When Tom and I met, I was the tender age of 20. He was 32. It never occurred to me that it would be so scandalous. For me, age wasn't an issue. I had never enjoyed the company of boys my own age, who preferred to play video games and get shit-faced in bars to having a nice conversation over a glass of wine. Initially, I was a little shocked by Tom's age (In fact, I did deem him "too old" when I first surmised the sum of his years), but the shock quickly gave way to captivation. I was enamored of him, and the age difference was rendered insignificant. Tom never did look old, and I never looked that young, and together we made quite a striking couple. Both with tall with blue eyes, I was dark-haired with an alabaster complexion where his hair was light brown against his tanned skin. He looked like a watered-down Val Kilmer, his strong jaw cradling full lips and a sweet smile. I loved it when gray hairs would break into his mane of brunette, and I was careful to point out each one, giving him grief for his age, even though it only served to turn me on; I found it extremely sexy. Something about the gap in our years being so huge was almost naughty. And it was interesting, learning things about someone a dozen years your senior. The glaring differences in the childhood icons, favorite cars and fashion preferences we had growing up just made for interesting conversations. Not distance.
Our friends and family, however, thought differently. My parents were mildly horrified that I had begun to date a man so much older than me. His family thought it ridiculous that he was dating a girl who couldn't even legally have a drink at a bar. And my coworkers called him "Grandfather." Each time we met with friends or family, we were greeted with a slew of new computations enunciating the gorge in our ages.
"Do you realize that when you were in college, she was in kindergarten?"
"Do you know that you when you were in diapers, Tom was in puberty?"
"Do you realize that he was driving when you were in preschool?"
"Hey! When you were 12, he was double your age!"
"Wow...When Tom was legally allowed to drink, you were only nine."
"When you're 38, Tom will get his AARP card!"
"Tom was 30 when you graduated high school!" (Which is only partly true - I graduated at 17, thank you very much, which would make him 29.)
His family would show me pictures of Tom in his younger days, his long blond hair and neon-hued clothing a product of the '80s, and they'd be careful to point out "This picture of Tom, at his prom, was taken when you were four."
We'd laugh at the comments, roll our eyes and say things like "Oh, really? That's the first time we've heard that." But both of us would sit quietly for a minute, thinking about the chasm in our histories. It may be exciting and new to date someone that much older, but it's strange, too, to date someone who had a whole history before you. And I don't mean just a few significant others. I mean a whole LIFE. Jobs and residences, tragedies, stories. Although Tom was never married before me, he did have his share of girlfriends, and he had lived all over the country. He had been a vagrant, a teacher, a South Carolina resident. And I had just been in high school. I felt that I had little to offer in terms of life experience when compared to his never-ending supply of stories beginning with "When I lived in..." or "When I was in my twenties..." And although he tiptoed around saying things like "When I was your age," we both knew it went through his mind.
I never really believed that our ages would come between us, but in some ways it did. I thought, at his age, he should want to settle down, get married and have kids. He thought, at my age, I should want to travel the country, do more with myself than just live in Milford and work at a bank. I blamed his reluctance to accompany me to local bars with friends on his age. He blamed my desire to go out all the time on being 21. He told me more than once "you just don't understand yet. Wait until you get older." He would accuse me of being "immature" when I said something he didn't like, because chronologically speaking, I was immature compared to him.
But age isn't just the difference between today's date and the date inscribed on your birth certificate. It's so much more than that. Tom may have been around, but his longest relationship was a year. I, on the other hand, was a walking, breathing study in long-term love. At twenty, I had three long-term relationships and an engagement under my belt. I was ready to settle down, be a wife and a mother, but Tom, at 32, still wanted to wander the country. Our differences stretched far beyond our ages.
And, ultimately, it wasn't an age difference that caused our demise. It was just difference of opinion. And we could've been the same age and run into the same problems. Because, honestly, I never looked at him and thought "God, when I was 6, he could vote." I just thought "God, I love him."