Late in the spring of my freshman year of college, my roommate and I visited a psychic. One of those tiny roadside establishments off El Camino Real in Stanford, California, the spot didn’t inspire much faith, but we’d passed it a million times and finally giggled our way to the door. After some nervous shuffling on the steps, I found myself sitting before a stooped old soul, getting exactly the reading I’d hoped for: travel, writing, babies. But when she told me I’d love, marry and be happy with an older man, I asked—in one of the less astute moments of my youth—“Is he the guy I’m with now?”
He was a sophomore.
These days a year and a half doesn’t really qualify as “older.” And it seems that a veritable ocean has formed between me and the overwhelming majority of men my age. It’s not that I’m not attracted to them. My last boyfriend has biceps that compelled even my mother to comment. He’s also 24, with a disappearing act to rival Houdini’s. Which helps explain why the man currently headlining my romantic life was seeing the Purple Rain tour when I was doodling with purple Crayolas.
For me every relationship until now has been about teaching, but this one includes a fair amount of learning as well. And the lessons are many. The small ones can be sweet—like when he explains Star Wars fever because he actually remembers when the movie opened—or difficult, as you learn to get over the flights of paranoic fancy induced by sideways glances of passersby.
The big ones, though, they change your life. When you’re dating an older man, the consequences of every decision he’s ever made rest with both of you: The children he has fathered, for instance, become your own. But these lessons come in more pleasant versions, too, like the word lovemaking. It always seemed melodramatic and a bit disingenuous to me. But when he says (and does) it, there’s a willingness to be transparent and vulnerable that I can only imagine comes from all the romantic tumult of the decade between us. He allows himself to rest his head on my chest without mistaking it for weakness, and that, I’ve realized, is the making of love.
For the record, I’m not alone. Even in my small circle, two of my closest girlfriends are dating men with a decade or two on them. And the sentiment is the same: Yes, it’s an odd kind of sorority, but also as natural and fulfilling as anything has ever been for us. We tease, we throw brunches, and despite the impulse to apologize, we sometimes preen. There aren’t any contradictions in wanting to be accomplished, attractive and unabashedly attached. Not to mention that motherhood might again be the new sexy. The only variable, then, is the man. Now he has to come with something more than obvious good looks and bright prospects; he has to have that spark that signals a capacity for abiding love, and the certainty of self that allows him to embrace this ever-evolving—sometimes to the point of neurosis—woman. It’s the confidence of age.
That’s a lot to ask from guys who look up to Lil Jon. And I’m not mad at that. Men are under such immense pressure to compete and succeed that I’m in no rush to force them into adulthood. But I’m already here, and I need a partner who is, too. Someone who can hear me better. And someone who knows enough to help me better hear myself.