Dear Men in My Life:
Now that we have gotten to 50ish, many of you, after divorce, are dating or remarrying younger women. I am so happy you are happy in your life with your younger honey, who is quite lovely by the way. You deserve happiness.
I don’t want to offend, hurt, or antagonize you.
But I do feel compelled to reflect upon your regular jests that the solution to marital woes lies in “acquiring a younger wife,” much as one might purchase a new Porsche Carrera.
First of all, I know when you quip about the joys of a younger woman, you are joking, teasing, making light of our middle age dilemmas, our hopes, dreams, failures and frustrations. In a kind-hearted, well-intentioned, light-hearted, typically nice guy way.
Maybe other men chuckle knowingly when they hear your little jokes.
Maybe some women do too.
I don’t. I cringe.
Joking about the merits of younger wives is….well, “eew” is all I can really say.
I can’t imagine joking publicly about my lust for younger men – and not because I don’t understand the draw of someone with fewer age spots than I have. Rather, I keep quiet because I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, or perpetuate the stereotype that younger is always better than older. Especially since you and I and most of our friends fall into the “older” category ourselves these days.
There are millions of women in the world, and perhaps even a few in our small group of friends and colleagues, who have struggled mightily with our self-worth, particularly as we age. Wonderful women whose lives and families have been pummeled by husbands and fathers they trusted who left wives for younger women.
There are millions of beautiful, generous spirited women who will never ever look young again no matter what they do. Women who have survived cancer, seen their bodies changed by pregnancy and childbirth, desperate women who have spent too muchmoney, time and effort on plastic surgery, makeup, diets, compulsive exercise….all in hopes of looking younger and keeping a great man just like you.
And men who have thrown away terrific women and families because they thought an answer to life’s problems lay in a younger woman.
I also feel like, wow: how does a younger wife feel when she hears a joke like that? Is her main value her youth, her age? Hopefully not…hopefully love has nothing to do with birthdays or wrinkles or lack of them. But how is a younger wife going to feel about inevitably getting older, knowing that her man values youth in a woman so mightily?
Studyinggender roles has become an enormous part of my professional life and my daily in-the-shower thought thread. Social language and casual comments among friend groups particularly intrigue me. Drilling down, I am fascinated by the insidious power of a so-called “slug-in-a-tuxedo” (a comment dressed up as a joke or compliment, but one that intentionally or unintentionally
reinforces an insecurity or stereotype).
The stereotype that a younger woman is more valuable than an older one…that women should aspire to look and act younger…that most men prefer younger women…that a younger woman can cure a man’s depression and low self-esteem and rejuvenate him…that acquiring a woman is on par with buying a sports car…that one can even “acquire” a woman period…it’s all destructive and worthless.
And in myexperience, rarely true of either men or women.
It goes without saying that stereotypes hurt everyone, and that they are particularly hard to recognize and combat when couched as harmless jokes. Because then the people who object are made to feel like the jerks, the kill-joys, the angry black men, the ball-busting feminazis. Which is kind of what I feel like right now, writing this.
What’s weird is that you already know all this. Don’t you?
I expect (and can shrug off) obnoxious comments from jerks. But I have found that the most hurtful off-hand comments come from men like you, men I respect and adore, kind, gentle, wonderful guys who would never intentionally hurt any woman’sfeelings. Racist/sexist/whatever-ist comments from guys like you hurteven more, because they make me realize how deeply ingrained the stereotypes
Whew. Feel like you are gonna want to kill me for piping up. I am not attacking you. Having known you well for years, I believe in your kindness and sensitivity as much as I’ve ever believed in anything. Which is, ironically, why your words hurt.
Please try to consider this a dialogue, not a criticism. I have great respect for you, your big hearts, your communication skills, your loyalty…which may be why I am gobsmacked by your
barbs, and find myself wondering what the heck you are
thinking when you make them.