Every summer we hire college interns to work for us. Two engineering interns started working with us this year, they are both 21. They look so young and they make me feel so old, mainly because if you do the math I could have been their mother. They are good kids, funny, warm and smart. They remind me of another 21-year old, someone I dated last year. Yes, dated. But don’t call me “cougar”. Cougar sounds gross and weird. And it makes me think of botox-faced women hitting on younger men. I can’t really consider myself a cougar. I am not the one chasing younger men. It’s just that sometimes younger men, mostly inexplicably, are drawn to me.
P. was 18 years younger than me. 18 and a half to be precise. He had turned 21 a couple of months before we met. I was 39. We met on the Block Island ferry in early September. I had broken up with the guy I had been dating for four years. In hindsight, that was almost three years too long. In a rare moment of mental and emotional clarity I realized our relationship was never going to be good, and I was just done with him. I broke up with him midweek. On Saturday I drove down to Point Judith in Rhode Island and took the ferry to Block Island. I wanted to be by myself and my thoughts. I really liked the island, I swam, sunbathed, walked a lot. Did a lot of thinking, too. I mainly thought how glad I was I had decided to get on with my life. I was done with being miserable and unhappy. I felt optimistic, ready for the next phase.
The people on the island were beautiful, busy with their swimming and tanning. I was walking along the beach, when I spotted a guy with a pretty hot body walking his dog. His dog started walking next to me. Hot guy and I looked and smiled at each other, said hi. I was wishing hard he would chat me up, and at the same time wishing hard he would not, echoing the duality of my mood for simultaneous companionship and solitude. I picked up my pace to dissolve the synchronized walking. It felt good to have a seconds-long connection with a handsome stranger.
Later in the day I took the ferry back to Rhode Island. I was outside on the port side of the ferry, enjoying the last views of Block Island, the colors changing in the sky, the breeze of the late summer day. Everything was magnificent, and it made me happy. There were only a couple of people on that side. Someone was directly to my right, a kid wearing a baseball hat. After a minute the high-school-looking kid came over and stood next to me. “Hi”, he said, “how is it going?” “Good, how are you?” I asked. “Good. How did you like the island?”, he asked. At that point I thought OK, high-school kid, I am much older than you thought, move on. But, no, he kept asking questions, and we kept talking. About Block Island, where I am from, and all the things people ask each other when they first meet. It turned out he wasn’t in high school, but senior in college. Meaning, still very young.
Despite the age difference, P. and I had a pleasant conversation. He was articulate and funny, he didn’t utter “uh” or “you know” once. As we were approaching the shore, he asked if I would like to go get a beer with him. I said, no, I had to go back to Boston. As we were waiting to get off the ferry, he asked again, “c’mon, let’s go for one drink before you head home. We’ll just go somewhere close.” What the heck, I thought, why not. He didn’t act, sound or look scary, I didn’t feel unsafe. We went to a bar in Narragansett. We got carded, and the dude at the door looking at my ID said out loud the year I was born in, and I thought the kid would run away. “Hey, he didn’t know how old I was, thanks for ruining everything,” I told the guy at the door laughing. He was apologetic, and later bought us a round of drinks.
P. looked a little bit shocked. We sat at the bar. “So, now you know exactly how old I am,” I said smiling. “Wow, you look so much younger, I thought thirty,” he said. Then I asked him how old he was and he said 21. At that point I am pretty sure we were both doing the math, 39-21=holy shit, (s)he is 18 years (older)younger than me! We had two beers and we had fun talking about school, work, our hobbies. He certainly was more mature than typical kids his age. Then it was really time to go. He wanted to show me his apartment, which I first thought was a going a bit too far. But anyway, he showed me around his apartment and I met his roommates. “If you would like to sleep over, you are more that welcome,” he said. Thanks, but no thanks, kid. We exchanged phone numbers, and off I went back to Boston.
We went on texting and emailing during the following week. The next weekend we got together and went to Block Island together. We biked around, and drank wine and made out in a secluded and tough to get to beach. It was wonderful. We went back to his place in Narragansett. It was a beautiful, peaceful night, you could see every little star in the sky. It was nice to be far from the city, and it was exciting to getting to know someone new. For almost three months after that we hang with each other whenever we could. I went down to Narragansett sometimes, sometimes he would come and visit me in Boston. His roommates were funny, and did not look that shocked at how old I was, at least in front of me. From what P. was telling me they were fascinated by the fact that their roommate was dating an older woman.
When we were out and about together and there were other people around I avoided hand holding, hugging and kissing. I always wondered how other people saw us; perhaps they were trying to figure out our relationship, aunt-nephew, sister-brother? Lovers? That would be wild. But lovers we were. It was nice that we lived away from each other, every get together was like an excursion for one of us. We did fun stuff, hiked a lot, walked a lot. And we talked and talked. It was refreshing to be with someone so young, no baggage to bring him down, no issues to burden the relationship. He made me feel wanted and desired, and would always say how beautiful, hot and sexy I was. My self-esteem got a boost in a time when I needed it. He was the force that carried me out of my previous relationship, and I did not look back once. His body was taut. He was loving and caring. He would bring me flowers, little gifts whenever he visited. And the sex was, well, you get the idea how sex is with a 21-year-old man, very frequent and very quick. Good thing he was the kind of person who was interested in finding out what I liked and willing to explore new things, so it was good for me, too.
Dating a much younger person makes you feel younger. But it also makes you realize that you are not that young anymore; like that time when we were biking uphill and I was almost out of breath and he was flying, and I had a hard time keeping up. When the path got sandy and I got off my bike to walk it, he sprinted back to me and carried my bike. Extra points for stamina. Another time we were walking in the woods and it was hot, I wanted to keep my hair up but did not have anything with me, so he held my hair up for ten minutes walking by my side until we got to the beach. Sometimes when I was with him it was like being with a puppy, who always wants to cuddle and play. I remember we went to a show at the Paradise and during the whole show he was hugging me snuggly from behind like a human seat belt.
Most of our conversations were carefree, but sometimes we talked about our age difference; it was great we were able to have fun together despite of it, but we also knew that it could not last for long. It lasted a bit longer than it should have, and at the end he got a little bit emotionally vested. I was sorry to see him hurt when I called it off. He was certain we could be boyfriend and girlfriend. Which was cute, but quite unrealistic.
It was an unconventional relationship, but it was different and it was fun. Even today when I think about it, I can’t help it but go holy crap, I can’t believe I was dating a 21-year old! Sometimes people say age doesn’t matter, but actually it does. It is not a sustainable relationship in the long run. It is easy to find things in common to do and enjoy, but there is also a gap in interests and knowledge, common references and experiences that will manifest itself at some point. And this can be tough if you are a person who values common interests in a partner. As a brief affair it can be super fun while it lasts, it boosts your self-esteem, it is exciting and intense. So if you ever have the chance, go for it.