To clarify, I will discuss the problems of dating as a 40-year-old man, not the problems of dating 40-year-old men. To further clarify, I have actually done either. I'm more than a year into my forties, ok, almost two years, and I haven't dated anyone in those years. I had a dream this morning that illuminated part of the problem of doing so. (Yes, this is a dream story, but I promise to keep it short and on topic, no polka dot giraffes appearing out of nowhere. Wait, aren't all giraffes kind of polka-dotted? Sorry, I digress.)
I was taking a college class with a very diverse student body. Several classes passed in a montage during the dream. During that time, some of my classmates and I worked together in small groups repeatedly. We started to become friends, as people are wont to do.
One of said classmates was an older woman, kind and motherly. She seemed the type of woman who would bake you a pie for no reason other than she's nice like that. Now I'm not the world's most physical guy, but in time, we started hugging on meeting and departing. Soon she started pecking me on the cheek. Sometimes I got the impression that she was heading for my mouth, and I would quickly turn my head to intercept appropriately. Still, I was pretty oblivious until she started giving one kiss on the cheek quickly followed by an attempted one on the lips. This created an uncomfortable nodding as we jockeyed for kiss position.
The realization that she may want to be more than friends startled me. Then, as I thought about it more, it shook me. I mean, this woman was old! She must be 50. She wasn't all that wrinkled or grey, but her demeanor was that of a kindly mother or even grandma. Analyzing further, she could in fact be in her 40s. Oh my dog, she could be my age! In fact, I could very reasonably be a grandfather right now. And as I thought about it further, she reminded me of an ex-girlfriend of mine if I aged her forward to the present. To make matters worse, what if she was 50? That's certainly not a huge age gap. I had just dismissed out of hand the chance of dating someone who was entirely appropriate.
This next part is hard to admit but truly illustrates the problem. In the same row of seats as me was a very attractive Asian girl. (I use those words, not to be racist or sexist, but as legitimate descriptors. To me Asian emphasizes her beauty, while girl is entirely appropriate. She was twenty-something. Ok, twenty-ish.) This girl started dating a guy a few seats up and one row over. As I watched their budding romance I became jealous. The fact is, other than a cursory hello, I had never spoken to her. I had no idea what kind of person she was other than her attractive looks and demeanor.
Thus the problem. In my head I'm still the 20-something I was 20 years ago. (Not that I would have had a chance with her then either, but shut up.) My insides haven't changed other than getting wiser and maybe more jaded. Every time I look in the mirror, all these lines in my face getting clearer. The past is gone. It went by like dusk to dawn. (And if you get my reference, you're old too! So pay attention.)
Worse still, the craven reptilian part of my brain will always want the 20-year old. There's a quote I couldn't find a source for that goes something like this: When I was 20, I admired (or fill in an adjective of your choice) 20-year old women. When I was 30, I admired 20-year old women. When I turned 40, I still admired 20-year old women. Now I'm 70, and, yes, I admire 20-year old women.
I realize how creepy this is, but it doesn't change the truth of it. I could cite biology, that the young are more fit to procreate and thus more attractive. I could blame society's idolization of youth and beauty. But it is what it is, for whatever reasons. I'm not justifying it or saying people should date without any thought to age or stage of life. But I do have some ideas to smooth over the generation gaps.
If you're a man my age, try to realize that the women our age are in the same boat we are, young people trapped in middle-aged bodies. They like aging no more (probably even less (yes, I'm being sexist)) than we do. Give them a chance. Look for that spark of youth and tell your lizard brain that your cerebral cortex is in control! Realize that that 50-year-old woman is closer to you in age than a 30 year-old. She is also likely much more similar in life stage as. Can u like actually imagine, like, dating a 20-year old? ikr (And now I'm being ageist.)
If you're a woman my age, realize that men of any age appreciate women of a certain age. When their mind or eyes stray, remember that their cerebral cortex, which chose you, is the part that matters. It also might help to be blunt in your intentions if a man seems oblivious.
And if you're a 20-something woman, why the heck are you here? (tldr) But just in case, here's your advice. Yes, we find you beautiful, but that doesn't mean any effort at communication is a pick up attempt. We're not about to start kissing you on the cheek. If an older man does talk to you, realize that his body has changed, he's had more experiences, but in his head he's a person just like you. It may be difficult to listen to, but he might have something interesting to say. And please, please don't simply turn away or roll your eyes or visibly throw up in your mouth. And don't call us "sir."
In the end, I awoke without finding out what happened in my mini romantic drama. Did I grow up and give the sensible woman a chance? Did I continue to pine over the forbidden fruit? Who knows. But in waking life I can make the smart decision. (If I ever left my house and met anyone I could date.) There, I kept it on topic, if not exactly short.
UPDATE: I realized after I posted this just how hetero biased it is. I've written from my experience. I imagine that women and gay men find younger men more attractive as well, and all the other iterations. So please transpose genders to fit your circumstance. And I'd love to hear if you agree.
One advantage of waking up often during the night is that I remember dreams. There are certain subjects that recur.
One is baseball (and that's not a euphemism for "getting to second base.") Once a month or so I return to the finely mowed diamond for an out or an inning. It's odd for two reasons: in my dreams I am almost always fielding, yet in real life batting was my strong suit, and secondly, my childhood baseball diamond was more hard baked dirt parking lot than lush fairway.
Regardless, I think for me at least dreams are a lot about regret. In the case of me and baseball, as is so often the case, I didn't miss what I had until it was gone. I played in baseball leagues from the age of 7 until high school. But even then I dropped out before junior year. I was too busy with existential midlife crises to be bothered with sports.
The last time I played was probably 10 years ago when I met a friend at his softball practice and helped shag fly balls. It was astounding how a skill that had once been mindlessly second nature had become impossible from lack of practice. At the time I had thoughts of trying to join his team, but they weren't looking, and I didn't care enough to pursue it further.
To be fair, that was the last time I played on a real field. I have since played a form of whiffle ball several times. Every year or two my friend Michael invites his best buddies to his grandparents' cabin for Bacon Weekend (or as I call it, "Bakin' Weekend" since I don't eat pigs.) One of the traditions is the whiffle ball game.
The rules are simple and the same every time. There's no running (we're far too old for that nonsense.) The type of hit depends on how far the ball goes, from inside the baseline for an out to over the house for a home run. The final rule is that every inning one team or the other gets to make a new rule. It's like Fluxx baseball.
I participate in this game to a surprising degree. For batting, I kneel left-handed, and I'm sometimes not the worst batter. Fielding is harder since I can't move side to side or run or, for that matter, even walk much in the thick sand. But when the ball does fly within reach of my left hand, I'm known to snatch it out of the air, a very gratifying experience.
I've enjoyed these games and dreamt about baseball enough that I've sought out wheelchair baseball. Unfortunately, there's very little, and none in the Milwaukee area. So for the time being at least playing will remain just a dream.
Which brings me back to my initial point. There are several topics that I have recurring dreams about. Baseball is just one of them. I hadn't intended for this post to be consumed by it, but the rest will have to wait for another post. No regrets though. I don't want to start dreaming about blogging.
Last night I played baseball. I played baseball in a dream.
It was near the end of batting practice. I stood in shallow center field waiting for a ball, but nothing was coming my way. Then a left-handed hitter came up, so I jogged over toward shallow right field. As I ran, the fluidity of my pumping legs, the miracle of movement, amazed me as it had never done before the accident. I knew I'd been crippled, and now I was cured, but my dream self didn't ponder the details.
Suddenly, the lefty hit a choppy grounder past the second baseman. I lacked the lateral motion to get to it, but I flung out my arm anyway. Astonishingly I made the grab. I skipped forward and launched the ball toward home plate. It had been so long, but my body remembered the motion from the thousands, perhaps millions of times I had performed it in the past. The throw was off target, but did it ever fly! Mediocre though it had been, that was the most satisfying play I could remember.
The practice ended, and Mr Ritz, my high school's varsity baseball coach, stood by the backstop picking up stray balls. I jogged toward him, anxious to talk. Sobs choked my throat and blurred my vision as I approached him. "I've played baseball so many times in my dreams. It was incredible to finally do it again in real life. Thank you." The irony was lost on my dreaming mind.
Then I woke up. Then I cried; not a lot, just a few more salty drops on my already tear-stained pillow.