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.

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