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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Love, Sex and the Question of Age PART 1

"I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself." -- Rita Mae Brown


It's the soul connection that counts
Until recently I never imaged I would ever seriously date a man much younger than myself. I like to think I’m open-minded and mostly unprejudiced, but ageism is one of those things that sinks into us subtly and in unexpected ways, shaping our perception of everything. It permeates so many aspects of life, blanketing nearly ever opinion we form, that we don’t even see its presence. It’s simply everywhere.

When I was 16 and hell-bent on changing the world (and saving it) I had a Bible verse that I carried with me like armor.

“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I Timothy 4:12

I’ve long since chosen a different spiritual path, but the message of that verse still resonates with me. That regardless of age, we can be examples to others, embodying the virtues we value.

For much of my life I was the “youngest.” Youngest kid in the class. Youngest girl at the dance. Youngest member of the committee or group. Youngest to start writing professionally.

By the time I was 12, I was spending my school breaks volunteering in Missions in Mexico and New Mexico, helping the poor, reading to kids, cleaning up trash. I worked all year babysitting and cleaning houses to pay for these trips. I wasn’t a normal kid. Didn’t have normal kinds of kid thoughts or experiences.

I grieved for lost souls, cried for those in pain, and buried my head in books. And I wrote. I didn’t know how to really engage in conversation with people my own age. So I talked to adults.

Shifting Roles

Somewhere along the way I stopped being the youngest wonder kid. I’m not a novelty anymore. I’m just me. Damn good at what I do. Sometimes even great. But just living my life.

When I met my now-boyfriend, I recognized a similar spirit. We became writing partners immediately. Like it was inevitable and what had taken us so long? His work is brilliant, and that genius resonated deeply with me. I knew his mind and heart before I knew his age. The connection was profound as we finally each found someone who “got us” and our work in a way no one else had. Through our critiques and discussions, we both grew as writers.

With writing, things get personal. We connected emotionally. Spiritually. Deeply. So, I was dismayed and shocked when I learned his age. And how many years spanned the gap between us. That prejudice I so hated when I was in my teens and early 20s came back to haunt me as I saw my life through a different lens.

We were still just friends. Partners in writing. So did it really matter? Could my ego handle the fact that I had met my match creatively and intellectually in someone younger? Yes. I decided it could. He was too extraordinary and too instrumental in my growth as a writer and human to let my stupid pride get in the way.

Obviously, after spending time together, things did not remain in the just friends department. And now we are both faced with spending our lives in a relationship that will always have an element of challenge to it, at least in the view of society. Why is this?

What’s Age Got to Do With It Anyways?

Celebrity couples who defy age difference
Why does that one number change so much? He is the same man he was before I knew his age. That has not changed. Daily he amazes me with his depth of insight, wisdom, intelligence, grace, humor and light. I’ve dated men my age and older, been married, and never have I met anyone who is equal to him. Someone with whom I have so much in common (from the little things of books, music, movies…to the bigger philosophical questions of the heart and spirit.) So why does it matter how old we are?

I have degrees in Communications, English, and Behavioral Science and did post-graduate work in Transpersonal Psychology. I am a Reiki Master, Hypnotherapist and have lived through much darkness and trauma in my life. I give you this brief resume to make the point that I am not oblivious to the workings of the human mind, personality and spirit, and how culture plays its part in that.

While it’s a complicated subject worthy of a dissertation, I will sum up my basic conclusion.

Symmetry is God

We are a culture of sameness when it comes to love and relationships. We want like with like. Age. Societal status. Economic standing. Intelligence. Attractiveness. When we look at a couple, we want to see something that makes sense. Something that matches. (The exception to this being homosexuals. We don’t like THAT much sameness, god no. That’s just wrong.) *really hoping you hear the sarcasm dripping from my voice right now…

So it’s not all that surprising that May-December romances are so controversial and frowned upon. They aren’t the same. That’s wrong. They must die.

I jest, but there’s some truth to the idea that we want dead and gone that which we do not understand.

It's worse also when the woman is older, rather than the man. Because woman mature faster and therefore seem more suited to an older man? No. Not really. More likely because we see age as power, until you get too old, then we take back your power. An older woman dating a younger man seems wrong somehow. We are threatened by any woman who takes control of her life and sexuality and is not seen as dependent on a man. Also, this presupposes a younger man can not care for his partner in the same way an older man might. (More on this in Part 2 tomorrow.) 

People site life experience and maturity level as the real reasons they are opposed to these kinds of unions. Well, that sounds smart, ‘til you really get down to the fact that there are a LOT of men in their 30s, 40s and up who are immature children. (I should know; I’ve dated many of them.) So, obviously blowing out an extra candle on your birthday cake does not make you wise and mature.

We have a very bizarre relationship to age. We ridicule the young for being immature and untested. We brush off the more mature for being outdated and unnecessary. And we create a small window of time in which a person can really feel successful, sexual, happy, and contributing to society. What a waste of so much wisdom, knowledge, enthusiasm, energy, inspiration and life. In many cultures, the oldest member of a tribe assists in the birth of a newborn, because it is believed that both are closer to the true essence of god and life. Not so in our society. The young and old are tolerated members of a society structured to idolize the one phase of life in which we are considered valuable.

Ok, I know I’ve gone off on tangents, and maybe you were expecting a post on how great sex is with a younger man. And yes, there is a truth to that. Why waste such brilliant chemistry of a woman in her prime and a man at his sexual peak? The experience of the woman shaping the enthusiastic stamina of her younger partner. But this is just one aspect to a complex layering of the important dimensions of a great relationship. I’m not talking about the Cougar-syndrome of hunting the youth for sport of sex. I’m talking about real, meaningful, life-long relationships with sex as part of the equation, not the whole.

The Debate

Can an older woman and a younger man have a real intimacy and connection with which to build a life together? Why or why not? What real role does age play? Or is it really more about our perceptions of how a couple “looks” together?

My boyfriend and I are both on a path that could lead to wildly successful careers as authors in the not too distant future. Does this change perception? If we are both rich and famous does that mitigate the unease you feel when you see us holding hands on the street? If I look especially young and he seems especially mature, does that help? If we are both attractive and smart, do we seem a better fit for you? If you believe in souls, does an ‘Old Soul’ with deep wisdom, off-set lack of years in this life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. And thank you to all my Tweeple on Twitter who made time to share their ideas and stories. Love you all! Stay tuned tomorrow for PART 2 as my boyfriend chimes in to address some of the most common arguments for why it would never work and shows logically why it can. And why, he tells me often, it has to for us. When I doubt and worry, his question is simple. “Given who we are together, how can you and I NOT work?” (He’s wicked smart, I wouldn’t argue his points…)