Reader dilemma: 'As I get older I have more and more time to socialise, but my husband has gone into his shell'

'I want to see my friends more and more - He spends his time gardening, reading and writing a history of his family.'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia,

I’m a very social person and as I get older and have more time – my children have left home – I want to see my friends more and more. I love parties and I need a social life to keep me going. My husband, on the other hand, who used to be gregarious, has gone into his shell. He spends his time gardening, reading and writing a history of his family. But I know that, when we’re invited out, people often only ask me because of my husband – because he can, when he makes an effort, be charming and entertaining.

Yours sincerely, Belinda

Virginia says

Your husband is no different from a great many men of his generation. They’ve spent their lives at work in the company of other people and now they want a break. I always remember my own father groaning when people were coming over for drinks. He would open the door to them and be utterly charming and amusing and – after the last guest had gone, having been the life and soul – would slump on the sofa groaning: “Thank God they’ve gone! Never again!” It used to drive my mother mad.

I have a certain sympathy with your husband, as well. Social life, which you find so stimulating and refreshing, can often, nice as it is, be a huge effort. Sometimes it’s not even nice – it’s just a huge chore. This gregarious manner of your husband’s may not come without a price. It may be that he’s always felt that to be entertaining and sociable is, in fact, like a job of work.

So since you both have different attitudes to social life, why not separate it out? It sounds as if you’ve been married long enough for him not to seethe with jealousy if you were to go parties and left him at home. And he can’t really object if he’s been invited anyway. Tell anyone who invites you that they’ll have to ask your husband separately because you live different social lives. It could be that having to refuse every invitation instead of using you to do the dirty work would turn out to be more of a chore for your husband than actually performing for the evening.

As for your knowing that when they invite you as a couple, people really only want to see your husband, how do you know that’s true? Obviously, after it becomes known that you’re a lone socialite on most occasions, you might find that invitations dry up; on the other hand, they might remain at the same level, making you realise that people like you for yourself alone, not as the appendage of some amusing husband.

Some couples, as they grow older, become more intertwined, like ivy into a trellis. Others grow further apart and get divorced. But others grow further apart and, at the same time, decide to stay together because they love each other. But loving each other doesn’t mean you have always to go out together, go on holiday together, do the shopping together.

You’re different people going through different stages of life. But I have a feeling that if you didn’t make excuses for him, and left him to wriggle out of things on his own, he wouldn’t be quite as quick to refuse invitations. It’s one thing to refuse all invitations, another to find that, after refusing every one, you’ve got such a reputation as a hermit that you’re never even invited at all.

Readers say...

He needs you to be sociable

The ideal marriages are a combination of complementary opposites, and yours seems to combine an introvert with an extrovert. Introverts are people who have a deep inner life, which in your husband’s case is reflected and fuelled by reading and the reflective time spent gardening. It is this inner life of the mind that makes him interesting. But don’t do yourself down: he is probably more dependent upon your social networking than you think. Men like him are interesting, but socially dependent upon their womenfolk. So realise that each of you has a part to play in the marriage partnership.

Francis Beswick

Stretford

Do your own thing

Do what my mother did when she found herself in the same situation as you: go out on your own, or with friends. My mother was an adventurous person who loved to travel and meet people. When my father retired after a career of daily commuting to London, all he wanted to do was relax in his chair, drink tea and read his books. So she joined groups, made lots of good friends and travelled abroad and in the UK with them.

Both she and my father were quite happy with this arrangement and, of course, had plenty to talk about on her return. Also, when my father died, she was able to pick up the pieces relatively quickly and enjoyed a full and active life for many more years. I always think it is sad when a person who has never done anything separate from their partner is left and seems unable to cope with life alone. Do your own thing and let your husband enjoy what he likes doing best.

Penny Joseph

Shoreham-by-sea

What’s brought about this change?

Is it possible that your husband is on medication that affects his mood and temperament? Statins and drugs for high blood pressure are renowned for side-effects like lethargy, depression, lack of interest in others and self-absorption. Those who recognise the drugs’ influence may overcome their reticence, but those who don’t will make excuses along the “Anno Domini” theme.

Sally

by email

Find common ground

If you’re worried about growing apart, find something that combines both your interests – maybe it’s a holiday with friends, where he can read when he wants to.

Janet

Surrey

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