SALON | March 25, 1999=20
Gentry Lane is an American expatriate writer living in Paris and is=20
never coming back.=20
I just moved to France, and in the month prior to quitting the United=20
States, I had a little hedonistic fun-fest. Among other atrocities I=20
gleefully committed, I had an affair with a 22-year-old lad (eight=20
years my junior). Nice and discreet, the romance was surprisingly=20
satisfying. Plus he's Tallulah Bankhead's grandnephew, so at least he=20
hails from scandalous stock. I was impressed with my conquest and=20
wanted to brag to my friends about his virility, stamina and Calvin=20
Klein underwear ad-worthy abs. But I hesitated. Why subject myself to=20
judgment and the potential humiliation of being labeled a cradle=20
robber? It was a casual fling, I told myself. Certainly not a=20
predicament I would repeat.
I wouldn't date a 22-year-old, even when I was 22. There is an=20
unwritten rule that women subconsciously memorize and strive for:=20
Suitors are supposed to be three to five years older. What mystery=20
advantage men gain in a three-to-five-year age difference is beyond=20
me. The technical number of years is actually arbitrary, but the rule=20
is set in stone: older man, younger woman.
Psychologists make note of an adolescence and early adulthood=20
phenomenon known as the gender maturation gap. During normal=20
development, females are theoretically five years more=20
psychologically advanced than their male counterparts. This suggests=20
an inclination and rationale for women to be attracted to older men.=20
However, everything is supposed to even up around age 30, when the=20
gender maturation gap ceases to exist. But the tacit implication=20
remains that women should date slightly older men.
An air of desperation is attributed to a woman engaged in relations=20
with a younger man. There must be something wrong with her or she=20
would be able to find someone her own age. And shouldn't said young=20
man prefer someone fresh and virginal, not an old lady who has=20
already been around the block a few times?
This stigma is as sexist as it is hypocritical. Why shouldn't a woman=20
be able to date down? Men have been doing it for years.
Because it's just taboo. And I privately resolved never to date down=20
again. Until I met my luscious, 23-year-old, French, next-door=20
He says he was initially attracted to my comportment. (Although I=20
still wonder if he didn't mix up the word "comportment" with=20
"apartment," because mine is much nicer.) I was attracted to his=20
chest region, so we began our illicit affair. I certainly wasn't=20
going to broadcast my new liaison to my friends, so I was shocked to=20
find out that he was bragging about me to his. It seems in France,=20
the older woman-younger man arrangement is quite desirable. I was=20
In almost all of Europe, a woman in her 30s is considered young and=20
well-seasoned. Teenage appearance is eschewed for sophistication,=20
refined style and independence. Likewise, a young man who can=20
entertain one of these fascinating creatures gets extra points for=20
studliness. Not to mention the sexual compatibility, because a women=20
in her early 30s and a man in his early 20s are both in their=20
so-called sexual prime.
I finally confided my newfound perversion to a friend living in New=20
York. Lo and behold, she confessed to precisely the same indulgence.
"But it's nothing serious." "Oh no, no. Certainly not," we coughed.=20
We didn't want to admit that beyond sexual satisfaction, men of=20
lesser age could possibly have more to offer.
The most obvious attribute to dating men in their early 20s is their=20
eagerness to please. They haven't yet learned to hide their=20
intimidation or lack of knowledge under a fa=E7ade of machismo and=20
self-imposed superiority. They're simply natural. And the easy way=20
they get embarrassed is adorable, especially when they look at the=20
ground and shuffle their feet.
Second, younger men are more open to suggestion. Rough edges are so=20
much more pliable and easier to polish out. My friend in New York has=20
succeeded in teaching her young buck that if she calls and he's=20
playing Nintendo he must immediately stop doing that and pay=20
attention to her. When she reaches for a cigarette, his Zippo is out=20
before the filter hits her lips.
Now that's the kind of boyfriend I like.
Eventually the age difference rears its ugly head. In my case our=20
first fight was over canned food. My young Frenchie invited me to=20
"dinner" at his house, which consisted of a can of heated-up ravioli.=20
When I gently suggested we go back to my house, where I have plenty=20
of comestibles spanning the four basic food groups, he was mad at me.
"I cannot believe we are fighting over food," he said in his Jacques=20
Cousteau-esque broken English.
"I'm insulted you'd offer to feed me that," I said, staring at the=20
woebegone glob of canned pasta.
Tensions and words escalated. I stormed out of his flat regretting=20
the decision to involve myself with a younger man. We obviously had=20
different standards of living. Once home he called me. I hadn't had a=20
bite to eat, I was still starving and still mad, but yes, I would=20
call him later.
So I had a Valium as my appetizer and a nutritious, well-balanced=20
meal for dinner.
But before I could return the call, he rang again. "I eat ravioli so=20
I can save my money to take you to nice dinners," he explained.
It made me think. It's not right to hold a 22-year-old to the same=20
standards to which I hold myself. I can't be mad at him when his=20
phone gets shut off because he forgot to pay his bill or when he=20
drinks until he throws up, because I made those same mistakes too=20
when I was his age.
I can however, hold him to the important stuff. He has to be kind,=20
emotionally honest and caring, which he is, and so much more.=20
Although he's less accomplished career-wise than my other datables of=20
late, he's certainly much nicer to be around. Sure, I had my driver's=20
license when he was in the third grade, but he's fun, spontaneous and=20
frisky. And since I'm not marriage-minded, I'm quite grateful to be=20
with someone sweet who appreciates me and is years away from=20
developing love handles.