Aging, Body Image And Dating A Younger Man

woman looking in a mirror

Thirteen years ago, I was walking behind a thin woman with shoulder-length hair, bouncing her way down the sidewalk. Watching her, I felt nostalgic for my 20s, though I was only 34 at the time. Then she turned around, and I saw it was my forty-something classmate, Carla. I told her I'd been thinking she was a carefree 20-year-old, and she launched into a story about aging.

The previous weekend, she'd been at a barbeque, chatting with one of the men there. As the conversation continued, she started thinking how much she liked him, how cute he was, and how she'd like to sleep with him. But he was a younger man—young enough to be her son. In fact, he was her friend's son! Feeling old and lascivious, she left before she did something "stupid."

I remember thinking with certainty: one day this is going to happen to me. History's 10 Fiercest Cougars

Fast forward to last year, when I began dating "Sweetie." Sweetie isn't young enough to be my son, though he is nearly 11 years my junior. I knew how young he was the first time we went out, but I wasn't thinking long-term. I was planning on moving in a few months, so I didn't see the harm in just sleeping with him.

Now, a year later, I still haven't moved, and I'm still seeing Sweetie. And our age difference never bothered me. But that was before the naked photos…

No, not that kind. It was all pretty innocent, really. I had seen a listing for a graphic arts contest that promised a nice cash prize. The topic was women and body image and, since I can't draw, I asked Sweetie to take some pictures of me naked. With Photoshop and Illustrator, I thought I could make something pretty cool—and render myself unrecognizable.

But when photo night rolled around and Sweetie was ready to take the pictures, I was reluctant to get undressed. What A Man Sees When You're Naked

"I'm a little uncomfortable about this," I said.

Sweetie, ever pragmatic, told me he admired the way I went after what I wanted, and my ability to get the job done.

I took off my clothes.

And then I started thinking about how much my body had changed since entering my 40s. Slight sags and bags were evident. Wrinkles had appeared in places I never believed could wrinkle. I now have stretch marks over cellulite, and the veins on my hands stand out in bas-relief. I think I even have an age spot on my hand (though maybe it's a freckle). The skin on my neck is no longer tight—I'm afraid to examine it too closely, because it might have the dreaded, crêpey, old-lady look. The only things that haven't gone to pot are my perky breasts, but I'm sure they'll be the next to go. Sweetie may have crow's feet, but the rest of him is firm and smooth.  Why Women Should Look Forward To Aging

I tried to banish those thoughts. I stretched out onto my right side, one leg resting atop the other, foot dangling casually over the edge of the bed. I draped my left arm over the curve of my hip and positioned my hand (not-so-casually) in front of my stomach, which I suspected might look "poochy." (Sweetie calls my belly "womanly" and tells me to quit losing weight.) I propped my head up with my right hand. I hoped I looked nonchalant and relaxed, but I doubted it.

Since Sweetie knew I was uncomfortable, between instructions to "Look up. Smile. Turn your body towards me," he tried to make me smile: "Think of the last time we had sex."

I managed a sickly smile or two, but couldn't help wondering what he saw under those bright lights without the scrim of passion obscuring his vision. I had never worried what he saw when we were in bed together. Looking into Sweetie's eyes during sex, I'd never seen any revulsion, and I didn't see anything negative in his gaze now. But lying there alone as he viewed me from behind the lens of the camera, I no longer felt like his lover, but rather like an object to be scrutinized—a flawed object.

When he finished, I wrapped a sheet around myself and went to the computer to download the photos. The first one was a surprise: Sweetie with his arm around my cat. I had no idea when he had surreptitiously taken that shot, and I started laughing. He said that he wanted the first photo I saw to make me happy.

Certainly the next photo (me naked) didn't. I deleted the picture, and kept deleting, ignoring Sweetie's pleas for me to stop. I saved only a few I thought I could work with.

In the end, I don't know what he "saw." I never asked. Maybe he didn't see my age-related flaws; maybe he saw them and didn't care; maybe he saw no flaws at all.

But I know two things.

One: Like many women, I've always been hyper-critical of my body, even in my 20s when I was model thin, and any signs of aging were years away. Back then, I thought my thighs were fat. Twenty years and 30 pounds later, I'm actually more accepting of my body—just not when I'm posing for naked photos!

Two: My age is not an issue for Sweetie. He tells me I'm beautiful, and this morning we had sex with the sunlight filtering through the sheer drapes. Our eyes were open nearly the whole time, and I saw what I always see in his eyes: appreciation, affection, passion and joy. I know he saw the same in mine, and again I started to feel that neither my age nor his matters.