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Eleven - Time as a structuring condition for new intimate relationships in later life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

Torbjörn Bildtgård
Affiliation:
Stockholms universitet Institutionen för socialt arbete
Peter Öberg
Affiliation:
Högskolan i Gävle, Sweden
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Summary

It is often claimed that ‘love is ageless’. But is this really true? In this chapter we pose the question: is there something that sets intimate relationships in later life apart from relationships in earlier parts of the life course? Earlier in this book we have considered how intimate relationships in later life are shaped by historical and cultural conditions. In this chapter we will instead be focusing on how they are shaped by the particular existential structure of later life. We will argue that old age is a life phase characterised by a paradox of time: that of having lots of available free time, but little time left in life – and that this existential structure shapes intimacy in later life. We will argue that the scope of this theoretical insight is much wider than the Swedish case – or even than the topic of intimate relationships.

An existential theory of time

In recent years, there has been a rise of interest in the concept of time within the social sciences in general (for example Adam, 2004). However, in social gerontology this discussion still seems limited, especially considering that the whole topic of ageing is essentially about time. A review of the keywords in articles published in one important social gerontological journal, Ageing and Society, between 1994 and 2011, revealed only four articles that included time as a keyword. Also, very few titles (for example Baars, 2013; Baars & Visser, 2007; McFadden & Atchley, 2001) deal specifically with the subject of time and ageing.

In the social philosophy of time, a central distinction is between perspectives that view time as an objective category (natural or social) external to the individual, and perspectives which view time as a subjective experience, internal to the individual's mind. The former perspective is evident in the theoretical proposition regarding the institutionalised life course that members of a society share cultural schedules of how a normal life should be organised over time, based on the objective category of chronological time (Hagestad & Neugarten, 1985; Neugarten, 1969). A number of social philosophers, from Heidegger to Mead and Schutz (Adam, 2004) have instead viewed time as a subjective experience.

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Chapter
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Intimacy and Ageing
New Relationships in Later Life
, pp. 159 - 170
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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