I went out with an older man, recently.
The last time there was an older man was way back when. He didn’t add much to my life, except some invaluable professional wisdom (I was a new manager and in agony over it. He told me it wasn’t a popularity contest and that I needed my team to respect me, not like me. It was solid advice.). Then he dumped me over Facebook, proving the male stereotype that men never really grow up. But that was a long time ago, when I was still in my mid-twenties. Post thirty, the men I’ve gone out with, have almost all been a few years younger than me. It’s been an interesting experience of all sorts.
Now, an older man again, about 7-8 years ahead. He’s tasted 40. Professional disillusionment, social impositions – these aren’t new to him. Breaking free of forced labels, struggling with diverse identities – he has experienced all these grand adventures of life that I have, as well. He’s rather nice looking, especially for his age, well-groomed and fit. It’s nice, no, who am I kidding, it’s wonderful to know that there are men like that too. Age, steadily creeping up on me, doesn’t seem as scary if it looks the way he does a few years from now.
*Image (without text) via Victor Habbick on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Then again, there’s the uncertainty, the drifting which is still there and THAT is an incredibly scary thought. You always think that you’ll have figured it out by such-and-such age (and that age keeps shifting as you get to it). You vaguely imagine that people older than you are ahead of you on the life learning and making-sense road. It is always disconcerting, unpleasant even, to remember that’s not true.
I’m not going to say that it was nice to be able to have a real conversation for a change because that would be doing a grave disservice to the younger men I’ve gone out with in the past. Every person I’ve dated has been intelligent and articulate, age regardless and their lives, whatever point they’re at, have been of immense interest to me. For the same reasons I mentioned above, a 28-year-old may have figured out things that I still haven’t. And the pressures of closing in on 25 are different now than they were for me. It’s not that.
I wish I could pretend that it was comforting to talk to someone who had experienced what I have. But that was minor. Does commiseration matter less to me now than it did, in 2008? Yes, perhaps. He was kind, helpful even, but respectfully. I guess he has lived long enough to be generous without needing a payback in the form of control. This, I liked very, very much. I didn’t take his proffered offer (something professional) but I appreciated it greatly, anyway.
What surprised me was how thankful he was, for my time and attention. Younger men are not that. They’re in awe, sometimes surprise, even fear but rarely thankful. Appreciation without obsequiousness is learnt over time, I guess. At that moment, I felt disheartened. It made me think that men and their relationship with me would always be that way – awestruck at that beginning, gradually cooling off to indifference and then, bad behaviour. But a little later, I realised it was different. It was ‘I’m very happy you agreed to come out with me and now we can both have a nice day.’ rather than ‘OhmigodohmigodOMG you said yes can we do this now can we do that wait I’m awesome tell me I’m wonderful no you can’t say that no I don’t like what you’re saying no no no you’re horrible go away I don’t like you anymore’. It was graciousness and it was graceful. I liked it.
But you know what I liked best about going out with him? That fact that I did not fall in love with him or feel the need to. I didn’t do the female equivalent of that desperate emotion diarrhoea either (yes, I realise I’ve done that too in my past). I liked him, he liked me. We laughed, we pontificated, we both talked and we both listened. And I didn’t feel the need to put a deadline on caring. I didn’t assign any metrics in my head to the various components of each date. And I didn’t run complex equations with these to figure out ‘Will he love me or not?’ I didn’t do any of those things and it was a good date. I actually spent the whole day with him on the 14th of February and it was fun untainted by the pressure to make it more than it was. That’s not just a memorable Valentine’s Day, it’s a personal milestone for me.
Where does it go from here? Oh, nowhere, I think. He has moved to another country, following a different destiny. And I’m going my way. Hail good person and well met. I’m pretty sure this is all part of why life only gets better post 30. Older men may be just as interesting as younger men. And they don’t necessarily have more to teach you than anybody else. After all, the only real lessons are the ones you learn about yourself.
I think it would be fair to say that in my choices in the opposite sex, I’ve been a ‘brains’ person, a girl who liked geeks. In those personality quiz thingies, my answers have leant in the direction of Einstein & Socrates rather than Brad Pitt & Adonis. My men have all been talkers, thinkers even but not exactly lookers.
This month I tried something different – a good-looking, handsome hunkish, visual treat of a man. He fits all the acceptable norms of male attractiveness. Height – check, long legs – check, sharp facial profile – check, full head of luxuriant hair – check, long graceful fingers – check, nice butt – ooh, check, check, CHECK! Complete nayansukh as the ladies who tweet would have it. Bonus points for a traffic-stopping strut and a deep, warm laugh. And let’s be honest, my brain did the checklist on this long after he was out of sight and after much detailed *ahem* perusal. When he’s around, the most it manages is,
“Ooh, that is one nice looking man, that is!”
Well, it is true that he also is a good conversationalist and has an interesting opinion on everything from movies and food to quantum theory and religion. That certainly explains our great conversations. But when I ask myself what I like best about him, I have to admit that it’s that he’s so darn easy on the eyes.
For the first time in my life, I’m completely okay with it. He is so much *not* my usual type but I think I’ve had enough of heartbreak and drama from that type. Well, actually never mind the justification, who needs one to marvel at a piece of human beauty? It’s infinitely pleasurable and damn the accusations of shallowness. My eyes need as much nourishment as my brain, I’ve decided, and my brain gets more than adequate stimulation.
I wonder if I’m being disrespectful or condescending. After all, I would not like a man to think of me this way. On the other hand, I’m utterly frank in my open admiration of this man, not the kind of behaviour most women exhibit to most men. Is that not a sign of being treated differently, even specially? This association is too nascent and we’re too new to each other at the moment. But I could learn to savour this beauty; I am a lover of art after all. And then my interest which turned to admiration may turn to worshipful devotion too. Why should that be any less meaningful than the respect of the intellect? Both are things that human beings are born with, after all.
We are with other people because ultimately, they fulfil some need in us – companionship, boredom, respect, relatableness etc. If one can be entertained, charmed and even made happy by watching a movie, if one can be inspired by great art, why may it not be plausible that a perfectly satisfactory time may be spent with someone who pleases your eyes instead of your ears?
I’m still trying to decide whether my behaviour is decidedly regressive or aggressively feminist. Do tell.
Awhile ago, it popped up in a conversation and sparked off a wave of laughter. I glared. He grinned and said,
“But the cougar is a beautiful animal!”
No, the man just did not get it.
Here are some of the descriptions I found of the word, on Urban Dictionary:
“A 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.”
“An older woman who is past her prime & who is attracted to younger men, often as an act of desperation or as a last resort.”
“A Cougar is a female, usually between thirty and fifty years-old, who enjoys the sexual company of younger men. Cougars are only usually interested in men under the age of twenty-five. Also, Cougars are non-committal, choosing to move from mate to mate without ever settling down. It is not uncommon for the same Cougar to attack (sleep with) many different men in the same group of friends.”
I struggle with labels and for one single reason – because they rarely evolve as human descriptions should and often stay limited to the associations that they started with. This is also why I’ve never liked most popular descriptions of men for women, notably one that reminds me of a fluffy, yellow-feathered bird.
A cougar describes an older woman and one who it is acceptable to see as a sex object. This much is actually fine and inoffensive. But overlaid on that are perceptions of desperation, of cheap behaviour, of non-committedness and a generally predatory aura. While some of those may seem appealing within an erotic fantasy, no one (man or woman) wants to be described in those terms.
There is an almost tangible movement in popular culture today, pushing the idea of an independent woman acquiring male attention from the always most attractive age group – the 20s. That prototype has existed for years (think Hugh Hefner surrounded by nubile bunny-eared beauties). This is no more than a female version of the same archetype and it’s not pushing sex or freedom, it’s about power.
As a recipient of all the benefits of women’s liberation and empowerment, I enjoy financial independence, the virtue of fabulousness, the heady high of choices and control over my own body. My only problem with this, is that it’s cold when it gets into the realm of relationships. I don’t like the idea of treating human beings, male or female as acquisitions or status symbols. Whether men have been doing it for decades or not doesn’t change things. I can’t see how a relationship that is about exchanging power for money/fame can have anything to do with love, trust or any of those things that make a relationship great.
To come back, that’s why the description of cougar stings. If the original thought be true, it shouldn’t matter what
gender a person is, for them to be appealing to a large number of the opposite sex (younger or otherwise). It’s not an age no-bar situation. Age and experience have after all molded one into a person of confidence, ease, polish and independence. Attraction is flattering when it happens because I’m me, not because I fit the current fashionable norm of appealing. So yes, ask me my age by all means. But don’t call me a cougar.
If you think younger men are a cinch, think again!!!
*And…yes, the Idea-toons are back!! Remember the little girl in a green dress? With her pasted-on smile and Rude & Red ideas on men? Okay, I know I’m not little by any definition of the word. But let’s just say she represented who I was inside my head? And *koff* perhaps that part of me has grown up. The little girl has seen flings, crushes, commitment-phobias, jerky men (and women). She’s in a steady relationship now (well, as steady as a relationship can possibly be). She concedes (with much reluctance) that men could be human too. She agrees that sometimes, just sometimes, very, very occasionally they may have the teensiest bit of a point (and no, she’s not thinking of THAT point). She has changed.
I am really liking this. There is a new kind of man up and about and he makes me re-think all my notions about men and relationships. There was of course the spectacular younger man that I had the good fortune to be with for a brief while. And there are my other friends and acquaintances. They have one thing in common – they’re all twenty-five. Of course it is the fact that they’re 25-year-olds viewed from my 30-year-old eyes. I don’t think I quite liked 25-year-old men when I was 25 myself. At the risk of sounding all haughty-superior, I’m now at the vantage position of viewing them from an older and yes, wiser perspective.
25 seems to be right time to call him a man-child. There are traces of his boyishness and childishness (some of which he may never grow out of). And there are stirrings of adulthood, many-hued, whether it is the seriousness of ambition or the charm and ruthlessness of a Male Slut, the depravity of the grown-up Bad Boy, the ‘tortoise in hare-and-tortoise’ of the Beta Male or even the decisiveness of a human being who is just older and more confident. He could go any of those ways (or all of them), he’s poised on the treshold of who he is going to be for the large part of the rest of his life. You can almost see how he’s going to turn out as a husband and father. It’s watching his adulthood in its crystallization.
The love of my life made the mountain-moving decision of his life at twenty-five – that it wasn’t going to be about finding a perfect woman but finding someone who’d do and making it work with her. That was a drastic shift from the ruthless, nearly-Nazi-like quest for perfection that marked his earlier relationships (including the one with me).
What makes it truly sweet is watching the vulnerability that also accompanies him. Either it gets shattered with heartbreak, disappointment and such. Or it is hidden away, as is the case with most men and their need to be ‘manly’. And in a few, very few cases, it grows along with him (though to be quite sure, I’ve only seen this happen with gay men).
Amidst all the fun and laughter that spotted my last (and only) association with a younger man, there was one serious discussion about relationships. At the very base of his multitudinous flings, I unearthed a fear in him that every woman he’d meet was likely to cheat. And all because he had received (willingly, I may add) the attentions of a woman who was already in a relationship. I could tell it was early days and that fear had not solidified into an attitude as yet. But I could very easily see where this was going. I could see him as the kind of guy who’d jump from fling to fling, with little regard to the feelings of the people concerned, because he was in so much of a hurry to get away before he got hurt. It was almost tangibly painful to realize that his tenderness, the sweet solicitousness with which he received me might very well be gone in a couple of years. And yet, it could go the other way. If he found someone who could change his mind about that, he might be a very different person indeed – a wonderfully caring partner and a delightful friend. At the end of it, in my mind, it is symbolised by his voice – deep-throated and firm most of the time, but briefly turning plaintive and tentative when he said,
That’s what I wonder. Is there any loyalty in relationships anymore?
It was haunting in how vulnerable it sounded and it moved me. I haven’t felt moved, really touched by something a man said or did for a long time.
I also recently had a conversation with yet another man-child (unsurprisingly twenty-five). He’s tired of being called ‘cute’ and he imagines that he’ll never get a girl if this continues. So he wants to revamp himself into a sexier, more macho, adult avatar. I don’t know why he can’t see what I see – a guy who’s quite pleasant to look at, affable, fun, intelligent and nice to boot. What woman wouldn’t fall for that? And they probably already are, only he isn’t realising it. But I can’t stop him if he decided he wants to turn Neanderthal man. I hesitate to tell him that it will only make him look ridiculous because that so isn’t him. I wish he would realize that his cuteness, this little-boy vulnerability that makes women want to take care of him…that’s his greatest draw. Well, perhaps he’ll realize it on his own. Man-child he may be, but he isn’t stupid.
And finally, I get something out of this. Seeing the vulnerable side of a man, much before it has been buried or strangled out of existence or mangled beyond recognition…it’s a moving experience. It brings me back the respect I had for the male species, that brought me so many close friendships with them. It also brings back the tenderness and affection, banishes my own fear of all men being monsters. It makes them look human in my eyes and that can only be good.
I raise my glass to the wondrousness of the twenty-five-year-old man! Cheers, baby, you’re awesome!
So I’ve done the ‘date a younger guy’ thing too. Don’t I sound deliciously cold about it?
A once young nineteen-year-old me, on hearing about a friend’s new boyfriend exclaimed,
But he’s younger than you!
to which I got a succint, if somewhat stiff, “So?”
Well, I don’t know. I guess I was just one of those people who followed the rules so to speak. Used to be, anyway.
The truth is I’m surprised how painless it was. It was a refreshing change to not have to think about how I sounded and how sure I was about something. I mean, I was older and by corollary, wiser!! But it was also surprising in equal measure, how good he gave back, not just in verbal volleying but in terms of his own experience and impression of the world.
We had several intelligent conversations, we made each other laugh and we had fun. It was nice. For all purposes I might not even have remembered the age difference except when he decided an appropriate serenade would be,
And here’s to you, Mrs.Robinson….
Hmph very funny, I don’t think a five-year age gap is all THAT big a deal. Okay, now I don’t think it is anymore. The friend mentioned above was dating a guy 7 months younger than her so you can see why this is such a sea-change from where I was a decade ago.
To come back, for the experience itself. As we spoke, I was also becoming aware of my own age. It wasn’t that his opinions were not intelligent or that he was shallow. I could understand where he was coming from but in a lot of cases, I realised that I didn’t want to react that strongly anymore. Not that I had stopped caring but just that my emotions were less fiery and more thoughtful now. I don’t think this has to do with personality differences because I was exactly the same when I was 25 – jaded yet curious, excited and cynical in equal measure. In an odd way it was like seeing a then-and-now of myself.
And finally I was left with the sense that this is how dating and relationships should be. It’s not about the place or how or where the two of you met or how the future looks. It’s got nothing to do with age or similar backgrounds or shared interests. It is and always will be about the person himself.
Well of all the people to have a lesson from, a younger man? A child shall lead the way, they say. 🙂
Of note, if you’re wondering where things go from here…well, they don’t. He’s going his way and I’m going mine, both of us in agreement that it was an excellent experience. I never thought I’d say this but it is a good feeling to be able to feel that way.