Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not Yet a Cougar

A couple of months ago, I was at a dance club, and I started dancing with an attractive woman who was new to South Korea.  The dance followed a familiar pattern (you know what I'm talking about): We started out by facing each other and moving our bodies together, then holding hands and doing some partner dancing with footwork and turns, then hands slid up to waists and we had our hands on each others' backs, and then our foreheads were touching, and then we were kissing and grinding to the music, completely oblivious to all the people around us.  After the loooongest time, we finally managed to break apart and decided to get some fresh air.  While outside, I asked her to come home with me; she made some witty comment, we grabbed our bags, and we were off.  I don’t remember how it came up, but on the way home, she mentioned that she was twenty-four.  I was shocked because she looked and seemed older; I had assumed she was at least thirty (I’m in my mid-thirties).  It really threw me.  

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When I was twenty-four, I had a thirty-seven year-old pseudo-boyfriend for about a year.  At the time, I remember thinking how cool it was that I was dating someone with real furniture (the kind that doesn’t come in a box) and a full-time job with benefits.  I had just graduated from university, and it made me feel like a grown-up.  I didn’t have romantic feelings for him (nor he for me; we were both still in love with our exes), but I thought he was hot, and the sex was good.  I always felt inadequate when I was with him, though.  I hadn’t done the traveling he’d done; I hadn’t read the books he’d read; I wasn’t familiar with the music he listened to, and I for sure didn’t understand his job (he was an oceanographer).  Considering we were so off personality-wise, I never really understood why he wanted to date me.  He eventually ended up marrying a woman who was two years younger than me.

When I entered my thirties and looked back on it, I thought, “What was wrong with that guy?  Why didn’t he date people his own age?”  I’ve come to the realization that nothing was wrong with him.  Maybe dating younger women made him feel more youthful.  Maybe being an older, protective man turned him on.  Maybe he just thought younger women are hotter (in which case, he’s got a LOT of company).  Or maybe all the women his own age were partnered.  As we get older, the dating pool inevitably gets smaller as people pair off, move in together, get married, and have kids, which makes dating someone your own age more difficult.                 

That being said -- I can’t seem to get past it.  Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher and the idea of dating someone who could have been my student at some point in my career squicks me.  When I tell this to people in their early twenties, they get offended.  “It’s really not that big of a deal,” they say.  “It’s only a decade.”  I felt the same way when I was in my early twenties.  I ask them if they would date someone who was ten years younger than them.  “NO!” they say, horrified.  “That’s illegal!”  “What if it were legal?”  I ask.  “Would you date someone ten years younger than you?”  “Of course not,” they inevitably reply -- “they’re children.”  

Aaliyah said that age ain’t nothin’ but a number, but it’s so much more -- it’s a whole lifetime of relationships, experiences, education, and cultural references.  When I say to someone, “Hey, do you remember when the Challenger exploded?” and they don’t because they weren’t born yet, it makes me feel old.  I realize that age gaps in relationships aren't a big deal for a lot of people, and my younger friends are probably laughing at this post and rolling their eyes.  I have loads of friends in relationships with people who are 5-10 years older or younger than them, and they’re truly and beautifully happy.  My parents were thirteen years apart (which is probably why my friends all thought that my dad was my grandpa).  And I would (have) absolutely date(d) people who are older than me… but I’m starting to think hard about the fact that the median age of single people is going to stay the same while I age.

I am not calling twenty-somethings children; however, I teach students in their early twenties.  I officially recognize them as autonomous adults, but I also call them “my kids,” just as parents call their adult children their kids.  I realize there is a HUGE range of maturity in young people; when I was young, older people always thought I was older than I was.  Nor am I criticizing folks who choose to date people who are much younger than they are.  I’m just kind of freaking out because I think I’ve finally hit a point where I realize that it’s going to be tough from here on out to find people my own age to date.  Also, I’m starting to think that maybe it’s time I got out of the club.        

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