We were strolling home from dinner in the West Village, full of burgers and rosy-cheeked from red wine, when he stopped short on the busy sidewalk. “I have to tell you something,” he said, swallowing hard.
“What?” I asked, suddenly nervous.
“I’m older than you think I am.”
At the time, I was in my late twenties, and 41 seemed ancient. It was much older than I had guessed from his baby face, Converse sneakers and goofy demeanor. Later that night, I called my mom, who told me that age was just a number. Then I did the Official Age Test, and we just passed.
But, honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I was already falling in love with him. Had I known ahead of time, I might have hesitated to go on our first date, but now here I was, dating a guy more than a decade older than me, and I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve basically forgotten he’s older than me (again, that baby face!), but now and again, the age gap pops up in funny (and welcome) ways:
* Funny cultural references. Alex never saw Ghostbusters or Back to the Future because they came out when he was in college and he was “too cool.” Meanwhile, he can quote every line from The Odd Couple. “Everyone in my generation saw every episode,” he told me. “But you’ve never seen one. It’s the same as if I had never seen Seinfeld.”
* Wise advice. When I’m upset about something, Alex has enough life experience to know that “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and “this, too, shall pass”—and explain why that’s true for me. He knows from experience how to see the big picture, the long game, and helps me not get stuck in the moment.
* Chill parenting. Alex grew up in the seventies, when free-range parenting was the norm. Now that we’re parents ourselves, he reminds me that we don’t have to entertain our kids all the time. They can always just…play.
* Walking encyclopedia. Alex has racked up tidbits through the years, so he pretty much always knows the answers to my questions, from current events to vocab words to political history. Sometimes I feel like a four-year-old—”What’s that?” “Why’s that?”—but I like having his knowledge at my fingertips.
* Self acceptance. “If you had met me in my twenties, you probably wouldn’t have liked me,” Alex has told me. “I was opinionated and had that youthful intensity: ‘This is right and that is wrong!’ In your twenties, you’re usually trying on a bunch of identities. Whereas by the time you get to your thirties and forties, whatever your faults are and your strengths are, you own them.”
* Rose-colored glasses. I’m secretly psyched that, no matter how old I get, I’ll always be younger than him. It helps me chill out when I notice gray hairs and wrinkles:)
I guess the bottom line is: In this age of online dating, where you can check off all your requirements (Six feet or taller! Must watch Homeland!), it’s easy to think you can pinpoint the exact person you’re looking for. But maybe you can’t. Maybe the sweetest, loveliest future husband is a whopping 13 years older than you or [fill in the blank of whatever you think you WOULDN’T want] yet it doesn’t matter at all. You love who you love. So love them.
Just for fun, two Alex flashbacks…
What about you? Have you dated older or younger? How much of an age difference would you be okay with? I’d love to hear…