Twisted sisters

How is it that women a few years apart in age can be light years away from each other in their attitudes toward sex?

Published February 25, 1998 8:55PM (EST)

It was the strangest thing about Mademoiselle,
Tiffany thought as she pushed her dark hair behind her ears -- how did they
always know what was going on in her life? Tiffany was 21, and
every article spoke to her. The magazine was like a good girlfriend that
you could call up and chat with for three hours. There was "Good News About
the Pill" (she'd just gone on it herself) and "Will You Cheat on Him?" (three
months ago, she had done exactly that to her boyfriend, Robert) and then a long article about the most popular sexually transmitted diseases on college campuses.

But the real reason she liked Mademoiselle was because -- like all the other women's magazines -- every article had something to do with sex. And as many problems as she knew she had (bad communication with Mother, difficulty in maintaining intimate relationships with men, always wanting to please everybody around her), sex was not one of them. It was the one area that felt completely trouble-free.

It wasn't just her, she'd tried to explain to her older sister Lisa on the car ride out to the airport. All girls her age were like that. None of them seemed to take sex as seriously as, say, Lisa and her neurotic 30-something friends. Lisa had been telling her not to fall into bed with the first guy she met on this vacation to Atlanta -- "They really won't respect you, Tiffany" -- and Tiffany inwardly groaned. The truth was, she didn't really care one way or another if a guy respected her in the morning.

Why did women over the age of 25 obsess so much about sex? She was still mulling this over as she went through the security gates. "No problem, it's fine," she said to the Filipina woman who accidentally shoved her as she ran the metal detector over her body. "I'm sorry," she said to the woman waiting to walk through behind her. Lisa was definitely right about some things: Tiffany apologized too much. She made a mental note to stop apologizing for everything.

Now here she was on the plane, apologizing to the man in front of
her when she accidentally dug her knees into his back. Lisa's stern voice
floated through her head again. I don't know why I should listen to her, Tiffany thought. At 32, Lisa had had a series of failed relationships and was trying hard at this point not to get cynical. The middle sister, Karen, who was
27, said Lisa's biological clock was ticking so loudly it was
scaring all the men away. Karen herself was another screwed up story: She wanted a boyfriend too, which never seemed to happen, despite the plethora of male friends she had in her circle. Karen said at her age the terms "boyfriend" and
"girlfriend" had somehow floated away, dropped out of the realm of possibilities. In Karen's group, they all just slept together when they got horny or drunk -- or both, as was usually the case.

It was weird, Tiffany thought. As they got older, they
seemed not to grow together as sisters were supposed to (at least according to Mademoiselle), but
rather further and further apart. In fact, whenever Tiffany met a girl who wasn't
her exact age, she found they had nothing to talk about.

But now there was a girl sitting next to her, looking a little older than Lisa, reading the New York Times. It was a long flight to Atlanta; talking to someone might make the time go faster.
This girl was pretty in a sort of unfussy way -- long hair, little makeup, wearing mostly black. She must have sensed Tiffany looking at her because she turned and smiled. Pointing to the front page, she said, "Doesn't Kenneth Starr look like the kind of guy who lives with his mother?"

Tiffany nodded, feeling oddly fraudulent; she wasn't much interested in the
political scandal and only knew as much as she'd picked up from David
Letterman. Still, she wanted the girl to like her (another failing of hers,
Lisa had pointed out, wanting everyone to like her) and started to tell her how people had commented that Tiffany bore some resemblance to Monica.

The girl (well, woman -- she was 33, after all) was chatty and took up the reins. Did Tiffany like UC-Berkeley? What was she studying? What was she going to do after graduation? "I always like to hear what young women are thinking about," she said. The woman pulled out a bottle of
wine and some plastic cups and urged Tiffany to have a glass with her. Tiffany tried to suppress a grimace as she took a sip of the bitter red burgundy. But soon the bottle was empty and she found herself talking about her favorite subject: sex.

"OK, well, last week, I finally slept with this guy that I'd been going
out with for about two months," said Tiffany. "I wasn't sure I was going to. But you know, it was time."

"Two months? How come you waited so long?"

"Is that long?" Tiffany asked, feeling once again that weird
communication chasm with women who were not her age. "I guess I just wasn't
sure before. But we'd had some beers that night, and suddenly I just
thought, OK, I'll do it tonight. And I just got on the Pill, so you know."

"Huh," said the girl. "You, uh, didn't use condoms?"

"No," said Tiffany. "I mean, I know him. I've known him since junior year."

"Oh." The girl sat back and looked at Tiffany evenly. "I'm not sure I
even know anyone who's on the Pill anymore."

"Well, it was awful," she said. "He came right away.
I mean, like that. I couldn't really believe it. I think he just got worked
up too fast."

"What's fast?" asked the girl.

"Like, the second he went inside me. Boom, that was it."

Despite the girl's own candidness, she seemed surprised at Tiffany's openness, even turning a little red. "Oh. Did he, um, make it up to you afterwards?"

"Well, there wasn't any afterwards," she said. "I made up some excuse and left."

The girl looked incredulous. "You left? Maybe you should have given him a second chance."

Karen had said the same thing. What was it with these older girls?
Why were they so ... namby-pamby ... or desperate ... or something about sex? "Well, no," said Tiffany. "He fell asleep. Besides, it's no big deal. I'm sure I'll meet someone else."

"Has he called you?" the girl asked.

"Sure," Tiffany said, "lots of times. I told him we could be friends. Listen, it was just too lame." The girl kept questioning her, but Tiffany could see she wasn't getting the answers she wanted. "It was really no big deal," Tiffany said finally.

The girl said after a pause, "Yeah, I guess. I just can't remember a time that I could feel that cavalier about sex. Maybe when I was younger, but not now." She sighed.

After that, the two of them fell asleep. As the plane touched down in Atlanta, they exchanged pleasantries, but not phone numbers or even e-mail addresses. Well, I may apologize too much and want people to like me, Tiffany thought sadly as she reapplied her Twig MAC lipstick, but at least I don't stress out about sex like these post-25-year-olds. Even if she felt a little frivolous in her company, Tiffany had liked this smart and slightly neurotic girl. It was a shame they didn't have more in common, she thought, as she carefully tucked her copy of Mademoiselle into her bag.

By Courtney Weaver

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