“Honey, what year did you graduate high school?” I yelled to my husband over the thumping of my teenager’s rap music and the whizzing of my younger boy’s video games.
Not being one who yells across rooms, my husband walked over. “1990,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, looking up from the middle school application on which I was trying to make our family look as desirable as possible. “Wow,” fell out of my mouth before writing the year of my graduation: 1980. I wondered for a second if the admissions team would be impressed by my younger husband. Maybe this could be our diversity angle.
A woman I was in a book group with once accosted Tod at a party after a few glasses of pinot, “Your wife is always going on and on about how young you are, you know?”
“What?” she asked, leaning on him for balance.
“I’ve never known my wife to brag about me,” he said.
“Well, she does,” she said, “Constantly.” She tossed back her wine, draining it for emphasis.
Hearing about this exchange surprised me because Tod being younger hasn’t been something that makes me feel superior. Anxious maybe, especially after I lose my temper with him, regret it, and think, “You know, he’s young enough to start a whole other family.”
So despite what my book buddy told him, I don’t intentionally call attention to the age gap. Although when people find out they almost always do a Groucho Marx eye-brow wiggle followed by “Good for you!”
I don’t intentionally call attention to the age gap. Although when people find out they almost always do a Groucho Marx eye-brow wiggle.
Another reason I don’t wear my husband’s younger age as a badge of honor is probably because of the way my mother reacted when she met him.
“You need to STOP (definitely all caps and bolded) playing around with these boys, young lady!” she snapped.
My father was 14 years older than my mother. No one batted an eye. But to my mother, my getting involved with someone 10 years younger was stupid and irresponsible. So I had to marry him. And it hasn’t proven to be either of those things so far. After all, we live a sweet little life with two healthy boys in what I call the Brooklyn of Los Angeles.
But that hasn’t stopped me from worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Things like hot-young-wife-No.-2 waiting in the wings. She wouldn’t even have to be that hot, just someone who can remember where her keys are, stays up past 10 p.m., and knows how to use the remote.
Tod and I rarely think about the years between us — except every night at around 9. The boys have retreated to their rooms, the dishes have been piled in the sink to be ignored, and I finally settle in to watch the new Will & Grace, for a dose of nostalgia. I press a bunch of buttons on the remote, images flash on the screen. None of them are Eric McCormack’s face.
“Honey!” I yell out.
“I’m not helping you,” he shoots back, half joking. Not only because he doesn’t get the humor of the show, but also because not knowing how to use the remote is just a huge turn off. It’s so cliché. Any time keys have to be punched in or “coded” — from our computerized air-ventilating system, to the numbers on a digital watch, to a preset coffee maker — I’m lost. It could be a personality issue, but I like to believe it’s because Tod and his peers have been using computers since adolescence. They were given personal computers in college. When I was in college, there was a building with computers in it where you could go to write your term paper. Computing is definitely where the age difference shows. And pop culture. And all the specifics of political correctness. And a love of the White Stripes (his, obviously).
One aspect of being in a May-December marriage that people don’t understand — and I hate to pull the covers off — is that despite the relentless bliss of the cradle-robbed partner, we have to work just as hard as age-comparable couples to stay connected. Maybe even a little moreso because of that little issue of having to explain cultural references to each other. Like the time I became teary eyed learning that Valerie Harper had brain cancer.
“Oh no! Rhoda! That is so sad.”
“Rhoda? The star of the spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show?”
“Never watched it. But I know my mom loved it.”
When facing the inevitable conflicts in a long marriage, it’s tempting to just throw up my hands and think, “Forget it. We’ll never agree. We were born in different decades!”
Is it great that Tod has more energy and a feeling of possibility for our future than the man my mother would have preferred I marry? Absolutely. But here’s what I have learned being together 18 years: Having a pretty young thing as a mate doesn’t let me off the hook when it comes to communicating.
This is where the generation gap is tricky, even a liability. When facing the inevitable conflicts in a long marriage, it’s tempting to just throw up my hands and think, “Forget it. We’ll never agree. We were born in different decades!” and storm off like a very old surly teen. That’s a bad idea not only because it leads to second-wife catastrophizing, but also because, most of the time, our age difference has no bearing on the disagreement. By reducing the problem to this detail, we miss the opportunity for a better understanding of each other, for true intimacy.
When Tod and I met, my father had just died. I literally witnessed the final moment of my father’s life. A year later, I was lucky enough to meet someone whip smart and funny, with knowing blue eyes who was only in the first third of his life. Falling for Tod did for me the best of what falling for a younger person can: It gave me hope. Not to mention two boys, one of whom really needs a middle school.