"No, it's cool. You can totally call, but don’t freak if someone else picks up" said Justin Silverman, the young boy I was dating who still lived with a roommate. Worse yet, it was a female roommate, which always made me question what their deal was. If she were pretty, they must have shared something, something inebriated and “well we were drunk, so it’s negligible” between them. I wondered if she casually walked around in his boxer shorts, if he averted his eyes from her breasts, as she sat eating cereal on their futon in her “pajamas,” some gossamer flesh-toned fabric. I wondered why I’d never met her, why he hadn’t brought me around. I stopped questioning their deal once I learned his roommate was his mother.
He still lived at home. And here was the deal breaker: I couldn't, for longer than I managed to, date a guy whom I couldn't drunk dial. "No, really, you can!" If I phoned in the middle of the night, soused, back in my apartment with a half-devoured bag of McDangerous, the phone wouldn't just ring in his room. It would ring throughout their house. The mother would stir, jolting up; certain someone was calling with news of death. She’d turn on her bedside lamp, squinting, and in a tangled throaty voice she’d say, “hello,” but it would sound like, “Aren’t you too old for this, for him, my boy?” The boy didn’t even have his own private line, which meant he shared everything with his mother. “No, it’s cool. I’ve told her to shut off her ringer before she goes to sleep.” Not quite an urban cougar yet, I hung up on that relationship. It took a month. Yes that long. You had to see him to understand.
I learned in the process of dating, not what I wanted, but what I didn't want. I didn’t want roommates, futons, or unruly shower facilities. I didn’t want someone in his early twenties. And then I added to the list: location, location, location.
No Brooklyn. No Queens. No Hoboken.
It was disgustingly insufferable of me, and seeing it there in writing makes me wince. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think “get the fuck over yourself,” but I realized that was exactly my problem. I couldn’t get over myself because “getting” anywhere involved moving. I was lazy. Brooklyn is a very cool place, cooler I'd argue than Manhattan, but it wasn't about cool. I was simply too slothful to ever date someone out of my borough. Even the East Village was a stretch from the Upper West Side, and given my prejudice, I assumed anyone who lived in the East Village was grunge. Okay, not grunge, wanna be grunge. Most definitely someone who’d take issue with the Upper West Side, unless it was bordering Harlem. Because, there, they’d argue, there’s jazz and flavor. Ugh. Constructing conversations with imaginary men wearing all too real canvas sneakers turned my stomach. A “long distance” relationship would mean lengthy and pricey taxicabs (I wouldn't take the subway at night, especially not drunk), and the "back and forth" you do in a relationship would take even longer. Also, I'll admit, I didn't believe a successful, well-to-do man would choose to live in Hoboken if he could afford to live in Manhattan. If he needed to save up money that badly… like I said, obnoxious. Never mind that he could have been a home owner, investing wisely, opposed to someone living in a box and giving away his cash to a management company for his walk-up roach-infested rental. I was a silly girl.
But I wasn't looking for a financial upgrade. Just someone who could support himself and had the potential to one day also support me. Having supported The Wasband through our lives together when he was in medical school, I was determined not to put myself in that situation again. Besides, I also realized that once I was in a relationship with a guy, I’d want to spend equal amounts of time at each other’s places. Too many people forget this and allow their boyfriends to either A) be lazy, so she always treks down to his place, or B) to camp out at her place all the time. It’s fun playing house, sleeping together all the time, slipping into the roles of this might be something real one day, something joint, something that’s truly ours. The problem in allowing him to always stay over, of course, is that when you have a horrible fight or split, even, all your memories are right there in your space. Your space has become “our space,” and his space remains “his space.” He has a place to run and escape, to turn off the world of the two of you. And you don’t. And the guy who’s too lazy to come to your place, who complains that your television is smaller or your mattress hurts his back, is full of shit because he’d make the ride down if it were someone new. If he were courting. If he hadn’t become so complacent. I realized I didn’t want someone as lazy as I was, or we’d never see each other.
I did not want a guy who needed to be the center of attention. No musicians, guys who live and die on compliments, who thrive off attention, flirting, and the spotlight. No actors. No comedians. No one who needed approval. I needed someone who couldn’t give a shit what people thought of him. Someone behind the scenes. A chef would be too dangerous for me. Ideally, he wouldn’t be a doctor or anyone whose profession required him to wear a pager and abscond in the middle of the night. He most certainly would not be a bartender.
So I had that much settled. But when it came to age constraints, it wasn’t as clear. I've dated older men who were just as immature as their younger counterparts, except they were more set in their ways. The problem, I've found, with the younger man (particularly a man in his twenties), who's serious about you and your relationship is this: accomplishment. No, it's not the after-school special cliché where he's intimidated by your female prowess. When he's in his early twenties, you run up against his visions for the future, in a way you wouldn't with an older man. Older men give different reasons for not moving the relationship forward: fear of marriage, what will change anyway?, but we're great the way we are now, so why change? And my favorite, "Why do we need a piece of paper to define who we are?" Younger men give a different reason.
You've dated this younger man exclusively for three years. He's finally 25, 26 maybe. And after all this time, you're ready to get married. But he can't see himself married because when he was younger and thought abstractly about his married life one day, he always saw himself as a bread winner, as an accomplished man with a high-paying career, not a job, a career. He saw himself as a man. When do you begin to see yourself as a man and not as a boy? When you're married! When you're married you're responsible for another person, and worse, you have to really be accountable for yourself. And that's why it's so hard for younger men to be marriage-minded… at least in New York. At least with an older woman. And that's the point. I don't think he'd feel or express the same fears if he were with someone younger or his own age who was ready for marriage. A certain part of him does feel insecure, does feel like he should have more to offer by way of financial and emotional security. He wants to know he’s hearty and that he can trust his heart.
My New York girlfriends are up against all of the above, the 39-year-old who's frightened of marriage in general, the 34-year-old who is against marriage because all the married men he knows cheat on their wives, the 24-year-old who screwed up by breaking up with her and now wants her back, offering up "semi-permanent insanity" as some sort of Sharpee rationale, and the 26-year-old who hasn't sowed his oats and definitely doesn't want children in the next five years. I don't know how people know things like that about themselves. That they'll never change their mind. I would know because when I got remarried, my list was pretty much scrapped, as lists most often are. You throw out the list and live open to opportunity, thinking positively, and hoping for a partner who doesn’t live with his mother or who at least has a cell phone.
This post came about after watching really bad, atrocious TV, the premiere of Ages of Love, a wretched reality show where a 30-year-old man tries to find television love between women in their twenties and women in their forties.