Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hers, Mine

How often did she say it? “You’ll leave me before we’re married ten years.”

She meant “When you see wrinkles you’ll run.” Her tone suggested a joke, but I knew she worried. I wondered whether her fear had to do with our childlessness, whether she imagined fatherhood’s tug would drive me to younger ovaries.

Hearing the line over and over acted on me as a reverse psychology. Every time she said “You’ll leave me” I knew I’d prove her wrong. The insinuations motivated me. “You’ll leave me before ten years,” also can mean “You’ll break your vows” or “Time will prove you to be shallow,” or “You’re too na├»ve to understand what the future holds.”

Except that I believe marriage is for the long haul and promises aren’t meant to be broken. Maybe I’m shallow, but that doesn’t mean I have to act shallow. The fastest way to maturity is to act mature, and the mature guy doesn’t dump his wife when she gets old.

But here’s the truth: staying was easy. I loved her then, knew I would love her in years to come, and that the love would last. Maybe I was attracted to the beauty of a 42-year-old, but I fell in love for more mysterious and satisfying reasons.

Years later, she has a new line: “You’re married to an old lady.” She says this when she feels bad about her age, when a sprain won’t heal or when she can’t find reading glasses.

But this is the same woman who last week lay beside me in a narrow tent during a ferocious midnight South Dakota storm. The wind shoved the tent, the rain on the fly sounded like machine gun fire, thunder followed lightning so fast we knew the bolts erupted nearby. We stayed dry and safe, but how many women her age would spend a night tent camping through such a storm? This old lady I’m married to is so very young.

Enough about her fear. Here’s mine:

She will leave me. Not for another man, but because of what the poet Philip Larkin calls “the only end of age.” Outliving her, and without children, I will have to endure her absence and my grief alone.

That’s the fear of this younger man. I try not to think about it much.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Us Plus 16

We woke this morning, the 16th anniversary of our marriage, in Buffalo, Wyo., in a cabin on the banks of Clear Creek. It was sunny and cool after two days of rain, and we drank coffee made on our Coleman stove and ate Clementine oranges along with cream cheese that we spread on crackers with a fork. We’re nearing the end of our cross-country supplies and organization after four days on the road, heading west from Maryland to Montana.

The past 16 years have been a journey of another sort, one that Michael likes to remind me I feared would not last this long. (The fear of an older woman that her younger man, getting older, would look to a younger woman.)

We married with fierce faith in each other on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the banks of another river, beginning a journey neither of us imagined would be as rich and textured and full as it has proven. With all that history, with the vows we made and continue to make, that older-woman anxiety has eased but is not yet completely gone. The key is to live as though it is.

Today, we had a second breakfast of bacon and eggs at the Main Street Diner in Buffalo. The cook behind the counter wore a T-shirt with a drawing of a bride and groom, the frowning groom shackled to a ball and chain. “Game Over,” said the caption beneath the drawing. We laughed, entering our 17th year of marriage with our game still on. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Very Old Bones

A spirited 64-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man. But the older woman is his aunt, and the younger man is married.

Wait, there’s more! He’s vulnerable, struggling toward sanity after what amounts to a nervous breakdown, and his aunt has accepted the responsibility to care for him during his recovery.

This situation is a brief but powerful section of William Kennedy’s novel Very Old Bones, which I finished reading recently. Kennedy is one of my favorite writers. All of his books push boundaries: of language, of sex, of morality, even of reality. But in 1954, when Aunt Molly and her nephew Orson become intimate at an old country hotel where he’s recovering, the boundary that’s pushed has to do with tenderness and propriety.

Orson misses his wife, Giselle, who spends months on the road taking photos for Life magazine. Molly misses her dead husband, Walter. Together, the four of them waltz to music on a record player.

Step, slide, pivot, reverse, my hand on Molly’s back, her full breasts against me, our thighs touching through her dress and my trousers as we spun around the floor, she so young, and I so beyond age of any number, just keepers of love in our arms, we creating love with our presence, my cheek against hers, her hair touching my eyes. When the music stopped I started it again, and we heard the scratchings and skips of the song and we danced to that too, and then I replayed it again, yet again, and neither of us said anything, nor did we fully let go of one another while I moved the needle back to the beginning. Her hair, its yellow all but gone into gray, was what Giselle’s would be like years from now, her body in its age fuller than Giselle’s.

    “Do you love her very much still?” Molly asked.

            “I do. As you still love Walter.”

            “We are serious people about our love.”

            “We love. It’s what we do.”

            And then I kissed her as one kisses one’s love, a long kiss, and then I stopped and we held each other, neither of us there, of course, both of us looking at love, of course. And it looks alike sometimes.

Later, before a fire in a hearth, Molly tells Orson of the greatest sadness of her life. She already knows his. It is clear to Orson that the two are falling in love “with each other’s failed love.”

[W]e sat on the sofa and watched the fire grow, me keeping my distance from her, yet close, close, and we looked at one another and we smiled at what we saw. I had to touch her face, and then her hair, and then her neck, and I had to let my hand move down to her breast, and I touched that, and she said, “Yes, do that,” and I felt the softness and the fullness with just that one hand. She touched my face and ran her fingers through my hair, kissed me with the fullness of her mouth, then took my hand and put it back in my lap.

            “We must find a way not to be naughty,” she said.

 That quickly, the affair of an evening ends. But the longing for love's satisfactions continues.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rocking the Cradle

The first I heard about Katie Couric’s relationship with a younger man was when my sister e-mailed me a link to the CBS News anchor’s recent commencement speech at Princeton at which she alluded to her “cougar” status.  She’s now 52 and has been seeing 35-year-old Brooks Perlin for two years.

The June 2 US Magazine story, reposted on a Yahoo news site, prompted 652 comments, many from people ticked off that “America’s Sweetheart” had taken a swipe at Sarah Palin in her speech. But some guys are clearly troubled by this age gap thing — when the woman is older, of course — and are happy to share their muddled thinking and spelling challenges online.

A sampling of what’s out there – warts and all: 

Well being a former BOY-TOY, I know what its like to date a older woman, we are there to build up there shattered ego's, 1 was 22 yrs my sr. and the other was 28 yrs my sr., I was 25 and 30 when this happened, both were attractive for there ages and thanked me for pleasuring them by buying me material gifts, its amazing how grateful they are when you service them and tell them there attrac [sic] (StelHrseRyder) 

It seems weird to me that this couger thing is the trend. What could a 53 year old woman offer a guy 33 with his life totally in order? Im 42 and i want younger woman. Not saying there arent beautiful older woman ,but dont portray it like most woman can do it. Shes got millions. If she wasnt rich would this be the case? Whats up with that? It can be embarrasing for the grandkids im sure.  (Morgan1)

Does your new bfriend foregt sometimes and say "goodnight mom" when you go to bed. The thougt itself is repulsive. As the saying goes though - someone has to do it so kudos to him for making the sacrafice (Gary)

What young guy would want to be seen with this gummy old woman? (Jackie B)


But not everybody finds it disgusting. Here’s one of the few kudos to Katie:


katie you 'rock' and not just the cradle! (t0mkat)



Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Solving for X

Trying on my wife’s dilemma is easier now that I’m almost 45. That’s how old she was when we got married.

A year or so ago I said to her, “I’m the age you were when we met,” and I confessed that I’d been imagining a point-of-view switch, trying to understand how she felt introducing me to friends, meeting me for a drink, going dancing with me, by considering how that would work for me, now, with a woman 17 years younger.

Reader, stop that smirking! You’re saying, “That’s a pretty elaborate rationale for a middle-aged guy to fantasize about younger women.” Not so, dear reader, not so. Especially because when I tried on Sheri’s point of view, it felt – um, yucky.

I imagined myself with particular young women, ones Sheri and I both knew, in situations Sheri and I had shared in our first years. In each case – whether imagining myself meeting one young woman’s dad, or dancing at night clubs with another, or even going grocery shopping – in each case I felt old and silly: instant anachronism. I said to Sheri, “They’re girls. Kids. How did you do it?”

She mentioned one young woman I hadn’t considered. Then she mentioned a second. I said, “Oh.” And I said, “Ah.”

The young women she had in mind had a quality that set them apart, a quality that explains why I hadn’t considered them in the first place. They weren’t, to me, “young” women. They were who they were, fully, and age wasn’t a part of the equation that defined them. Their equations were complicated, advanced calculus, with values that included intelligence and maturity, but other things, too, variables that resist easy description. Sheri said, “You were like them.”

Whatever it adds up to has something to do, I think, with how a person exists in the world, about people’s level of confusion and clarity. Age and all the differences it creates become irrelevent when people share a similar comfort level with life. Older and younger doesn't matter. Sheri might have understood some things that still confounded me, and vice versa, but on a spectrum of confusion and clarity reaching from Lindsey Lohan to a bodhisattva, Sheri and I found ourselves occupying the same spot.

So we went dancing in clubs. Met each others’ parents. Seventeen years later, we still buy groceries.