Dating an older man meant no beer pong or silly dancing, but it also meant security and commitment.
When I moved to New York right after college, finding a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind. I was 22, single and enjoying the fact that bars in the city stayed open until 4 a.m.
Out one night near my apartment, I pressed myself against the bar and tried to get the bartender's attention. He didn't notice, but an older guy next to me, slightly balding with a crooked nose, did. He ordered four shots of Jameson.
"You want one?" He asked, looking at me sideways. He was cute, I observed, broad-shouldered and solidly built.
"Whiskey is an old man's drink," I said.
"Oh, really? We'll see about that," he replied, handing me a shot. I took it quickly and gagged while he slammed his without flinching. "Can't handle the 'old man's drink,' huh?" he teased.
We continued to joke back and forth, and despite the fact that I'd just graduated from college and he probably had a decade ago, it seemed we had a lot in common. He was funny, articulate and charming. We stayed deep in conversation until last call, and eventually he asked for my number.
"You're way too old for me," I said. "How old are you, like 30?"
"Yeah," he said. "How old are you?"
"26," I lied. I knew that if he knew I was 22 the conversation would soon be over, and I was enjoying it, despite myself. I gave him my number and he hailed me a cab. Two minutes later, I got a text.
"My name is Michael…in case you forgot." I had forgotten.
On our first date, I was telling Michael about my upcoming birthday plans when the truth came out.
"How old are you again?" he asked.
"Um, well, I told you I was 26. But I'm actually turning 23." I was really nervous he would freak out, but instead he started to laugh.
"Oh, wow," he said. "You're a young one." I said I hadn't wanted to scare him off by telling him my real age, and he agreed that he probably wouldn't have gotten my number if he had known I was so young.
Before I knew it, we were well into dessert, and I realized I didn't want the dinner to end. As we grinned at each other across the table (maybe it was just the buzz from the wine), I began to think that maybe eight years age difference wouldn't be so bad.
I Googled him the next day, and lo and behold, right there on his college athlete stats page, was his birthdate. He was 35.
Suddenly our age spread had widened. Thirteen years apart. Thirteen years. I burst into tears in front of my computer.
I confronted him that evening on the phone. "I didn't want to blurt out how old I was at dinner after you went on and on about what a big age difference eight years was. What was I supposed to say?" Michael protested.
"You were supposed to say your real age, like I did!" I exclaimed.
"I know. I know. I screwed up," he admitted. "I was going to tell you the next time I saw you, I promise. I just… I knew you'd freak if I tacked on five more years, and we were having such a good time. I didn't want to ruin it. I really like you, Vanessa."
"I really like you, too," I said meekly, my anger fading. I gave in and let him off the hook, and he was so grateful.
He was so different from the guys my age I 'd met in the city, eager for the drunk bar make-out but far less eager to have a girlfriend.
My friends couldn't believe how old he was, but they could see how happy I was. But how could it ever work? I agonized over it for days.
I delayed taking him out with my friends, because I was worried he wouldn't fit in. And when I finally did, he didn't.
We went to a dive bar in the Lower East Side with a bunch of my friends. I cringed as Michael cracked an inappropriate joke about my girlfriend's low-cut shirt—I think it was his attempt at "college humor." The last straw was when he bought a round of Grey Goose shots for everyone. It was obvious to me that he was trying so hard to impress my friends, and it just made him seem even older and more out of touch.
It wasn't easy for him either. I was young, excited to explore the city, constantly drinking too much and staying out until last call. My roommate and I would routinely go out and try and get guys to buy us drinks, a practice Michael was not entirely fond of.
In truth, my immaturity—and insecurity about his age—drove us to the verge of breaking up too many times to count.
I couldn't relax and accept Michael's age for what it was, especially when we were out in public. I felt like every time we went to a fancy restaurant, the maître d' thought I was Michael's daughter. We would kiss at the table, and I'd catch (or maybe it was my imagination) the waiter's surprised look, and then I felt like he'd pegged me as some kind of gold-digger.
My guy friends teased me constantly, calling him "Old Guy," and I felt like I had to make fun of myself for dating Michael before anyone else did. I went out more to prove that I could still act 23, even if I was dating an older man. That only made things with Michael more rocky.
Each week got a little easier, as we tried to balance separate friends, living on separate banks of the same river, and totally separate schedules (me in graduate school, him working). I think any man with an ounce of sense would be long gone — and that showed me how much Michael did really care about me.
After we'd been dating a few months, I went to meet Michael for dinner with a bunch of his friends. The guys, crowded around, busy discussing finance, barely noticed me. The girls, however, were looking me up and down pretty fiercely. Michael went to the bathroom, and immediately they started in.
"How old exactly are you?" asked one of the women.
"Um, 23," I said.
"Do you know how old Michael is?" she persisted.
"Um, yes," I said.
"How did you even meet him?" the girl next to her asked me. "Or do you just go out at night on the prowl for rich older guys?"
I was speechless. "Um, no…" I said lamely.
"Maybe you should try dating someone your own age," the third girl cut in.
I smiled weakly, and prayed that Michael would get back within the next five seconds. I was bright red and on the verge of tears. I stood up quickly and walked outside, a blast of cold air hitting my face.
They were just jealous, I told myself happily.
That wasn't the first time older women rolled their eyes or gave me disapproving once-overs. And it's not like I don't see it from their point of view—if I was single and 35 I might be mean to a young girl stealing from my dating pool, too!
But what older women don't understand is that, more days than not, I wish I were dating someone my own age.
Our age difference requires us both to compromise.
Loving someone 13 years older than me means no silly dancing to rap music or Saturday nights spent playing beer pong. But it also means security and commitment, fancy dinners, and free advice from someone older and wiser than me.
As for me, I want to scream when Michael wears his neon green Alice in Chains T-shirt. His hair is going gray, and every day he loses more off the top of his head. He isn't getting any younger, and yet he still isn't ready to settle down just yet.
But in spite of all that, I love him more than I ever thought possible.
We've been together for a year now. Sometimes I think we're going to get married, have babies and live happily ever after. Other times, I look at younger guys on the subway and think, "What if?"
Our future isn't written in stone, so rather than worrying about the 13 years, I try and take it one day at a time.