Millie Garfield, over at My Mom’s Blog, recently posted a story about a letter she read in the Boston Globe from a 70-year-old widow in a happy and satisfying relationship with a 40-year old man.
I was reminded that some years ago, there was a fad among the glitterati women of New York City of dating younger men. It got a lot of gossip ink wherein the young men were referred to as “boy toys,” suggesting that it was all just silliness and that perhaps the young men were “being kept” – gigolos. Older men, however, when they accompany gorgeous women young enough to be their daughters, get approving winks and nudges of the good-for-you-old-man variety. They have always had the privilege of dating and marrying younger women without the snickers older women sometimes get when the relative ages are reversed.
This snobbery undoubtedly relates to the fact that our obsession with the appearance of youth applies almost entirely to women. Men are allowed to age – and to be considered attractive - without resorting to toxins and surgery.
But because men tend to die younger than women and the ratio of men to women works out poorly in our later years, it would be useful for this tired prejudice to be overcome. There are signs that this is becoming so.
One hot summer day when I was about 41 or 42, I was slowly climbing up the subway stairs at evening rush hour, crunched up against the hundreds of others heading for the streets. Suddenly, a voice in my ear: “Would you go to the movies with me?”
When I looked back, I was surprised to see a young man of no more than 18 or 19, smiling nicely. I was flattered, but found his offer hard to believe and blurted, “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Without missing a beat, he answered, “Yeah, but I loves my mama.”
Obviously, this was a kid with a quick wit – in addition to good taste.
Some writers cite such Hollywood December/May relationships as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Madonna and Guy Ritchie as hopeful indicators of changing cultural views and such a shift, led by actors, is certainly welcome. It’s not encouraging, however, to the rest of us when even human sexuality expert, Helen Fisher notes, “These actresses aren't just beautiful - they have money! And power!" A far cry from me, if not thee.
Carolyn Heilbrun, in her book, Writing a Woman’s Life, acknowledges the well-known invisibility that envelops most women at middle age, but she goes on in a manner I find encouraging:
“We will move invisibly for a time, to relearn seeing and to forget being seen. As we grow slowly visible, we will be heard more and seen less. Our voices will ramify, our bodies will become a house for our new spirit.”
And there are younger men who find that spirit more attractive than mere youth.
Eleven years ago at age 52, on my first day of jury duty, I went to lunch with a young man who had been seated next to me during a voir dire and joined me when we were sent back to the jury room. He was smart, funny, charming, a delight to be with, and we hung out together for the duration of our public service.
When we were dismissed on the final day, he invited me to dinner and over the next weeks, one thing led to another until we found ourselves to be a couple. Although he was 27, he had fewer qualms than I did about our 24-year age difference and in the end, it made no difference at all. Yes, I knew things he didn’t, but he was curious when they came up, and he was expert in areas where I had little or no knowledge, so it was a fair trade and our relationship lasted for nearly a year. It ended amicably for reasons that any relationship can end, having nothing to do with age.
Though they did not note if the number of years between the spouses was few or many, the 2000 U.S. census discovered that 12 percent of marriages then involved older women and younger men. That seems a fair percentage of the whole and suggests that December/May relationships are not as remarkable as is supposed.
Love is rare enough in these times and we should embrace it where we find it. Age should be the least of our considerations. And as Millie notes on her blog, younger men have an advantage for older women their contemporaries lack. Encouraging the letter writer to enjoy her relationship with her 40-year-old, Millie says: “…go for it. This guy drives! Men closer to her age, if they drive, they do not drive at night!”