The Truth About Dating a Younger Man -- I Was 27, He Was 19
My father and I once argued about the topic when he defended a family friend who was dating a much younger woman. My father, on his old man soapbox, of course, declared that no young man in the world could overcome the experience and charm of an older man. I wholeheartedly disagreed. While an older man could be established in his career, life and -- if we would get into the existential side of things -- soul, he still lacked the loveliest quality of all: youth.
I'm not an ageist or a creep, nor am I lingering outside junior high schools trying to lure 12-year-olds into my lair of sex and PlayStation. And while I do see beauty in an exaggerated wrinkle -- the way it has secrets to tell, the confidence of life witnessed and time consumed -- I still catch myself swooning at the flawless skin of younger men and the way they sort of glide through life without the heavy burden of responsibility or obligation. It's a freedom I crave, a freedom I've lost.
When I met David* I was 27 years old; he was 19. At first, our age difference was not fully apparent. I could tell he was younger, but I was unsure to what extent until he came clean over brunch one morning. It took some teeth-pulling to get the number from him. He danced around the issue, throwing other ages my way that I grasped at hoping it was finally the truth. But as the numbers got lower and lower, I began to get nervous. It was only after he handed me his license that I was presented with the verity -- and the realization of the decent-size age gap between us. He was still a college student, and I had been out of school for more than half a decade; his mom was still sending him care packages of Ramen and toilet paper, while I had actually moved onto buying my own Ramen and toilet paper, sparingly so, on my very tiny budget. It may not make sense, but that was my first thought: the difference in who was buying Ramen in the equation.
I had my reservations, and those reservations only increased the first time I brought David home. It was somewhere between my lips touching his parted mouth and his hip bones that reality, and then some, set in: He was not only a 19-year-old college student -- he was also a virgin. He ran down all the reasons why it just hadn't happened yet and how he was ready for it to happen now. Had I been a stronger person, I would have asked him to leave. However, the anticipation of it all and the way he looked in the white sheets of my bed, as if being partially swallowed by a cloud, won, and I took his virginity from him. But that's a whole other story.
At first it was easy to disregard the age difference. New York City allows for such things the way it blinds you with its lights, the bubble it is compared to the rest of the world. Age guidelines are not adhered to as they might be in Middle America or even a suburb just 20 minutes away, so we could go pretty much everywhere together and no one was the wiser. Sure, he wasn't technically legal for all those beers he consumed at this bar or that, and he was two years shy of the 21-plus age minimum at all those seedy Lower East Side music venues. But while some college students still live under the hawk-eye watch of their parents, David was states away from his folks and left to his own devices in a brand new city that embraced and tempted him, as city life does.
I got caught up in the breathlessness of his excitement about everything, his wide-eyed innocence at the sighting of a movie star or a homeless person "dropping trou" in Tompkins Square Park. There were all the writers he had not read, the bands he had yet to discover, the places he had never been, the women he would someday love but still had not met -- it was intoxicating. And as I tend to do, I caught myself staring too long at him, enraptured in the fleeting aspect of it all. I finally felt the freedom I had envied in those too young to realize just how lucky they were. I lived quite happily in this dizzying effect of his for just under two months. Then I came to my senses.
One night we went to drinks with a few of his friends who were also 19, and I found myself annoyed. What I once saw as endearing was now crude and desperate. I watched the way he and his friends did shots at the bar, with a lack of dignity or eloquence that one might find in a pamphlet geared toward frat boys on how to behave at the year's first kegger, and the inevitable seduction routine that followed. I wasn't there to baby-sit, to be impressed, or to be on display as the girl who had taken his virginity and who was routinely supplying him with sex. I felt disgusted with myself.
My friends had been divided on the affair. Some thought it was entertaining enough to accept it for the temporary thing it was, while others felt I was scarring him and that his devotion to me was indicative of severe mommy issues. It was the latter camp that I found most offensive -- I was 27, not 37, and by no means treated him like my son. I treated him like the buddy he was. I did not try to tie him down, or make him into something he wasn't or even the man he'd eventually become when time had its way with him as it does with us all. I adored him for every inch of 19 he was. But 19 is a long way from 27, and the space in between can't be easily closed.
It didn't take long after that evening in the bar for me to end things. The differences kept lining up in my head as if each one was waiting to be addressed so it could take its bow and move on so as to present the next one. His childish candor, once refreshing, was now like acid on every moment he brutalized with it. He had begun to make my skin crawl. I couldn't put my finger on it; it was just over. Granted, it had never really begun on the scale of "relationships," but there was no point in keeping up my end of things when the very mention of his name would make me cringe.
When I finally sat him down to tell him it was time to say adieu, he couldn't understand what he had done wrong. He couldn't wrap his brain around the facts, or why I didn't want something serious with him. And being always at a loss for words (verbally), I couldn't formulate all the reasons; all I could do was reiterate the age issue like a record that skips at the end of a side and doesn't know enough to stop making noise and just retreat to the tonearm rest. All he did was look at me in disbelief over the decision I had made, the one in which there was no room for discussion. As he tried to change my mind, I was again reminded of his youthfulness -- and not the pretty end of it, but the cloying bits. He was making bargains with me like a child who promises to do his homework after he gets what he wants. He assured me he'd be "better" if I gave him another chance, which just strengthened my already-solid stance on the issue. I shook my head and told him no, and when I said it, I felt like I was scolding him for thinking I could be persuaded by his infantile bribes. So that's where I left David: at 19 years old on a bench in Tompkins Square Park.
I was never going to love him, I was never going to need him, but I wanted him; fair or not, that's what it was. I don't regret it and I don't take it back, but I think if I had to do it over, I'd be less careless. The carelessness of it all is the part that resonates too harshly sometimes. We've discussed it slightly since then when he pops up on Facebook chat, but it just ends in me apologizing profusely and he, still younger now than I was even then, not understanding why I'm apologizing. And I'm brought back to that afternoon I ended it. Maybe he'll get it in a few years; maybe not. Until then, I'll just keep our chats superficial and regarding the weather. Even strangers can talk about the weather.
Amanda Chatel is a freelance writer and the snarky lass behind The Angry Office Manager -- a sometimes inappropriate and mildly offensive blog that was once about her former-office-manager days but has evolved into a ranting and raving of this and that. She is a frequent contributor to The Gloss and Untapped New York, and writes the music column "Neither Here Nor There" for Sick of the Radio. She lives in New York City with her dog, Hubbell.
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