Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Undiscovered Country

Years create secrets. A younger man in love with an older woman learns this quickly. Watching the film
The Reader reminded me. I didn’t learn all Sheri’s secrets right away. Some came out the first night we agreed to love each other. She revealed others in the months and years that followed. Perhaps there are some she still keeps to herself even after fifteen years of marriage. But I remember important truths she told me and when – truths few if any other people know.

The first night we shared our secrets, we sat on the couch in Sheri’s condo apartment. Her cat Pequot hid; it would be weeks before he trusted me enough to sit with us. It was March. In my memory, any March night in Hartford is rainy. In a few short weeks Sheri and I had moved from dating into something lasting, though how we knew neither could say. We trusted. I trusted. So I told Sheri a secret I thought she needed to know. My secret, that of a 26-year-old, seemed important then, but now I know it was like a folded note in a school desk, a teenaged concern. Sheri took the information without judgment or surprise. Then she spoke. Her secret, earned through another 17 years of living, as part of another generation, tasted like blood in the mouth.

An older man in love with a younger woman will have stories to tell. Is that the difference, that older men have stories, while older woman harbor secrets? Maybe. Maybe the difference – at least in the case of Sheri and Hanna Schmitz in The Reader – is that older women willing to dare unconventional love with younger men have likely led unconventional lives. Unconventional lives lead to unconventional joys and unconventional pains: secrets.

Now Sheri’s secrets are mine.

More than anything to do with sex, Hanna Schmitz’s private history initiated her young lover into the complex, complicated questions of adulthood. A younger man with an older woman will learn more about life from her secrets than from her bed.


  1. Thank you for sharing your blog. I have 3 close friends from young adulthood - we all experienced similar social stimuli as we developed our individuality. These 3 friends are all currently w/ younger men. I on the other hand, have generally preferred older men. Currently in a 3 yr. relationship with a man 16 yrs my senior; he is not the oldest of my suitors. What do I get out of being with my older man? Conversation (even though my beau is far more educated than I), friendship and inspiration. He gets to share my energy, idealism and a dash of chaos to stir up his sometimes dusty life perspectives. In spirit, he’s younger than when we first met; taking more chances and occasionally taking time to be silly; I maybe a little older and less apt toward romantic notions. If asked now (vs. 3 years ago) “What difference does 16 years make?” I would answer, “The difference between the life I’d hoped for vs. the man I fell in love with.”

  2. Thanks for your good words. I hope you've passed our URL on to your friends dating younger men.

    That last line of yours is lovely and cryptic -- I wonder what your "hope" was. When I fell for Sheri, I had stopped hoping for a particular kind of life or expecting one. I don't mean to say I was in some slough-of- despond, woe-is-me despair, I'll-never-find-love. Jeez, no. What I mean is that I was content, without any particular ambition for life except to keep doing what I was doing (reporting at a newspaper and writing) and do it better, and perhaps to improve how I lived: be kinder, be more patient, take better care of my dog. Imagine if I'd had a particular vision of my future: how would there have been room for Sheri? That vision would likely be akin to everyone else's. Date someone about the same age, marry, buy a house, have three kids, etc. In that case, I would have turned away from Sheri.

    And in that case I would have been mighty foolish.

    The river flows. I just try stay on the raft.

  3. What I "hoped" was perhaps as you described above...[normal]...to offset the fast paced career that had happened to me that was in vast contrast to the "family" oriented rural life of which I was raised. I missed a sense of home and doubted my direction.

    I met home in an unlikely place at an unlikely time. It didn't have a roof, picket fence or a yard - Shortly thereafter I wrote this:

    How simply and quickly you have become the most beautiful part of me -
    The smile that reaches my face when reflecting on thoughts of you,
    Warmth in my heart, that can't imagine anyone but you living there,
    An idea of sharing my family, my friends and my dreams with you,
    Peace in mind and a sense of belonging,
    Your influence challenging me to seek balance and to live life differently…better,
    Humbleness and servitude I feel in appreciation of the sincerity you have shared,
    Pride in knowing you; an amazing creative person, with a warm heart and a brilliant mind.

    The numerous times I have quietly wished that if there is such a thing as "the one"…then let it be you.