We’ve infantalized younger men so much that we can’t trust them to handle being hit on at a family picnic? Let’s give men a little credit and have higher expectations for everyone in general. In my experience, age really is just a number.
The following is a response to the Marybeth Hagan essay “A dirty old woman in cougar’s clothing.”
I completely understand the author’s anger and why the behavior in this particular family vignette seems so unappetizing. Judging by her remark, she was clearly being inappropriately and publicly aggressive in a childish manner on purpose. (You flirt with my son, I’ll flirt with someone else’s.) In the process, she was indeed being disrespectful to the young man, and deserves some scorn for that.
However, it’s her childish behavior, not the sexual advance or her age, or their age difference, that makes it problematic. We indeed haven’t come that far in feminism if the woman’s age is the main factor here rather than her behavior, and his age doesn’t matter either. Twenty-five-year-old men have commanded armies and run countries, made unbelievable scientific discoveries, and — gasp! — taken older lovers when they’ve so chosen. We’ve infantalized younger men so much that we can’t trust them to handle being hit on at a family picnic? He was, as his father said, probably a little flattered. Let’s give men a little credit and have higher expectations for everyone in general.
I’m a 39-year-old woman with a 26-year-old boyfriend, officially a cougar perhaps by the author’s judgment. I did think about it when I first started dating him. I was mostly annoyed by the fact that, if I had been the man and he the woman, it wouldn’t really have seemed that odd. Again, we haven’t come that far. But quickly we both realized that we were well matched and that social norms didn’t’ much matter if we were happy. There are 13 years between us. We are both old souls, and we are very much in love. My partner is my best friend, my intellectual equal, and one of the kindest and most loving and honest people I have ever had the pleasure to have in my life.
Thankfully, it’s also easy for us to “pass” as a “normal” couple, because we don’t look mismatched: He’s got some gray hair, and I don’t; and I look quite a bit younger than I am. We pretty much both look 32, and you would never know our age difference if you had us over for dinner. Should it matter?
We both play music in the same circle and met through mutual friends. Among our close friends who know our age difference, no one cares, and, in fact, they can’t stop saying how happy they are that we found each other. They’re all artists and musicians who range from 22 to 62, and we all don’t talk about age much anyway. My parents think he’s great and love seeing me so happy. When I look up on Sunday morning at the handsome man on my couch reading the New York Times with my dog asleep on his knee, I don’t think about his age, I think about what a great person he is and whether he’d like some more coffee. We’re just a normal couple.
In my experience, age really is just a number. Sex happens. Love happens. As long as it’s mutually respectful, no one should care. Most of the world is full of war, famine, cruelty, and pain. If there’s a pocket of happiness in there, let it blossom and bloom.
From my perspective, if the author’s son decides to date a 40-yea-old, or even someone twice his age, he’ll be fine. He might even be happy.