There may be more quotes about hope than about any other subject except perhaps love. When you do a simple “images of quotes about hope” Google search, here’s just a smidgen of what comes up:

It isn’t just the romantic universe where these two concepts have trouble coexisting.
I see “mature” men and women (let’s say 50 and over) all the time these days looking desperately for work — maybe meaningful employment, or more often, just something to keep themselves afloat, to pay those bills that never subside.

These are often accomplished, hard-working people, many of whom endured years of soul-crushing jobs, or some of whom maybe were lucky and had work they enjoyed, even loved, but who now can’t get their emails returned or resumes viewed, and whose prospects for the next 10, 20, 30 years are bleak if not downright non-existent.

They look at a world of emerging tech companies and wonder how they can fit in. They hope they can. Reality usually says otherwise.

Adding to the ice bath of reality, their children, brandishing college degrees and frequently — Himalayas of debt, often can’t find work either. These people over 50 struggle to support themselves, and now have to help support the children. This wasn’t the plan. But it is the reality.

The seekers of true love and of ways to make a living can and should remain hopeful. But they should also keep a firm grasp on reality.

I’m not trying to harsh anyone’s day. Quite the opposite, I think coming to grips with reality can be cathartic, even rejuvenating.

There isn’t anything wrong with recognizing, even embracing, the realization that Mr. Right isn’t going to ride in and swoop you up (or at our age, strain to lift you out of your chair), or that your dream of starting your own wildly successful business isn’t going to materialize.

And I’m not really talking about Big Dreams. Most of the over 50 or 55 set understand intellectually, if not emotionally, that their goals really should be finding someone caring and decent and fun, and getting a job that pays them something, though probably far less than they made before and certainly far less than they need.

If you’re over 55, it would be wise to accept that George Clooney is out of reach, that playing pro baseball was never possible, that breaking into the billionaires club is a whole lot less likely than scrimping to pay your bills and scaling back vacations from the Greek Islands to seeing your kids (who may be in your basement, or you in theirs.)

Yes, yes, yes, it is possible you will find true love. It is possible you will have that successful second or third career, it is possible that life you envisioned for yourself after graduating from Princeton or Cal State or Hometown High will fall into place. I am an absolute believer in reinvention and creating a new self.

But it is more likely these things won’t happen, and it gets more likely with each passing month.

The question is, does reality equal despair? It shouldn’t.

If you were married for 25 years and it didn’t work out, why yearn for that “true love” now when that sweet, considerate, fun-loving guy who isn’t your dream is perfectly fine?

If you worked for decades and maybe saved some money and put the kids through college and then got laid off or replaced by someone younger, why be despondent about what didn’t happen when there are other — though yes, probably lesser — opportunities out there?

Hope is vital. It keeps us going in the face of what we know in our hearts are closed doors and shrinking opportunities.

But reality is not something to be ignored. Reality opens doors and provides opportunities.

Just maybe not the exact ones we dreamed of 30 years ago.

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