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.