Monday, November 8, 2010

The Return of The HimPlus Roundup

We’ve been bad bloggers of late. Dragged ourselves through September with only an occasional post, then October stepped up to beat us with a long-stemmed pumpkin.

There’s stuff we want to write about. Honest! Real stuff! But lately there’s been more life to live than time to write about it.

So, don’t go away, please. Don’t think we’re finished with this blog just because we’ve not shared much lately. We’re still here. The blog heart still beats.

And to prove it, here’s a HimPlus Roundup! Betty White, Chrissie Hynde, and Time magazine’s declaration that the “Cougar” phenomenon might be a media creation …

J.P., Chrissie and the Fairground Boys

Chrissie Hynde and her new band recently ended a tour in support of their album, an album that has as its hook her love affair with a younger man. He approached her at a party. They chatted. Next thing you know, they’re together in Havana writing songs. “He was learning to stand,” Chrissie sings in the opening track, “when I was wearing my first wedding band.”

Reports Chrissie on her web site:

“We’ve been truthful on this album. We’ve proven that two people can love each other, override their base desires, and distill the love into something musical, something elevated, something rock and roll.”

I’ve listened to a few tracks, and Hynde’s voice sounds fabulous as ever. The young man, J.P., sings out of some place between Tom Waits’ growl and the earnest rasp of John “Cougar” Mellencamp.

Oh yes I did! I used "Cougar" with Mellencamp.

J.P., who is 32 and Welsh, and Chrissie, who is 58, co-wrote the album, and each track is a kind of duet. The tracks I’ve heard have energy and edge, and they’re not always pretty, but ain’t that how it goes?


A psychologist from the University of Cardiff has declared that there is no Cougar phenomenon. According to Time magazine, Michael Dunn has released a study based on his review of dating sites in which he finds a statistically insignificant portion of older women seeking younger men.

And here I go, quoting Time quoting the Australian Associated Press quoting this guy from Wales: "I do believe the cougar phenomenon is a myth and, yes, a media construct."

In its article, Time immediately notes that the phenomena DOES exist if you ask the right people, such as a woman who wrote a book called Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.


And, finally, Betty White told Parade magazine in an article published a week or so ago that though she might lust for Robert Redford (14 years younger) she’s not really a Cougar … “I’ve always liked older men,” Parade quotes her as saying. “They’re just more attractive to me. Of course, at my age there aren’t that many left!”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Twilight's Last Gleaming: His Version

We’d lived in Baltimore three years without having visited Fort McHenry, one of the city’s most historic sites, and one of the places where Baltimore turned the British back during the War of 1812. So when good friends visited last month, we suggested a trip.

It was a warm day, hot when the wind quieted, and we all wore hats and carried water bottles, wondering as we entered the visitors center whether anyone inside would enforce the “no drinks” sign posted at the door. Not at all. The ranger, an elegant man with old world manners, directed us to the counter to answer our questions and take our money.

As Sheri wrote in her most recent post, “Politely, the ranger … asked whether any of us had an America the Beautiful senior pass, or whether we would like to purchase one for $10.” We asked for details, and he allowed as how the holder of such a pass would gain free access along with up to three guests to any national park in the country.

It’s almost as if that’s the only thing I heard. I love the national parks, and Sheri and I have enjoyed some of our finest times in them: watching wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota, hiking in Acadia in Maine, Glacier, Yellowstone … The idea of getting into all these places for free with my wife seemed to me a great gift, a reason to be happy with my government and country, and to cheer. I did cheer ­– a whoop or holler befitting a fort where soldiers endured a British bombardment and sent the King’s men on their way. Free admission! Great news!

We’re on the same side, Sheri and I. Yet at Fort McHenry, even though we won, we suffered a casualty. Now and then, I forget Sheri’s older. She makes it easy to do.

So as I whooped, she reached into her wallet for her driver’s license, and she glanced at me as she handed proof of her age to the ranger, her smile tight and false.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Of 56 national parks in the U.S., I have been to 14. My much younger husband is almost even with me at 13.

We figured this out at the beginning of the summer, on a road trip to central Virginia. While Michael drove, I discovered the national parks page at the front of our new 2010 road atlas. Ever competitive, and frequently restless during a road trip, I began counting the parks we’d been to. We’ve been together almost 20 years, so most of them have been joint trips: to Acadia in Maine, Hot Springs in Arkansas, Glacier in Montana. Our first national park together was Shenandoah.

But in my longer-than-his life, I’ve also been to the Everglades and Mount Rainier and Minnesota’s Voyageurs Park without him. He’s gawked at the redwoods in California and seen the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde without me. At the start of every one of those trips and at other historical sites, we paid our entry fee – we’ve never managed to make it on those free-admission weekends.

But no more. Last month we brought some visitors from Arkansas to see Fort McHenry, the national monument on a peninsula in the Baltimore harbor from which the flag flew during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem. The entrance fee was $7 and we all dug into our wallets.

Politely, the ranger who would receive our money asked whether any of us had an America the Beautiful senior pass, or whether we would like to purchase one for $10. Of course, I was the only one who met the age requirement, and I was way out ahead of my companions in their 40s and 30s. Such a deal for them! If I confessed my age, all three could also get in free. So at this battlefield where bombs had burst in air, I had my own internal war.

It was a war we all won when I pulled out my driver’s license to confirm my age. Buying the $10 pass means free admission for the rest of my life — for me and any three people with me — to any national park or monument or recreation site. But it also means another admission: I’m 62, drat it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Young Viking hopes to pillage Halle Berry ...

... but I think he'd do it respectfully.

Adrian Peterson, a 25-year-old running back with the Minnesota Vikings, confessed in a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports to a desire to date 44-year-old Halle Berry. "She could be like your mom!" the interviewer said. Replied Mr. Peterson, "She's a gorgeous woman, she definitely doesn't look her age, and I wouldn't hold it against her." See the interview below.

On a somewhat related topic that has little to do with younger men and older women:

Where do sportswriters find the gall to call a Mexican TV reporter unprofessional because she worked on a story that included the size of a player's biceps? How is that story less professional than the above in-depth interview about Adrian Peterson wanting to date Halle Berry?

As a former sports reporter, I worked hard to be as professional as my colleagues who covered mayors and bank presidents. But I also acknowledge that a good chunk of what is called sports journalism is really reporting-lite at best, promotion at worst. Covering sports is like covering Hollywood. While some journalists report important stories involving money, stadium construction, drug use by athletes, etc., others ask players about wanting to date Catwoman. And then there are those who are part of the sports promotion machine (I'm looking at your advertising that mixes sexy athletes and reporters ESPN!). Regardless whether Ines Sainz, the Mexican reporter covering the New York Jets, is a journalist in the Woodward-Bernstein tradition or the Access Hollywood tradition, how she dresses or the stories she covers never give lunkheaded football players permission to harass her anymore than the dress of cheerleaders gives permission for them to be harassed (it doesn't). You want shallow, unprofessional stories, you holier-than-thou sportswriters? Watch the video upstairs.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guidelines for a HimPlus Life No. 5: Don't flinch

She will tell you her age. Don’t flinch.

He will tell you his age. Don’t flinch.

She will misplace her reading glasses. Be her eyes. Each time you find the glasses – in the bathroom, beside her bed, on the passenger seat of the car – understand that you are coming to know her better.

He is a boy and he will want a dog, a puppy with feet big as softballs, and you are terrified at the prospect. Say yes anyway.

She will have had more ex-lovers than you. Find them amusing. Ask questions to show interest in her life, but don’t ask too many.

He will wake in the middle of the night, worried. Money. Or he was too loud at the party. From your vantage of years, assure him. Mention the poet you’ve both read, and quote: “Nothing matters enough to stay bent down about.”

She will be an orphan before you are. When she loses her mother, understand that she is unmoored. Though you are young and overwhelmed, keep quiet and steady. Drive the car. Help her aunt up the stairs. Set up chairs and fold them again.

He will write a great book, he’s certain. Be excited with him. Grant him the joy of hours alone at his desk. Then, later, knowing how time and disappointment work, grant him the dignity of hours alone at his desk.

Her skin will wrinkle and her hair will turn gray. Don’t flinch. Instead, check the mirror, old man.

He will meet attractive women his age. Don’t flinch.

She will feel something small and unpleasant and ancient when you meet attractive women your age. You will feel something, too, and it is also old and real. But you won’t flinch.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guidelines for a HimPlus Life. No. 4: Choose a guy who will step into the Wayback Machine

If you fall in love with a younger man, your history book will have a few more chapters than his. So pick a guy who likes to read.

When I met him, Michael’s favorite things included all eleven volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. Even better, he’d inherited all that history from a great aunt born just after the 19th century had turned into the 20th.

Some people are fascinated only by the history they’ve lived through. For Michael, all the past is alive; he loves watching how it rearranges itself in the present. He’s always been more a man who looks backward than forward, someone who’d rather study than predict. So when I came bearing stories about my college years (when he was pre-K), he was eager to hear them.

He’s most interested in the way my personal history intersects with other histories. He was in elementary school when Taxi Driver came out, and Travis Bickle scared him, so he never saw the movie. But then he learned that I went to high school and college with writer of the screenplay. The personal past and the cultural past came together, and we added the movie to our Netflix queue. Likewise, we’ve watched other movies that were seminal to my generation: Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, The French Connection, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Belle du Jour. We’ve talked about the Viet Nam War, the Minnesota Twins World Series in 1987 (Homer Hankies!), my excitement at hearing Van Cliburn in his prime play a concert in the Michigan woods a few years after he won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and what it was like to have a job selling tickets to Disney World from a hotel lobby in Orlando right after the theme park opened.

OK, he doesn’t want to hear again where I was* when I heard about JFK, but he was fed up with that subject before we met.

*(At my high school locker, just before English class).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guidelines for a HimPlus Life No. 3: Learn from Hemingway

When I was 26, I received an invitation to a fancy New England wedding. Sheri wasn’t invited – we’d only started dating – but I allowed as how I planned to attend wearing my best leather jacket and my fancy silver bolo tie. I was a rube – recently arrived from Tucson – who didn’t own a sport coat or regular necktie and who didn’t want to admit the complicated confusions of class I felt in Connecticut. I wasn’t fancy New England, but I was somebody! And if snooty New England didn’t want me and my bolo tie, the heck with it. “That silver tie cost more than two hundred bucks!” I told Sheri. “It’s fancy!”

I was acting like a child.

Poor Sheri. Older and in the midst of new love, she wanted to save me from myself, but …

It was complicated.

You can’t avoid it. Couples should help each other be better people. Isn’t that a great benefit of love? But in our case, Sheri’s effort to help me dress better could have whiplashed me right into back-to-school week at Sears, and I’m in sixth grade wanting that silky polyester disco shirt while she buys me a nice cotton jersey.

So here’s what happened. Sheri demanded I buy a sport coat and tie. It was not a matter of mothering. Her message was clear: I’m a woman, you should be a man. Grow up. Be my partner; dress like you belong with me. Recognize the requirements of occasion.

There was no condescension in her demand. If anything, there was respect. “You’re better than this,” she was saying. “Rise up, young man.” I felt ashamed, sure, that I’d reached 26 and still didn’t know how to dress for a wedding. But I didn’t feel mothered as I would have had Sheri bought me the sport coat and neck tie or even had she picked it out. She stood back as I worked with the sales clerk, offering an opinion when I glanced her way and shrugged a question. It was my show with Sheri as the audience (an audience with high expectations).

In the infinite variety of human couplings, there must be some older women/younger man romances that follow a mother-son dynamic and succeed. But I imagine most to be unsatisfying with more that fail than endure. A day or so ago I came across a “Dear John” letter Ernest Hemingway received from an older woman he hoped to marry. At the time, he was 19 and Agnes Von Kurowsky was seven years his senior. She’d nursed him through war injuries, and clearly that role played into a mixed-up dynamic in which she became both lover and mother.

In the end she wrote, “Ernie, dear boy …”

Dear boy? Addressed to Hemingway? It gets worse.

“Now, after a couple of months away from you, I know that I am still very fond of you, but, it is more as a mother than as a sweetheart. … I am now & always will be too old, & that’s the truth, & I can’t get away from the fact that you’re just a boy – a kid.”

Then she tells Ernie how she’d tried to make this clear while they traveled together in Padua, but he had made it difficult because he’d “acted like a spoiled child.” But she prays he’ll “start a wonderful career & show what a man you really are. … Your friend, Aggie.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Guidelines for a HimPlus life: No. 2: Don’t try to eat as much as he does

Now they tell me: Eating less could help you live longer. Some experts say that cutting food consumption by 15 percent — starting at age 25! — could add four and a half years to your life.

I was fairly thin when Michael and I met, and I was way past 25. Then I quit smoking and fell in love in the same week — a sure recipe for weight gain. Eating became pure pleasure again after years of being a single smoker.

Ah, the romance of freshly made pesto! The joys of chocolate! We sampled yummy sauces, fatty cheeses, cannoli, pizza, warm breads. Desserts melted in our mouths. And cheeseburgers — we ate those too. Once, early on, when he offered to bring me one at work, I ordered it with double meat, double cheese. He ate enormous amounts, which I took as permission to eat more. Food became all about celebrating. Meanwhile, my metabolism was slowing; his was not. The result was predictable. Still, I felt so young, being in love and him younger and all.

But feeling young isn’t fooling your body. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I figured out I didn’t need that second helping of pasta and was able to shed the extra pounds. Now, the only time I keep up with my younger man on the food front is when we eat Fricano’s pizza on our frequent trips to Michigan. Or when he offers me a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

So if you’re in love with a younger man and totally gobsmacked at your good fortune, remember that your mind may forget that age difference when you want that triple-layer chocolate cake with whipped cream, but your body will remember it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guidelines for a HimPlus Life -- No. 1: Let Her Be Her Own Age

This last week we took a road trip, covering hundreds of miles of interstate over two days and one night. Lots of coffee. More than a few rest stops. We’ve done this dozens of times, as we both prefer to see America from blue highways than from blue skyways. Over all the years we’ve driven from Maryland to Montana, from Arizona to Arkansas, I’ve learned – at long last – how to travel with my wife, and anyway, now that I’m in my forties, she and I are in better sync than say, fifteen years ago. These days, when Sheri is at the wheel and she pulls into a rest area, I don’t say a word. I get out of the car and make the walk with her to the lavatories.

But when we started out on our earliest road trips, I used to get exasperated. “We just stopped!” I’d say. “We’ve only been driving two hours!” Callow, I wanted to be on the road, cruising. How would we get anywhere if we stopped so often?

Sheri, as is so often the case, understood better than I did that when there’s an age difference with your spouse or partner, there are accommodations to be made.

I can’t say for certain when it was that she first pointed to another woman across a nightclub table or a dance floor and told me “Go dance with so-and-so.” We like to dance together, and we’d enjoyed more than a few turns ourselves, but now her suggestion confused me. In my brief experience with women, I’d learned to not even look at another woman, let alone ask one to dance. Was this a test? Was I supposed to say, “I’d rather stay here with you”? She wasn’t testing me, of course. Sheri had seen how my knee bounced with the beat, how my head bobbed, and she knew that whatever it was that played loud in that club or dance hall – juke-joint blues or zydeco if we were out to hear a band, yet another “Love Shack” if we were at a wedding – made me, in my late twenties, want to dance. And Sheri, in her mid-forties, needed to catch her breath. In the years since, I’ve danced hundreds of turns with my wife, but also with other women – young and old, married and single – as Sheri rests her feet on a chair, her generous example showing me how youth and age become compatible.

The HimPlus17 List That Proves We’re Authorities

We love lists. We make them all the time. Food for our Pantry. Errands to Run. U.S. Presidents born in Ohio.

But here at HimPlus17, we’ve avoided publishing lists of the sort you find in magazines or blogs, lists such as “Ten things younger men love about older women (!)” or “Seven Things to Remember When Meeting his Mother (!)”

We’ve shunned lists because we think love and age are too complicated to be distilled into phrases, and frankly, we’d rather tell stories. But if we were smarter about building our readership, we’d make more lists. People live for lists (see: The AP College Football Top 25, Billboard’s Hot 100, and David Letterman).

Plus, when you publish lists you seem more like an authority on things (see, for example, Moses and The Ten Commandments).

We want to be authorities on something. We also want readers to be happy. So, starting this week: a HimPlus17 list that tells stories even as it offers beginning HimPlus couples a little bit of guidance. One item, once a week for five weeks. We’ll even throw in a story or two. You could call it “The HimPlus17 List That Proves We’re Authorities,” even though it might not prove anything at all. We’re going to call it “Guidelines for a HimPlus Life.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

Stacey Anderson & Jimmy Heck, Down Under

GOOD MORNING, AUSTRALIA! We see by our Web traffic that TV-Land's big hit "The Cougar" has finally made it to your country. By now you know she chose Jimmy Heck, but you can't figure out: Did they actually get married in real life?

Heck no, is my guess. But who knows? Hundreds of our readers have Googled some version of "Are Jimmy Heck and Stacey Anderson married?" And, like us, they can't find out. We suspect that's because TV-Land doesn't want us to know the answer until it has shown this piece of age-gap fluff all over the world. Thus far, at various times, our blog has seen a spike in hits from South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Slovenia, among other countries, after the last episode airs. Of them all, Australia – Crikey! –appears to have been the most Stacey-Jimmy obsessed.

Meanwhile, you can probably figure out for yourselves what happened.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lynne Koplitz guest post! Sort of.

We got nothing.

Five days of painting the living room ("Fossil") and a stairwell ("Fennel Seed") have us tapped out. So we asked our good pal Lynne Koplitz to guest post. Except she's not our good friend, really. We just found this on Facebook. But we'll let Lynne guest post anyway. She's funnier than we are.
Lynne Koplitz - Younger Guys
Futurama New EpisodesIt's Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaRussell Simmons Stand-Up Comedy

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Seventeen years? That’s not the biggest difference.

On Saturday, we replaced the washing machine that came with our Baltimore house, the one that piddled oil on the basement floor and shut off whenever it wanted.

Sheri talked to the new machine. She smiled and said, “Hello, Washing Machine.” She ran her hands over the lid. She tucked it in and told it to sleep well.

The woman is a never-ending mystery. Her age isn’t the half of it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The doctor's daughter sees a future

My wife has a history of nosebleeds, and this week she got hit by a few gushers, including one that landed her in a hospital emergency room. Sheri’s such an old pro at nosebleeds she knows what can set them off. She told me: no bending over, no exertion, no blowing her nose.

A few days later, Sheri gave in to gardening’s temptations. She transplanted, shoveled, sneezed a time or two. Predictably, the nose bled. This one was minor, more a leak than a geyser, and after she’d pinched her nose closed for ten minutes, she found a chair in the yard and let me finish what she’d started. I planted flax, transplanted a petunia and some basil, spread mulch as needed. She pointed and watched and tried not to get frustrated. A doctor’s daughter, my wife has always been a lousy patient. Lately she’s suffered through a shoulder strain that doesn’t want to heal, a foot cramp so bad it bruised her arch, and the nosebleeds. She told me, “I feel like my body’s breaking down.”

Decades ago, a girlfriend told me that you can see how a woman will age by looking at her mother. Sheri’s mother was long-lived and robust well into her 80s, traits shared, it seems, by most women in her family. On the other hand, many of the men in my family have broken down young. Using the past to predict the future isn’t smart, but back then I figured that if you considered our age difference and our genetics, Sheri and I might fall apart at about the same time.

Now, as the younger husband carried a shovel around the yard and the older wife watched, she said something along the lines of: “This is what it’ll be like.”

She was kind of joking.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Making Babies: One Wish

Starting a relationship with a younger man when you’re trying to have a child on your own as a 40-something single woman can lead to some odd moments: odd as in sit-com funny, as in strangely coincidental, as in painful.

Like the time you explain to him that you’re trying to get pregnant but then ask him to use a condom.

Like the first time you make love: You have, just that morning, paid $110 for a small vial of frozen sperm and been inseminated by a nurse under fluorescent lights.

Like secretly hoping he’ll agree to father a child the normal way even though you know he’s only 26. Meanwhile, you’re 43 and your time is running out.

A recent article in the New York Times told the unlikely story of three women who faced 40 with no man in sight. The first of the three chose an anonymous donor, but before she could use the sperm, met a man with whom she had a child. She passed on the sperm to a friend, to whom the same thing happened. That woman passed it on to a third: same result.

None of them had the odd experience, apparently, of doing it the old-fashioned and the artificial way simultaneously. But then, the men they met, had children with and eventually married? Pretty much the same age, it seems.

When Michael and I decided, one March evening in my living room, that we were more than friends, we had not even — Believe this! It’s true! — kissed each other. But we did share things we thought the other should know. Mine was that I had been, for the last year or so, trying to get pregnant through artificial insemination.

He should have run out screaming, but he might have been too young to know what could befall him. My journal for the next eight months is full of references to Clomid, daily shots of Pergonal, ultrasounds, and the anonymous blue-eyed blond donor I’d nicknamed “Sven.” One Saturday night in June, we had what Michael called his strangest date ever: to the University of Connecticut Health Center so I could get a shot of hCG, which triggers ovulation.

What the journal also records: Disappointment. Sorrow. Grief. Pain. No baby. Not then, not later, after we married and tried the old-fashioned way.

Too old? Maybe. But I didn’t stop hoping until I turned 50.

Those three women who got pregnant wrote a book about their happy endings called Three Wishes. In one of the book’s blurbs on, a reviewer writes: “Three Wishes proves life is still a mystery and nothing, if we want it badly enough, is impossible.”

It’s true that life is a wonderful mystery, a shower of unexpected grace and delight, as Michael and I have discovered. But here’s what I’ve also learned: hoping for something — wanting it badly — can lead to action that may be empowering, but sometimes it is not enough.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going the Distance

On NPR’s “All Things Considered” yesterday, Michele Norris interviewed a blogger in her 20s who had asked older fellow-blogging women to write letters to their 20-year-old selves. Cassie Boorn wanted advice, wisdom and guidance from women who had emerged from their 20s.

I talk to my present self a lot, but talking to my younger self was a great way to take stock, to see what I would do differently — or not. It felt both nurturing and empowering, and some of it surprised me.

Dear 20-year-old Sheri,

I know you’re wavering between that nice guy you work with at summer camp and the cool guy who can dance and tell funny stories — the one you’re dating at college. Why do you think you have to choose? They both have something to offer that you can learn from and enjoy. Two years from now, when you graduate from college and think you should marry one of them, don’t. Be patient.

Swim more laps. Don’t wait until you’re in your 30s to swim farther. Learn to go the distance.

It’s OK to teach commas and "A Raisin in the Sun" to blonde-haired eighth graders for a couple of years. Just know that when you discover newspapers and the adrenaline rush of making deadline for a page-1 story, life will be more fun.

Stop thinking your finances will take care of themselves. Learn about investing.

Know that you will do some chancy stuff as a divorced woman in your 20s (and in your 30s). Rest assured that none of it will do you lasting harm. You’ll also get to sail to Key West, canoe the Boundary Waters, bike in the Netherlands.

Wear that bikini that shows off your flat stomach as often as you want.

It’s OK to throw off the religious dogma you were force-fed. But don’t shut down the spiritual you. Keep asking questions. Don’t get intimidated by people who say they have all the answers. They don't.

Get a dog, or at least make friends with some. Don’t get another cat after your soon-to-be-ex drowns those kittens.

Be patient. The man you will marry for keeps is only three years old.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Delaware River, 1993

Seventeen years ago, so early she’d had to set an alarm, Sheri left her sister’s cabin on the Pennsylvania side of Delaware River and walked the bank to where I waited with a dinged-up aluminum canoe. A week of hard wedding prep had worn us raw, and we looked it. Sleep lines creased our cheeks and weariness showed in our red eyes and in our slow, careful movements. The river was calm, too, that morning, as if it had been working hard all week. Layers of foam snaked across its surface, early fog had lifted to gray the sky. The river burbled around the canoe’s bow as we slid it into the water. Sheri faced me, in a rosey T-shirt and white shorts, her hair tied in a pony tail. I paddled. The river took us; we steered a little.

I was twenty-eight; she was forty-five, married once and divorced. Look at it one way, and that age difference explained our exhaustion. While my parents were glad to cover the rehearsal dinner, Sheri’s parents had already ponied up for a long-ago wedding that hadn’t worked; we’d pay for this one. Those days we lived on my lousy newspaper salary and the few dollars she picked up as an adjunct college instructor, so we kept expenses low and relied on our own handiwork and on the loving generosity
of family and friends. Her sister and brother-in-law let us use the cabin gratis, her nephew was our DJ, she and her sisters cooked, her brother presided as celebrant, her brother-in-law and I uprooted trees to make a parking lot (and later replanted them), and a friend from the area let us raid her garden for bouquets. Ours was an old-fashioned rural American wedding with a community applying its talents to the celebration.

Downriver of the canoe, a truck rumbled over the bridge to Cochecton, New York. I don’t recall us saying much. We’d whisper to mark a bird here, some green beauty there. We grinned at each other a lot. I imagine we talked about wanting coffee.

That afternoon, in a nearby pine grove, we would meet for the “I do’s”. That was seventeen years ago, which means I’m now the same age as Sheri when she married me. Crazy woman. Part of me wants to go back in time and say to her, “You know, he’s a kid.” But another part of me figures that by this age I’ve goofed up and gotten lucky often enough to know one from the other. Sheri at the same age must have known that the canoe ride was a lucky moment, not a goofed-up one.

Me, I was plain dumbfounded.

As I write this, I can hear Sheri saying it’s too long for a blog post. She’s an unsentimental editor, and she’s right. I shouldn’t write so long. But two points.

We first lived together on that river in that cabin, a two-month retreat we owe to the kindness of her sister and brother-in-law. It’s a remote spot, and there we learned to live together without having to think too much about the age difference. We got solid in that place by giving our attention to the river and the wildlife and how best to argue with each other and deciding who would sleep on what side of the bed. No one was around to look at us as an age-aberrant sideshow or to tell us we were the wrong ages to be right.

Second, when we went back for our wedding, all that had changed. Her mother and my grandmother – Depression-era contemporaries – entertained each other on the porch. I played basketball with her nephew, not her brothers. Music choices were more Motown than CBGB. The signs were all around that we were of different generations. But in the days leading up to the wedding, no one came to us, fretting for our future. Maybe some people worried, but they kept private counsel. In that pine grove, beside that river, we felt the necessary love of those we loved. It mattered then, and it matters still. Thanks, y’all.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Coffee cups

The other day Sheri dropped my favorite coffee cup. The cup was empty, because I had finished my coffee. Still, I gasped. History was crashing to the floor. The cup had belonged to my grandparents, a prize they received for donating money to the Polish National Home in Hartford, Connecticut on the occasion of its 60th anniversary in 1990. It was a deep cup, solid and steady, with a smooth lip. It had a few scratches, but I’m a sentimental sort who likes drinking out of a cup from which his grandfather sipped.

Sheri dropped the cup and it made an awful sound against the floor tiles, but it didn’t break.

The next morning when I filled it, a puddle appeared around its base, seeping from a hairline crack. “Sheri,” I said, “I need a new favorite cup.”

So Sheri came home with one. It’s white with colorful polka dots.

“It’s happy,” she said.

“I like an old cup,” I said, pulling one from the cabinet. I picked one we’d bought at Powell’s Book Store in Oregon, a cup that’s coffee stained and scratched, a chip in the handle. “I like a cup that’s been around, that has character. I like a cup that tells stories.”

Sheri said, “I like a fresh cup. A clean one. One that’s new.”

Then we ate breakfast, neither of us realizing that we had also been talking about the reasons we married.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

For Better, for Worse

The Gore split first shocked people, then scared and saddened them.

But they seemed so good together! They were affectionate in public! They’d been through so much in their 40 years together! They’re throwing all of that away?!

Marriage is never a done deal, as Tara Parker-Pope notes in a New York Times piece reflecting on the breakup of Al and Tipper, who say they have simply grown apart. I read “grown apart” as meaning: We just don’t like hanging out together anymore.

Growing apart might seem like more of a bogeyman for age-gap couples like us. I’ve fretted over it, but I’ve found that sharing our different worlds has worked to our advantage.

Example: When Michael moved us from Montana to Arkansas for grad school, it had been more than dozen years since I’d gotten my own master’s degree. I was scared that his grad program would lure him away, that he’d leave me behind. So I made sure I went along for the ride. I went to work every day as a reporter and he went to learn about form and theory of fiction. But we shared the friends, the fun and, yes, the failures from our worlds. These are the tiny accretions from which a marriage grows. During our four years in Fayetteville, we watched same-age marriages crumble all around us among his fellow students. Not ours.

Parker-Pope writes that research reveals (SURPRISE!) that couples who share adventures are happier than those who live the same-old, same-old. As a quality test, she writes, people might ask themselves how many exciting experiences a partner brings to the relationship.

It seems to me it’s not so much about the number of exciting experiences Michael and I bring each other — even a Barnes & Noble date night can be exciting with him. So can watching cardinals at the bird feeder or skinny dipping in a Montana lake or listening to Van Morrison.

Rather, our 17-year age gap guarantees a life of adventures. We’ve always lived in different worlds. His career is gaining momentum; mine is winding down. He rocks out to Pearl Jam; I crank up Bob Dylan. He plays basketball; I do yoga. But those differences rooted in age keep our lives interesting: I’ve learned what a pick-and-roll is; he sometimes joins my yoga class.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

O Youth and Beauty!

Let me state the givens first, to get them out of the way.

Yes, Sheri and I – like many married couples – share a bed, and in bed we sometimes do a variety of those things consenting adults sometimes do which we will place under a general heading called, in this case, sex. Yes, sexual satisfaction is a measure of happiness in our marriage, but not the sole measurement. Yes, Sheri’s body is different in obvious and subtle ways from the body she had when I married her and from the bodies of many younger women. Likewise, my body is different in obvious and subtle ways from the body I had when we married and, though my role in this love affair is that of “the younger man,” my body isn’t a young man’s body anymore. Yes, like many happy people who also have sex, we realize sex is not only about the body but also about intimacy and imagination and love and fun and Gato Barbieri playing "Europa."

I’m writing about this because last week we received a comment from an “Anonymous” who tells us, basically, that younger men (meaning, Mr. Anonymous) don’t want to make love to a wrinkled old woman with a flabby stomach. He has learned about sex with older women through personal experience, he tells us; his wife is 41. And he would like for this ancient woman to set him free so he can have sex with younger women. This assumes, of course, that younger women will want to have sex with him.

Because the comment was directed to Sheri on a post she authored, she answered – in her typical no-nonsense way. But I want to answer, too. Anonymous’ views about younger men – and in particular his assumptions about me and my sex life – aren’t singular. Likeminded attitudes accompany comments on other younger men/older women blogs or on news stories about the latest HimPlus celebrity match. Clearly, some younger men get weirded out over the idea of sex with an older woman. Usually, they refer to flabby-this and wrinkled-that in their comments.

O Youth and Beauty!

That’s the title of a John Cheever short story in which a fellow tries to pretend he is not old by leaping furniture during a dinner party. It’s a silly exercise –- hurdling couches –- one that denies the obvious, and Cheever’s hero pays for it.

Here is what was obvious to me when Sheri and I married: She was older, therefore our hows and whys and whens of sex would be different. We’d have to be able to talk about those things, and we have. Also, on the verge of marriage, I asked myself a question, which, in paraphrase was something like “If sex weren’t part of your life with Sheri, would you still want her in your house, in your home, in your bed, til death do you part?” And the answer was “yes.” With Sheri in my life, the world felt more certain, I became a better person than I had any right to be, and it seemed to me that with her I could jump couches as long as I might like. Anonymous might not have asked himself that question.

Here is what’s now obvious to me: my wife is sexiest when she’s happy, and that is in moments like this one from last week, when at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, as the tide came crashing in, she stood tall on an old piece of tree stump affixed into the sand, and from that perch she watched seawater and foam swirl around her feet. That’s the woman with whom I share a bed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mike 'n' Sheri, Baltimore, Md

We recently had occasion to visit Michael’s family in Tucson and decided on a place to stay nearby. We didn’t realize right away what it was; the rooms looked decent online, it was close to where his parents live, and it didn’t cost that much. Plus, it had a swimming pool.

The Voyager Resort turned out to be more than just the small motel where we stayed. It was a retirement community, complete with a huge contingent of Midwest AARPers in RVs and streets called Hummingbird or Mourning Dove or Roadrunner. Next to the RV park was a section of manufactured homes with tiny, tidy cactus gardens and wooden signs: John & Bobbi, Columbus, Neb…. Jim & Mary Ruth, Waukesha, Wisc.

But it also had not just one but three — three!!! — swimming pools and two hot good-sized hot tubs. It had a bar (yes, the bar closed at 9 or 10, but still….). And we loved it. What does that say about us? It’s no secret that some of those Midwest snowbirds were near my age (or maybe younger, truth be told). But it worries me a little that Michael grooved on the place. He’s getting so old!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Meanwhile, across the pond ...

A few weeks back we noticed a new square in our palette of followers. It wasn’t a face like this

or even a blogspot human representation like this

Instead, it was this.

Turns out that’s a paw print, and it belongs to a British blogger married to a “much younger man” and author of Beyond Cougar. On her site, Jo writes,

Beyond Cougar is for women, like me, who just happen to love a younger man, but can't stomach being branded as a 'Cougar'. … I write about relationship issues, and when I'm not doing that, I'm working in a senior marketing role - for now - the freelance world beckons! Enjoy your visit - I'd love to hear from you with comments and suggestions.

Jo xx

Jo's subjects have included Ten Reasons to Date a Younger Man and The Pressure of Looking Good When Dating a Younger Man. This week's topic is the backlash against Cougs.

We duck in to Beyond Cougar from time to time, and back when we first noticed it we added it to our blogroll. We’d follow Jo’s blog if it offered a function for following (it's WordPress, not blogspot).

But we notice that Beyond Cougar’s blogroll lacks any HimPlus17 action … Hey, Jo! How about a little love for the Yanks?