Episode 1 Transcript
(Robert Lipsyte) Coming up on "Life (Part 2)," breaking up may be hard to do, but being married may be even harder. We'll discover the secrets of successful marriages. And later, one of the reigning queens of American business on how Boomers can best cling to the corporate ladder. Plus, he writes comedy for Bette Midler and Rosie O'Donnell, but he's especially funny on the subject of his own mortality. All coming up on "Life (Part 2)."
(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies-- engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
[bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone]
(Robert Lipsyte) Welcome to "Life (Part 2)," I'm Robert Lipsyte. Most of the people who were in my 7th grade class-- we meet regularly--are still married to spouse number one. For many of them it's 40 years and counting. I am not still married to spouse number one, and watching my classmates show up at reunions with the same partner, I have felt variously amused, envious, contemptuous, and admiring. Some of them would be holding hands; some barely speaking to each other. But that would shift over time. There were tides to these marriages, and my classmates rode them out. At one anniversary party, a classmate said that she and her husband had been married for 30 years and there had been only one bad decade. But they couldn't agree which decade it was. My classmates talk pretty frankly. Some of us have known each other since kindergarten, and when the long-married say they've never been happier, they also admit there were times when they were miserable. But they stuck it out because that was the deal, or in the hope it would get better, or for the sake of the children, some of whom are now divorced from their first, even second spouses. My long-married classmates think that their divorced kids, and by extension, I guess, their divorced classmates, may have had inflated expectations of marriage, thought of it as a romance instead of a journey whose destination was trekking on. And here are our guides for the trek. Dr. Janet Taylor was Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University affiliated Harlem Hospital for 7 years. And she writes the "Ask Dr. Janet" column for "Family Circle" magazine. Terrence Real is a family therapist who conducts his Relational Life Institute Workshops nationwide. He is the author of "The New Rules of Marriage, What You Need to Know to Make Love Work." Suzanne Braun Levine was the editor of "Ms. Magazine" for its first 17 years. Her latest book is "50 is the New Fifty." For better or for worse, welcome all to "Life (Part 2)." Suzanne, you've been married for more than 40-odd years. Is that a cause for congratulations or commiseration?
(Suzanne Braun Levine) Well, I'm always surprised when people say, "Oh congratulations," because there's certainly been times when that was the last thing that I thought I wanted to hear. I'm not sure whether in those bad times, I'll never know whether in those bad times we should have made a different decision, but I have to tell you that it's gotten better and better. And the first 37 years were the hardest. [all laugh] But I think a lot of it has to do with something that's happening to women of our generation, and has happened to us as we worked our way through these marriages, which is that we have become more and more authentic and authoritative, and brave and...
(Robert Lipsyte) Terry Real in his book makes the point that the rules have changed in the course of your marriage, but also that women have changed and men haven't.
(Terrence Real) I think that's right. I deal as a couples therapist with people who come in from out of town who are on marital death's door. Even these people who are there explicitly as a last shot before the lawyer, you get the woman off, you talk to the guy, and the guy will universally go, [whispers] "Hey listen, things aren't really that bad around here." So one of the things I say is, by and large, it's a broad statement, but by and large, one of the open secrets in couples therapy is that men are not dissatisfied with their marriage. It's women who have changed; it's women who are carrying the dissatisfaction. 70% of divorce is instituted by women and it's really women who want more. And so when I see guys, there are so many guys on the ropes that yes, we can talk about your personal story, and your bad childhood, but there are too many of you. One of the things I say is that the very things that you learned as a boy, often against your will, about what it means to be a strong man, are the things that by today's new standards will guarantee you're seen as a bad husband. So there's a real role conflict for guys.
(Robert Lipsyte) Dr. Janet, in terms of who you see and the letters I imagine you get as "Dr. Janet," is this what you're hearing too?
(Janet Taylor) From my own personal experience and couples that I know who are married, I would argue that men do feel unhappy in their marriages, but I think it's what happens in terms of the shift and who's willing to do the work, the emotional work or the painful work, I think. Women are more likely to say, "We need to work on this." Not to generalize, but a lot of men will say, "Well, what's the problem, what's the big deal? I'm feeding you and we're working together, and we have a house, our kids are happy." But I think women emotionally need to know, as we are growing and shifting that we have someone coming along with us. For me, I think the biggest impact in my marriage has been as I have continued to make goals and achieve them personally, I have felt more satisfied in my relationship. I would agree with Suzanne-- I've been married 21 years, which is not like being married 40, but I think it's getting better.
(Suzanne Braun Levine) I do think that it has something to do with age. I am absolutely convinced that women, as we move through 40's and 50's and 60's, are entering a new stage of life for us that is not the same as the stage of life men are going through. And in a way, that's challenging to a marriage, it's threatening, and it's also challenging. We laugh and we say, men are going through a second childhood while women are going through a second adulthood. I think women's mindset about their marriage is changing so dramatically, and they say to themselves, if I'm changing, how can I stay in this same marriage, if I'm changing everything else in my life? I think women go into marriage, in my experience, with many expectations that no other human being can meet. As you work your way through your life, you begin to understand that the glass can also be half full. I think that comes into play in terms of marriages adjusting and becoming more compatible.
(Terrence Real) I think people want to stay partnered. I think that marriage is in great crisis. I think it's been in crisis since basically tagging the Baby Boomer generation over the last 50 years. I think there's a reason for it. I think that historically, the changes in women over this generation, has freed them from the necessity to be married. I don't think we appreciate the historic revolution of that. And no longer being bound to marriage in the same way, I believe that both sexes, but particularly women vocally, are saying, I want this marriage to be a marriage I want to be in, not one I need to be in. I think we really want to be lifelong lovers. We want to have great sex, 20, 30 years into our marriages, we want to be emotionally connected and intimate. I don't think what people really get is that these are brand-new demands on marriage. We want the same things that you would have gotten in an early-stage relationship, in an affair, in a novel. And we want it for the rest of our lives. And what I say is, women have been spearheading this, men are sort of perplexed in wondering, how do I meet these new demands? I think the organized response has been a conservative response saying women should back off and accept less. And what I want is, I want women to be empowered in a way that's going to work to help themselves and help their guys meet these new demands. We have to be as skilled as we are ambitious, and our culture simply doesn't teach our sons and daughters relationship skills.
(Robert Lipsyte) In your book you say, "Don't compromise." You kind of work it out. I've kind of always thought that compromise was the key to marriage.
(Janet Taylor) I think conflict can be a key in marriage in the sense it can let you know what you need to compromise on and what you can't compromise. So I think we really have to look at how conflict can help us get to what we want. It's not about compromise as much as understanding.
(Terrence Real) Look, we're all going to compromise in the sense that we all long for gods and goddesses. We're all royally PO'd that-- I have dear friends, gay couple, they've been together 25 years, we asked about their longevity and my friend Scott, I think cribbing from somebody else, but he said, he actually does, every day he wakes up, toddles to the bathroom, splashes water on his face, looks in the mirror and says, "Well you're no prize either." [all laugh] So we all want the divine, we all have a woefully imperfect human being on our hands. I think there are a couple of rules. One, don't be a victim, particularly at our age. If you don't like what's going on in your marriage, then roll up your sleeves, do the hard work of rocking the boat and then helping out and getting more. And two is, even in the heat of battle, the line to be drawn is respect. It's what's coming out of your mouth. You may not feel warm and fuzzy, but is it basically respectful, or is it abusive? There's no excuse to cross that line.
(Robert Lipsyte) This becomes more critical, "I love you, you're a jerk," as Boomers' children, as yours are, leave the nest. And now that old joke, I married you for better or worse, not for lunch. Now you're together and you really have to deal with stuff. What happens then?
(Suzanne Braun Levine) I was married 10 or maybe even 15 years before it ever occurred to us that we could go out separately. And we are now at the point where we compare our schedules because we both feel free to make other arrangements. We like to do different things. We could either fight over it or we could go about our business.
(Robert Lipsyte) But are there rules, old rules, new rules about when you got to get out?
(Janet Taylor) I don't think there are old rules about that. When you don't trust anyone anymore, when you can't resolve conflict, when you're not sexually attracted to your partner, those are all steps, signals that maybe it's time to get out.
(Terrence Real) I think that there's a progression. I think the first order of business is, when does a couple need outside help? And the answer to that is very simple and straightforward-- When you can't do it on your own, when the two of you are not getting anywhere. Then if you get outside help and it's helpful, and a lot of therapy isn't all that helpful, but if you get somebody who really does hold your feet to the fire and move things, and one of you just ain't moving, then you have to do this reckoning. Am I getting enough with this man or woman just the way they are to accept this and stay, or do I need to get out? But you have a few cards to play before you have to make that decision.
(Robert Lipsyte) You went through some of these thoughts in 45 years?
(Suzanne Braun Levine) I think everybody does and I think that fantasy is probably a good thing. One of the people I interviewed for my book had a very formalistic way of dealing with this. They agreed that every 5 years, they would meet and evaluate their marriage, and that divorce would always be on the table. And she told me when I talked to her that she went into those conversations many times thinking that was going to be what they came out with. But because they did it-- this is what worked for them-- because they did it when they weren't angry, that they knew that on Friday the 13th you were going to have to present your bill of particulars, they somehow were able to defuse what these painful issues that were on the table were, and they came out ahead. What's fascinating to me is that they're now married 45 years, and they had their last review a few years ago, [laughter] and she said that was the first time that divorce was not on the table, that they were looking forward together, and that they'd finished with should we or shouldn't we and they were in it for the duration.
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, my wife and I have decided on 5-year options, and we dropped the plan when I included her several weeks ago I said that I was married to her on my Facebook page. She said that Facebook is forever, and I hope this panel is forever too. Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Robert Lipsyte) As President of Hearst Magazines, Cathie Black oversees "Cosmopolitan," "Esquire," "Good Housekeeping," and "O, The Oprah Magazine." In her book, "Basic Black," she offers young women lessons on getting ahead in corporate culture. But we focused on how old dogs like you and me can still learn new tricks and keep our careers going strong.
(Robert Lipsyte) Cathie, thanks so much for being here. In reading your book, "Basic Black," you have a lot of really great tips for people who want to knock you off and get your job. But what about those kind of middle level people, men and women in their 50's and 60's who are just kind of holding on? Do you think all this works for them as well?
(Cathie Black) Probably not, although I certainly have heard from a lot of people in their 50's. What they generally have said to me is, I wish I had this book 25 years ago. But putting that aside, if we think about the economy that we have found ourselves in now, I would imagine for a lot of the 50 and 60-year olds who really were working at a particularly, maybe a not very fulfilling role, it was all about the afterlife, if you will, not after as in heaven, but after as in when I finish working. And now, like everybody else in the world, actually, are saying gee, are my retirement savings going to get me through to a place where I really wanted to be? And I think a lot of them are probably saying, I'm probably going to have to work longer. Or they're going to take a part-time job.
(Robert Lipyste) Or an opportunity to reinvent yourself.
(Cathie Black) Yes, absolutely. Women have started their own businesses forever. They didn't get a whole lot of recognition early on, but there are more women working in their own businesses than there are all of the employees of the Fortune 500 combined. Because they didn't find the corporate environment that receptive of whatever it is that they wanted, so they started their business on their kitchen table, in the basement or whatever and some of them grew to be very big businesses. So I think that people will reinvent themselves. They're going to say to themselves I don't want to put in these kinds of hours, but I love doing X. A lot of the people that are sort of planning retirement, I think the closer it gets, the less appealing it looks. I think it's very divided. There are people who can't wait; they're counting every day until they get retired, then there's other people who are like, "Hmm."
(Robert Lipsyte) Sometimes people in their 50's begin to feel, whether they are or not, they're kind of losing it, losing relevance, and they're not kind of plugged in. How do you know that, and what do you do about it?
(Cathie Black) I'm not sure how you know it exactly, but I think you'd sense that if you were around younger people, you all of a sudden didn't know what they were talking about. If you're feeling it, then there's probably some sense, either you're missing a conversation, or you don't quite know what movie they're talking about, or perhaps it's about technology. But I think that's a really big divider. And nobody younger wants to hear someone say, "I know how to do that"-- they're not going to pay attention to us, they really aren't. You need to figure out, how can I be around some young people and begin to pick this up, or you say to yourself, they're talking about all these blogs, I don't even have a clue what they're talking about, I'm going to find someone that shows me how I can kind of get up to speed. The responsibility is going to come back to you. If you really want to feel differently, then you're going to have to act differently. Take it on as a project. You're probably pretty smart as a 50-year-old who's been in a company for a long time. Because especially right now, and I think this is really important, you have to be essential in a company, and lots of these places are downsizing, and you've got to be able to say, I need to have someone think, I really want her, I want her or him on my team. The more dated you seem, probably the manager, who might be 5 or 10 years younger than you are, which will become more and more likely, they're beginning to think of you as being obsolete. So potentially, as they pair whatever it is, they're going to start thinking about, how do I get Joe or Cathie or Frank to kind of move on out?
(Robert Lipsyte) Right, so music, style, technology,
(Cathie Black) Culture-- that's in a way culture.
(Robert Lipsyte) But being aware of it and not resisting it as some sort of threat to you. I mean, that's really what you're talking about.
(Cathie Black) Yeah, because deep inside it probably is a threat, so you're going to have to put the best face forward and really go on a program to sort of get freshened. It's not changing your behavior, it's not changing your personality; we are who we are, it's about the contribution that you make. At the end of the day, we're in a job because of what we're contributing-- how are we helping them succeed? And if you get dated and you if get fusty, you're not going to be a main contributor. They'd rather have two 30-year-olds, perhaps, than one 55-year-old.
(Robert Lipsyte) In your company, obviously there are older people who are being supervised by younger people. Do you have any advice for that, how do you help them through that?
(Cathie Black) You have to stifle yourself. They do not want to hear what you did in their role, or what they have just done wrong, because-- they don't want to hear that. It's like none of us really wanted to hear our parents criticize us; it's not much different. They are looking at you as a parent figure. So I think you have to choose your words carefully, you have to choose the way that you say them carefully, you have to choose where you say them carefully, then if that younger colleague, or excuse me, the boss who's younger, if they don't accept your recommendations, it's okay. They'll make their own mistakes, we all have to make our own mistakes. But they're not going to want to be reminded that you know what they're going through 'cause you did that 20 years ago.
(Robert Lipsyte) In terms of staying relevant, what's your feeling about things like Botox and plastic surgery and things that people do to appear younger?
(Cathie Black) I think everybody has to make their own decision about that. There's not one right way or one wrong way. Go ahead, feel free, or if you have a feeling that you don't want to do it, that's okay too. I do think that attire is an important statement about how someone thinks of themselves. But it's not about wearing designer clothing, but it's about having a smart haircut, wearing some degree of makeup, wearing nice outfits, not trying to look like you're 28, but being smart about how you appear, as opposed to becoming more and more dated. And I think a lot of older people will sort of say well gee, I don't know how many more new suits I need, they still look the same-- well, they don't look the same! And at the end of the day, we're all trying to portray self-confidence. If you're in an employee situation, you're going for a job interview, you want to look self-confident. You want to look like I can make a contribution to this company, and believe me, the person interviewing you is doing the one-up; they're sizing you up, as they should.
(Robert Lipsyte) So I'm really glad I wore a tie today, Cathie. [Cathie laughs] Thank you so much.
(Cathie Black) It's a pleasure, thank you.
(Robert Lipsyte) Eric Kornfeld has always made his living being funny, first as a stand-up comic, then as a writer for Rosie O'Donnell and Bette Midler, among others. But he's also an aging Baby Boomer, which means that like so many of the rest of us, he's thinking about the punch line to the story of his life.
(Eric Kornfeld) During a recent, and particularly bad news week, I received an email stating that Larry LaPrise, the man that wrote "The Hokey Pokey" song, died peacefully at the age of 83. It went on to say that the most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in and then the trouble began. I chuckled, as you might be now, but then it hit me. Now on top of everything else, on top of raising 2 teenage daughters who think I'm really mean and a really, really slow texter, on top of writing jokes for all these people who are way more famous than I will ever be, and I know that because they tell me, on top of paying a huge amount of my monthly income to an ex-wife who hates my guts, and if I'm not mistaken, the rest of me as well, on top of all that, now I have to think about death. And if I laughed at the "Hokey Pokey" joke, I'm already thinking about it, right? Because a joke about death isn't funny to those who can't comprehend it. Have you ever tried to talk to preschoolers about death? No laughs-- nothin'. Ah death, the great mystery. We don't know when it will happen, which is bad, and we don't know what will happen afterward, which is worse. The only thing we know for sure about death is it wipes out credit card debt. The older you get, the more you think and talk about death because as more and more of our friends and relatives and colleagues die, we're reminded of them, of the people and how they affected our lives, who they were and what we did. But usually after that realization, of somebody being gone forever, comes the "what about me" part. I mean, I know everybody has to die, but does that mean me? And if I do die, I certainly hope it's not before I'm able to successfully text my kids. "Having a heart attack, please call!" Because I'd really hate to think that at the other end somebody's saying, "What's a hard amack? "What's a hard amack?" At this point, you may think I have something wise or philosophical to tell you about death and how you can deal with it. Ha, ha, ha, that would be great, wouldn't it? Well, I am just as frightened as you and everybody else, in fact, maybe more so. Because on top of the fear and mystery of death, having grown up in the Jewish-Italian household I did, I know I'm going to die feeling really guilty about something. I'll be breathing my last breath thinking, I can't believe I left the lights on in the basement! I really thought I was going back down there.
(Robert Lipsyte) Cheer up Eric, I'm sure that when the time comes, someone will go down to the basement and turn that off for you. For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2)." I'm Robert Lipsyte, thanks for watching. See you next time, older and better.
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