At the gym, at the women’s luncheon, hair salon, I’ve had a variant of this conversation often:
A woman in the locker room at the gym is obviously upset, so much so that she needs to vent. She and I are probably about the same age, so she sees me as a potentially sympathetic audience. She starts by saying, “My ex-husband . . .”
I admit that I, too, am divorced.
It’s a common story, we both married college sweethearts, and after sixteen years for me, and over twenty for her, the marriage ended in divorce. She goes on to talk about what seems to bother her the most. He’s married to a woman that’s over a decade younger than he is, and that much younger than she is. Sometimes the age difference between the ex-husband and the new spouse is closer to twenty years, but the story doesn’t change much except for that.
The woman is attractive, the gym workout shows, but she goes on to compare herself to the young new wife, and talks about how no one in their forties, or fifties, can compete with someone in their thirties, or twenties.
I’ve gone quiet, just letting her talk, because I’ve learned that’s my best alternative, but she finally says, “You know what I mean? We give them the best years of our life and then they leave us for some young thing, and we’re supposed to be out there dating again, but this time we’re up against the same twenty-year-olds that our husbands left us for, how unfair is that?”
I smile, trying to avoid answering, but she presses, they usually do. She wants me to stamp her ex-wife card, but I can’t.
I finally say, “Actually, I left my husband, and I’m remarried to a man that’s twelve years younger than I am.”
The look I get is never friendly at this point. The women never seem to know what to say, they thought they had a kindred spirit and somehow by me bucking the stereotype it’s like I betrayed the sisterhood. I have yet to have any of the women be happy for me, or say, “Way to go,” nope I’m suddenly lumped in with the bastard husband and the sweet young thing that stole him away. The women suddenly don’t want to talk to me anymore, because I found dating after my divorce easy, once I started dating younger men. I agreed that men in our own age group were confusing, but then I found them equally confusing in college when we were dating them in the first place.
I had the same problems with them in my thirties that I’d had in my twenties. They expected me to be a kind of cheerleader for them, their goals, their ambitions, and their careers. I’ve never been big on the rah-rah, and my own goals, ambitions and career has always interested me more than anyone else’s. By the time of my divorce, I was a New York Times bestselling author, and I actually had men totally panic when they found out, as if they had no box for the fact that I was at least as successful in my field as theirs, or more successful. Rather than seeing it as a good thing that we both had great careers, they seemed intimidated by it, or at least less interested in my job, than I was supposed to be in theirs. For the most part they bored me, just like they had in college. I perplexed them or left them looking for someone who would be a bit more adoring, again just like in college.
Men about a decade younger had usually been raised in households where both parents worked outside the house, or by single moms. They expected everyone to work and have a career of their own, in fact your job was part of what you brought to the relationship and the possible future, because it was expected to need two incomes to get to the same place that one was supposed to take us back when I was in college. The new attitude worked for me, and I had no trouble dating once I moved a decade younger.
I admit to being a little weirded out about the age difference at first, but it just worked for me. I was thirty-eight and Jonathon was twenty-six when we married. We will be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this year and unlike the last time I closed in on this mile marker, I’m happier now than when we first married, which is pretty awesome.
I’ve had women who are still married, or who have never married, be happy for me, and ask how I managed to marry a younger man, but never one of the women who tell me their story and find out mine is the reverse of theirs.
How did I do it? First, I wasn’t looking for someone to take care of me, not in college or a decade later. I wanted a partner, someone who would work with me, not work for me like some kind of salaried slave. I know that the women who stay at home and invest everything in this old-fashioned scenario are just as trapped, because they often haven’t had a job since soon after college, so they’re out there with no work history and are ironically competing for jobs against the very same demographics that their husbands are successfully dating. But if you listen to them talk about their ex-husbands, and the men they are trying to date, it’s like it’s all about the man’s earning potential. I’m told that the male version of this is that the woman is valued for her looks and how she being on his arm can help his career or his reputation with the other men. I’ve never bought into either mindset, so this really is second-hand information for me. It’s funny that in my fifth decade I finally understand the mystery of why I didn’t fit into my own typical generation.
In first grade I was the only child who’s parents had divorced. Now, it’s about half of most classes, or more, where children are dealing with a divorce, or maybe their parents never married, and don’t plan to, which I’d never heard of as a kid. My mother went out and worked to support me, while her mother, my grandmother, stayed home and took care of me. Again, it wasn’t the typical arrangement when I was in elementary school. By the time I was in second grade my mother had died in a car accident and it was just my grandmother and me, which again made me odd kid out. I still remember one of the little girls teasing me that my mother was dead. Anyone who says that childhood is sweet and carefree, doesn’t remember what it was really like, or their childhood was much different from mine.
I realized just a few years ago that my attitude is literally decades younger than my actual age and I now believe it is that my childhood was much more typical of the generation after mine, than my own. Is that what has made me open to the new technology? I’m just as likely to be on my smart phone as the people I’m with, and I wish my friends that are my age, or older, would text more. It’s a great way to keep up with people on a daily basis. I love sending and receiving pictures and little notes, from friends and lovers. I also keep discovering new music, new bands, and most of the people in my age group seem to have stopped at the decade they graduated from high school, or college. I totally don’t understand that, but I was raised with almost no music in the house, so I have no affection for my high school, or college, sound track. In fact, I don’t have a much of a musical reference for those years of my life. I discovered and really grew to love music after college when I started writing my first novel. Music will forever be entwined with writing for me because of that. Jonathon brought a lot of music into my life. Now, we take turns finding new music to add to our shared iTunes list. Jonathon took me to my very first concert, and yes, I was in my thirties before I ever went to a concert of any kind. I was too busy writing and trying to establish my career when I was in my teens and twenties to waste time on concerts. I was driven to succeed, that didn’t leave a lot of room for fun. Other people that we dated brought more music into our lives. New bands, new singers, and we began to make friends with some of the musicians like S.J. Tucker, or Kimberly Freeman of One-Eyed Doll. Jonathon finally learned to play the bass and, no surprise, he’s good at it. I can finally say that I’ve dated a musician.
My first marriage I earned my big white dress and thought the idea of never being with anyone but my husband a great idea. I bought into the traditional story, and when that didn’t work I threw out the storyline, because it hadn’t been true for me. I thought, if society could be that wrong about that much, then maybe what I’d been raised to believe wasn’t the only truth out there. So, in my thirties I went out into the world and tried to discover some truths that did work for me. Those of you happy in a traditional marriage, I’m happy for you, I’m only saying it did not work for me. I found that nearly everything that society expected of me didn’t work for me. I’m the major bread winner in a career I love. I make a good living at a job that is traditionally not a secure field, but I’m twenty years and counting, so I think I’ve found my career path. The men who thought I was too aggressive and masculine in my attitudes in college, can keep their own attitudes; I’ve found that men and women, a decade or two, younger than them and younger than me, are fine with my drive and ambition. When I first started dating Jonathon some of my acquaintances, and even a few friends, thought he was my boy toy, my fling after leaving my first marriage. When I decided to marry him, some of them didn’t understand. I was marrying someone the age of their children, which was a little weird even to me. You have a fling with the younger man, you don’t marry him, and he certainly isn’t your happy ever after, but it has been for me. Our girlfriend Genevieve has been part of that happily-ever-after. We will be celebrating our fifth anniversary of dating this year. Now, she’s brought her wonderful husband, Spike, into our lives. He and I will hit two years of dating later this year. I have restrained myself in all those conversations with other ex-wives in my own age group because I could have added that I’m also living with a beautiful young women in her twenties, just like their ex-husbands. I didn’t set out to date any woman, since Genevieve is my first girlfriend ever, but the fact that she was literally half my age when we met, is just another part of the wonderful weirdness in our lives. Spike is twenty years younger than I am, for those who are wondering. The four of us are living together and it works for us, but to get to this happy place I had to throw out almost everything society told me I was supposed to be. Was it scary? Yes. Did I get my heart broken along the way? Yes, several times. Was it all worth it? Yes, very yes. Could it all have blown up in my face? Hell, yes. A few times it did, but I was still happier out, than in.
I guess what I wanted to share from my own experience is to not let age, or society, stand in your way. If you like someone, date them. If you love someone, marry them. Don’t let age, or the stuff that doesn’t matter in the end, prevent you from finding happiness. Be yourself, no matter how weird that may seem to others; it’s your life after all, not their’s. It’s alright to be afraid of taking big chances, but don’t let the fear stop you from taking the leap. I know for me, that if I’d stayed where I was behind the safe walls of my first marriage and a corporate job, I’d still be miserable, that wasn’t going to change. How sad that would have been, and oh, how much I would have missed.