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 fiancĂ©’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.”


  1. What does that say about Sheri's looks--or Michael's--or me--that I hadn't noticed it until you mentioned it?

  2. I hesitate to guess what your not noticing says about our looks -- especially my visage -- but I think your it does confirm your status as scholar and gentleman.