by Amy Gonzalez
When I met my husband, I was 31 years old and he was 24. My experience dating men his age was light and forgetful. Still, I found myself accepting a series of dates with him: a Janeane Garofalo show, a Star Trek movie, a Dirty Projectors concert, and lots of home dinners with Netflix nights. We were three months into our relationship when he said, “I think it’s time you met my parents.” The process of falling in love felt slow and purposeful, and our relationship continues to deepen in the same way. Whenever I ask him if he thinks our age difference matters, he says, no. I agree, but the question floats to the surface from time to time.
Since I’m seven years older than my husband, some people label me a “cougar.” It feels predatory, like the other partner had no choice, but to get picked up. Cougar label aside, the real problem I have with being public about our age difference is the stereotypes. For example, if we are at a restaurant and the waiter asks for our IDs, I get the “you look good for your age” comment. While my husband usually gets no comment or something offhand like “oh we have the same birthday.” It’s these little social interactions that make me hold my breath in fear of being judged. The taboo around women marrying younger men surfaces from the expectation that heterosexual couples have children once they are married. I am tired of hearing about a woman’s “biological clock” when it’s really a “cultural clock” which pressures women more than men to become parents. If a woman is older than her husband, there’s no babymaking time to waste! And if they do not plan on having children soon (or ever) how else do they connect? In comparison, older men with much younger women are accepted with barely a brow raised because there is still a good number of child bearing years ahead of them. Although I’d like to say I’m immune to these pressures, my metal armor impenetrable, the truth is the looks from strangers eyeing my ID, the images and mass media, the ticking of that ridiculous clock, all of it does pierce through my armor from time to time. So much so that I request validation from my husband over and over again.
Today, I am here not to ask him for validation, but to claim it for myself! I know why I married a younger man. He knows me when I lose sight of myself. We challenge each other to try new experiences or see different perspectives. We live independent lives, but savor our togetherness. His desire to always do chores and keep a budget, makes him twice as mature as me. As I approach forty, the increasing gray hairs and chin whiskers are going to test my self-esteem. I will have new challenges and responsibilities to face as my parents get older. And through it all, I believe my husband will help me remain strong. He accepts the tension that exists between being there for my family and spending time with him. It’s only when I see and hear the cultural expectations about women having children and men having a insatiable libido that I freak out.
Sometimes when I ask my husband, if it matters that I am older than him, what really I am asking is if he is bored. He is in his early 30’s. We’ve been together for almost 10 years. Does he miss his chance for a variety of partners? How does he know I am truly the one if he didn’t explore more during his prime exploration years?
The truth is he knew what he wanted by 24. When I figured out what I wanted in my life, it was later, 31. Call it fate, luck, or general awesomeness we happened to meet each other at this point of self-awareness. I have to remind myself I am not a “cougar” and it’s okay that I’m not a mother. Our dispositions compliment each other. Ask either of us what we would like to do on a Friday night and you will get the same answer: have a drink and chill out at home just the two of us. It doesn’t get more real than that. In the end it’s not motherhood, or elastic skin, or a difference in numbers that affirms my relationship, it is our shared love, support, and humor that gives me peace from the cutting stereotypes thrown in my face.
Amy Gonzalez lives in Arlington, Massachusetts. She teaches English Language Arts in the Cambridge Public Schools district. With her students, she learns how to be a stronger teacher and all around human being every day. She also loves dancing, 90s hip-hop, curly hair products, and making ridiculous pizzas with her husband.