I had to open the door and vomit out the side of the car every few minutes on our way back to the home of the Indian family I stayed with.
My stomach churned and my body was weak, but I felt so cared for, so loved, that I resisted drifting off into a feverish sleep. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I had relationships with men who were 15 to 30 years my senior.
He kissed my forehead and, for a moment, I felt a fatherly presence. Most of them were flings and short-lived romances, sparked through spontaneous meetings at social gatherings or, like Sam, through work.
All of my theories about why I was drawn to older men were partially true, but I never owned—or wanted to own—the most obvious: I was a product and a perpetuator of society’s collective messaging and conditioning that implies a man is valued in his older age and a woman is not.
An unspoken implication in the older man, younger woman dynamic, whether it’s fully understood or even conscious, is that men get better with age: They get more emotionally mature and financially stable; women, on the other hand, slip out of the realm of desirability, lose their sense of adventure and potency, and, as the years roll on, accumulate cumbersome emotional baggage.
He was the founder of the alternative learning space I worked for, a school that taught young children how to express their emotions. At first we’d meet at restaurants and go on outings around town with other friends, but soon there were long, late-night conversations that led to kissing on the edge of my bed. My mother had always taught me that a good man would do exactly that, and even though the urban, progressive elite in me scoffed at that idea, in practice I acquiesced to it quite easily. After sneaking into a local circus to see the elephants, we ended up on the street outside a strip mall.
I was impressed by a man so invested in emotional intelligence. From a nearby cart, Sam bought a thick wedge of , a rolled leaf with areca nut and tobacco that’s meant to be chewed and spit out for a momentary high.Sam was my father’s age, and being attracted to him felt strange and slightly awkward, yet, it felt good. I had all sorts of theories as to why this was the case.They ranged from the poetic—to the prosaic: I didn’t have a present and loving father so I crave that experience now.“I don’t know why I always get approached by much older men,” I said to her, genuinely unsure. And I had participated in them, albeit unknowingly.I took inventory of all the explanations I had adopted around the story I’d long told myself about why I had romances with older men.But the grander point is this: I had been far more entrenched in the muck of our collective experience than I’d cared to admit.