Posted on May 25, 2011 by Kiri
For six years, Deidre Woollard was the lead editor of Luxist.com, a luxury blog. She received her M.F.A. from Spalding University; her fiction stories have appeared in Sojourn, Big Ugly Review, Dirt Press, Pebble Lake Review, the Mota IV anthology, Words and Images and have received several awards. She wrote this piece back in 2005, her first and only attempt at a Modern Love essay, hoping to get a little buzz off the then-trendy younger man/older woman relationship. The essay was rejected but the relationship lives on. She and her partner live in Los Angeles.
The Dark Side of Cougar Town
When, a few months before my 35th birthday, I started dating someone who was 21, I was certain it would be a fling. Older woman, younger man, both in their sexual prime, a few passionate months and then we would go our separate ways. But a funny thing happened on the way to fashionable Demi and Ashton bliss, we found out we were compatible. While we had met because we were both regulars at a local bar, we soon morphed into domestic housecats, content most nights to sit home watching movies. We went from being a casual arrangement to a bona fide couple. After a year of dating and gradually getting closer, I realized I wanted to move to a big city again. Even though he had never lived in a town larger than 30,000 people he was willing to follow me to Los Angeles. I went to L.A. first to find us a place to live and it was then that panic set in.
What did it mean that I was so in harmony with someone that much younger? It seemed to speak to my inability to settle down, settle in and commit the way most of my friends had. Was it even practical to live with someone who had no real relationship experience? My past experiences living with a romantic partner had generally ended badly. I was ready to call the whole thing off but then he came to Los Angeles, suitcase in tow, and I forgot my reservations.
We have lived together for nearly a year now. When we talk of the future, it is generally in terms of shared creative projects (he’s an illustrator) not of wedding vows. In fact, I firmly believe being with someone younger has saved me from the predatory mindset. I know my chances of getting married, as a never-been-married woman on the far side of thirty, are slim to none. Being with someone younger has protected me since it has never really seemed possible that we would marry. In the past, when I dated someone for a while, friends often asked me if we were serious, if he was the one. This time both friends and family stayed well clear of the subject.
It should have been no surprise when, recently, I came home from a lunch with some out-of-town friends, and my boyfriend said he had been talking to his Dad about proposing to me. We had casually joked about getting married: about my desire for a clambake wedding and his distaste for seafood, about the possibility of hiring our favorite indie band so that we could finally get them to play our favorite song, and about the likelihood that, given my many broken engagements, it would be probably make the most sense to run off to Vegas. Still, the thought of really doing it, and of announcing to the world that we were husband and wife, made me gulp.
Could I really commit myself to someone so young? If he were my own age or older, we would most likely be married already. After over a year of compatibility, I would probably have been angling for the altar. My previous engagements had occurred relatively early on in the relationship and many of my female friends who had passed the witching hour of turning 35 had quickly married after knowing someone six months or less.
Why does the age difference matter so much? Our dreams are in alignment, we don’t argue a lot and, when we do, we fight clean. I could blame his immaturity or the fact that I fear that the next few years will greatly change him but in many ways his personality is already more constant and even than my own. Neither one of us wants children. We are both creative people without big material requirements. It should be a match made in heaven, and yet one thing stands in my way: my vanity.
A nearly fourteen year age difference is not so easily dismissed when we are standing side by side in a mirror. His skin is smooth and basically unlined. He tends to wear jeans and concert T-shirts, as he rightly should at his age. I love his youth, his exuberance and the springiness of his skin but I am more and more aware of my own fading charms. Leaving my 30s and my years as an attractive young woman would be difficult enough—but with this young man beside me, I knew they were going to be even more difficult. When we attend concerts at clubs, I am painfully aware that I am at the older end of the spectrum of attendees at these events. I am no longer asked for my I.D. while he is always carded. And while I look my age or maybe a few precious years younger, there is no guarantee that I will continue to age well. In a few years, it could easily appear that he is out for the evening with his mother. When he is my age, I will be over 50 and perhaps facing health challenges or at least diminished energy. There will be crow’s feet and sagging breasts while he will still be able to catch the eye of girls in their 20s.
Thinking this way feels like a disservice to him. He is not by nature a superficial person. If anything, I am the one with the wandering eye, the one who is quicker to spot the beautiful people of Los Angeles when we are walking down the street. But as a woman, much of my comfort and power in a relationship has come from being perceived as attractive to my partner and to myself. While I don’t doubt his reaction to me, I don’t trust my own ability to be at ease with an aging body and a partner who isn’t aging as quickly.
Is there a solution to this? Will a few extra vials of Botox and a bit of time under the laser be enough to stave off the demons of time? Could they be enough to make me feel safe? He’ s the best boyfriend I have ever had—kind, stable, deeply connected to me. I’d be foolish to give up the chance to spend my life with someone so amazing. And yet somehow I'm unable to pull the trigger, to say the words, sign the documents and make it official. There's safety in the gray zone, in a relationship that is solid but hasn't been subjected to society's rules and legalities. He says it's fear of commitment but it's more, really, it's fear of being foolish. They say you can only see ten years back or forward from where you are now, but I can see me, in my early 70s, gray and stoop-shouldered with him beside me, striding along in his vibrant late 50s. And so I hesitate, hoping for what will never be, that if I wait long enough somehow he will catch up with me.