There I was, with a group of friends, at a trendy downtown drinking establishment, nursing a single-malt scotch. In walked a gorgeous young man, who sat next to me. He asked for a light in a charming foreign accent, and I gave him one. I thought he had beautiful blue eyes, and I thought he was sexy, handsome, but way out of my league agewise. I forgot about him and turned my attention back to my friends. Then he tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I knew of any good restaurants. We began to talk. All the while, I thought, "He couldn't possibly be coming on to me. I'm 41, he's what -- 25, 26?" I forgot about him again. But he asked me another question, and then another. He was a budding doctor, had just finished his internship in Australia, was out seeing the world before taking on a residency. He was smart, funny. We talked about life in New York, the theater, painting, dance.
Finally, a good friend of mine walked up to him and said, "Are you going to kiss this beautiful woman or not?" I was mortified, but also curious and titillated. He said, "Am I going to kiss you?" I said, "Please." For at least an hour, we necked at the bar, ordering drinks, necking some more, until it was obviously time to catch a cab and go home. And if there is anything more romantic than making out in the back seat of a cab hurtling over the Brooklyn Bridge, I wish someone would tell me about it.
I attract younger men by the score. Men my age don't give me the time of day. I don't understand it. Initially, I fought it. One hot summer afternoon, I picked up my phone and found there was no dial tone. Swearing, I stomped outside into the blistering heat and called the phone company, which promised to send someone over. Half an hour later, in walked Mr. July, fresh from the pages of Playgirl magazine: 6 feet of masculinity; 21, maybe 22. Jesus, he was beautiful. Low-slung jeans, a worn T-shirt, broad shoulders, long legs, my God (my God!). The tool belt weighing down his pants, the sweat making his shirt stick to his substantial physique. Stuck at home, working on deadline, I felt like I hadn't been out in days, but thankfully I never sit down in front of my computer without brushing my hair and putting on makeup. Though I wasn't in total disarray, I was certainly not at my best.
In addition to being gorgeous, he was also very sweet. So we got to talking and discovered that we were from the same part of the country -- "No!" The same state -- "You're kidding." And finally, yes, the same city -- "Get out of here." We even knew the same people. I thought, "I probably went to high school with his mother." Even for a freewheeling, sophisticated, urban-outfitted feminist, fresh on the heels of the new millennium, that was almost too Freudian to take. Yes, he was flirting with me. And in a studio apartment, with the phone in the bedroom/office, it wasn't hard to miss the big double bed, freshly laundered, with the blinds drawn, and the cool and dark of the apartment. I knew he was thinking what I was thinking: "Let's rip our clothes off and go to it!" But I decided to remain noble, because I felt seducing him or vice versa would be immoral. I didn't want to take advantage of a very handsome, but also very young, man. So with great regret, I didn't take him up on his offer for a drink later. (Sigh.)
Later, talking to my friends, male and female, I was stunned to discover that they felt my reservations were wrongheaded, prudish, way too high and mighty. In particular, a male friend said that my telephone man was old enough to make his own decisions, that it was his decision to make, that there was nothing immoral about sexual attraction between two consenting adults.
Hitting 40, getting no interest from men my own age and having a flock of young men hovering around me seemed to happen all at once. If I were being honest, I'd have to admit that part of my hesitancy stemmed from my belief that going along would never lead to anything -- a relationship, commitment, brunch on Sunday morning. When "The Graduate" with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft first came out, I identified with Hoffman. I was, after all, his age. And Bancroft was sexy, yes, but she was bad: a ravenous seductress who used her young lover, and then turned on him. To me, she was Lilith, Eve, Medea, Cleopatra and all the other bad women in the world rolled up into one. I didn't want to cast my lot with them.
And I also resented the "older woman" role. When the hell did that happen? Suddenly, at the age of 40, things seemed to change for me overnight. I no longer worried as much about my blond highlights fading as I worried about covering the gray. My peers began reading self-help books about catching a man, holding on to a man, rekindling the passion with a man. My seemingly enlightened male friends began jumping ship on their 20-year marriages, taking up with women half their age, or at least 10 years younger. I began to envy even the dowdiest 25-year-old, with her apparent disregard for the stomach sticking out from underneath her skintight tank top. "Yes, she can get away with it," I thought.
Even when I have just a few errands to run in the neighborhood, I feel compelled to put on a brassiere, comb my hair, put on lipstick. I especially hate bras and always have. Small-breasted and petite, I tried to get away with going braless for as long as possible. And when I have to wear one, it's the first article of clothing I take off when I get home. I would love to go out of the house braless, but that's undignified. (Isn't it?)
So why are these young men attracted to me? Why not to their feminine peers, with breasts bouncing free, unfettered, in tight sweaters and tank tops, their legs smooth and taut, their complexions unlined and rosy. Well, all I have to do is look to my own history of romantic involvement. In my 20s, I had a long-term relationship with a man 20 years my senior. And there was plenty to recommend it, including his sophistication and his experience. He dressed and moved like a movie star, a man with two marriages behind him and five children. He was sure of himself; he knew exactly who he was and how he had got there. I found this intoxicating and sexy. People in their 40s or older do have a stronger sense of themselves, after all. They've lived through jobs ending and beginning, marriages ending and beginning. Through trial and error, through sheer number of years lived, they have learned to take the good with the bad. They have an appealing sanguinity about life. When I asked my current lover (27) what attracted him to me, he said, "You know who you are."
And I do. Sophistication, confidence and maturity are aphrodisiacs, whether for younger men attracted to older women or younger women dating older men. What's more, men think nothing of pursuing a woman 10, 15, even 20 years their junior -- they do it without batting an eyelash. It's much more socially and culturally acceptable. But I have sometimes been chided by "friends" for robbing the cradle; they make allusions to the man's "issues with his mother," as if dating an older woman were an indication of deep-seated neuroses, and certainly not productive. It is difficult to shed the mantle of an "overly aggressive woman, seductress, treating a man like an object."
I remember my first encounter with a man 15 years my junior. I gloried in his thick, black, curly hair that hadn't even begun to think about thinning out. And when he took his shirt off, I almost passed out from sheer physical joy in his firm and ripe nipples. The whole evening could've ended right there, above the waist, limited only to lips and teeth, hair and nipples, and I would've been happy and fulfilled.
Was he an object? To a certain extent, yes. But in the heat of sexual passion with any partner, the glory of the body, of the physical, is present. To a certain extent, it's what sex is about for both men and for women. But society has a long history of distrust and even fear of the power of female sexuality. I have enjoyed my younger lovers, but have felt sheepish in admitting to it, as if it points to some inherent flaw in my psychosexual makeup. If I could completely divest myself of this acculturated belief, and come out of the closet, this is what I would say:
I love younger men. They approach sex in a way that is pure, unfettered by bitterness, unblemished by past heartaches and still completely infused with the joy of two naked bodies. One man, 25, stood close to me, our bodies almost touching, but not quite. He unbuttoned my long black dress, slowly, deliberately, stopping every few moments to caress my hair, my face. When I stood before him, stripped down to my underwear, he kissed me long and deep, and then he took his clothes off. And I loved his young body, standing before me, completely naked. He was perfect, his erection rock hard, a thing of beauty. Again, the evening could've ended right there at that moment.
I won't pretend that this assignation was in any sense a meeting of the minds, but to a great extent, that was the beauty of it. It was about now, this minute, this second, this arm, this leg, these lips. There were no expectations, and that, not surprisingly, is very freeing.
If lovemaking is all about the moment, if it does not get tangled up in the zeitgeist of relationships, the thrill of early adolescent wonder and the awe of what your body can do and how it can make you feel return. And I like that feeling of purity and innocence. Who wouldn't? In contrast, a sexual relationship with a man my age inevitably leads to questions of commitment, then to the histories of ex-wives, ex-girlfriends and painful betrayals, so the boundaries and the rules begin to solidify even before the first kiss. Making love with a much younger man circumvents the need for all this angst. At least on my part. Sure, lightning could strike and we could fall in love, become a couple, but that is highly unlikely, so it doesn't enter into the transaction.
Is this the female version of a midlife crisis? Perhaps. Is it a way of avoiding the responsibility and commitment of a relationship? Perhaps. But consider this: Sex hasn't been just about procreation for a long time, and women first burned their bras more than 30 years ago. In the absence of interest from men my age, is there any reason to not respond to a younger man's attention? I think it verges on the revolutionary for a mature woman like me, in her 40s, to come out of the closet and say, "God, I love to fuck. I love sex and I love sex with younger men." And to say this with no apologies, no hang-ups. I'm not there of course, but I'm working on it. Our male counterparts discovered this a long time ago. Why isn't what's good for the gander good for the goose?
Recently I met a man 20 years younger than I. He was smart, sophisticated and good-looking, and I lusted after him with every fiber and synapse and female hormone I possess. Who can explain such a thing? Yet this attraction (and it is mutual) remains embarrassing to me. If I had the courage, I would invite him into my bathtub and then into my bed for a night of unbridled, lusty lovemaking. What do I fear? Snide comments from my friends, yes. Snide comments from his friends, yes. In his presence, I turn into an adolescent again, gawky and insecure. I have trouble looking him in the eye, my heart beats faster, I blush for no apparent reason. What I'd like to do is take him to the Catskill Mountains, on the night of a full moon. Bring a worn, soft blanket and a bottle of good white wine, grab his hand and take him high up into the hills, where the wind whispers through the leaves of the trees. I'd like to quote T.S. Eliot in his ear -- "Let us go then, you and I,/When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table" -- and slowly divest him of all his clothes. Kiss him till his mouth is bruised like a piece of ripe fruit, take him, all of him, inside me slowly, until the moonlight shines in our mouths, our eyes and our hair. But I won't. This is what I fantasize. I am still too hung up on how it might "look." What a shame. What a shame that I am still so concerned about what other people might think.
It's said that a woman reaches her sexual peak in her 40s and men in their 20s. If this is true, then I am right on schedule. Here's hoping I can have 10 more years of younger men, their eyes bright and gleaming, their bodies taut and tender.