The “Dirty Old Man” Syndrome
As a woman who tends to go about her daily routine in largely solitary mode, and who is also a creature of habit, i have had my fair share of run-ins with this odd denominator. I have also realised that more than being an age related malady, the Dirty Old Man syndrome is a mental affliction – a characteristic male psychosis. And more often than not, the advancement of the pathosis is directly proportional to the level of social desperation and the dismal incapacity to move on gracefully into the next phase of life, whichever that is.
You will find them milling in invisible little coveys around coffee shops, malls and even parks, until a high intensity catalyst in the form of a Solitary Woman walks into their quinquagenerain++ radars. Then, despite the mature years, there’s an intrepid spurt of adrenaline, leading to uncontrollable excitement, and a breakout of jittery limb action that could pioneer a dance variety all its own. The conversation becomes inane, for to be heard is of paramount importance then – senior citizen wisdom and grace be damned! The decibels go up until finally, the sitting dance is also accompanied by a rap performance as speech pours out in absurd rhythm, replete with street vernacular.
I have always had a fond bias towards the older folk; (I tend to feel a deep compassion for the aging and the infirm). But i have now also realised that the body may have withered, but the spirit in many cases, has taken on a whole new lease on life. The tenacity to quaveringly engage, indulge and prevail never ceases to amaze …. and worry, as many a heart attack seems imminent in the wake of these senescent courtship dances.
Most times, the titillation ends there so i don’t really begrudge the desperate exertions for attention. But sometimes, the middle-aging and senior hormones take on darker undertones which i still continue to be baffled by. That’s when the “Dirty Old Man” avatars are donned and all attempts at attention-seeking become insidious and creepy. The eccentric old-people-killing-their-loneliness endeavours morph into actual harassment and one is caught between trying to be compassionate while being quite absolutely hassled and repulsed. This is a horrifyingly persevering lot.
In our part of the world, old age commands a certain respect and deference. The older folks automatically fall into the aunt and uncle categories and are expected to be similarly maternal/ paternal in their interactions with the younger set. These are a part of the Eastern value system instilled in us across countless generations. I always wondered at the largely self-centrered, individual-driven social structures in the West and the almost complete lack of empathy and inclusion of the older folk into mainstream life. The aging denominator is relegated to assisted living facilities aka old age homes to live out the rest of their lives mostly apart from their progeny. We, in the Asian hemisphere, always responded with a mixture of bemusement and empathy at this dismal breakdown of civilisation and communal sophistication/ evolution.
That malady is now catching on in the traditionally respectful and dignified East too as some of our seniors themselves shamelessly upend their side of the age-old equation. For my part at least, I have experienced sufficient alienating middle aged and oldster impropriety to make me suspicious of 50+ year old men being amiable.
I have actually experienced focused and relentless covert harassment simply because i chose not to engage with the random loud and obnoxious man in question who was also a regular at the coffee shop that I frequented. Because this was a venue at a prominent 5 star hotel, I decided to rely on the system to dispense justice/ lead with ethical propriety. That was not to be. I reported the harassment to the coffee shop supervisor, failing which i went to the duty manager, failing which i went to the MD of the hotel. I was “advised” by the man serving as the MD to “just move to another seat when the man came to hassle me”. Viva la male patriarchy and the festering misogyny that is such a deep-rooted part of almost all male mindsets now!
Needless to say, my tolerance for older men trying to be friendly is much diluted as I attempt to fit, nay, survive, in the psychology of this new social normal: I am curt; i am distant and i make it supremely obvious that i quite deplore all manner of friendly male overtures. It really is a low down dirty shame.
Ladies, young and old, to you i say just this: if you didn’t make up 50% of the human population, our collective ethical and moral compass would have been lost in the sea of desperate, profligate, indiscriminate mating calls many eons ago.
De Khudai pe aman.
*Title of the feature inspired by a 1994 K. Ivory Wayans film.