A good friend wrote to me recently, that he was unable to write long letters to me anymore as he is 77 and his time is more limited since he met a new ‘lady friend’. I could continue to write as I wanted but from now on he could send postcards only.
I was pleased for my friend to have found love so late in his life, but when he wrote further that she was six months younger than his sons, I felt my hackles rise.
What is it about older men who connect with significantly younger women that riles me?
Is it that I am no longer young myself and therefore unable to embark on what seems like a delicious encounter. Or am I simply responding to rigid certainties that say a couple should be reasonably close in age, otherwise something else might be happening to do with power imbalances and the like?
I bristle too when I read about significantly older women taking on young men as partners. Toy boys and sugar daddies trouble me.
So what is it about the Rupert Murdochs of this world, the old men with wealth and power, who can attract much younger women into their beds? Why does it rile me?
Is it the old disapproval that comes out of some warped desire of my own to go off with my father? You know, the so called Oedipal pressure on girl children to go off with their fathers and the opposite for young boys to marry their mothers.
There’s a French writer and psychoanalyst, Janine Chasseguet Smirgel, who writes about generational confusion as an aspect of what she regards as perverse behaviour, a denial of generational differences and by perverse here I mean the situation where reality gets turned on its head, and what is white is considered black, or where everything’s value is somehow turned to shit. Where the lowest common denominator dominates and anything goes.
I suppose here I’m talking about boundaries and the basic realities and limitations of life and death.
Similarly, when my daughter told me the other day about a woman in her sixties who gave birth to a baby recently somewhere in Australia. Without thinking, we started to calculate the age this mother will be when her child enters adolescence.
How will an eighty year old cope with a teenager, and what of the teenager’s experience with a parent old enough to be her grandmother?
Would you believe, as I was writing this, one of the cats came up the hallway making that loud meow call, which I recognise as one of ‘I have caught myself a mouse’.
I had to chase her around the house to catch the poor now dead creature and dispose of it to protect myself from hearing this cat go through the pleasure of eating its remains.
It seems an apt interruption for my concerns about these generational divisions, as if I’m talking about people who interfere with the natural order of things in human life, even when it is the so called natural order of things for cats to catch and eat mice.
Maybe it’s as natural for men to act on their attraction to significantly younger women as it might be for women to act on theirs towards younger men.
We all admire youth and beauty and struggle to appreciate the merits of old age.
But the young women being attracted to older men like Rupert Murdoch, what’s that about?
Is it the father figure element, the power and prestige of being attached to an older man, who is seemingly strong and established or what?
Spring has sprung and the natural order is asserting itself with the change of seasons, and I baulk at the idea that I’m talking about a natural order as if some sort of god ordains it rather than that it’s a construct, just as nature itself is a construct.
We construct stories around these ideas, like when I grew up and believed heartily that a man should be about three years older than his partner, given the alleged lag in maturity of the sexes, and given my father was three years older than my mother.
Now that relationship worked out well, didn’t it?
I tell myself that the age difference should not matter but here I am cringing at the idea of a 77 year old man linking up with a 40-year-old woman.
Jealousy perhaps, not to be in the flush of a fresh new romance. Prudish disapproval at folks for trying something new towards the end of their lives, or what?
Another part of me says, let them be, but then I start to find myself identifying with my friend’s children.
How will they feel to see their father shacked up with one of their contemporaries? Will it irk them?
When my mother remarried, a man two years her senior – not a significantly younger or older man – I was furious.
I railed against the idea that my mother who had told me throughout my childhood that the only men she preferred were men of culture, European men, and that Australian born men tended to be boors, married an Australian man, less than two years after my European father’s death.
My mother and this second husband lived together more or less happily for the next 18 years.
By the time he died several years ahead of my mother, I had gotten over my grump. Instead I was then sad for my mother to have lost her partner. But when they first came together I could not feel so generous.
At the time, my therapist told me that I was unhappy because my mother was not marrying the man of my choice.
My therapist was right and perhaps the same now applies to my friend.
When he first wrote to me about finding a new ‘lady friend’ I had in my mind, a woman closer to my age, ten years or so younger than my friend but not a youngster. Not that forty year olds are youngsters, but relative to those edging into their eighties, they’re spring chickens.
And so I have to check my condemnation and get over my prejudice.
Just be happy for my friend that he has found joy in another, late in his life, a thing he never imagined happening after the death of his wife several years ago.
Maybe, I feel excluded, after all he has told me he won’t be able to write long letters any more and I will miss our correspondence, pushed out by this younger rival.
thought my childhood, I was brought up to examine my conscience. Examine my thoughts, especially the unkind ones, the critical ones, and consider whether they bear further reflection or should be confessed and expunged.
Maybe this is one such example, or am I onto something?