So it turns out that one thing about writing a blog about dating–in case y’all didn’t know, I’m figuring this out as I go along–is that sometimes, in social situations, a friend will abruptly inform people that you, in fact, write a blog about dating.
Such was the case last night when S and I–before our dance party–went out for beers with several of her new colleagues. I was was so involved with my french fries that I hardly heard her make the announcement, and wondered why everyone was suddenly looking at me with varying combinations of shock, horror and curiosity.
“Really? You write a blog about dating?” one twenty-something woman, there with her forty-something boyfriend, asked. I hastened to wipe the ketchup from my chin as she began to ply me with inquiries, starting with: “What do you think about big age differences?”
The obvious way to answer to this question seemed to be to tell her–as I’ve told you–that my only real, serious relationship was with someone sixteen years older than me. So I did.
“And?” she didn’t miss a beat. “What do you think about it?”
I had no clue how to really answer this. I started off on my spiel about the fact that, though he was thirty-five when we met, my ex was not so much a grown-up per se. He was, and is, a wonderful, warm and caring person. But his hobbies–including but not limited to skateboarding, pot-smoking and playing in rock bands–hadn’t changed much since adolescence.
Had there not been a plate of curly fries before me perhaps I would have continued on my circuitous and rambling rationalization of my relationship. But, alas, there was–and I promptly redirected the conversation to her.
“Is it ever an issue with you guys?” I asked both of them. “The age thing?”
“Nope!” she declared emphatically, her adoring man looking on. “We live together, we share a bank account, we’re going to get married!”
“I think everyone is different,” I pronounced, doing my best to impersonate the Sage Relationship Authority they clearly thought accompanied the title of “blogger.” “I mean, it’s hard to generalize about what works for different people.”
Just looking at her and her boyfriend, it was abundantly clear that something was working for them. They radiated that patina of mutual adoration that can’t help but make one smile with happiness and envy. Even when he confided his determination to father eight children if that’s what it will take for him to have a boy, I felt nothing but firm confidence in the longevity of their partnership.
Longevity was never so much a theme of my “older man” relationship. I was so young when we began dating that I think both of us always anticipated an ending. And, while in the immediate aftermath of our breakup I eagerly sought out people closer to my age–people with full heads of hair and without beer bellies–I didn’t leave with a particularly vehement opinion about dating older men. I do believe that every person and every situation is different, and often you don’t know whether something will work until you’re in it, and it does or it doesn’t.
But–some four years later–whether my relationship “worked” is, on some level, still a mystery to me. It “worked” in the sense that we fell in love not only with each other but with each other’s lives: I adored his mother, his bandmates and their wives; he adored my friends. We lived together comfortably, and sometimes happily. We had issues that maybe could’ve been resolved if either of us ever really committed to resolving them. Or maybe not. I’ll never know.
But I’m not sure that lingering curiosity about what could’ve worked with him has any bearing on what may or may not work with someone else. I could easily run into similar issues with someone younger, or avoid them completely with someone older and of a different profile.
Tonight I tried to reassure a new friend who is on the verge of turning sixty that “age is just a number.” I think if he could have slapped me via Facebook chat he would have.
“I hate when people say that,” he wrote.
I sympathized: I agree that it is a pained cliche with little resonance for people in the earnest realities of aging. But when it comes to relationships, I tend to think it has more meaning.
I suppose there are certain issues inherent to being with someone born to a different generation. But those issues are usually pretty minor in the scheme of things that make or break companionship. I might have some superficial familiarity with the former, but the latter is what I’m still working to figure out.