Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dear B-Frank...

Dear Ben,

Colonial-era sexy
My history professor, who is an old woman and frankly (that’s a pun) kind of hot, had us read a letter you wrote so we could talk about how sex worked in the Colonial era. I raised my hand and said that sex probably worked the same then as it does now, you know, with Jell-o shots and certain body parts, but my professor (did I mention that she’s hot?) means that people didn’t talk about sex the same way or maybe have the same expectations, like the guy didn’t just leave afterward, or maybe he did, but then the next day he ignored her hand-written notes instead of pretending not to get her texts.

My professor (legs like Beyonce’s!) told me we had to write you a letter back. So here it is.

If you watch E! now, you’d think no one ever went out with an old woman before Demi Moore. But your letter shows that it’s old school! I guess that proves what my professor keeps saying: history shows us we’re not so special, and what seems new is probably just unfamiliar.

I’ll tell you what’s unfamiliar. When you say old women are grateful that you date them, I can say honestly that is not my experience. I’ve hooked up with a couple of cougars, some almost thirty-two, and it wasn’t like they were grateful at all. B-Frank, let me tell you: My high school football coach was less demanding than them old ladies. You hook up with an old woman, you’ve got to meet some serious standards. Tuck your shirt in. Pick the French fries up off the car floor.

And Ben, I know your face is on the C-note, but I don’t think that means you should call sex “commerce.” It’s funny to think of sex that way, but mostly these days it’s illegal.

So, all in all, it is an interesting letter you wrote, and I admire your sexpertise. I don't have as much personal experience as you, but I'm paying careful attention when you say that old women get lax in the upper parts while staying plump and firm in the lowers, so you can’t really tell a woman's age in the dark. Let’s hope that’s true for you, too, old man. Because you’re still a couple hundred years away from Viagra.

Your affectionate friend,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Modern Love

They sit apart in the photo and together, two artists, she at her loom, he lighting his pipe. She is Danish, he is African-American. He is 34 or 35. She is sixteen years older. They live in Denmark and have been married five years.

Sheri and I saw their photo last week at an out-of-the-way museum that is also an historic estate overlooking the Rappahannock River near Fredricksburg, Virginia. The day we arrived, a traveling exhibit presented the art of William Henry Johnson, an influential Modernist who did most of his best work from about 1926 until the mid-1940s. He is the man Sheri and I saw in the photograph, lighting his pipe.

Lofoten Island, 1937
And what an artist! His canvases show range, dynamism, and a willingness to explore. European expressionism in his work gave way to something like cubism, gave way to what he called “primitive” two-dimensional art. Talented and experimental, he decided at a young age that, “I am not afraid to exaggerate a contour, a form, or anything that gives more character and movement to the canvas.”

Born poor in South Carolina, Johnson later studied art in New York City. A mentor helped him raise money to visit Paris in 1926, and it was in France that he met a Danish weaver/artist named Holcha Krake. Sixteen years apart in age, the couple married in 1930, traveled throughout Europe and North Africa to study art, and settled mostly in Denmark to paint and to weave.

In 1938, fearing how invading Nazis would react to a black man married to a white woman, they moved to New York City. They continued to work, even exhibiting together, and Johnson began his shift toward colorful two-dimensional primitivism.

Six years later, Holcha died of breast cancer. By all reports, Johnson’s grief tipped him away from what might have already been a fragile sanity. He painted a year or so more, then was institutionalized at a state mental hospital in New York, where he lived the rest of his life, never painting again. He died in 1970.

“Don’t let that happen to you,” Sheri said.

Jitterbugs, 1941
We were the only people in the gallery, alone with William and Holcha and William’s art. We left their love story and went to look again at his painting of a couple dancing the Jitterbug.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Advice from the Times of India

“Would it be right,” asks the Times of India in a recent article, “to say that despite growing in numbers, the older-woman-younger-man-relationship always comes with a very short shelf life?”

My goodness. One hopes not.

Saif and Amitra
Well, the Times offers me as proof, there is the breakup of Madonna and Guy Ritchie. And Courtney Cox’s split from David Arquette. And of course the divorce of that young pup Saif Ali Khan from his 12-years-older wife, Amitra Singh, after a 13-year Bollywood marriage. Even that most famed of Cougar unions, DemiAshton, reports the Times, is in danger of disunion.

 Oh, yes. The famous couples.

Putting aside the fallacy that the lives of the rich and famous are evidence of anything except the lives of the rich and famous, I’m going to give writer Haimanti Mukherjee credit for interviewing a relationship counselor for advice that could keep a HimPlus love affair going. That advice­–mostly directed toward women–seems fairly solid. In summary, this is what the Times suggests:

1. Women needn’t act their man’s age. They need to act their own. He didn’t fall in love with a woman his age; he fell in love with you.

2. Just because the woman acts her own age doesn’t mean she gets to mother her man.

3. No couple does everything together, and that’s also true for older women and younger men. So what if she wants to watch “The Breakfast Club” one more time, and he wants to run up the side of a mountain? It’s okay to let your partner enjoy his age sometimes without you; and you can enjoy yours without him.

4. Refrain from asking over and over, “Why did you fall for an older woman?” If you keep asking, he might eventually wonder, too.

All good points, to which I might add only this:

Don’t fall for a movie star.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why I Love the Man I Love

And how it has nothing to do with age. 

  • He taught me to love dogs;
  • Every day, he teaches me (and this is often a struggle) to be more patient;
  • He eats my sour-cream-almond apple pie;
  • He asks for more apple pie;
  • He always makes the small world larger;
  • Watching a bird, a star, or a spider web, he can also make the large world small;
  • He sometimes uses spices named “elk rub” or “venison rub” on eggs;
  • He looks terrific in a suit;
  • He knows what’s happening in Kashmir;
  • He loves to dance;
  • When I ask for the 80th time, he turns the TV on mute to explain ­­– for the 80th time –what an onsides kick is;
  • He likes duckpin bowling;
  • He always knows where he’s going;
  • He wears a silver Hopi bracelet;
  • When he shot his first deer, he wanted not only to gut it, but to skin and butcher it himself, to know where the meat came from;
  • He did not want trophy photos of the dead deer but let his father take them anyway because dad was proud of son.
  • His sense of wonder has not diminished;
  • He lets me put my cold hands on his warm, bare skin;
  • He knows that angels can dance on the head of a pin, or to a Van Morrison song, or in a good single-malt, or in a well-turned phrase.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is it creepy to have a crush on a 19-year-old?

Yesterday, we celebrated my 47th birthday. It’s a nothing-burger of a number, so undramatic that I actually forgot my age. Sheri had to remind me. Turns out I’m younger than I thought.

But am I young enough to have a crush on a 19-year-old woman? Or is it creepy? Does it make a difference if she’s my wife?

For a month or so now, this photo has sat in a frame on my desk. Where it came from or how it rose to the top of our pile of old photos, I’m not exactly sure. But when I saw it, I wanted it on my desk. It’s the young woman, aged 19, who will one day be my wife, and she’s careening down the slope of a famous Michigan sand dune named Sleeping Bear. Frankly, if Sheri were turning 19 again this year, she’d probably still be running down that slope. The more things change …

But she’s not 19. She’s 63. And when this photo was taken I was still pooping my pants and saying “No!” a lot.

I’ve written before about how Sheri in her 20s would never have paid a twenty-something me much attention. Sheri at 19, though, the young woman who is hurtling down this hill – she might have liked a 19-year-old me, and I her. She is so much the woman I love, before she is distracted by dangerous men in her twenties. Her world is all sun and sand and picnic benches at the hill’s bottom, and earnest joy.

But we didn’t meet, and couldn’t have, and so, in a strange way, all I’m allowed is a crush on her from a distance of some 44 years.

Sheri doesn’t seem jealous of the way I fancy her younger self. That makes sense. She’s still married to the 47-year-old me, and that won’t change. And the part of me that’s smitten with a 19-year-old Sheri isn’t the part that’s here with her now, and married, and which on my birthday hiked alongside her for five miles over a central Maryland mountain. The part of me that’s smitten isn’t even sitting at my office desk admiring her in black-and-white. It’s 19-years-old, just as she is, and watching her from a picnic bench in Michigan in 1967, pleased and hopeful and impossible.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

True love?

The most famous woman in Spain, the fabulously wealthy 85-year-old Duchess of Alba, takes a 60-year-old husband.

What is there to say about this age-gap relationship?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tree rings and crow's feet

Mary’s comment on a previous post went something exactly like this:

“Dude. I gotta say :o, she looks younger than you do.
Why do people say I look
older than Sheri?

That bright light streaking through the heavens that you thought was a falling chunk of NASA space junk? Actually, it was an ascending Venema–after reading that comment.

Me? I say, “Old news.”

There has always been a discrepancy between our actual birth-certificate-certified ages and how old we look – or, more accurately, how old Sheri looks. When we started dating, I mistook her age for about a decade younger than she actually was. Shortly after we went public, Sheri’s friend, S., said our age difference wasn’t visually apparent because I could pass for ten years older and Sheri could pass for ten years younger. I could have taken that as an insult, I suppose, but what I heard was “Michael looks mature enough to consort with Sheri.” To which I thought, “Naturally.”

But recently, another friend–catching glimpses of us in photos on the blog–wrote to us that “Michael is catching up” to Sheri, visually. And then there was Mary’s comment, that with fallow field atop my skull, crow’s feet when I laugh, gray stubble on my chin, I’d passed Sheri by.

Over the last few days I’ve asked people who don’t know me well to guess my age. The massage therapist said 45, the woman working the counter at the Peruvian restaurant guessed 50, and the co-owner of our favorite neighborhood restaurant said, “Hmmmm. 47.”

Those guesses were all in range, and the restaurant owner was scary accurate (wish me a happy 47th on Oct. 15). This unscientific survey suggests that I actually do look my age.

What that means, exactly, I can’t say. How does someone look his or her age? What do we see in each other that allows us to guess an age with remarkable accuracy, so much so that “she doesn’t look her age” is the exception rather than the rule?

Veterinarians look at dogs’ teeth tartar to estimate years. Dendochronologists count tree rings. We humans seemed to be attuned to each others’ posture and hair, skin, fashion sense, and all those things add up to a number. The number is necessary, somehow, or we wouldn’t develop the age-sense. Certainly, there are biological reasons, but perhaps we have social, tribal reasons, too.

Maybe, on some level, perceiving age is protective. On an occasional weekend I walk across the campus where I teach, and surrounded by all that youth, I’m struck with a strange unnerving sense that the authority I have during the week has vanished and that I’m now an alien, an intruder, and I think about that famous Yeats’ line, and I leave as soon as I can, and hurry back to my wife who apparently looks my age, or younger, and with whom I always feel at ease.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Same as the Old Boss.

As a friend wrote on Facebook recently, You don’t kiss and tell, and you don’t fight and tell.

Except, of course, when you write a blog.

“When are you going to write about how you two argue?” asked a young woman who is involved with an older man. She wondered whether an age gap could contribute/influence/lead to a verbal wrasslin’ match. So I said to Sheri, “I think I’ll blog about how we argue.” And I mentioned something about authority, etc., etc.

What happens? She steals my blog idea, and now the world thinks I don’t know how to cut a tomato.


You use a knife. Not a fork.

But it is true, I have more than once given way in arguments out of a sense that Sheri is more experienced, with a better vantage from which to see the world, and thus, bears a greater authority. From a young age I’ve respected authortiy, wanting to believe whatever God, the Declaration of Independence, and Captain Kangaroo had to tell me. Becoming a newspaper reporter, I think, gave me a structure in which to learn to question authority.

Then came Sheri. And I had no newsroom to back up my challenges.

Hot water in the ice cube trays makes the ice better? Cold water in the coffee pot makes better coffee? Okey-dokey. We’ll do it your way.

And when I insisted my way was the right way, we got into some of our most helacious cold-shouldered knockdown arguments. One was over chocolate chip cookies. I’ve never since tried to bake chocolate chip cookies. The marriage means that much to me.

But here’s something else that has happened over the years. Sheri has agreed that there are subjects in which I’m the champ. Where to get the car fixed? Me. Installing light fixtures? Me. Picking a dog from a litter and training it? Me. Sense of direction and where we need to turn? Me.

And because she’s ceded authority to me in those spheres, I’ve found it easier and easier to speak up in other spheres when I question a point-of-view she takes, or a method of doing things. After all, she didn’t marry me because she wanted an employee. She wanted a husband. So now, twenty years deep, my reactions aren’t based on a vassal-serf dynamic, nor are hers. Now, we’re better at listening to each other rather than playing semi-conscious roles.

So I get to cut the frikkin’ tomato any danged way I want.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You cut tomato, and I cut tomatoes

Set your tomato preferences here
Michael told me this week that he thinks he often concedes to me in an argument.  Because I’m older, because he first knew me as an authority figure (he was a reporter; I was an editor, but not his editor), he still subconsciously believes, he says, that I must always be right. This isn’t true all the time, but enough so that it apparently gnawed at him.

We’ve been talking about this lately because of an ongoing discussion regarding two rather quotidian items: how to cut tomatoes and vacuum wood floors.

Last week Michael asked me for the 875th time in our life together how I like a tomato cut. (I like it cut across; he cuts from top to bottom). I figured he was just being passive-aggressive, because it’s not really that hard to remember. So this time I just opted out. I don’t care anymore how you cut the blasted tomato, I said. Eureka! I realized that I really didn’t care how he cuts a tomato. It tastes the same. There is no right way.

Who's Who?
If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that having Michael think I was right all the time gave me a little ego boost. We both know I'm wrong a lot. (There was that time I was outraged in the supermarket checkout line to find David Duke, leader of the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan, on the cover of a national magazine, only to have Michael tell me it was really Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman). 

But we both fell for the myth (she must be right: she's older!) without even realizing it. Now, when I drag that myth out of the dark corner of my brain and into the light, it seems not only silly but dangerous.

I still think I’m right about the wood floors, though.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting past the fling

We’ve been amazed and delighted by all the traffic on this blog since Michael’s essay ran in AARP magazine. And we are tremendously moved by so many of your stories. One thing that I’ve noticed as the comments have been piling up: Many of you women in relationships with younger men say you were more troubled by the age difference than your man was. And some of you mention that your guy pursued you enthusiastically before you believed it was for real.

My experience was sort of the same: The age difference bothered me a lot more in the beginning than it did Michael. I felt embarrassed by it (can’t she get a guy her own age?) worried that I was making a huge mistake, and yet afraid it wouldn’t last.

On the other hand, Michael was wary about starting a new relationship (he had recently ended a difficult one) and so he didn’t really pursue me in the classic sense. He did bring me flowers once, but his early gifts tended toward more practical things, like cheeseburgers for a late night at the office or the loan of a record album.

Here’s some of what our readers shared:

Practicallytwisted, who’s just starting a relationship with a man 18 years younger, said: I'm more preoccupied with the difference than he is, I think, and I leap too far into the future instead of remaining in the present where it is wonderful and exciting.

An anonymous poster, married to a man 12 years younger, wrote: He said to tell you he doesn't even think about the age or the dying, but rather the living! I must admit that I think about it though.

Dally, married to a man 9 years younger, wrote this after reading Michael’s piece: Until now I have felt rather isolated, as far as our age gap goes. But now I'm saying, "Wa-hoo! No big deal!" (which it has never been for my hubby) I'm 63 and he's 54, and we've been married 8 years.

Another anonymous commenter in a him+17 marriage for 21 years writes: I was more uncomfortable about the age difference than he was at the start (he was 30 and I was 47) and now I can't imagine why I was so concerned.

But here’s my favorite. This, from KK, who has a younger boyfriend: I tell people that I did not rob the cradle, he robbed the grave! He pursued me until I finally gave in...thinking it was just a whimsy and it wouldn't last.

I’m happy to know my experience wasn’t unusual. I wonder if we just can’t believe our good fortune in finding a soul mate and so we tamp down our expectations. I’ll just have a fling, we tell ourselves, or it’ll be fun as long as it lasts. And then, surprise! It lasts!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

AARP's advice for Cougars

How to be a cougar? First, get rid of the old-lady underwear. Go for the sexy stuff, advises AARP. Get a thong! A push-up bra! Garter belts!

AARP has joined the Cougar Nation. In “How to Be a Cougar: 7 steps to snagging a younger man,” author Pamela Satran tells older women to get flashy and trashy.  Forget about “making love.” Just “have sex. ” Oh, and this: be sure to tell that young man how AWESOME he is.

“Let’s practice,” writes Satran.
Young guy: "I'm in my third year of law school." You: "Awesome!"

Young guy: "I'm into skateboarding and hanging out with my dog, Spike." You: "Awesome!"

Young guy: "Let's get naked." You: "Whoa there! I mean, awesome!"
We burned our bras 40 years ago for this??  Well, OK. I never did actually burn a bra, but I did have that “click” moment of radicalization so aptly described by Jane O’Reilly in the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1971. (Mine wasn’t about lingerie; it was about being assigned to make coffee for the men in the office.)

Probably I never burned a bra because I had so few of them. I once had lots of lacy lingerie when I was too young to make much use of it. (Although my sister did introduce me to the man who became my first husband by saying, This is my sister who wears black underwear. That was in the pre-Gloria Steinem days. Thanks, sis.)

In the heady days of liberation, we protested being sex objects and trashed the Frederick’s-of-Hollywood look. Now, apparently, buying hot pink pushups is a way to feel good about yourself, for women young and old, married or single, cougars or not. That’s probably good, in a full-circle kind of way. But what about flaunting that slinky bustier?  Some young women in the post-Steinem era seem to be reframing the underwear question in a provocative way, leaving little to wonder about. We are sexy, they say. But we are not sex objects. And we will not be told to make coffee for the guys in the next office.

Perhaps older women can take a lesson from their young sisters in the Advanced Lingerie department. But that advice about attracting a younger man by flashing your thong and pandering to his ego seems creepy to me. It prowls at the edge of an era when women thought they couldn’t be both sexy AND smart, when they believed they had to act stupid before a man would find them interesting. Really, AARP? Awesome?

That’s a little like asking, Coffee, tea, or me?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A hole in the shape of a child

“Everyone has holes in their lives; mine just happens to be child-shaped.”

That elegant description of childlessness comes from the blog Life Without Baby, where the writer, Lisa Manterfield, posted this week about childlessness from a man’s perspective. She quotes me (I'm the man's perspective), and it's all part of a three-way blog conversation that began with a post published on the blog Childless by Marriage.

Childless by Marriage, in its post, referred to what I’ve written here about how marrying an older woman meant that I’d likely not have children (I also wrote about it here). Sheri’s written about childlessness as well. Our situation isn’t a truth for all age-gap couples, but it’s been a big part – or absence – in our lives.

I don’t need to repeat what is in those posts, but for those who might be in a similar situation, this three-way blog conversation might offer some worthwhile perspectives.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I Am Confused.

Do me a favor. Read the following scenario, and note your reaction, if any.

Woman, in a dull marriage, eats a glorious meal prepared by her son’s best friend. Her sensuous self re-awakens, and she tracks down the young man, and begins a secret love affair.

Now, consider the same scenario, but change the sex of the characters. Make it a husband fooling around with his daughter’s best friend.

Are your reactions to each different? Mine are. And I’m still trying to understand why.

The first scenario comes from the 2009 Italian film I Am Love. It’s a visually beautiful and arresting movie, an over-the-top melodrama lovingly filmed.

Emma (played by Tilda Swinton, herself at one time reportedly involved with a man 18 years younger if the Daily Mail is to be believed) is the film’s primary point-of-view character. Usually, we as audiences are conditioned to cheer for the POV character, even when that person makes decisions we wouldn’t agree with. In this case, as Emma began her adulterous affair with a younger man (her son’s best friend), I never questioned the rightness of her actions. I felt happy for her as she rediscovered joy. Apparently, her point-of-view had become mine, because she didn’t question the rightness of her actions, either. In fact, the affair seemed right.

But as the movie reached its climax, a moment came when her husband, still ignorant of her betrayal, treated her with as kind, generous, and loving a manner as any in the film. This startled me. Quickly retracing their marriage through the film, I realized that both of them lived within a constructed life that forced them into stultifying roles. She had been left her home and changed her name as part of the marriage contract; he had to submit to his father’s will and share the company they’d founded with his son. Each gave part of her or himself and in turn enjoyed great wealth and comfort. Terrible roles, terrible prices to pay. But within those roles, the movie portrayed hm as kind to her, sometimes even tender. I wondered what then had made me accept her affair with a younger man? After all, it was a cruelty to her husband who loved her and to her son. Perhaps it was that she was rebelling not against her husband, but against a whole way of living.

But flipping the coin, I wondered would it have been as easy for me to accept a movie depiction of an affair in which the circumstances were much the same but the point-of-view character was the husband with a younger woman?

Sheri and I talked about this. The husband had the money and the power, she said. If he had an affair, he’d still have the power. That’s one reason we cheer on Emma.

That makes sense, but it doesn’t completely satisfy me. This is more complicated, I think, than rooting for the underdog. This isn’t an unjustly convicted prisoner and his cruel jailer. To its credit, the film muddies the problem. Emma is a heroine as she celebrates life with her younger lover, but by the end you will know that she has betrayed and hurt people who love her.

Thinking about all this makes me wonder about the ways I’ve learned to form opinions about people in particular roles and in particular narratives. An older woman rediscovering herself through a younger man is a heroine; an older man rediscovering himself through a younger woman is silly.

Of course, as with all generalizations, that’s also too simple. Perhaps that’s the point.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AARP readers: You’ve seen our bedroom; welcome to our blog

It’s a big day here in the Venema-Downs household. We’ve learned that the latest issue of AARP the magazine, featuring Michael’s essay, is arriving in people’s mailboxes. Michelle Obama (!) is on the cover. Distraction though she might be, somehow readers are still finding the essay. Traffic is up on this blog, and we’re getting great comments from new voices. So, to all of you, welcome!

We’ve written the blog for a little more than two years, trying to mix the personal with the cultural, social, and historical aspects of love between younger men and older women. You’ll find a few movie reviews here, a few comments on the Cougar phenomenon, references to some well known couples who were our predecessors (such as Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife).

You might also like to read the story behind the photo shoot. We had to do a lot of house cleaning.

Please, look around, stay awhile. Make a comment or three; ask questions or suggest posts (we’re always looking for new topics). Sign up to follow us. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you’ll read us again.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Old Friends Not Always on Facebook

I finally joined Facebook a week ago, a momentous event in our household. Michael has been on for a while, but I’ve never been much of a joiner, and so I held back until last Monday. A frenzy of fervid friending followed – former workmates and classmates, new friends, old friends, former students, neighbors, nieces and nephews.

I looked up old boyfriends. (Admit it: you’ve done this too.) Some I really don’t want to find, but others came into my life at a time when I needed something they had. Maybe they helped me find confidence, or introduced me to new ways of thinking, or helped me understand something about myself and the universe. SergĂ© was one of those people – a generous man who taught me to value myself, a free spirit who helped me break out of tight boundaries without harm. He wasn’t on Facebook, so I tried Google. What I found was an obituary from two months ago.

That made me sad in an odd, distant sort of way. This is part of getting older. My ex-husband died five years ago. Old boyfriends have passed on.  When Michael and I talked about that sadness, we remembered another difference between us and other couples, a result of our older woman-younger man pairing.

It’s this: I had more significant relationships before we met than he did. Divorced for almost two decades when we met, I had more time to date. He had less, and therefore fewer significant others in his life. If that means something, I’m not sure what; it’s just a fact we recognize.

But as the actuarial tables start to catch up with my age group and Facebook shrinks distances, I might find I feel that odd sadness more often.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Adam didn't leave Paradise for an older woman, did he?

I’m hearing rumors about a protest in Orange County, the start of a movement in New Jersey. A lot of digit-ation on the blogosphere. People are worried about this older women and younger men thing. They say it wouldn’t be bad if we didn’t flaunt ourselves. But with all the TV shows and magazine covers, Cougar this and that, blogs, voters are feeling threatened. Some are circulating petitions. Soon, we might well have a constitutional amendment.

They’ve got their arguments.

God made Adam first, they say. Eve came later, so she was younger. Clearly that means the Almighty intends for men to wed and bed only younger women. Right?

And why, they wonder, should older women and their younger husbands receive the same legal privileges as normal-aged couples? The lower insurance rates, the marriage deduction–all these are intended to promote the growth of families. But when the woman is older, the odds of biological children is small if not impossible. Maybe they have a point. Sheri and I couldn’t have kids. So why do we get the tax break? Why do we get to add each other to our employers’ insurance policies?


Also, they believe there is something unnatural about us. Someone told me recently that only about 2 percent of married couples involve a significant age gap between an older woman and a younger man. Statistically, there is something wrong with us. It follows that we might be a bad example for kids (that’s what they say). What would happen if all young men started falling in love with older women?

Pandemonium. Bedlam. Social disorder.

In fact, why is Sheri even allowed to teach college students? Is her college wrong to trust her around younger men? Cougars are predators, after all.

We’re grateful this movement hasn’t yet caught the national media’s attention, because once they get a hold of it, whoa! Then, our only hope if the amendments start passing will be that we might be grandfathered. After all, eighteen years ago, we did what the law allowed. We got the blood test in Pennsylvania, paid for our license, had a justice of the peace to do the deed and sign the paperwork. The government in PA says we’re married, that it sanctions our union, and in every other state where we’ve lived, the government there has agreed.

We feel fortunate to have snuck in before the backlash, because for some people it’s not so easy. We’ve got neighbors who will leave our state next month to get married, and then they’ll come back and be our neighbors again, two women who have somehow managed to love each other in a committed, mature fashion, even though one graduated from Michigan and the other from Ohio State. The legislature where we live says they can’t do that and also get married.

Some people in our legislature say that if the state or federal government allows our neighbors to get married it will cheapen the institution of marriage. But marriage isn’t like crude oil. Its value doesn’t rise with its rarity. It’s more like, oh, democracy. The more people who get to vote, the richer it becomes.

So, given that Sheri and I were able to get married despite our outlier status, I want our legislature to let our neighbors and others like them get married right here at home.

Like Dr. King said, injustice across the fence is a threat to justice everywhere.

Lead on, New York.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Out with the Old

Hef with the runaway bride
Sometimes these age-gap relationships can get a little funky. Consider, for instance, the 60-year age difference between Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris, who were scheduled to wed on June 18. If you think people whisper behind their hands about other age-gap couples – sex? parents’ reactions? common interests? just a fling? – you can imagine what might be the buzz about this kind of age chasm.

Then, four days before the wedding (at the Playboy Mansion!) Crystal called it off. Even a 6-carat diamond couldn’t persuade Playboy’s December 2009 Playmate of the Month to marry the 85-year-old Hef.

My favorite part of the New York Daily News story announcing the split:

The May-December couple had been dating for more than a year, overlapping with Hefner's relationship with the Shannon twins.
The twice-married Hefner proposed Christmas Eve, putting the 6-carat engagement ring in a Disney-themed box that played music from Harris' favorite movie, "The Little Mermaid."
The Shannon twins? The Little Mermaid? Was this a marriage made in heaven, or what? Word is that Crystal ran from the altar in favor of a younger man, and that Hef has already named his new girlfriend. She’s all of 27.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Agatha Christie: An essay assignment

"An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her. "
– attributed to Agatha Christie

In your answer discuss one of the following:

1) Consider the analogy. If a husband is an archaelogist and his wife his subject, is she
a. a ruin
b. an unearthed jewel, albeit one that bears a centuries-old curse
c. a Sphinx

2) Can Christie’s argument also apply to a woman whose husband ages? If so, consider in light of the analogy as above.

3) In lieu of an archaelogist, is the next best spouse for an older or aging partner

a. an historian
b. a librarian
c. a pharmacist
d. choose another profession; be specific

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

AARP revisited

Winter 1993, Montana
The folks at the AARP magazine say they need photos of us in the early days of our relationship, having already sent someone to take photos of us in the here and now for an essay Michael wrote for an upcoming issue.

That meant I got to spend a day hauling out dusty photo albums and envelopes – our “early days” start in 1991, when photos were actual prints from real film.

Summer 1992, with Tinker the dog, at Woodstock
One of my friends, after seeing the pictures the AARP photographer took last month, was kind enough to say that we look more the same age now than we used to. “Michael is closing that 17 year gap,” she wrote. “With every passing year, as he becomes a little older, a little greyer, a little more ‘distinguished’, you seem to be getting younger and more vibrant.” (Thanks, Linda!)

So I was trying to find pictures that showed the age difference in the early days but didn’t make us look hopelessly dorky (lots of those).

Looking at those early photos, what stays with me are a couple of things. First, how much we loved each other. You can see it in the smiles, the easy way our  bodies touch. Second, how young Michael looks. Yikes!
June 19, 1993, Damascus, PA.

My favorite early photo of him is from 1992, when we visited the site of Woodstock on a summer evening. He says he looks stoned, which would have been appropriate, but he wasn’t.

How long have we been married? Long enough so that when I take pictures out of the wedding album, the plastic sheets crinkle and tear. Long enough that he’s lost the aviator glasses and some of his hair.  Long enough to think we must have been mad. Long enough to know we should have had a professional photographer at the wedding. Long enough to know we did the right thing when we said I do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Love is not all

It doesn’t always end well. Let’s not kid ourselves.

This blog began with the presumption that love affairs between older woman and younger men can work, and I think we’ve made a good argument over the 2 ½ years we’ve been blogging. Sheri and I are coming up on our 18th wedding anniversary, so we’ll keep making that argument.

But for the sake of balance, for the sake of gratitude for what does work, it’s worth remembering that sometimes such affairs fail. And sometimes they might even ruin a person.

This month, Open Letters Monthly, a website devoted to reviews of literature, revived the discussion of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s affair with George Dillon, 14-years her junior, and how their love may have fueled his poetry and then ended it.

It was 1928. She was 36 and famous, having already become the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; he was 22 and aspiring,
having published his first book. According to Shannon McCloskey Allain, writing at Open Letter, George introduced Edna when she gave a reading. He also became infatuated–and she with him.

She was married, but that didn’t stop her from having an affair. Her husband knew and, perhaps, approved. They were a bohemian couple willing to bend rules. Maybe that’s one reason Edna never left him for George.

Edna and George each used their passionate affair to write a sequence of sonnets inspired by the pain and glory of their love. His led to a book that won him the Pulitzer Prize at age 25. She published hers in Fatal Interview, a volume some critics have called her best work, including this famous sonnet.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

George never seemed to get used to the idea that he had to share Edna, and perhaps Edna tired of George. Their affair ended. And George never published another book of poetry.

Much has been made of that fact. A theater company even plans to produce a play around it. Allain's essay for Open Letter suggests that answers to whether Edna ruined George for poetry can be found in his verse. Her article makes an interesting case, though I’m not convinced. There are a lot of reasons not to write. It may be overstating things to say that Edna alone put an end to his books.

What happened after? George became editor of one of the country’s most prestigious literary journals. He never married, and eventually he moved in with his parents. Now and then he and Edna met, and they even translated poems together. They may have even revived the affair for a night or two, but never as it had once been. “This love is strange that does not die,” he had written in his book, according to Allain, and seemingly it never did. He added, “A man would be nothing but that he has been a lover. He is glad for that. As for the rest, it is dead.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Laugh Track

For a long time after we were married, Michael had a standard joke that went like this. We would be with other people, and I might – in passing ­ ­– mention my ex-husband. Michael would feign shock. “What?!? You’ve been married before??”

It always got laughs from people who hadn’t heard it yet. But it got old for me pretty quick,  and I never found the perfect comeback.

The joke was that of course he knew I’d been married before. So it was kind of a slapstick humor, which isn’t his style. So why did he do it, and why did it bug me so much?

I still don’t know why he did it (he’s not here right now for me to ask, so he can blog about that on his own time). I’m guessing there was some level of discomfort in marrying an older woman, made even more so by the fact that I had once promised myself to someone else. Maybe he didn’t want to be reminded of that.

It was a brief marriage, made when I was barely 21 and finished four years later. But those were formative years, and working through the emotional wreckage took a while. Now, that seems like another life. (And another blog post; stay tuned.)

So why did his joke bother me? Maybe because it seemed repetitious and silly. But also, it felt as though it erased part of my life and therefore part of me. My first protests about the joke were mild, but they got more vigorous when he didn’t stop.

And then he heard me, and the joke stopped. Now, heading into our 19th year of marriage, I’m the one who’s sometimes amazed that I’ve been married before.