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Boys vs. Men - #381

There have been a few trend-pieces on age gaps recently. I guess people dating or marrying people far older/younger than themselves is interesting, although most of the pieces take the more judgmental approach. There seems to be no one more blameworthy than the person who slightly upends a social convention to make themselves better off. The age gap in a relationship often signifies a wealth or status gap as well: the rich older man finds a younger, more attractive woman than his poorer peers find; the wealthy older woman finds a younger, more attractive man; etc. The self-interest these relationships signify gives the cultural commentator just enough to write the trend-piece.

The essay linked below is similar to these pieces, but it's written from the opposite perspective and from the first-person: why do I, the younger woman, marry an older man?

In reading Grazie Sophia Christie's essay, you find a fair amount of what you'd expect. She gains slight edge in apparent attractiveness when compared to women a decade or so older, rather than to women her own age. Her potential partners are more settled in life, wealthier, and more mature when they're in their thirties rather than their early twenties. The whole game seems to tilt her direction. This wasn't all that memorable: it was just the inverse of the pieces in the Times and Journal interviewing a handful of people who were 8-12 years older or younger than their spouses.

The unique angle came out when our author compared her relationship to those of her similarly-aged friends. Certainly women have always had a civilizing effect on men. I grew up going to an all-boys camp in the summers. The culture there, fun as it was, bordered on barbaric. Adding women to the mix makes society an actual society. That's not what our authors sees in her friends's relationships. What they were up to, in her telling, was less like a partnership and more like mothering: 

There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath. A boy married to my friend who doesn't know how to pack his own suitcase. She "likes to do it for him." A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colors, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach him. All while she was working, raising herself, clawing up the cliff-face of adulthood. Hauling him at her own expense.

I'll confess to being a mostly useless man almost completely reliant upon a spouse for any amount of domestic support that could be more evenly divided. But this description of people in their twenties really surprised me. But couldn't we expect men to be a bit more self-sufficient? A bit less useless? A bit more adult?

No society has ever honestly prided itself on the maturity and civilized nature of its 22 year old men, especially when compared to their female counterparts. There's a reason we've mostly sent these types off to war or similar trial-by-fire scenarios. The neuroscientists will tell us that the male brain, like a somewhat runny batch of Jello, takes an extra while to finish setting up. I'm not in the strongest position to judge: pictures of me in my early twenties show off a complete goober. But at least I knew how to floss and have a modicum of manners.

Our three boys under age ten are certainly not civilized. But I'm hoping we can spend the next ten or fifteen years helping them get to a point of packing their own bags, bringing their own floss, and showing up meaningfully for the people in their lives. I'm sure their girlfriends and wives will fault us for whatever of the coarseness we can't manage to grind off, but I'd like to aim at not handing them off like dependents going from one custodian to another. The author fairly describes the pre-metamorphosis guys her friends date and marry as boys. In raising more than my fair share, I'd like them to grow up into men.


The Case for Marrying an Older Man

A woman's life is all work and little rest. An age gap relationship can help.