After we had 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.
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"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.
"What happened?" Michael asked when he came to find me.
"I don't want to talk about it," I said, wiping my eyes.
"The girls said that you walked off for no reason!" he said, quizzically.
So I told him what happened. "Those bitches," he said. "They're just mad 'cause they're single and can't get laid."
We laughed, and I snuggled up next to him in the cab. They were just jealous, I told myself happily. But 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. I just can't seem to help loving Michael.
And our age difference requires us both to compromise. As the younger woman, I put up with formal functions with Michael where all of the women are closer to my mother's age than mine. When we went to dinner with the head of Michael's firm, his wife and a handful of married couples, women peppered me with questions like,"What year did you graduate from college?" to figure out how old I was. I spent most of the night in the bathroom, dreading having to go back out there and make stilted conversation. When Michael and I went out with his friends, they were all living with their girlfriends, engaged, or married. Some of the girls were friendly, but they made it clear with their, "So you haven't even had a real job yet?" comments that they didn't think we had much in common.
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Then there was the relentless pressure to act mature. 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 Michael, I know many of my pop culture preferences drive him nuts. He won't tolerate listening to Jay-z or Justin Timberlake, hates that I "need" to talk on the phone with my girlfriends for hours a day, winces when I show up in one of my low-cut "going-out" tops, and turns off his phone when he knows I'm going out for a long night of drinking.
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. But one thing's for sure: If I could go back in time, I would have given my guy friends' young college girlfriends a fighting chance—maybe they could have used someone to talk to amidst all the eye-rolling.