Dear Thelma, 

I am a 57-year-old lawyer and I am so unhappy I sometimes wish I could die.

When I was 35, I married M. We got divorced when our daughter was two years old. I was too busy expanding my law practice and my relationship with M, whom I met through a matchmaker, did not have a chance to develop.

For the next five years after my divorce, I channelled all my energy into building my business which prospered and I am now quite wealthy.

When I was 43, I got involved with W, a divorcee who is also a lawyer. Due to my bad experience with marriage, I told W I did not want a commitment. We kept our relationship a secret. W is a very pretty lady and I am sure she could easily find another man if she wanted to but she stayed with me. She is very understanding and never pressured me and I think her generous nature made me too complacent. In retrospect, I regret having taken her for granted.

After four years with her – I was 47 then – I felt the urge to start a family. I yearned for a loving wife and a few young children. This urge soon grew into an obsession. I could not start a family with W as she was already in her late 40s. Besides, I felt I should marry a “fresh” woman, not a divorcee.

I hinted to friends and relatives my desire to remarry and was introduced to a few women, but I did not click with any of them.

One day, a close friend told me there was this young legal clerk in his office, who was looking to get married. She seemed like a nice, simple small town girl, and he asked if I would like to meet her. So I visited his legal practice which is in another state, and he introduced me to S. I was instantly attracted to S; she was pretty, pleasant and shy.

We exchanged phone numbers and within a month, S and I were furiously exchanging photos and text messages. Soon we became close. There was one big issue though: I was fast approaching 50, while S was just 26.

On hindsight, I must have been blinded by lust for a young woman who could give me a beautiful family. S was not exactly intellectual, but she was very affectionate and our conversations revolved around simple and sometimes childish topics which I had no interest in.

Amidst the excitement of flirting with a young, pretty woman, I did not consider the fact that S may not be in love with me. I guess she was just too happy to have found a rich man who drove her around in a flashy car and took her to fancy restaurants.

By then, I had broken off with W. I proposed to S after nine months of courtship. I thought S would be thrilled as she seemed to like me very much. She even sent me less than decent pictures of herself while flirting on Skype.

It was then that my close friend, who is her boss, informed me that S had told several close colleagues that she was only interested in marrying a rich, older man to escape poverty and move out of her small home town. She said I was the richest man she had met, and she would take her chances even though we are of different races.

I confronted her about this but she put up such a convincing show by crying her eyes out. She told me what I heard were lies and that she loved me and was not bothered about our age difference.

I had a gut feeling that something was not right but I went ahead and approached her parents for her hand in marriage. Coming from a poor family, they probably thought I would give their daughter a better life and take good care of her.

So we got married when I was 50 and she was 27. Things went along pretty well the first few months. She was happy to live in a big city and I bought her a new car. She pestered me to buy a bigger house so I bought a lovely bungalow in a nice part of town. Meanwhile, S changed from a shy, simple girl into a demanding and controlling wife. She complained when my family members dropped by the house or when my siblings from outstation stayed a few days. She even complained when my parents came to stay over sometimes.

At the same time, her family members started to treat the house like their own. Her parents visited often and her sisters dropped by almost every day as all of them, including my young wife, are homemakers.

My wife did not conceive the first year. I suggested going to a fertility clinic but she refused, and accused me of marrying her just to have babies. She was her usual dramatic self, and screamed and cried until I gave in.

One day, I found a bottle of contraceptive pills in her drawer. When confronted, she confessed that she was not ready to have children and wanted to enjoy life first.

I was very angry and threatened to divorce her. She cried and begged for forgiveness and promised to go to a fertility clinic with me. We went to see a fertility specialist and soon she was pregnant with twins. I was over the moon and gave her whatever she wanted, including a trip to Hong Kong where she maxed out my credit card buying designer clothes for herself.

I came from a poor family and am careful with my spending, so you can imagine my pain when she splurges like that. Fast forward, the twins were born but one of them has some problems and doctors diagnosed he may be autistic. We took in an extra maid and part-time helpers to do gardening and cleaning as my wife would not lift a finger to do housework.

The babies slept with the maids who doubled up as their nannies. My wife continued her carefree lifestyle of shopping and playing mahjong. Most of the time, the children are left at home with the maids. This hurts me very much. I dreamed of having a loving wife who would devote her time to her family, but this was not to be.

I was brought up in a traditional family. My mother stayed home to take care of the entire household, and cooked and cleaned. With my wife, everything is just the opposite. She spends a small fortune on designer wear, expensive hair treatments and facials. Hence she looks much younger than her 34 years.

Now she refers to me as “that old man” in front of her sisters, friends, and even the maids. I had a serious talk with her and told her that if she was so dissatisfied with an old husband, we could get a divorce. She threatened that should that happen, she would take the house, half my business, all our properties, and the children too, besides seeking a hefty alimony. I could give up my money but not my children.

I also feel very embarrassed as more and more frequently, people are mistaking the twins for my grandkids, and my wife for my daughter-in-law. Sometimes I feel shamed to approach her for sex as I feel so old while she is so young.

I wish I could turn back the clock, and not marry a woman so much younger than me. I regret not listening to my gut feeling that she was only looking for a better life. And now I have to suffer for it. I do not know what I should do now. – Desperate Old Husband

Dear Desperate Old Husband, 

IT may be cold comfort to you that your problem is not uncommon. Many people, men especially, find themselves in this “trap” brought upon by their own misunderstood desires.

There is the issue of your unhappy marriage with your wife, and having to deal with being the “old man” in your young family.

You have gone past the stage of taking more interest in your wife’s interests or spending time together. You have to first acknowledge that you are incompatible with each other. You mentioned that you had nothing in common with her. You attributed this to her age. Now you have only your children in common. You have no shared goals or vision. She does not share your views on family or child-rearing, even.

It may have been a little naïve of you to expect, in this day and age, a wife who would devote herself completely to your home and family. Aside from the strides in women’s empowerment, relationship experts also recognise that two adults in a healthy relationship must develop and maintain their own separate identities. It is unrealistic and unfair of you to expect your wife to be like your mother.

And that bring us to the crux of your problem – your expectations. There is nothing wrong in you wanting to start a family or having a younger wife for that matter. However, you should have, from the very beginning, been open and clear with yourself and her about what you wanted.

You are a divorced man, yet you expected a “fresh” woman, as you say. Is that not a bit unfair? You come with baggage, and yet you expect an uncomplicated woman for yourself.

If you expected her to play hostess to your parents and relatives when they stayed over, you should have expressed this to her clearly from the very beginning. Communication is so important in a relationship.

Looking at your story now, it is clear that there were signs that you were incompatible. Or, at least, she wasn’t all that you were looking for. You either did not see these signs or perhaps you chose not to see them.

You have to admit your complicity in all this. She spoke of things you had no interest in, yet the attention of a young and nubile woman flattered your ego and you liked that. You complain that she spends your hard-earned money on facials, hair treatments, and designer clothes. You did not stop her because you feel good to be with a woman who looks and dresses like her.

You did not like her spending so much money, yet you allowed a large credit limit on your credit cards. The point here is that you have plenty to gain from this arrangement, too.

Yes, she may have cried and begged you not to leave, and you made the choice to stay on. You decided that you still wanted to be with her at that point. Maybe it was lust that drew you to make that decision, or the desire for children and a family. Whatever the reason, you have to take responsibility for your actions and admit to yourself that it was your decision.

Admitting that is not symbolic of sleeping in the bed you made. It is the first step for you to stop viewing yourself as a victim. It is this mentality that has stopped you from rationally and intelligently analysing the situation, and taking the necessary steps to help yourself.

You are a lawyer and have access to a network of lawyers who are probably among the best in the field. Have you checked with anyone on what your wife can and cannot claim from you?

If you see yourself as an old man, how would you expect others to see you? You must have done the math when your children were born and figured out that you would be older than other dads when they started school and other rites of passage. Did it not matter to you then? What were you expecting when you wanted a young family?

There are many older men in the world who have become new fathers. They have found ways to deal with it. Can you get fit and change your style of dressing? Getting fit is not just about looking young but also being physically prepared to cope with young children. There will be running and playing involved. Would it not make sense to be prepared for that rather than groan about being unable to keep up?

It is clear that you are not trapped, but you perceive yourself to be. Changing that perception will help you see that you have choices to make, and you can change the circumstances in your life. That means having to admit some harsh truths about yourself, and having to make some decisions that will make you uncomfortable. Assessing yourself, if you are ready for that, is the key to helping yourself. – Thelma 

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