Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Wonders of an Older Woman

I’ve about had it with the myth that older women are all of the following: Serene. Patient. Wise. Understanding. Mature.

What a lot of hooey.

I came across that Older-Woman-as-Super-Earth-Mother myth again recently on a Web site called “Third Age,” which markets products and advice to middle-aged men and women.

It came up in an advice column in which a 49-year-old woman asked if she should marry a 33-year-old guy. Here’s what the columnist told her about men:

Some men, like Peter Pan, never grow up. In life they look for a woman who will be both mother and wife so they never have to be a responsible adult. Other men know their own mind, appreciate the maturity of an older woman and make great husbands.

I’ll let the younger men with older women speak on that topic. Meanwhile, here’s what he said about older women:

The Wonders of an Older Woman
Some men who are comfortable with older women appreciate how understanding and tolerant they are. Older women often really understand and like men, creating a very pleasant experience for a man. Then too, some men like to be taken care of rather than do some of the difficult work of growing up and caring for others, like children or women their own age. An older woman usually knows how life works, how to keep a house, and is more forgiving of a young man's behavior or lack of ambition or diligence.

Tolerant? Ask Michael how tolerant I am, and he’ll tell you I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Understanding? I can’t claim to understand men any better now than I did 25 years ago when I was making bad choices about men. I chose better 18 years ago, but that was partly because I understood myself better.

Forgiving of a young man’s behavior? Frankly, when I was 43 and Michael was 26, I had a hard time with some of my young man’s behavior. Once, running in to him on the way to work when we were first dating, I was appalled that he was wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt he got at a Grateful Dead concert. I told him so. He has since forgiven me.

Mature? For the first 10 years of our marriage, even though I complained he didn’t do enough in the kitchen, I didn’t really want him in “my” kitchen. He’s been the mature one, waiting me out and showing me just how smart a chef he is.

We are women with younger men. That doesn’t make us saints. Give us a break.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Invite us to your party!

Readers of this blog have been sending e-mails since our first post, and many have acknowledged age-gap love affairs. One, a wonderful writer I've recently met, retold a story that will be part of her forthcoming book, Raw Edges (University of Nevada Press, 2009). After Phyllis Barber’s 33-year marriage ended, she writes, she began an affair with a man seventeen years her junior. It ended sadly because of his drug addiction. Nevertheless, “a big difference in age is a fascinating thing to consider/think about/ experiment with / undertake / etc." she wrote me. "It sounds as though you and Sheri have maintained well, though there is always the business of being 70 and 54, as you mention on the website. Maybe it's not easy to get it right, but where there is love....”

A sentiment with which we can agree.

A man involved with a woman thirteen years his senior wrote:

Your blog was illuminating in that you pointed out, which I'd been trying to put into words, that an older woman in a relationship with a younger man has lived a life by her own rules. A life set free from the prejudices and assumptions that seem to subconsciously bind so many couples with similar ages, skin colors, backgrounds, finances, etc. … Who knows what'll happen. Your blog is testament to the fact that a relationship like this is a total mind, body, soul, life commitment.

But the note that most intrigued me did so because it’s from the perspective of someone not part of a HimPlus couple, but instead observing from the outside.

I have a friend from high school who married a woman 16 years his senior. "(He's) getting married. She's 16 years older than him" was the engagement announcement among friends. I must have heard that 20 times. They are together 10 years now, but even now people will say, "I saw (him) when I was home. He's doing this or that. Do you know his wife's 16 years older than him?" They are both successful business owners, but her age is pretty much all I know about her!

I like the exclamation point at the end. It suggests a little frustration, a little upset at how people reduce a passionate, complicated love affair to a difference in age. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t do such things. But I see no reason to worry too much about it. If people reduce Sheri and me to an age gap, such perceptions don’t change our lives. Our coupling is unusual, yes, but our love hasn’t created any crippling social stigmas. You want a love that suffers from being reduced? Think of the black man and the white woman who fell in love in 1957, or the man who held a man’s hand as they walked a city sidewalk in 1963 (or in 2003, or in 2009). Those people risked their lives to love openly. If all people can say about a couple is “He’s Mexican” or “They’re gay,” that’s reductionism worth an exclamation point. Or two.

There has been no historic prohibition to older women loving younger men (except, as with the
Mary Kay Letourneaus of the world when the “him” is legally a boy). No laws have made our sharing wedding vows illegal. No one has ever threatened Sheri and me because of our love. We’ve suffered no scorn from our families. Maybe an Old Money family from the Upper West Side is tossed into a tizzy when the favorite son brings home a waitress from Brooklyn, but our families hardly blinked when Sheri brought me home and vice versa. My family warmed to Sheri, and I always felt comfortable with hers.

Perhaps someone somewhere once opted against inviting us to a party because of our age difference, but I doubt it. Our love carries risks, but those risks are not societal. If anything, our age difference makes us more interesting: a conversation starter. We’re a curiosity, and no danger to anyone. Maybe that’s why the Older Woman/Younger Man phenomenon carries such currency in today’s gossip columns and reality TV shows. Pop culture isn’t the place for too much daring. Only just enough to titillate.

Monday, February 16, 2009

An end too soon

A friend who writes for the New York Times notes a sorrowful end to a younger man-older woman love affair. Flight 3407, the Continental Connection flight that crashed outside Buffalo, carried Coleman Mellett (pictured right, from a shot captured from the Times' site). Mr. Mellett was a 33-year-old jazz guitarist who often played with Chuck Mangione and who was married to a woman 17 years older. Details in the Times' article suggest Mr. Mellett and his wife, Jeanie Bryson, shared an artistic partnership as well as a marriage.

From the
Times article:
Mr. Mellett was married to Jeanie Bryson, 50, a jazz singer and the daughter of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he would often perform. They lived in a ranch-style house in East Brunswick, N.J., a lifestyle that Mr. Mellett found ideal, far from the famed jazz clubs of Manhattan. Though he occasionally taught lessons to supplement his income, Mr. Mellett earned a steady salary from being part of Mr. Mangione’s ensemble. At Mr. Niewood’s prompting, Mr. Mellett also worked with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra during the “Christmas Spectacular” show.

As the friend who drew this article to my attention notes, Ms. Bryson likely did not expect to outlive her husband. With that age difference, it is likely Mr. Mellett is the one who anticipated grieving a spouse. Life – and death – gave them no say in who would go first, but what if some cruel God made us choose? I’d want to say “Take me first” so she could go on with all the joys of life, and I’d also want to say “Take her first,” because I can’t bear the idea of her grief. Our sympathies are with Ms. Bryson and all the families and friends mourning loved ones lost in the crash of Flight 3407.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Love: In Six Words

The Washington Post on Tuesday called for six-word love stories to celebrate Valentine's Day and got a passel of poems celebrating love, loneliness, luck and lust. Here are theirs. Here's mine:

He’s younger: seventeen years. I’m absojoyfullutelylucky.

Or maybe this:

              I'm older: seventeen years. It's delicious.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Boy Toys in TV Land

The news we've all been awaiting: TV Land will premier in Fall 2009 a new reality dating show called THE COUGAR in which "an accomplished, beautiful and sexy woman hunts for love from a pool of eligible, younger men." Vivica A. Fox reports that she's excited to be the host for the "Cougar's quest for love" mostly because she gets to hang out with twenty young hunks under one roof.

I don't know who Vivica A. Fox is, so I'm probably not young enough to be a contestant on the show. But I do have this nagging concern.

Why weren't we hired to consult!?

In our vision of the first show, the woman explains that though she's still hot she might be too old for childbearing. Later, on Episode Four, the parents of the remaining boy toys come for a visit -- and one of the divorced Dads gets along with our Coug better than his son does! Episode six is when the boys meet the girls from the older woman's office who are as hot as the Coug but, like the boys, have read ALL the Harry Potter books. And what about the Coug's skinhead ex-husband who is just getting out of San Quentin!

More importantly, what's a word for "harem" when it's the woman who has her nightly pick of beautiful boys?

There isn't one. Take that as a challenge, dear readers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yes We Can

An insistent Web ad got my attention last week. It was a photo of a handsome, gray-haired woman smiling broadly. Her calendar age, said the ad, is 60.2. But her biological age? 67.5! Yikes! That’s because she stresses about money, yaks on her cell phone in the car, eats red meat three times a week and DOES NOT TAKE A DAILY MULTIVITAMIN!

Others in the ad were smarter — and younger. A woman who was 32.6 by the calendar was really 28.4, because she walks her dog every day, eats lots of fruit and vegetables, has many friends.

I walk my dogs, eat breakfast daily, take my vitamins, quit smoking 18 years ago, recently lost 40 pounds and am crazy about my husband. I’ve often joked that I’m really 10 years younger than the calendar says. That joke comes in handy when you’re married to someone 17 years younger. So here was my chance to prove it.

Take the Test! Prepare to Be Shocked! says the RealAge ad. So I bit and clicked.

Good habits and great genes — all it bought me was four years. That still leaves me 13 years older than my husband, unless he takes the test and discovers he’s older than his real age. Not gonna happen.

So I’m not really as old as I am. But I’m not as young as I thought I’d be, either. And lately a series of accidents and ailments has rattled me, left me a little nervous, more careful about walking down the stairs.

It’s rattled Michael, too. He worries that our days of hiking and biking and dancing might be waning.

And there’s more entropy in our house. Every day, we watch Ozark, our 12-year-old Pyrenees mix, die by inches. We measure her decline by the swelling leg tumor, her slower progress from the back door to the lawn, the loss of her once massive bulk. In dog years, she’s older than I am.

So maybe I’m just thinking more about the inevitable failure of the body these days, and looking for ways to count backward.

Michael and I are both nervous about the coming years. But a long time ago I wrote down a piece of wisdom and have pinned it with a magnet to every one of my refrigerator doors since: LIVE YOUR LIFE AS IT COMES TO YOU.

So I’ll keep taking my vitamins, and I hope we'll be dancing for a long while. Yes, we can.