Let me call you sweetheart

A few years ago, I wrote a post about some of the distractions I’ve faced as a volunteer pianist: piano dusters, carpet cleaners, table clearers. And cell phones. Always cell phones.

But lately I’ve noticed a new category of distractions: Elderly men who approach the piano and ask me if I’m married. They pose the question without preamble.

It’s hard to keep playing with something like that hanging in the air, so I quickly say that yes, I am.

man hands waiting senior

The men’s reactions vary:

Of course you are.
Aw shucks.
Well, do you have a boyfriend?

I suppose I could answer their marriage question with a question of my own—the one often suggested in advice columns when people ask how to deal with nosy parkers: Why do you ask?

But because I can’t play the piano and talk at the same time, I opt for the quicker declarative.

I know that sometimes the flirty behavior is meant to be a joke. But other times, the men seem entirely earnest. I’ve even been warned by women about a certain male resident: Watch out, he’s looking for a new wife. And sure enough, a few minutes later, he popped the question: Are you married?

man sitting on bench

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation are common among older people as they lose spouses, family, friends, and connections to their community. Studies show that the health consequences can be great: depression, cognitive decline, even dementia.

I try to interact with my audiences before and after my performances. During is a challenge. Instead, I hope that when I play popular World War II–songs I’m doing more than entertaining. I’m showing my elderly listeners that I appreciate the times they lived through, that I respect and value the contributions of their generation. I’m saying, I see you. You have not been forgotten.

But I still don’t know what to do about that pesky marriage question. Suggestions welcome.

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

This entry was posted in Aging, Audiences, Music and emotion, Piano performance, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Let me call you sweetheart

  1. Sandra Kimball-Aldrich says:

    It’s God’s curse that men never seem to lose the desire for intimacy! I’m sure he wasn’t trying to offend you and you do the right thing just trying to respect and value the elderly!

  2. Jessa says:

    Lol, at least they think you’re attractive.

  3. Roger Wise says:

    Well at least it’s not as bad as the question some guy once asked a bandmate of mine – “Are you a boy or a girl?” Her shocked response – “I’ll never tell,”

  4. Evie Kimball says:

    One of my best friends is dealing with her THIRD husband’s physical and mental decline. Her lament is that their desire for sex never ends! (This one is 89!) God love them, but she’s said “never again” to another marriage. This relates to your problem, Paulette. You are so attractive, they are thinking “I can dream, can’t I?”

  5. You’ve given me an idea: Next time someone asks if I’m married, I’ll play the 1937 song “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”

  6. Diane Osswald says:

    Hahaha. I’m enjoying the responses you’re getting to this one. This is definitely not an easy one to answer. Men just really don’t understand how creepy they seem sometimes – with their words or their excess touching. I am hoping this is just a generational thing and that our young men of today will grow old with a clearer sense of what constitutes appropriate interaction between the sexes, especially with two people who don’t know each other. As I write this it occurs to me that many men, maybe especially older (old) men, just don’t know of another way to talk to a woman. It is either “intimate” (in their minds complimenting the woman) or not at all. This sounds pathetic; I’m sorry. It’s also not helpful;) Good luck on each and every proposal you receive.

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Diane. I’m sure you’re right that many older men have no idea how unpleasant their comments can be. They grew up in a different time. What is acceptable has changed, but they know no other way, as you say. So far, nothing seriously offensive has been said. Let’s hope that continues.

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