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True Stories: The Twenty-One-Year Old and Me
On the perks and perils of dating younger men.
By Mia Salazar
When you sleep with someone from work, it's surprising to see them at work the next day. They never vaporize in a bad toaster-oven accident like you hope. The coworker I slept with is a college student eleven years my junior, and he brags the next day at the office about an even older woman he has been seeing for months. Though news of this older woman has been trickling through the office gossip chain for some time, I still find it disturbing.
I pull him aside. They are "not really dating," he admits, which is worse, because now I imagine that their sex is amazing enough to power California for a month. I figure they'll hit it until she moves to Vegas, where all the chosen cougars go.
This is how it is when I meet younger men. It's never this romance novel where I'm the first older woman, we break boundaries, and then there's some tawdry scene where we're caught zesting lemons together. It's more like the perv classic Lolita — that moment when Humbert Humbert realizes his corruption of Lolita is a sham, that she's been having threesomes at sleepaway camp for years.
My Lolito has been pretty busy. The other woman is about twice his age. Cougar One, Original Cougar, as I call her, has a more impressive degree than me and a far more impressive job. This other woman is a good thing, friends point out, because it means he's been taught already. I always wonder about this. Taught what? And what twenty-one-year old is humble and willing to learn?
Yet there must be real older-woman teachers out there, because I keep hearing about them, and not just when Susan Sarandon craps out another movie. Sexually confident women. Cosmopolitan women. I envision a whole trade fair of nipple clamps under the bed, coordinated with cream wool boucle suits. They eat at French restaurants with amuse bouches. I've decided amuse bouches are sexy. I've decided people who eat amuse bouches are sexy. This older woman he's dating must be one of them. A mythical creature-teacher. An unapologetic amuse boucher.
I would like to be one of these women. Like Bianca Jagger. Caftans look like ass on the rest of America, but I pull them off. I spend afternoons eating caviar out of the pool boy's bellybutton. I call myself "dirty old woman" the way men are called dirty old man. "Dirty old" just means you're perverted and aged. I can respect that. "Cougar" means you sit around in cheetah-print robes and eat a lot of Activia.
I have always been physically attracted to much younger men, but I never dated one until about six years ago. Our eyes met at a Bushwick warehouse party, and he came up and started dancing with me. This has happened maybe three times in my life, and every time I feel like a slightly cross-eyed Jennifer Aniston in a sweater shrug until they approach. He was really attractive, like a young Joaquin Phoenix. Initially he lied about his age and told me he was twenty-three, instead of twenty and a college freshman. Most twenty-eight-year-old women would run away when they hear college freshman. I should have too. But I was strangely curious. Would we make out in his dorm? What does his dorm look like? Would we eat microwavable Kraft products? Would I get caught buying booze for him? Was it worth it because he looked like a young Joaquin Phoenix?
He had many tales of debauchery. I find tales of debauchery very exciting, like I have participated in them just by hearing them from someone else. It's a wimpy way out for those of us who didn't smoke a cigarette until college. Part of me wondered what he would have left to look forward to his sophomore year.
The college freshman took me to see his dorm room, and only because I begged. ("You really want to see it?" he asked, confused. "Why?"). I don't know what I was expecting to find in there. Maybe I thought I could be elevated to a higher state by the mere sight of a Dave Matthews ticket stub. It was like every other college dorm: outrageously well-located, but ugly, from the standard-issue loft beds to the hospital-style lighting.
Still sometimes the thrill of an idea can be thrill enough. I imagined racing out of work, tossing off a "Gotta meet my man, you know, at his dorm" and watching my coworkers keel over in jealousy or barf up their bagels. Yeah, so it might not have been exactly like Diane Lane dating the hot younger French guy in Unfaithful. I didn't have a neutral-hued Westchester home and a neutral-hued family to run away from — just a total lack of dates with guys my own age. So this would have to do, as my own more ridiculous version. But looking around the college freshman's room that night, I didn't see my failure to score six-figure professionals, to get on the marriage plan with the promise of sectional sofas gleaming in the distance. I saw "bucking the system." By avoiding it entirely.
I didn't regard it as regressing. It's more like I didn't understand why certain paths are closed off to you when you're older, why there's one long road to domestic bliss for you to take and you're a failure if you don't jump onto that track by a certain age. If I was physically attracted to men who are supposedly too young for me, why couldn't I date them? Especially because the older I got, the more I learned that age hardly dictates maturity. With this solid reasoning, I went forth.
Our romance lasted two dates before he dumped me. But you know what? Sometimes it's not about longevity. It's about planting the seed, man. Planting the seed to something bigger and more beautiful than you ever imagined. Making a tree, my friend. The college freshman was a taste, and now I needed to dive in Scarface style.
After that, I became one of those sickos who hang around dog parks to pet dogs that aren't their own. Every time I wandered past college dorms or skate parks, I gave it the 45-rpm slowdown, admiring the scenery. I was like that old skeevy guy who hangs out at the mall to check out high-school chicks, sucking down a Sbarro Sprite for four hours.