isWhile last week’s announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce took observers by surprise, it nonetheless conforms to a growing trend of late separation. Bill Gates is 65, and his future ex-wife is 56. In the UK, the over-65s are abandoning the downward trend in divorce rates. They even earned their own demographic designation: the money dividers.
A gray social revolution is underway with people in their late 50s and 60s increasingly leaving their marriages when they are expected to be most settled. There are a number of factors at play, but two in particular stand out. The first is that the children go to college or leave home. While empty nest syndrome can cause melancholy, it can also end the obligation to “stay together for the children.” It’s probably no coincidence that the Gates’ youngest child is 18.
The other factor in divorce is the prospect of a long retirement. With life expectancy continuing to extend into the 1980s, this is a huge potential time to spend with a partner you have persistent reservations about. The Gates’ statement explaining their decision – they no longer “believe that we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives” – suggests that the reserves have won.
It was believed that in the days of the Gates, most of our culture was over. But just as we’re told 60 is the new 50, which in turn is the new 40, with that growing sense of aging youth comes an appetite for change. It’s a cultural shift that Dawn Kaffel has also witnessed firsthand in her role as a relationship advisor in London.
She estimates that she sees two or three times as many people over the age of 60 as 20 years ago.
“I think it’s about taking another step in life and people think it’s their last chance to find happiness,” she says.
If anything, she says, the various lockdowns of the past 14 months have only added to the desire to take hold of life. “People are going to want to recharge their batteries and move on,” she predicts.
Kaffel predicts a strong wave of divorce among older couples in the months and years to come.
“I think the statistics are going to be shocking,” she said, which may be good news for divorce lawyers.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s PM Last week, divorce attorney Amanda McAlister said that divorce between those who are approaching or who are retired tends to be more “amicable” matters because relationships have become more like a game. friendship. The separation of Colin Firth, 60, from Livia Giuggioli after 22 years of marriage, appeared to be a model of friendship, as the couple reportedly enjoyed the evenings after the separation. With the fight for custody over the children, there are fewer obvious reasons for acrimony between separating spouses. But Kaffel isn’t so sure.
“I have to say the happy divorce is a little bit abusive,” she said.
The dynamics are always more complex than people realize, Kaffel believes, especially those involving older children.
“Sometimes the kids are in their 30s or even 40s. You would think that they are adults, that they have their own lives, their marriages and their children, and they will take care of them. But in fact the majority of the problems I see with money dividers is that they never realize the impact of their decisions on adult children.
Maya (not her real name) is 56 years old. She’s been with her husband for 30 years, but she says it hasn’t been a real marriage for a long time. Four years ago she filed for divorce and he refused. Her youngest daughter is now 18 and Maya plans to leave when she goes to college. All of her children, she says, support her decision.
“There are a lot of women my age who are very dissatisfied with their marriage,” says Maya. “A lot of women stand out in their fifties. They have settled into their own skin. Maybe we have lost parents so that we don’t feel like we are letting others down.
Sam Harrington-Lowe publishes Silver magazine – “for the fifty plus and fabulous”. She says her readers are a generation of women who have gone through feminism, the workplace, struggling to take control of their own sexuality, and having been sandwiched between caring for children and aging parents. or dying, many do not want to spend their later. years in a suboptimal relationship.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if many women [in their late 50s and 60s] look at their husbands and think, Jesus, I would be happier on my own, ”says Harrington-Lowe.
She points out that living for decades after menopause is a relatively new concept in human history with far-reaching interpersonal and societal implications. “We’re still going around the head,” she said.
Maya agrees that the liberation that single women her age enjoy is essentially about not having to worry about having children. But, she says, there aren’t any fifty-six-year-old women looking for another life companion, either.
“Being single is a lot less intimidating now. All of my divorced girlfriends went crazy the following year. They were having fun dating guys.
Maya doesn’t anticipate the same action-packed transition herself. Instead, she focuses on retraining because divorce, for her, like many women, means she will have to return to a full-time job.
However, it is not just women who expect to leave their marriage. Men, as Kaffel confirms, are just as often the instigators. And statistics show that men are more likely to remarry later in life. Who are they marrying? Younger women: 56% of men aged 65 and over who married in 2014 married a woman under 65, while for women the figure was much lower.
In the case of Martin (not his real name), a retired academic, he is not discouraged by the idea of being single as he goes through his second divorce. When he broke up with his first wife, he had three children aged 7 to 11.
“It was a lot harder,” he says, “and also my first wife was a very different kind of person, who wasn’t ready to make things friendly, even though I wanted to be.”
This time his daughter and second wife are 18, and she has been asked about the fact that it is not really possible to do this with younger children.
“She wasn’t positive about it, but she certainly thought it was the best thing,” he says, “because being together made us all miserable. “
In addition, he has a generous pension and his wife has always earned a lot more than him, so there is no financial pressure. But, leaving aside the Gates’ divorce, which is set to rival the multibillion-dollar split of 57-year-old Jeff Bezos from MacKenzie Scott, financial security can often prove to be less secure than it seems. when people first think of separating.
“They think they can afford it,” Kaffel says, “until the process really starts, and then what they thought they had to pay is usually very different.”
Harrington-Lowe, who went through his own divorce two years ago, says what looks like a great two-vacation-a-year retreat when a couple are together, can suddenly feel like a much more cash-strapped setup when assets are divided. .
But more than anything, it is the emotional cost of divorce that is most often underestimated.
The point is, with the best will in the world, it’s not easy to leave a decades-long relationship. And unless a third party waits backstage, many people can find it difficult to escape the gravitational pull of a long-established relationship.
“There are a lot of people who come to therapy who think they’re going to separate and they aren’t,” Kaffel says. “They just need to spend time working on their relationship. Many couples contacted lawyers when they came to see me. But it can be reversed with a lot less pain than getting a divorce. “
That said, it doesn’t look like the board is now going to save the Gates from the caring embrace of divorce lawyers. And that’s definitely not going to redirect Martin.
“We have benefited from advice over the years,” he says. “The advice was mainly related to the difficulties of our marriage.”
At the end of the day, some people are clearly not meant to stay the course together. And maybe it’s better to accept this sad reality late in life than never at all.