On Australia’s highways and byways, under the stars, enjoying the wide open spaces, romance is blossoming all over again, writes sex and relationship counsellor JO-ANNE BAKER.
I recently attended a downshifting conference, organised by Dr Clive Hamilton, executive director of The Australian Institute for a Just Sustainable, Peaceful Future ( www.downshifting.net.au ). His research in this area found that 92 per cent of people were happy with their downshifting decision.
This had a flow-on effect to their primary relationship. As people felt more balanced in their life overall, their intimate relationships blossomed. At the conference I met Jessica, a financier, who made a sea change five years ago when she and her husband moved from the inner city of Sydney to the Gold Coast hinterland.
They were cracking under the financial pressure of a $500,000 mortgage, expensive private school fees and the social stress of maintaining an executive lifestyle. The move was their way out, and both were convinced it would improve their family life and restore the intimacy lacking in their relationship.
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For Jessica, the new-found financial freedom opened up her life: she was able to pursue long-held interests, meet new people and free herself from the city rat race. While she felt her life expanding, her husband David had a much more difficult transition. In his early 50s, he found it more difficult than his wife to meet new people and re-invent himself.
An important part of his self-image was his identity as a successful businessman. When this was gone, it took him time to establish a new self-image to fill the void.
Ultimately, the relationship broke down.
Both Jessica and David now love living in their small community and have no intention of leaving, even though they are no longer a couple.
Also at the conference were Lisa and Paul, a couple who were in the process of downshifting, with Paul having made a permanent move to the country and Lisa still moving between her old city life and her new rural one.
They had been childhood sweethearts who re-established contact and reignited their relationship 25 years later. While Lisa was a corporate woman, Paul had already made the move to a country town and had no intention of re-joining the city chaos. Six months ago, Lisa bit the bullet, packed up and moved to the country to live with him.
While she loves her new time and space, financial reality has meant that she has had to rejoin the city workforce, with a long daily commute. At this point, she still feels that the new life they are building together is worth it, because every weekend feels like being on a romantic getaway. But the travel is exhausting and she wonders how long she can continue this dual life.
Another way the baby boomers are repairing their physical and spiritual wellbeing and investing in their relationships is not by re-locating to a more idyllic place, but by hitting the road. Ian and Fay Hamilton are two of these so-called grey nomads who went on a year-long adventure around Australia and loved it so much they decided to make their life on the road permanent. Their book about their adventures, Beaches Bush Roads and Bull Ants, published by Optic, has been re-printed numerous times.
Together for 15 years, they advise that couples who are envisaging a new life on the road should be pretty sure of their relationship before setting out. The confines of a motor home, caravan or campervan can be a testing scenario if the relationship is not on a sure footing. It is often inconceivable for younger people to imagine older people as vibrant sexual beings. But many grey nomads have recounted that their new-found freedom has recharged their sexual batteries, and are delighted to be back in touch with their libido.
Priorities have changed as people reject their time-poor existence for a new life, where wealth is measured in time and opportunity, rather than assets.
For some this means changing career direction, taking a less demanding job, working fewer hours, or opting for a new simplicity that creates a new-found peace of mind.
The choice to turn away from a stressful life chasing the almighty dollar means there is more time available to find out what you and your partner really want. This means spending time with the most important people in your life, rather than the most demanding ones, and developing interests that seem to have been permanently put on hold.
As a therapist, I have been interested to find out how these lifestyle changes influence our most intimate relationships.
For some couples, a sea change or a long trip together works wonders, allowing them to rekindle intimacy and romance that may have been lost in busy lives of raising families and building careers. For others, being separated from friends, family and community removes an essential tier of support, without which they find it difficult to cope.
Thrown together, with only each other for company, some couples find their new lives claustrophobic and ultimately damaging to their relationship.
But make no mistake. Baby boomers are on the move. If they’re not selling up and setting off in caravans and mobile homes to join the growing band of grey nomads, they’re embracing a sea change, making do with less to get more out life. According to Bernard Salt, a social demographer, those aged in their 40s and 50s make up the majority of the 4.1 million Australians who are “down shifting, sea-changing or packing up and hitting the road”.
Jo-Anne Baker is author of several books including Self-Sexual Healing. Find her on on the web at www.pleasurespot.com.au