Saturday, December 26, 2009

HimPlus How Many?

When I first read Sigourney Weaver’s comment about being married to a man seven years younger, I thought: pikers. From my perspective, a seven-year-difference smacks of training wheels or a potty chair. We who are separated by seventeen years will applaud your single-digit effort, but we know it’s not the real thing.

But when I posted her comments on this blog, I didn’t make any such remark, because “condescending twit” is not an image I like to project. And in keeping silent, I made space in my head for other thoughts, to wonder for a moment about life from Ms. Weaver’s HimPlus7 perspective and therefore ask: At what age does the age-gap matter? When is an older woman older, and a younger man younger?

In the classroom of my mind, hands of eager students shoot up.

“Double digits!”

“Old enough to be your mother!”

“Old enough to be your babysitter!”

“A generation gap!”

“When you qualify for a reality TV show!”

Hey! Hey! Because of the smart-ass in the back row, it’s now quiet time. Every one! Faces down on your desks!

Then I asked a friend who is five years her fiancé’s senior.

"That's a good question,” she said. “I don't think four years would be an issue at all, but there's something about 5+.”

Four years, I note, puts you in high school together for at least a year. Your younger man could be your younger brother. You both made smart-ass comments in Englishclass with Mrs. Schrube, who put her own head face down on her desk.

But even as my friend answered five-plus years, she kept thinking and then contradicted herself. “Halfway through our first date,” she said, “I asked ‘so how old are you?’ and was stunned to hear 25. For a while we joked about it a lot -- a song would come on the radio, and he'd ask how old I was when it came out, etc. Now, though, we really don't feel it or think about it much.”

Which is to say, he used to be younger, but now he’s not. He may be so again some day; my friend says she thinks the age difference might matter when they try to time the arrival of their first child.

The fullness of my friend’s answer suggests that a younger man is only younger when his presence – what he says, how he dresses, his energy level, the pop songs he recognizes ­– makes the woman feel out of sync, removed from her own time and plopped into another one. He is younger when his presence makes her look back at a version of herself that no longer exists. There is no specific number of years that causes that. As a corollary, she is only older when her presence gives her younger man a glimpse of his future. I remember Sheri once telling me how mighty she felt in her fifth decade: gifted with a perfect alchemy of vigor and wisdom and smarts. And I looked forward to that, and felt young in the presence of age’s best self.

But even the out-of-time experience is inconstant. We are not the first to note how time is a slipstream that sometimes pulls you along, which you step into and out of.

The other night we ice-skated together for the first time, under a bright half moon, a few hundred yards from the Washington Monument. Somehow, as we turned circles, I felt myself stepping in and out of so many ages they ran together. I was a boy trying to keep my ankles straight, a husband worried about his older wife cracking her skull on the ice, a young lover holding hands with the woman who makes him happy, an old man caught up in sweet, shared nostalgia, and envying those younger couples who looked as if they could skate forever. An hour in, and neither of us had fallen. “Twice more around,” I said to Sheri, “and then let’s rest.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alien-Killer Loves Younger Man!

Sigourney Weaver, at age 60, star of the Alien series and starring in the soon-to-be-released film Avatar, quoted in Esquire magazine, January 2010 issue, on her marriage to a man seven years younger:

I really liked Jim. But he was seven years younger than I was, so I was very surprised when he wanted to marry me so much. I had to lecture him: “I am older than you. I will be ahead of you for every huge milestone in life. I’m going to lose my eyesight earlier. I'm going to fall apart earlier. I'm going to be the pioneer in this couple. So don't ever give me any shit about being older than you.” When I finished, Jim was quiet. I probably scared him. That would have been the point for him to say, “You know, I’m probably not ready for this.” But he didn’t say that and we’ve been married for twenty-five years.

Sigourney in Esquire, 2001, at age 51:

Jim is several years younger than I am. He's forty-five; I'm fifty-one. We met in 1984, which was just the right time for me; I've always been the type to do things late. Whatever success I'd had in my career at that point was not enough. I wanted to make a home. He was young, but I decided to overlook that, and we got married right away. I've always teased him that I have to go through every major milestone first. Losing one's ability to read without glasses is a real pain in the neck. He used to tease me and hold cookbooks up from across the room. I'd say, "Just wait, because it's going to happen to you, too." And it's been very satisfying to watch him start using glasses.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hers & His

Chéri — a summer 2009 movie that explores the love affair between an aging courtesan and a 19-year-old man-boy in Belle Epoque France — just moved to the top of our Netflix queue, and we watched it last night. Some thoughts on the film and its themes:

Sheri: The young lover in Chéri is a shallow, self-absorbed sylphlike creature, not one many women — old or young — would find tempting. Still, one moment in the film touches close to home for this older woman (me):

Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer made up to look even older than her 51 years) says to her young lover, who has returned to her after a separation, You came back to me and found an old woman.

In the younger man/older woman relationship, there is no growing old together. We grow old at different rates: Me first, then you. That’s not tragic, not the end of the affair. Just a reality.

Michael: Chéri rushes through its opening narration (offered by a God-like narrator if God were avuncular and unnecessary) and never slows until the film’s last moments. At that point, apparently, we should be grieving for the end of this love affair between a lonely aging courtesan and a feckless, craven younger man .... but it’s too late; there’s no mourning for lovers we don’t love. Lots of pretty costumes, though. Here’s an interesting shift for Hollywood given the older woman-younger man dynamic: We see way more of actor Rupert Friend’s naked, blemish-free and hairless bod than Michelle Pfeiffer’s 50-something physique. I protest this objectification of younger men!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What She’s Learned: Sheri Venema

Married to a younger man, Baltimore; interviewed a day before her 62nd birthday, with thanks to Esquire magazine for the inspiration.

I don’t think I could love a man who thought Sarah Palin would be good for the country.

Ozark was the best dog because she loved us more than unconditionally. I don’t know if that’s possible, but she trusted us so completely. You just can’t let down a dog. I felt like Ozark sort of opened my soul.

I’ve never seduced a younger man. Not like Mrs. Robinson did.

I do not understand why my husband is so crazy about the Muppets. Just today he made me watch the Muppets singing the Bohemian Rhapsody, and I couldn’t stand it.

He showed he was young by the way he dressed. Goofy shorts. A Grateful Dead T-shirt at the office. Very unprofessional. He cooked on a hot plate.

Don’t meet the parents for the first time in the midst of all of his other relatives. We’re at a Christmas party. One of his cousins videotaped us as we came in the door. Everyone else belonged to a club I wasn’t part of yet, plus I was the older woman. The pictures of me from that day, my shoulders are drawn up toward my ears.

I’m delighted to learn why it’s not easy being green, but that’s as far as I get the Muppets.

On the other hand, my husband had never heard the song “Summertime” when I met him.

A younger man can learn to be a very good cook if you’re willing to let him in the kitchen. He’ll probably never clean the refrigerator.

My best beach in the world is Otter Creek on Lake Michigan. It has Petoskey stones, it has birch trees, it has long expanses of empty beach you can have to yourself. My idea of a good beach is not a boardwalk with sno-cones.

I’ll never be buried in the same cemetery with my parents.

Why did I attract a younger guy? Because we knew each other in Bulgaria in the 12th century. What a stupid question.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Hey Brian, who are you dating? Jessica Tandy?"

The Fox cartoon series
Family Guy has found its way into the older woman-younger man zeitgeist except in this case the younger man is also a dog.

Brian – the talking, martini-drinking, bimbo-dating family pet – meets an older woman and hijinx ensue. This episode will only be available on for a little while, so act fast.

And thanks – I think – to Maureen for the heads-up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Love and the Knife Blade

Say I'm a time traveler like in the movie. Not as good looking as some (see Eric Bana, right), but a time traveler nonetheless. And say I have a wife. And let's say that wife is the same wife I have now. We'll call her Sheri.

In real life, when we met, Sheri was 42
and I was 25. Despite our age difference, we got all weak-kneed and tingly with each other and then got married.

But forget real life for a minute. This is reel life.

So, let’s say, because I’m a time traveler my 25-year-old self pops into the chrono-pseudo-slipstream and stumbles out into 1974 to meet Sheri’s 25-year-old self, the way Eric Bana meets his wife at various stages of her life. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, he’s always the same age, and whenever he meets his wife – whether she’s a six-year-old girl or pimple-faced or a sexy twenty-something – she’s smitten with him. Like the movie copy reads, she’s loved him her entire life.

So here’s 25-year-old me popping back to 1974 and meeting 25-year-old Sheri. You know what happens? She doesn’t even see me. There’s a vibe I give off that makes me invisible, because the vibe says I’m a guy who enjoy visits with his grandparents, who likes Gordon Setters more than Dobermans, who eats too much apple pie but has never tried cocaine. I’m – oh, God – I’m … too nice.


Sheri, it turns out, spent her twenties and thirties falling for dangerous men. She craved thrills and edges; sometimes she fell from them and got hurt. There’s at least one guy who, if I ever meet him, will get hurt in turn.

Plenty of theorists have studied why women – and men, too – want the dangerous mate. There are biological theories, social theories. I don’t know much about those. I know I’m not alone in thinking that Sandy in Grease was way hotter – dangerous, powerful, and sexier – once she lost the printed
skirts and squirmed into those leather pants.

But a time came when I figured out that there are other kinds of power, other kinds of sexiness, and I outgrew that craving for love on the blade of a knife. That was when I was in my mid-twenties, about the time I met Sheri (the 42-year-old version). She evinced one of those other kinds of power, an energy more about sexuality than prowling. I can’t define it, but I think it stemmed from the advent of her realization that she didn’t need dangerous men.

As Sheri tells the story, that realization became complete when she saw me – the nice guy – spike a volleyball with a concentrated, precise violence. Maybe aggression didn’t have to be reckless and unpredictable. Maybe power could be paired with nice.

So when I say we went all weak-kneed and tingly despite our age difference, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we tingled because of it.

Or maybe a younger man is just a different kind of danger. Danger of a safer sort.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Going fast

My mother, who would turn 100 years old this week were she still alive, was not quick to bless my relationship with Michael when it started more than 18 years ago. That’s not a surprise: Michael was younger than some of her grandsons.

“Take it easy,” she told me three months after Michael and I had moved past the friends stage. “Don’t go too fast; I don’t want you to get hurt.”  I was the youngest of her five children. I was also the first to be divorced (eventually three of us would be), and she had been protective of me ever since.

What my 81-year-old widowed mother didn’t tell me at the time was that she was also falling in love again. He was an older man she had known since high school.

 And when another three months had gone by and the relationships were moving forward, we made a pact to meet in northern Michigan. “I’ll bring my boyfriend if you’ll bring yours,” I told her.  In no time,  Michael had won his way into my mother’s heart.

Mom and Claus married soon after, and Michael and I followed the next year.

It still thrills me that my mother loved and married again at 82. I thought she was so brave, traveling that road again with a man who was, by that time, 86. But I think now it was not bravery so much as just flat-out plain-and-simple true love.

Like mother, like daughter. When love visits you — the kind of love that makes you know you are blessed every day — it doesn’t matter what age you are. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Gerrie sat in a restaurant in Oregon reading a book. She was 46 years old with three adult kids. Wayne, who worked there, saw the title and couldn’t help but comment. He was 25. Three years later, they were married.

Gerrie wrote to us as one of more than one hundred new readers we picked up a couple of weekends back when The New York Times allowed us to include our Web address in a comment on their story about younger men and older women. Hey, welcome everybody! Keep coming back! We publish about once a week …

Gerrie found us via the Times, and let us know that she and Wayne have been married sixteen years. Do the math: She’s 62; her husband is 41. Yeah, that's right. Him+21.

“Wayne and I have long since forgotten our age difference,” she wrote to us in an e-mail. “My three adult kids (two of whom are older than Wayne) love and respect him as a person and as my husband.”

The part about her story that amazes me is that parenthetical aside. The punctuation reminds me of those famous two words from Nabokov’s Lolita when Humbert Humbert reports on his mother’s death and then puts the details in parentheses “(picnic, lightning)”. With Humbert, the parentheses show a horrifying callousness. With Gerrie, the punctuation is miraculous. A younger man with an older woman bucks society from the get-go, and to add any child likely makes the affair more difficult; to add children who are also older usually gets you fifteen minutes on Dr. Phil. But Gerrie’s punctuation (those little curves) indicate a dynamic that once was unusual, but is now, for Gerrie’s family, a given.

No surprise, given the title of the book Gerrie was reading the day Wayne approached her table.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Childlessness, Part 2, or: My Chat with Charlie Darwin

Like every kid, I’d heard of Darwin by junior high school: “survival of the fittest” and all that. But he and I didn’t really meet until college, in Evolutionary Biology class, and we bumped heads. I got a D.
The prof and the teaching assistant kept saying, “nature prefers” by way of explaining how evolution works. Nature prefers the orange salamandar … Nature prefers the bird who lays the hardest shells … Nature prefers the cute puppy over the ugly one.

This anthropomorphization of nature threw me. It wasn’t until the end of the semester – just before the final exam – that I realized what these scientists meant. Nature didn’t really prefer anything. “Nature prefers” was a short hand to describe the process by which critters evolve. You’ve got two mulie bucks in Montana. One is born all white, a cool-looking ghost deer; the other is camouflaged. Camo deer outruns hunters for ten seasons, impregnates half a dozen does every fall, and over time the woods fill with his camouflaged kids. Meanwhile, the gorgeous albino gets spotted by every hunter from Choteau to Glendive. He dies in a blaze of gunfire before he gets to pass on his genes. Nature prefers camo-deer. Survival of the fittest.

These days, society tells me it’s okay to have married an older woman. It’s downright hip. My family sees what a wonderful woman I’ve married and tells me that I’ve found the perfect partner. And what they say is true. To paraphrase Wallace Stevens, Sheri is my companion, my fellow, my self, my solace and my delight.

But now and then Darwin whispers in my ear, reminds me that years ago I married a woman too old to bear children, and he tells me that – in evolutionary terms – something in me has failed. I am ashamed to say that I listen to him. “Nature does not prefer you,” he says. Then there is silence between us as I search for that thing that makes me an aberration, that prevents me from passing on my genes. I’m not sure what that thing is, but I’m sure of this: Charles Darwin, I reply, you never understood love.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sweet Sixteen

For my birthday this weekend, Sheri gave me eight Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, of which I gulped five (you can guess who ate the rest). Why not? It’s a shared joy, my birthday, because it means Sheri just got a year younger. Sort of.

Until the end of November, we’re no longer HimPlus17. For the time being, we’re HimPlusSIXTEEN.

The first time we celebrated my birthday, Sheri seemed giddy, as if a seventeen-year difference had been, well, cradle robbing, but a sixteen-year difference was one nobody would even notice. She had a similar reaction when I turned thirty. That meant we could tell people that I was “in my thirties” and Sheri was “in her forties.” Leave it, then, for people to guess the details. After all, the guesses have most often been wrong. My gray beard coupled with Sheri’s vitality usually leads people to think we’re a same-age couple.

Maybe, for Sheri’s birthday in November, I should shave.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The New York Times

is "Rethinking the Older Woman-Younger-Man Relationship." In an article that appears online in today's NYT, journalists wring their hands over "cougar hype" (see previous post) while sociologists are discovering what some of us have already known for a while:
[B]ehind the unleashing of cougars in pop culture is what a growing number of sociologists say is a real demographic shift, driven by new choices that women over 40 are making as they redefine the concept of a suitable mate.
The article cites a 2006 study of couples in an older woman-younger man marriage, which found "surprisingly positive attitudes among the couples."
The study, published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, reported that the couples thought their age difference mattered more to the outside world than to them.
This news comes just in time for Michael's birthday (tomorrow), in which he turns the same age I was when we married 16 and a half years ago. I'd count us among those with "surprisingly positive attitudes," although it's probably not surprising to anyone who knows us.

Happy Birthday, Michael.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cougars running wild

Just watched, online,  the season premier of “Cougar Town.” Where to start? Only believable line: After sex with a younger man, the character played by Courteney Cox says, “I feel like I can see colors again.” Otherwise, don’t bother. Publicity blurb says, in classic doubletalk: “A divorced single mother explores the honest truths about dating and aging.” Not exactly.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lessons from a Younger Woman

On a sailboat, the captain plots a course. Steers. The first mate supports, assists, advises.

Sharon V. is fourteen years younger than her husband, who is sixty-nine. These days, with her agreement, he’s captain, setting the course. The time has come for him to retire and pursue his boyhood dream of circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. When you’re sixty-nine, the final horizon looks closer, so you do these things. There’s no way to disguise that reality.

But when you’re Sharon, when you’re fifty-five, a clinical psychologist with a desire to keep working at the practice you’ve built through years of passionate dedication, agreeing to be first mate is a younger woman’s act of love.

“We’re out of sync,” she says, “and we’ve talked about it a lot. We talk about everything, we talk it to death.”

Sharon and I talked about it last weekend at a family wedding on the Jersey Shore. Lots of fun. Cupcakes, “Love Shack,” mornings with sea foam around the ankles, recollections of other weddings the family has gathered to celebrate. Sharon is married to my brother-in-law, Joe. She and I sat down and for the first time since we met some fifteen years ago we chatted about what it means to be the much-younger spouse. I learned that our mother-in-law told Sharon flat out that she was too young for her son, and I felt grateful for her pathbreaking; I’d never even noticed a disapproving glance. I learned – with no surprise – that her husband never suffered anxiety at the idea of coupling with a younger spouse as my wife did. We talked about people mistaking us for the children of our spouses (in each case, it’s happened only once), about class reunions, about the cultural generation gaps that come in such marriages. Funny that Sharon and I had never talked about all this before.

She and Joe celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. When she let him slip the ring on her finger that silver age ago, she smiled into the face of a man who was – like her –smart, widely read, and fit. An established psychologist, he first appealed to her because he could teach her things about her profession, but also about theology, and about sails and telltales, luffs and clews. She admits to having had a weakness for professor types. She was twenty-nine, he was forty-three; love and joy suggested they could be twenty-nine and forty-three forever.

“I didn’t know the age difference would become more apparent as we aged,” she says. “Physical health, stamina, cognitive speed, just small things. But they make a big difference.”

Cognitive speed. Remember, she’s a psychologist. She understands how aging changes our capabilities, how we need more time to make decisions or how we change our mind more often. As a psychologist, she can also look at the span of life and recognize how perceptions of age are sometimes a shorthand that describes what we can and can’t do. A high school freshman dates a high school junior and the years are a thrilling chasm because the older of them has a driver’s license and a job. But soon that separation collapses, and three years is no difference at all. Ten isn’t even so bad when you can both make children and the money to feed and shelter them. And while fourteen might be worth a second thought, it’s not so important when you’re both working and healthy and dancing late into the night. And if you are young and ignorant with love, one thing you can’t do is chart the decades to come. You know only that the person beside you is the one you’d choose to be at your side when you face Atlantic gales or Pacific sun. If you’re lucky, that’s the constant.

Because Sharon loves Joe she’ll give up a practice she’s built for a quarter century and say goodbye to patients she still wants to help. Joe and Sharon will sell the house they’ve shared. She’ll fret a bit about what might happen to them as they sail, whether they’re still capable of such an adventure at their ages. And she’ll take her time to think about how she might reinvent herself upon her return when Joe will be in his mid-70s and she’ll be on the verge of Social Security. For now, maybe, they can live as if they’ll always be fifty-five and sixty-nine.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Notes from a 43-year-old woman

Excerpts from Sheri's journal, 1991

Jan. 14 — I’m hoping to play volleyball today. I need to go, to see where this emerging feeling for a new man might take me. It is unlikely, but it’s there. He appears to be considerably younger than I, a sportswriter….What attracts me is his intellect and his kindness. He seems secure in himself. And it appears, although I admit I may be misreading simple friendliness, that he is interested.

Feb. 10 — Things moved into a new phase with Mike Downs. We now, after a flurry of message-sending last Monday night, have a date to go hiking on some nice weekend…And it leaves me a little afraid, feeling awkward….Does this guy know how old I am? And how old is he?

Feb. 11 — When I walked into volleyball, Mike was distant, chatting away with R.N. (young and cute). I think he is just friendly to everyone.

Feb. 19 — He is 26. Isn’t that too young? How come I find a soul mate and he’s only 26? I have nephews older than he.

Feb. 26 — I must tell Mike how old I am.

Feb. 27 — Mike called asking if I’d like to go out for pizza tonight. I said yes, of course. And then he fumbled for words and said, “This is just a friendship, right?”…. Put away the fantasies, Sheri. Your bed is still empty. Maybe you thought there was room in it for a 26-year-old. You were wrong.

March 4 — Michael called (He’s Michael now). Asked if I’d like to see “Dances with Wolves” tonight. And have dinner beforehand. If this is a friendship, it’s OK with me.

March 12 — Alternating between giddiness and terror. This is uncharted territory, and I am doing dead reckoning. I knew when he came here bearing a bouquet of iris and a carton of ice cream that this would be the night to dispel this “only friends” myth. He thought I was 36… then decided I was 40 or 41. I told him the truth, then, after he told me it didn’t matter…. I am embarking on a great adventure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The Washington Post ran a live chat this week during which two funny women entertained replacement words for "cougar." An excerpt from "Please Don't Call Yourself A Cougar":

Raleigh, N.C.: Let's use the same terms as an older male hitting on younger women...

...such as Lecher or Dirty Old Woman or Perv.

Ellen McCarthy: Lecher doesn't get nearly enough use, does it? Can it be used in the feminine? Lecheress?

Monica Hesse: Skeeve? Skeevette?

Somehow Dirty Old Woman just makes me think of a lonely cat lady. And that makes me sad.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Older Women: A Personal History

The one I’d marry one day steps through the newsroom to return my record album (a Congolese Mass), paying no attention to who stares, steps up to my desk and I stand to meet her: smiles, she hands me the album, we chat, comfortable, and after she walks away (leaving the air tingling with possibility’s electric hum) a colleague sidles up and says, “So Mike, who’s the blonde?”

Years earlier, senior year in political science, I’m paired with a woman with salt-and-pepper hair for after-hours study, and later we’re pals driving hours out of town to watch David Bowie in a retrospective, her teenage daughter back in the apartment they shared, and though my parents tease me about an older woman, there’s no stardust falling ’round me, and I never had the sense she expected that, either – but, you know, sometimes I read headlines and still can’t tell you the news.

Travel farther back, and she’s three or four years older, five at the most – I can’t remember – but a graduate student, and dating her that summer feels like driving fast through red lights because we keep it a secret in the small office where we work, how we undress each other, what she teaches me about sex, laughter, and the brassy joy of a woman from Chicago.

Now I’m fourteen and my friends ogle Farah Fawcett posters on their walls, but late at night I’m watching PBS and As You Like It with Rosalind played by Helen Mirren – twice my age at the time – and I am smitten, because California tans and curling-iron hair aren’t nearly as sexy as confidence and wit, and Willie Shakespeare knew that, too.

Way back, almost before memory there’s an aunt, younger than other aunts and pretty, too, with no children of her own, sweet to me, her grammar school nephew, and after a long family trip I whine about a sore back, so while others play cards or unwrap lunch, she kneads my shoulders, explaining that you massage around the knot and not the knot itself, and her fingers through my shirt raise goose bumps on my arms and a boy’s crush in my heart, and years later I’m still astonished how even an innocent touch can seduce.

Sometimes I wonder whether there’s something in me that’s different, strange, better or worse, that can explain this anomaly of love. Brain chemistry? A particular gene? Zodiac signs? A person, a time, a place? Patterns elude me because for every older woman there is one younger or the same age. These days, young men go on reality TV or to mixers intent on bedding an older woman. That’s the anomaly to me, as odd as seeking a woman of a particular zodiac sign, or income, or one who is left-handed rather than right. Stop looking. Stop wondering. One day she might be there, Sagittarius, earning a third again your salary, batting a volleyball with her right hand, pony-tail swinging. So you think, well, every day is an accident, history isn’t fate, sometimes the news is good.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Class Reunion

Word came recently about my college reunion this fall. I’m not going, but it put me in mind of two reunions that my brave husband accompanied me to and for which he has long ago forgiven me.

The first time we’d been married only a year. We were in my hometown visiting relatives when a friend called to announce an impromptu gathering of my college class to celebrate 25 years since we graduated. Michael was 29. I was 46.

He felt like a tagalong, a guppy swimming with big fish. My classmates had become doctors, lawyers, professors. The host was a judge. I knew I belonged with you, he said. I just didn’t know if I belonged with your people.

I don’t remember feeling embarrassed about having a young(er) husband. Maybe I was a little worried about the reaction of my college friends, but I always relished the role of the maverick, the nonconformist. So I did a bad job of sticking with him, turning him loose in the big fish pond while I caught up with friends. I remember thinking that if I pretended it was normal to marry a man 17 years younger, everyone else would think so, too. 

Well, think again. I thought I was presenting a brave face to the world, but really I was just in denial.  Michael is exceptionally good at drawing people into conversation. But here he faced a vast tangle of intertwined lives almost impossible to decipher, and even harder to whack through to make a connection. He was just making some progress on that front when my ex-husband showed up and introduced himself. Yikes!

I was in another room when the two of them shook hands. Michael remembers not feeling intimidated at all. Instead, he felt cocky, he says, comparing my ex’s balding head and pudgy waistline to the photos he had seen of our married years.

Fast forward eight years to the 40th reunion of my junior high class. Now we were all past 50, some of us grandparents. By now, Michael had met many of the people who were there, had made a path through that overgrown jungle of relationships and memories. 

Still, it shocked him that my peers no longer looked middle-aged. You were all moving into old. People were getting gray, thinking about retiring. And that must mean… my wife is getting old, too

I haven’t been to any of Michael’s class reunions. He’s never wanted to go, and I don’t, either. Being a maverick takes you only so far.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fantasy HimPlus Couples

Just drafted my Fantasy HimPlus couples for my Fantasy Older Women-Younger Men League. I'm gonna dominate the competition this year. Here's my roster.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

By the time I got to Woodstock

Michael is right: the Woodstock generation needs to get over itself. He’s been saying that for a while (Gen X is so bored with Boomers), and I got religion last weekend when I joined the parade of my generation to Max Yasgur’s farm for the fortieth anniversary.

I wouldn’t have made the pilgrimage but for a sister who has a summer cabin nearby. I wasn’t at Woodstock ’69, but I’ve paid homage at the shrine there before. I was there in ’89 for the twentieth anniversary, when I bought a T-shirt for ten bucks from a guy selling them from the back of a van.

This year’s visit left two warring factions inside my head.

The folks returning now are grayer and pudgier, but some of them seem still stuck in the ‘60s. Beads, beards and tie-dye. Freak flags flying. Decorated vans. Peace symbols. It was all there.

One guy urged the “Class of ‘69” to gather for a photo around the Woodstock monument that overlooks the rolling fields. Another fellow asked me, “Does he mean college or high school? Does he mean you were here in ‘69?” I said, “Does it matter?” But even though I graduated college in ’69, I shied away from joining in, not really wanting to belong there. Instead, I took the photo. 

Now switch gears to the corporatization of Woodstock, a $100 million complex built about five years ago with a Woodstock museum, performance pavilion, and gift shop (where T-shirts were selling for $25). The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is lovely, but it seemed garish there at Woodstock, and the part of my heart that belonged in the photo with the Class of ’69 rebelled a little.

So I was uncomfortable with the Woodstock hangers-on, but I was also put off by the fancy digs. I wanted it both ways:  the Woodstock generation should move on, but does it need to get so swanky?

Michael tells me those two viewpoints aren’t necessarily at odds. Look at how you’ve lived your life, he tells me. You never totally embraced the whole Woodstock thing. But you never wanted to drive a Lexus, either. You’ve chosen what works for you no matter where your generation is headed.

Look who you married, he says.



Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Thorn Bush

Our argument wasn’t about much – whether I’d pruned a thorny bush with careful forethought or massacred it in a passive-aggressive pique. Hanging in the balance was the bush’s twin, also needing a trim.

“You weren’t thinking,” she accused, sounding like a school marm.

“Fine,” I said, and, like a brat, tossed the clipper onto the grass. “You do the other one.”

Which she did.

Each of us, suddenly, had stepped into roles that fit our ages. Sheri’s accusation that I had thoughtlessly pruned sounded to me like a do-it-right-next-time lecture from a boss or teacher or parent. And I reacted as would a sullen teen accused unjustly. Thus, our strange circle stayed unbroken: she confessed later that when I tossed the clippers she felt like a scold. “And I hate hate hate that,” she said.

Do couples close in age play out similar roles in their arguments? We worried in the aftermath that our age difference changed – and perhaps changes – the dynamics of our spats and fights. I imagine we’re both troubled by what the unguarded moment suggests – that our age difference matters in ways that are fundamental to how we relate, that our adult relationship is somehow a careful construction. I never want to feel or act like a child before my wife. Nor does she want to treat me like a child and have to feel so old.

But that’s what happened. And for a moment we wondered – and perhaps still do -- whether that’s who we really are.