We googled ‘cougar’ and this is what came up
He’s 23. I’m 29. Okay, it’s hardly Madonna and Jesus, but it’s weird.
I’m a bit ashamed of myself for finding it weird, because I’ve had a number of relationships with more significant age gaps. One boyfriend was 9 years older than me and had two kids. And so, to pose a Carrie Bradshaw-esque one liner with a zingy Vagenda twist: What kind of feminist needs an older boyfriend?
I’ve just moved to Montréal (amazing) for my dream job (amazing amazing). For the first time in my life I have a steady source of income, a contract that lasts longer than 6 months, and my own place. I’m a grown up! So, on a night out with two of my new frolleagues (friend + colleague, freshly coined), I got completely blotto and snogged the 23-year-old in a bar. Cause that’s what grown ups do.
In the immortal words of Kimya Dawson: I lived alone, so I took him home. I have a recollection, hazy, of his wide-eyed wonder: ‘Tu habite ici? Tout seule?’ Oh yes, this is where I should mention that the 23-year-old is Francophone, and my French is shit. I have no idea how I even communicated the idea that he should come back to mine. Through the international language of saliva, perhaps.
Anyways, we stayed up dancing the hootchicoo until 6am, when he was like ‘Encore! Encore!’ and I was like ‘it’s snoozy time for Grandma.’ He left for work at 7am, after one hour’s sleep, only waking me to ask for my number. But I didn’t have a phone, so I semi-legibly scrawled my e-mail on a piece of paper, listened to the door slam, and awoke later, proudly thinking ‘I had sex in French.’ I never expected to see his impish face again.
But then he e-mailed, and suggested that we climb Mont Royal and have a picnic at the top. We turned up wearing exactly the same clothes – blue cut off shorts and grey t-shirts. He was charming, funny, easy to talk to, and very patient about repeating everything three times so I could understand. He taught me to pronounce things the proper Québéc way instead of the stupid French way (I used to say peut-être; now I say pudite). He taught me many important Canadian words, such as ‘orignal’ (moose). And now I can swear like a drunken sailor in Québécois (On s’en calisse! Tabernac!). Other fun things about our first date included making monkey noises and going back to mine for a shower. His wonder at my not particularly fancy apartment remained unabated.
So now I’m dating a 23-year-old. He’s wonderful for my French, he’s super sweet, and he’s SO FECKING PRETTY that I want to kill him, stuff him, and keep him in a corner of my sitting room to stare at all the time. Or, y’know, I could take a picture or something. But, all this notwithstanding: it’s weird.
It’s weird because he’s the same age as my students. It’s weird because all his friends are 23 and are busy doing what I was doing when I was 23, which is getting plastered and dancing in shit clubs to Beyoncé (I have been rather enjoying the dancing to Beyoncé actually). His apartment is trashed, evil beings live in his fridge, and I have no idea if he has ever changed his bedsheets, and, therefore, no idea to what kind of lady-juice cocktail I am contributing my own delicious liqueur.
But all that aside, here’s the really weird bit: while he’s smart and adventurous, I just know so much more than him, I’ve just done so much more. Of course I do, of course I have – I’ve been alive for an extra six years. I’m struggling to put a word on exactly the dynamic this creates between us, but it definitely has something to do with power and respect.
And it’s really making me think: all those older boyfriends – the 24-year-old when I was 18, the 30-year-old when I was 23, the 35-year-old when I was 26 – didn’t I seem really young to them? Did they not find it strange that there were such gaps in my knowledge, that I had, comparatively, so few life experiences? Were some of the things I said unintentionally cute? (The 23-year-old asked me if my PhD was hard.) Was my keenness a sparkling change from the more cautious approaches to love (read: bitter, suspicious cynicism) that many of us adopt as we grow older? I mean, he friended me on facebook after one date instead of subtly internet stalking me in the traditional manner. So I guess part of what I’m asking is: did my older beaus get off on the gap?
My slight unease with the age gap is making me rethink my desire for older boyfriends too. Cultural conditioning, blah blah blah. Socially acceptability, blah blah blah. But, as someone who spends such a huge portion of her time thinking and writing about gender and equality, it comes as a surprise to find that I’ve never stopped to consider the power dynamics of my oldie fetish.
During my time with the father-of-two, I used to spout ‘age is just a number’ a lot, but it was obviously so much more than just a number – he had more money than me, he had a business, all of his friends were older, he didn’t like it when I partied hardcore, he had blimmin children for crying out loud. And part of what attracted me to him, undoubtedly, was how well informed he was on so many topics, and the sophistication of his politics compared to my own. I learned from him, and I liked that. Did he learn from me? Honestly – probably not. He was getting something else: he got the pleasure of teaching, and, although neither of us would’ve thought of it like this, he undoubtedly got a social prize – a hot young thing.
The power balance upheld by the social norm for women to date older dudes is obvious, and the scorn heaped on the ‘cougars’ who go the other way helps to strengthen it. As a woman who’s engaging in some mild cougarishness for the first time, I have to say that there’s a lot to be learned about intimacy and gender politics from flipping the age coin. That’s right: I’m shagging the 23-year-old for feminism.