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November 30, 1998   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

When I was in my teens, twenties, and thirties, I always dated men quite a bit older than myself (10-20 yrs). Now that I am "older," I am not attracted to men my age or older. I am attracted to men mostly in their 30's (sometimes younger). The problem is, even though I feel like their equal agewise, I realize that through their eyes I am probably "old." If I care about them a lot, I will end up spending money on them (because I enjoy it, and men spent money on me when I was the young one), but what is happening is I am being used. I kind of know it all along, but I enjoy them and care about them and I think I try to believe they are not really using me...although they are. This really hurts me. I am starting to hate myself for not being younger. It is so frustrating when you feel a certain age inside but you're actually 20 years older than that and no one really understands. I get a lot of flack from my grown children. (They are only a few years younger than the men I seem to choose, and they are horrified at my behavior.) So here I am again, being used and I have to face it and move on, my children are again outraged and embarrassed by me, and for the life of me I cannot feel turned on thinking of a man my age, much less older than I. It's like I never changed inside since my late twenties. I still feel the same way. I do look good for the age I am, thank God. In fact I probably look 8 or 9 years younger than I am. (The problem is, the men I choose are more like 20 years younger than I am.) Do you think this will pass, or, if it doesn't, that there are some men who will not use me and will actually feel about me like I do about them? I doubt it, but I thought I'd ask. Also, do you think my kids are justified in coming down so hard on me? They are both married and have families of their own. I put up with their rebelliousness when they were teens, but now it seems they want to parent me. ( They are really stricter on me than I ever was on them.) Is there something wrong with me? Or should I just go get some plastic surgery and a fake ID and move away so no one knows what I'm doing? I'm not ready for the rocking chair yet. Thanks for listening.

-- Mad

Dear Mad,

I've said it before, I'll say it again: the knife is not the answer.

Nor, in your case, is the rocking chair.

The operative metonymy here, I think, is: the fountain of youth. The key here is not strictly that you're drawn to younger men (I love that Leo, and the RA on Felicity, and I'm not ashamed!), but rather that you "cannot feel turned on thinking of a man [your] age, much less older." Why? 'Cause they're ... old? ...Like you? Do you see your reflection in them? I know you say you "look good for your age," but/so again, I ask you: when you date these guys, do you see your "real" age looking back? And when you, in your dotage, dote on younger men, does it make you feel like Girlfriend's still got it?

Or does it? You say you're "attracted" to these younguns -- which is, mathematically speaking, not necessarily a problem -- but, well, it doesn't sound like you're having that much fun with them. Sounds to me like you're picking up Pool Boy, paying for him, and then saying, "See, he's using me!" Hmm. First of all, just because a nice boy says, "Sure, wow, I'd love to accept your kind and generous invitation to The Fancy Place!" doesn't mean he's using you. You might miss someone sweet if you leap to this conclusion. Second, just because he's young doesn't mean he can't afford stuff. These people are younger than you, Mad, but they are not children. 30s, or even 20s, is plenty old enough for someone to say, "Hey babe, Chuck E. Cheese is on me."

So there is some sort of weird benzene in this fountain (Yes, I've been reading A Civil Action. Recommended.). If you'd written to tell me that you're dating a man 20 years your junior and you'd never been happier, more loved, more fulfilled, more balanced, more yourself, I'd say, "And your problem is ...???" But again: your pursuits are not making you happy. More to the point, they are hardly making you feel youthful. In fact, I think they make you feel "horrified and embarrassed." I know you said your kids say that, but -- and I may be overstepping my non-psychologist bounds here -- I suspect that that was code for how you feel. My guess is that your kids just want their mom to be happy. And for some reason, mom doesn't want to. So here's my sip from the fountain for you: I don't care how old your dates are. Neither should you. Care about this: does he love and respect you as an equal, no matter how much dinner cost? Did he pay the next time? Do you have fun together? Do you toss a million outfits on your floor before your date, and then wind up going back to the first one? Do you feel like passing notes about him in class? Do you get all tingly and giggly -- dare I say girlish -- when he calls?

And then do you feel young?


Breakup Girl



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