Wednesday, March 08, 2006

May-December Friendships

Lately, my life has been rich in younger women. Melissa was ten years younger, for starters, as was the last women I dated seriously, a while back. A few nights ago, I had a terrific date through Match.com with a woman of thirty, and I frequently get correspondence from women in their early thirties. In acting class, I'm working with women in their twenties and early thirties. It's been lovely and thought provoking. Most of these relationships have neither been romantic nor overly burdened with subtext. Or rather, the subtext is there, but acts as a medium that frees expression and mutual curiosity, instead of narrowing and shunting every word in the direction of sex.

Now, I am not unfamiliar with having father figure dynamics thrust upon me. It's been a feature either more or less prominant in many of my friendships with women--a few close and long-lasting--both my own age and younger. I do have a patina of patriarchal superciliousness and paternal tenderness, neither of which I cultivate, and have in fact tried to shed (who wants to make people feel like they're talking to their dad? Especially when you might go to bed with them? Not me.) But, as my patronizing quality has clung tenaciously to my persona, I've tried to accept and understand it, while mitigating it where possible.

This familiar 'father figure' dynamic feels different now than in the past. When I was in my twenties and thirties, it could be extremely disconcerting. It bristled with subtext, an opportunity for psychological projection and acting out of old business with parents, as well as fertile soil for a mild, implied s & m-ish quality to sex. It was an expression of mutual distrust. But, today, the age difference between I and these women seems to have created a safe zone in which sex, though always a possibility, is more or less off the agenda. At least, it is in my working and casual relationships with actresses and others whom I'm not meeting within the context of overtly-courted romance and sex. I don't feel obliged to hit on them. They don't feel like I'm trying to get in their pants.

When romance and sex ARE on the menu, I get the feeling that it's not my patronizing qualities that are attractive, but rather that I'm of an age when women can tell I'm not threatened by their accomplishments and smarts. Really. It took me a long while to understand this, mostly through my encounters with Match.com dates. Again and again, I've heard these early-thirty somethings bemoan the difficulty of finding men their own age who aren't threatened by them or who aren't chasing after twenty three year olds. A guy my age just feels grateful, the hell with being threatened.

(I talk about myself as "a guy my age," but it doesn't hurt that I'm a youthful-looking chap with a bubbly side, not a little Peter Pan-ish.)

These May-December friendships are a priviledge. I get to experience women at an age when they are full of energy and curiosity, still open to the world and still using all of their brain power to understand their place in it, not yet completely pissed off at men, and rosy with sex and good health. They seem to let their guard down with me in a way they don't with guys their own age. They breathe a little easier. The curiosity and trust they give me in return is deeply flattering. It doesn't make me feel younger--quite the opposite--but does burnish my own sense of dignity. These smart women remind me that I've learned a thing or two in my trips around the block. They make me feel generous.

Trust me. I'm quite attracted and appreciative of women my own age, and in fact, I'd absolutely love to have a romantic relationship with a woman of experience as lengthy and rich as my own. But, well... this is nice, too.

When I was a young man, I felt contempt for middle-aged guys who spent time with younger women. I envied and resented them for attracting to them women my own age who should have been interested in me, though there wasn't much about my alternating shyness and solipsistic worrying to recommend me, truth be told. I get it now.

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