Lately I’ve been thinking that I should quit my day job and start writing an advice column for the juvenile (i.e. 15-25) lovelorn. Not that I’ve got so many shining examples of successful relationships in my past, but I have plenty of counterexamples – counterexamples that, this spring, have been popping up like corpses in the Long Island Sound. Yes, indeed: I have reached some kind of cycle of completion in my life. A cycle of completion that has caused a spate of early (as in, late teens) ex-boyfriends to Google me, write me, and congratulate me on my continued existence.
I’m not really old enough to have gotten that nostalgic – at least, I think I’m not, any more nostalgic than anyone is in the wake of a series of callow and misguided broken relationships – but my exes are, which is due to the fact that I was an extremely
promiscuous prodigious dater in my extreme youth, i.e. ages sixteen to twenty. Mostly, I blame it on my parents’ divorce, crappy home life, and my subsequent disowning, which led to my living on my own at sixteen, first in a houseful of college women, then as “assistant manager” at a youth hostel (the manager was my boyfriend and deflowerer. I assisted him a lot). Naturally, everyone around me was immensely older and more worldly than I. Naturally, I tried to fit in. First Boyfriend was nine years older than I, Third Boyfriend nearly seventeen. It wasn’t a case of daddy issues. These were just my peers.
Except that during Third Boyfriend’s tenure a coworker (age thirty) said to me (age eighteen), “It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with your dating an older man. It’s just that when I see a thirty-four-year old man dating an eighteen-year-old woman, I wonder what’s wrong with him.”
Write that one down, boys and girls. It’s a truth for the ages. Because the truth is, of course, that no self-respecting man in his thirties who isn’t a complete degenerate, dipshit, or depraved sex offender (or at least developmentally challenged and radically immature) would date a teenager. I know. I’m still younger than that boyfriend was then, and I am here to tell you that when I see an eighteen-year-old, boy or girl, I do not think, “Hotttt!” Nope. I cringe with empathy for their awkwardness and quickly avert my eyes. And when I see a man in his thirties checking out girls in their teens, I do the same thing, unless he’s really egregious, and then I consider calling CPS.
So anyway, that’s one of the drawbacks of dating older in your teens. I am lucky (none of my romantic liaisons were depraved, and most of the developmental challenges/radical immaturity were harmless; none of them were married, and no sex tapes were made, so we can just expunge all that nastiness from our memories, mmmmkay?); many young women aren’t. Take a young woman I know whom we’ll call “my sister.” “My sister” lost her virginity in an airport lounge to a married Swede older than my father. I think he was sixty at the time. I was studying in Paris and spoke to her on the phone afterwards. Here’s a sample of our conversation:
Me: “Did you at least use a condom?”
My sister: “Um…the first time.”
My sister: “What?”
Married Swedish Child Molesting Creepo Loser later died, I would like to say of old age (it would be poetic justice) but really of tragic fate (or karma) in the form of a small plane crash. This began a lifelong love affair with older, emotionally unavailable Scandinavians for “my sister,” who is still working out her emotional dysfunction. (She’s currently single, so if you’re a blond misogynist with a last name that has a bunch of ömljüds or döts over the vowels and a taste for crazy, drop a line; I’ll hook you up.)
Of course, “my sister” never gets closure because none of her unavailable/geriatric/abusive/psychotic/philandering exes ever contact her. They can’t wait to see the back of her. Once they’ve finally shaken free, they are determined to lie low (and you have to try hard with that girl; she once flew to Idaho to bring her ex, who had moved there without telling her, his favorite Thai food in the hopes of getting laid.) They will never materialize, because they are either dead or in different states, well hidden from her prying eyes. There are advantages to this. Advantages such as the fact that nobody will ever Google her and drop an email out of nowhere to say, “hello, how are you, what have you done with your life, and by the way I have fond memories of us having sex on every bed in the hostel.”
In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there aren’t advantages to being completely cut off. I like a clean break, myself. After all, if you wanted to be with someone you wouldn’t have left them in the first place, and I don’t date my friends. But when you’re a teenager who dates adults, what happens is those adults get older, and they get reflective, and they start to take inventories of their lives, and you figure large in them for reasons you can’t explain but which probably had to do with either your genius IQ or your inventive sexual techniques, who knows, and they contact you and say things like, “tell me how you’ve fulfilled your youthful promise,” which is a subtle way of saying “please reaffirm for me that my values are intact and that my judgment has not faltered in the last ten or fifteen years and be the paragon of virtue my memory has built you into, but please do not be too responsive or too alluring in your perfection and let’s try to keep our emails to biannual events so I don’t piss off my wife.”
It’s a lot of pressure, you know?
I mean, let’s face it. I had a lot of youthful promise. I was idiosyncratic. I was independent. I had big dreams. I could pass for at least 22 when I was seventeen, which was handy in bars. I knew a lot of polysyllabic words, and I apparently had a smokin’ ass. I had strong tendencies toward moral absolutism (which must have been charming and which have only calcified in my early-onset middle age) and I knew the principal imports and exports of Djibouti. I wrote poetry in three languages, I had translated the Beatles’ entire catalogue into French by the age of fifteen, I could order beer in Welsh, and I climbed 300-foot trees at midnight wearing velvet ball gowns. Without underwear.
Now I am considerably older and considerably more tired. If I see midnight, it’s because I’m worried about the mortgage, or I’m worried about some ass clown at work who’s making me responsible for his or her incompetence, or I’m worried that I have some ghastly internal disease that involves slow putrefaction of the organs and that will prevent me from seeing my child grow up, or I’m worried about the fact that being married is nowhere near as easy as dating, especially dating people who don’t live with you, or I’m feeling washed-up and useless because the most interesting thing I’ve read lately is a shopping list. So when Boyfriend Number One or Boyfriend Number Three or Boyfriend Number Six writes me and says, “please validate the year I spent with you and the inexplicable attachment I have to your memory and, by the way, are you still hot, and have you published that novel yet?” I throw up my hands. No, no, and no, my friends. I am not still hot; I am frumpy and in disarray, smeared with finger food and toddler snot; I have not published any of the novels that sit half-finished on laptops that keep breaking or getting stolen; you will just have to keep waiting for the bildungsroman with the thinly veiled portrayal of the time we got busted screwing on top of your shrink’s building on East 11th; and I will not validate your degenerate, developmentally challenged, and radically immature young adulthood by impressing you just because you cared enough to Google me, which, by the way, is not very hard since I am the only person in the entire world with my name. No. I am tired, I am prematurely middle-aged, I am quite possibly losing my mind, I am a wage slave, I drive a midsized car which I bought secondhand from a dealership in Beaverton, I can’t remember the last time I had sex in my bed, much less in a car, tree, or rooftop, and if all those things don’t spell ‘comedown’ to you then you are clearly not paying attention. How the hell are you?”
I don’t, of course, say any of these things. But I think of myself at seventeen and I wish that I had known to date people my own age: people who would be too busy to Google me now, people who would have gradually drifted instead of dramatically storming out of my life, and most of all, people who wouldn’t want to remember that time of first kisses and first elections and first years away and first true loves either.