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Last year, Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France. This was cool for more than one reason. First off, he beat far right opponent Marine Le Pen, but there’s also the fact that his wife Brigitte – a woman of a certain age – is a quarter century older than him. Emmanuel is thirty-nine to her sixty-four, the exact age difference between my partner Kenji and me.
I lauded their marriage and sneered at my friends. Yes, they had dismissed my predictions that men in their thirties and forties would soon be partnering with senior cougars like myself. In the past, we heard about junior cougar Demi Moore marrying Ashton Kutcher which got tongues wagging and set off a spate of reported sightings, as if they’d invented the phenomenon. But the senior cougar? Not much about her. She stayed in the background, presumably with her cane and Depends. Until now. Now, her time has come.
At seventy, I’m six years older than Brigitte, which puts Kenji at forty-five. I asked him how he felt when hearing about a famous couple with the exact age difference as us.
“There’s been a lot of publicity around it,” he said. “A lot of men have criticized Macron and made fun of his wife’s age. That’s been tough to hear.” I can sympathize, and empathize. I care about him and I am one of these women.
“Do you think the only reason elderly women are dating and marrying young men is because they’re good looking?” I asked. Brigitte, who married Emmanuel ten years ago, is a thin, tanned, fit, pretty and highly presentable sixty-four year old woman, her poise and confidence beautiful at any age.
“For most men,” Kenji said, “despite what they may say, looks are important. So with older women, there’s this card men play by saying, oh but she’s gorgeous, as if all the other things he’s attracted to, or I’m attracted to don’t matter. And it’s always followed by the line: It makes her look younger.”
I nodded profusely, as I get this a lot. I’m often told that Kenji must be interested in me because I don’t look seventy, the implication being that if I looked my age no 45-year-old man’s head would turn in my direction. But I’m physically fit, dress like a teenager, wear yoga pants and tight tops. From the back I can easily pass for a much younger woman.
I met Kenji when I was fifty-three. He was twenty-eight. Although he’s half-Asian, he’s a big guy. At 6’1”, he inherited his height from his White father, his tan skin, soulful eyes, silky black eyebrows and long eyelashes from his Okinawan mother. People give him speculative looks, trying to figure out his nationality. He’s often pigeon-holed as Latino and something else.
My girlfriend Panda introduced us when she brought him by my apartment one night to fix my printer. A few months after the printer incident, I hung out with him at a July 4th shindig. Kenji and I had great conversational chemistry. We talked about anything and listened to one another as if what we had to say was extremely important. It also didn’t hurt that he told stupid jokes.
I never made a practice of dating younger men. If anything, they seemed like a liability. I assumed I’d have to nurture them, mother them, teach them life lessons. It would be like raising another child, and who wanted that? Plus, we wouldn’t have a shared history, living through the same era, referencing the same events. Why would I want to go out with someone who couldn’t remember where they were when Kennedy was shot?
For most of my adult life, I’ve had partners more or less my own age, all except for one relationship. I was nineteen years old and dated a man ten years older than me. When I first met him I wondered how will this work, expecting vast insurmountable differences. Within a few hours, however, he seemed like a regular person. This same experience rang true with Kenji. Age dissipated when we spent time together. It faded into the background.
Of course we all know about the big concern. “Once people get older there’s this ten or fifteen year span where their health begins to break down physically, cognitively,” Kenji reminded me. “You start looking for little signs here and there and go oh, she forgot that again. You wonder if something is beginning to break down.” I know what he’s talking about as I’m newly forgetful, at times finding it hard to remember how to spell simple words. “So in my case,” he continued, “I may not mention these things to you, but I keep little notes in my head. It’s hard not to think of the ending. That’s the most difficult thing.”
I hate that he goes through this. I’m thinking of the loneliness he must feel knowing he’ll most likely live out the last twenty years of his life without me. He’s told me before he doesn’t want another partner. Not only this, but since Kenji’s mom and dad are more or less my age, he’ll most likely lose all three of us in the period of a decade or so. That’s quite a blow to the system.
But here we are, and like many relationships ours began as a friendship. We hung out for eight solid months as buddies, spent hours on the phone, emailed each other incessantly, frequented Chinese restaurants and took late night walks to Ocean Beach. We played ferocious games of Scrabble.
And then one day I looked at him differently. He swam into view as a possible lover. I noticed his shoulders. I wondered what it would be like to be held in his arms. As my attraction for him increased, I anguished over telling him I liked him in that way. I was taking us to this scary place from which I was afraid we might never return. Maybe we wouldn’t be friends anymore. This could change things forever. This could be the beginning of the end.
When I confessed my feelings, I accompanied it with things like: “Don’t worry. We don’t have to do anything about it. I just needed to tell you. Now you know. Let’s move on.”
Obviously we didn’t because he expressed the same feelings for me, and those first few months weighed heavily on my conscience. I had huge amounts of guilt. He had his whole life ahead of him and deserved to meet someone his age he could grow old with. I loved him, felt protective of him, and wanted what I perceived as best for him. As the older adult, it was my duty to put a stop to the relationship.
Once we started dating I had to deal with the reactions from my friends, my family, and the public. My close friends asked me why I’d want to go out with someone so much younger. After all, I’d already raised a son, the age difference between them only seven years. I told them I hadn’t planned on falling in love with him. It just happened.
When I told my son I was dating Kenji it aroused his suspicions. The first thing he asked was whether Kenji wanted money from me, for what else could the relationship be based upon? I assured him the answer was no but he then asked me when we went out to dinner, who payed the bill? We both did, I said. Only time changed my son’s mind. After all, when you’re with someone year after year you gain credibility.
With the public-at-large, eyes widen whenever someone finds out my partner is a quarter of a century younger than me. I hear You go, girl! a lot, implying the sex is hot, or it’s hot because you’re around some young guy with a presumably great body with six-pack abs, or something on this order. In reality, none of this is true. Sex is the same as in any other relationship, and just because I’m with someone younger doesn’t mean they have this muscular, toned body. Kenji is good-looking but he’s not a stud. And as my body marches toward oblivion, do you really think I’d choose someonne to be with who’d remind me of the youthfulness I’m leaving behind?
A lot of times the You go, girl! comments come from women in their forties, and I often wonder how they feel about our partnership. Here’s what I picture running through their minds:
You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Why would a young guy with his whole life ahead of him want to be with an old lady? Are they unstable?
Or, Well, she looks young. She’s the exception.
Or, Here I am worrying about my wrinkles and cellulite, so what’s she got that I don’t?
Or, This must be trending right now. It will pass. And quickly.
Or even, There already isn’t anyone for me. Now she’s dipping into my dating pool. Make her stop.
I can’t. According to Kenji, elderly women possess something that younger men deeply desire. “Older women are more committed to listening. Converstions are different with them because they come from a different generation.” That’s his version.
Love is most complicated and there are no pat answers. I don’t know Emmanuel Macron’s reasons for falling in love with Brigitte. Maybe plain and simple it was just love. You can’t explain these things away with theories. I love Kenji and he loves me, and the age difference cannot stop this love of ours.