The Princess and the Terminator

By Cheever, Susan | Newsweek, May 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Princess and the Terminator


Cheever, Susan, Newsweek


Older couples are calling it quits and returning to adolescence.

When Maria Shriver married Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1986, it was a real live WTF moment. The Austrian joke and the flower of the Kennedy tree? As the years went by, we doubters had to admit we were wrong; together Shriver and Schwarzenegger were more than the sum of their disparate parts. He went from celluloid bully to bully pulpit as California's governor; she won Emmys and a Peabody, wrote bestselling books, and made powerful documentaries. Now in their 50s and 60s, Shriver, 55, and Schwarzenegger, 63, appear to be asking themselves the same questions the astonished public did 25 years ago.

Once upon a time men and women in their 50s and 60s didn't have serious marital problems--this was primarily because they were dead. Even the most irritating behavior is somehow more bearable in blessed memory. With nearly 30 years added to our life expectancy since 1900--it was around 50 and is now over 80--we can make choices and have emotional crises that wouldn't have seemed worth it when there were only a few more years of unhappiness to soldier through.

This 30-year bonus has dramatically shifted the marital center of gravity in our lives--at least for the healthy, prosperous citizens of the industrialized world. If 50 is the new 30, 60-ish is in many ways a new kind of 18. We are coming of old age in a way that parallels our first coming of age. As we head for 60 we know that statistically we are old. But we don't feel old, and we may even be more physically active than we were at 18 when we had never heard of Core Fusion or Bikram Yoga. This extra time on earth is oddly liberating especially for those of us still energetic and vibrant, as Shriver and Schwarzenegger are. We joke about being carded when we ask for the senior rate. Our desire to obey the rules can fall away. Life is suddenly very short and very precious. We are coming to the end of this wonderful ride. Now is the time! If we are not going to speak out and act out at 60, when will we? …

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