Monday, March 7, 2011

My Juan Williams moment

(…albeit, not likely to get me fired from writing for this blog.)

You remember Juan. Longtime NPR contributor and liberal foil for Fox News? Last October, he mentioned on The O’Reilly Factor that he gets nervous on airplanes when he sees other passengers dressed in garb that, as he later wrote, “identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.” Given the situation -- a shouting match with O'Reilly and a conservative writer – what Williams had to say sounded awful. Later, he seemed to want to clarify that the airplane unease he described was unreasonable and rash and no useful tool for making decisions about policy or people. If I understand him – and maybe I'm being too generous – he was describing a human phenomenon: that we all sometimes have rash impulses about people we could describe as “other” – not us, not of our tribe, not belonging to what we know as the dominant culture or following the mainstream models of behavior. We mustn’t, however, act on these impulses. We mustn't stereotype people based on what we've seen -- real or imagined -- of others like them. We must take a deep breath and think.

But you know the rest of the story. NPR fired Williams.

Now, here I am, a guy writing a blog about his longtime love affair with his 17-years-older wife. And I get an e-mail from a 27-year-old woman saying how much she loves the blog and of course, why not, because she lives with her boyfriend who is 19 years older, which makes him, coincidentally, my age.

My rash-Juan-Williams impulse?

Yup. All the wrong stereotypes.

I’m embarrassed to admit this. Shouldn’t I (of all people!) recognize the myriad and miraculous ways love unfolds? Absolutely. But I veered right into making made-for-TV-movie stereotypes out of living, breathing, loving, complicated people. What makes my reaction more troubling is that I know this woman – I worked with her a few years ago. She’s smart and savvy. Nevertheless, for a nano-second, I had a gut reaction, for which I now apologize to Smart-and-Savvy and her older beau. My rational better angel wishes you happiness and all the strange beauty that comes with love.

So, there we go. Please don’t fire me. Instead, climb inside my head and wonder along with me: How many other people have impulsive thoughts and reactions when they meet Smart-and-Savvy and her partner? How do these people react? And what do such reactions mean for this couple as they make their way through a world where it is already much too difficult for couples to find and keep love?

What impulses have people had about Sheri and me?

Thanks, all of you, for not acting on them.

1 comment:

  1. No impulses here! My beau is 19 years younger than me and we've been together for 2 years. I've been with men up to 27 years older than me as well. The reactions (from women anyway) are certainly more positive now! I sometimes wonder how men my age feel about me dating such a young man. I wonder if men feel some of the same impulses/anxieties as women when seeing the older woman/younger man age disparity.