As a teenager, I thought I know how attraction worked. You looked around the high school, you saw a girl you thought had nice aspects, and you fell for her. Simple.
Oh sure, a Hollywood movie might cause you to dream a little bigger. A gal in a tank top would be running around, trying to fight a bad guy or an alien. I had my Speed and Twister crushes, thankyouverymuch. Some wiggle room was allowed. The college crowd could fall for the cast of Friends.
But those women were up there on the screen. I was never going to meet them. And they were not that much older than me.
I was under the impression that people were only attracted to those that were within their age range. I did not expect to go falling for any babies and I did not think my classmates would go goo-goo for Clint Eastwood. (Though, my best friend was quite a fan of Harrison Ford. Hmm.)
I got a little older and I started hearing more curious observations. The one that really stood out was Daniel Radcliffe. A coworker, who was older than I, made a not-really-joking and lewd comment about being excited that the actor would be turning eighteen soon.
Now, nobody makes fun of this better than Saturday Night Live. Tina Fey and her odd crush on Justin Bieber. Meet Your Second Wife. It is weird. It is creepy. And we all know it. Eyebrows were raised at Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Then there is the terribly unsettling movie where two women sleep with their best friends’ sons. (I never watched the flick. The trailer was disturbing enough.)
We expect that couples will fall into a certain age-appropriate range. I was deflated when the gal I wanted to date ended up with a man nine years her senior. Shenanigans! What college guy could compete with that?
I work in customer service. Many college people do too. As I got older, the next wave of nubile coworkers came through the door. Let me tell you, once the cute coworker tells you that her mom is within two years of your age, it hurts. I have five nieces. One of them just turned eighteen. And over the summer there was a coworker. Smart. Interesting. Perfect face. And she was just starting college.
No. No no no. Nope. That is when you refuse to look them up online and you do not get too close. No no no. Then, of course, I was helping a new coworker because I had a bit more institutional knowledge than she did. And she told me that she was born the same year that I started working there. Nope. Nuh uh. Put some distance between the two of you. Throttle down.
I get that a vast age difference can work. Though I think that those successful pairings are rare and should only be approached with the most extreme caution. When I meet a new coworker, and they happen to look, well, like a twenty-something who works out all the time, I have a new mental picture that I focus on. I picture myself at the dinner table with her parents. And I try to explain to this couple, who are probably the same age as myself, exactly what the sam hill I think I am doing.
I acknowledge that disparate pairings can work. I know a couple that married and were nineteen years apart. Guess what? They were seventy-nine and nine-eight. They were spending the end of their lives with each other. Not the beginning. I do not think that twenty-somethings have their lives figured out. I do not think that someone with twenty years more experience than them should get to unfairly call the shots and steer things their way. Being vastly older gives one person too much power. (They may not choose to use that power. It may be done innocently. The temptation is still there.)
I was on a train that happened to be passing through a university. The train stopped at the campus. Dozens of girls piled in. And by piled, I mean stampeded. I had never been in such a confined space before. I could feel rears pressing against this, shoulders poking into that, chests here and there. Tank tops and tight pants and midriffs. College girls. Emphasis on girls.
What did I do? What I should have done. Nothing. No flirting. No winking. No ogling. No grabbing. I waited the few minutes until the train stopped at the stadium and they all fled to watch their college football game.
They were not out to get hit on by men twice their age. They were not trying to catch the eye of some guy who has gray hair. Did their attire have the potential to be tempting or alluring? Very much so. But the people seeing the girls are the ones that decide how much to look. I may be surprised at how many bellies are on display these days. Yet, I am more than capable of focusing on a book and letting girls dress how they want.
Life made more sense when I thought that teenagers were only attracted to teenagers. That twenty-somethings only fell for other twenty-somethings. I honestly thought that as you got older, you stopped looking hard at aerobics instructors and started going bug-eyed for the rocking-chair crowd. It would create fewer problems that way.
If there is a couple with a vast age gap? Okay. If the one and only reason that I would not be with a woman was because of age, then I would consider it. (I always assumed I would end up with a woman older than me. This being attracted to younger women is jarring.) There would have to be a very, very long list of reasons to be with her.
I always have a question in the back of my mind. Can I really justify this relationship? Or is it just creepiness and nothing else? You can be attracted to others and still sleep at night. What you do with that attraction; that is where you get to show if you really have become older and wiser.