Love and the Woodstock Generation’s ‘spiritual’ pulse

Let’s do the math. We will start with these dates: August 15-18, 1969.

So if a person was 20 years old and attended the Woodstock Music Festival (or An Aquarian Exposition: Three Days of Peace and Music) way back when, how old is this archetypal Baby Boomer today?

You should also recall that the famous Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco actually took place two years earlier. So if you were 21 in that heady summer of 1967, what age are you now and what is going on in your life these days? What are the big issues you are facing?

That’s the unspoken and unexamined context for a fascinating “Your Money” feature in The New York Times, under the headline: “Matchmakers Help Those Over 60 Handle Dating’s Risks and Rewards.” Here’s the summary paragraphs:

According to AARP, 45 percent of adults 65 and older are divorced, separated or widowed. The 60-plus crowd represents the fastest-growing segment in online daters, said Wendy K. Watson and Charlie Stelle, professors of gerontology at Bowling Green State University.

Since its start just over a year ago, AARP Dating, which has teamed with HowAboutWe, a website, to suggest actual offline dates, has attracted almost 60,000 users, said Michelle Alvarez, an AARP spokeswoman.

But online dating can be daunting for this demographic. Unlike younger daters, who are versed in the special etiquette of digital romance, many older people struggle with it. And that’s why some seniors are calling matchmakers and dating coaches to help them make sense of the whole situation.

Interesting stats about the Woodstock generation, right? Might there be a bit of a moral or even religious ghost in those stats linked to the fact that many members of this generation lived, shall we say, adventurous lives before marriage?

Just asking.

But that was not the main religious and/or spiritual reference in this story that caught my eye.

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Boomers are killing themselves. Why?

Tuesday’s front page of the Washington Post had a collection of interesting stories above the fold: “Justices uphold Md. law on DNA,” “For Hezbollah, a risky engagement in Syria,” a large and compelling photo of “Chaos in Turkey’s streets,” and “Why the sharp rise in suicides by boomers?” I’m not nearly so melancholy about the demise of the print news product as some I know, but this type of front page is what I love — happening upon interesting stories you may not have sought out online on your own.

The url for the last story about boomer suicides is “baby-boomers-are-killing-themselves-at-an-alarming-rate-begging-question-why” but the online headline was fixed. To beg the question is not to raise the question. From BegTheQuestion.info:

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.

A journalistic example might be to use the term “marriage equality” to describe the debate over whether to change laws to cover same-sex couples or other groupings. The term might be fair if everyone agrees that marriage is about the union of any two or more people for any commitment. If some people argue that marriage is about the conjugal union of man and woman, the use of the term is unfair. To beg the question by using the term “marriage equality” is a logical fallacy that journalists shouldn’t engage in. But the Washington Post story about boomer suicides simply raises and explores the question of “why” — it does not beg any question.

And how it explores that question is by and large extremely well done. For instance, right up top:

There are no large-scale studies yet fleshing out the reasons behind the increase in boomer suicides. Part of it is likely tied to the recent economic downturn — financial recessions are in general associated with an uptick in suicides. But the trend started a decade before the 2008 recession, and psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, “I hope I die before I get old.”

It’s informative without claiming to have more substantiation for these theories than are actually present. For instance:

“There was a sense of rebelliousness, of ‘I don’t want to live the way my parents did or their parents did,’?” said Patrick Arbore, director and founder of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention at San Francisco’s Institute on Aging. “There was a lot of movement to different parts of the country. With that came a lot of freedom, but there also came a loss of connections. It was not uncommon to see people married three or four times.”

How did a generation that started out with so much going for it end up so despondent in midlife? It could be that those very advantages made it harder to cope with setbacks, said Barry Jacobs, director of behavioral sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Pennsylvania.

“There was an illusion of choice — where people thought they’d be able to re-create themselves again and again,” he said. “These people feel a greater sense of disappointment because their expectations of leading glorious lives didn’t come to fruition.”

Instead, compared with their parents’ generation, boomers have higher rates of obesity, prescription and illicit drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, depression and mental disorders. As they age, many add to that list chronic illness, disabilities and the strains of caring for their parents and for adult children who still depend on them financially.

Perhaps a little more adversity in youth could have helped prepare them for the inevitable indignities of aging, Knight suggested, adding that “the earlier-born cohorts are sort of tougher in the face of stress.” Despite the hardships of life in the first half of the 20th century, he said, older generations didn’t have the same kind of concept of being stressed out.

Older generations also had clearer milestones for success. “They won the Great War, they saved the world,” said David Jobes, a professor of psychology at Catholic University and a clinician at the Washington Psychological Center in Friendship Heights.

I love boomers, even if the one that gave birth to me tried to convince me last week that boomers “invented the long skirt.” Someone needs to tell my mom that fashion history didn’t begin in the early 1960s. But the Post sort of lets that admittedly harsh critique of boomers be openly discussed. As one correspondent put it:

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