I'm 43. That used to be considered middle-aged. I prefer to say I'm in my prime.
Prime or not, the unspoken rules include one that says middle-aged women should date men who are their peers or older. So that would mean I should stick with the graying, sagging, balding, spreading and tired -- that errant ear- and nose-hair bunch of men who tend to favor (horrors!) relaxed-fit Dockers.
The rules also include one that says that, in very rare cases, you may date younger men -- five years falls well within the comfort zone. Beyond that, don't flaunt it, since it is just a phase that you will get over and look back on with remorse. The young man will inevitably fall into the "What was I thinking?" category of your past, along with those dusty rose-colored, three-snap front, hip-hugger, elephant-leg corduroy bell-bottoms you wore until they were threadbare.
But I am a trendsetter, always have been. Speaking of which, I walked by the Gap store near my office last week and noticed the latest propaganda, obviously designed to depress even the most youthful 40-ish gal: photographs, the entire length of the gargantuan windows, of late teen/early 20s models (female and male), half-naked with one word printed next to them: "FRESH."
Does this refer to their crisp white undies? The subliminal message I received was that her hymen is still intact and you could bounce a quarter off his tummy. Meanwhile, I continued on my way feeling as if I had "time dated" stamped on my forehead.
I really shouldn't beat myself up, but the advertising gurus of Madison Avenue have always had their way with me, propagating my Pavlovian reactions. I am female, therefore I am a sucker. As vain as this might sound, the truth is that I am blessed with my father's "Portrait of Dorian Gray" genes, so the unaware suspect that I am a decade younger.
But I'm not; these tired dogs have walked on this earth all these 43 years. Like most youth-obsessed, Gap-window-gawking "middle-aged" women these days, I am not really going to age. At least not gracefully, not like another formaldehyde Cher-in-training.
We rationalize that it is different for our generation and we don't have to succumb like our mothers did. I exercise to within an inch of my life. I made sure I lost the 55 pounds I gained after each kid. I watch what I eat (since trying to lose weight at this stage of the game is like moving cement), wear hats and slather on sunscreen so I don't expose my face to the ravages of the sun. And I never shop in those demographically correct pods in the department store where they sell holiday-theme knit sweaters and "woman's cut" jeans.
These strict beauty and fitness standards that I live by do not apply to the men in my life. Isn't it a bit shallow to focus on the aesthetics (or in the case of most chicks, the wallet) of a potential mate when it is his mind and soul that matter? I default naturally to the conventional wisdom that men age like fine wine and women don't.
That said, the first time I saw Ken he took my breath away.
Like the first few chews on a new stick of wintermint gum.
A living oil painting with dimples.
I had to meet him, share his airspace for a few minutes, breathe in his freshness, lick his dimples.
He pursued me. I was smitten at first sight, I balked, then he wrote me a poem and that cinched it. I agreed to go out with him.
After a few dates I found out that he is my dream man. He is intelligent, sexy, funny, thoughtful, cocky, creative, kind, well-traveled (he has a military background and could kill to protect me), trustworthy, spiritual, an excellent conversationalist, strong, sensitive about baby seals, a great physical specimen, sensitive, experimental, nonjudgmental, a gentleman, athletic, an incredible lover, kid-friendly, honest, open, touchy-feely, manly, well-read, ambitious, a great kisser, clean-smelling, close to his family, warm. Plus, he has nice hands and -- oh yes -- he is 17 years younger than I am.
What was the liability? Sure, there was an awkward moment when he got carded and I didn't, but at least I knew that I wouldn't get arrested.
Fast-forward to the bedroom. (Note the "in my prime" comment earlier.) Let's just establish the fact that there are not enough words in the English language to describe how perfect his body is. I'll settle for beautiful. He has the swimmer's V-shaped chest that is almost hairless -- he is smooth, sun-kissed, hard, harder, hardest. Like a statue by Rodin.
His physical perfection aside, he is comfortable to be around. I see him as a puppy, for whom life is a simple equation of work, eat, fuck, watch TV, sleep. He sleeps that deep sleep of those with no kids, mortgage, looming layoffs, bitter ex-spouse, aging parents, aging pets, retirement worries or regrets. He hasn't been weighed down by living, yet.
I want to take a picture of him sleeping and carry it with me to remind me of the perfect human condition. When I feel major stress coming on, I will meditate to his photo. He will be my mantra.
His life is like the smooth, glistening sand left after the surf recedes. Mine is like a trampled, overripe kitty-litter box.
In spite of all the obvious challenges, I am drawn to him. I kindly nod my head in agreement when well-meaning friends give me the high-five, "You go, girl!" attitude for shaking up the gender rules. This is usually followed by the less than encouraging disclaimer: "Of course it will never work, but have fun!"
How do I explain to them that he makes me buoyant, that I forget our age gap when we are together? My spirit has always been young and free. Now my stay of execution has been granted and all is possible again. He is the gentle breeze of my dreams that lifts me off the ground so I can soar -- running, pedaling, skipping through the air over treetops, reaching out for the fulfillment that now seems within my grasp.
I can feel the cold surf lapping at my bare toes, teasing me into pretending that I can wipe my slate clean.
Then: "Can you still have kids?" he asks casually.
In my blissful, youth-enabled state, I pause to think. Would I? Could I?
I am frightened by my clarity of thought. "Yes, my love, I want to have your litter and populate the world with hope."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
That was my last pure moment with him. What a beautiful experience. Soon after that, I wake up. Actually, I am forcibly shaken out of my hopeful haze by more information than I ever needed to know.
I am not the only bitch in his life.
As I lick my wounds I promise myself that I will never forget that the puppy's bite hurts more than the old dog's. Its teeth are sharper.
Do not worry, you wardens of the socially acceptable. My choke collar is back on. My tail is firmly between my legs, and I will heel as I should have all along.
Go ahead -- say it. You did tell me so.