The term “cougar,” defining an older woman “hunting” for a relationship with younger men didn’t even exist in the eighties. Those were times when it was expected and normal for older men to marry or date women younger than their daughters, but it was frowned upon and unacceptable if an older woman was seen with a younger man. It didn’t even have to be 15-years younger, five years were enough to get one in trouble with society’s acceptance of the relationship.
I wanted to be accepted and for that reason, such relationship was out of question. My insecurities were in full blossom, I wanted to belong, to be like by everyone. I wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a cougar, or had I any intentions of becoming one!
Truth be told, I had just ended a relationship with a man, 15-years my senior, and felt disoriented. I was sad and needed to avoid the loneliness of another weekend and there was no better place to feel loved and accepted but at my friend, Jody’s home in N.J. It was one of those hot, humid summer nights, and she was giving a party.
Over the three years that passed since my arrival in the U.S., Jody, who loaned me $20.00 when my purse was stolen, became a close friend. She was a few years older and single. She was everything I wasn’t, light, accepting and fun to be with. She was a red-head full of life and optimism, she truly had what it took to be a successful sales woman. I loved visiting at her South Jersey home, where I could forget about mutual funds, brokers and tax-free investments.
One never knew what to expect at her parties and who was about to show up. Jody seemed to have an open-door policy and people, men and women came and went as they pleased.
This party was no different, except that Jody’s younger brother, Jim, was visiting from out-of-town.
One could see immediately they were related: same smile, sense of humor and feeling that no matter what one did or said, if you were their friend, they would still love you unconditionally.
What a wonderful feeling of lightness! I didn’t have to perform, to be at my best, to smile or be appropriately serious or profound.
Neither Jim or I knew the other guests and we found ourselves in a quiet corner reading a book about Zen and playing tennis. I don’t remember if he brought the book or if Judy had it, or the exact title of the book, but it had to do with a way of life we both seem to agree upon.
As I closed my eyes, I couldn’t remember Jim. Was he handsome, was he tall or short? It really didn’t matter because the Zen book connected us on a level much deeper than the looks and the physical. It was the unexplainable, the unpredictable and the feeling that we have known each other forever but didn’t have a chance to meet in a physical space until that very moment.
A few days after the party, Jim had to fly back home in Davenport and for the following three months we wrote to each other, long, passionate letters. When it was too late, and I was already caught in the web of passion, Judy told me her brother was five years younger than I was, but she assured me one couldn’t tell the age difference. I looked younger and was beautiful, and who cared anyway, he was in Davenport and not coming back to Philadelphia soon, or ever.
Jody’s blessing that it was okay to date her younger brother was good news but what she was actually saying was that we didn’t have a real relationship. It was kind of “pie in the sky.” I didn’t like the feeling that I was dating the illusion of a relationship, a dream, some love letters… so I bought a plane ticket to Davenport to make sure Jim, with whom I connected over reading about Zen and playing tennis, really existed.
On the plane, I was thinking what a relief that Jim was younger and there weren’t many things about me to remind him of previous marriages or relationships. When I dated the older man, who had been married three times before we met, we couldn’t go camping because that would have reminded him of his first marriage when his wife started an affair with his best friend. Then we couldn’t go to Mexico on vacation because this was where he spent his honey-moon with the second wife, and finally, when I told him I wanted to write a book, he told me that reminded him of his third wife who left him because he didn’t understand her love of poetry! Yes, definitely dating a younger man was less complex!
Jim was waiting for me in Chicago and we drove to Davenport. He lived in a small room on top of his dance studio and was also working for a meat company, “marketing” steaks out of a truck. His dream was to be a chiropractor and we even went to the local chiropractic school where Jim was studying on and off.
I watched some of Jim’s dance classes, when he was dancing around with various clients, a majority women, who all seemed to have a special connection with Jim! I thought my jealous side needed to be controlled, our connection over the Zen book was all that counted!
A few days into my visit, Jim said:
“I am going to go visit my brother, are you okay alone for a few hours?”
“Yeah, sure, but where is your brother? I’d like to meet him too, why don’t I come with you?”
There was silence and for the first time I looked at Jim with the eyes of the mind not the eyes of my soul. He was an average looking fellow, rather short and his skin was still covered in pimples here and there…
“You are not going to like it there”. He said at last.
“Oh? Why not, what are you hiding?”
“I am not hiding anything, but he is my brother and he chose a way of life I don’t think you’d like… but you’re welcome to come along, don’t say I didn’t warn you”.
We drove in silence through shady neighborhoods, and as I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision, we stopped in front of a small, grey building with a fluorescent sign which read, “Open.”
“Are you waiting in the truck?” Jim asked.
“No, I am coming in! What is this place, anyway?”
“Oh… it’s a kinda bar … are you sure you coming in?”
We locked the meat truck and went around the building, in the back.
The back door was locked and Jim knocked. No answer.
He knocked again, harder and harder…
“Who is it?”
“It’s me bro!”
The door screeched and it opened slowly. Standing there, I saw a very pale man, whose age I couldn’t guess, but his eyes where on fire and his speech slurred:
“My girlfriend from Philadelphia.” Jim turned towards me:
“This is my brother”.
We went into a long corridor with several doors on each side. Jim and his brother were talking and smoking while I stood there, trying to guess what was behind those doors and if it would be appropriate to ask. Unexpectedly, one of the doors opened and a young Asian woman, with long black hair, completely in the nude, came out of a room.
She gave us a horrified look and quickly disappeared behind another door!
Oh, my God, I thought, was I seeing things? It all happened so fast, was it real?
For the first time, Jim’s brother looked at me, but didn’t say anything and I wasn’t about to ask.
“The smoke,” I said at last,” I think I should be going out in the truck. I quit smoking and don’t want to be tempted”. I explained politely, and Jim handed me the keys.
Back in the truck, driving back, Jim said:
“He is my brother and I love him and life is what is…”
I nodded but couldn’t agree or disagree. The truth was, suddenly the Zen book and the magic disappeared and I saw myself driving in a meat truck, coming from a dubious place with a younger man I barely knew…
A few days later I flew back to Philadelphia. As I flew back, I thought, … and the disadvantage of dating a younger man was that the magic didn’t last forever. It was easier to read about unconditional acceptance, and a different thing to do it in real life. I failed the practical test, and truly life was what it was. At least I learned to accept my limitations.
I was available again!