My views on dating, relationships, and love have officially been intentionally demolished for reconstruction. This past weekend I attempted to have a civil conversation with my ex-wife (possibly my first mistake) and when the topics shifted to deeper waters she told me she didn’t feel like talking about it right now. This, however, was not surprising, since she rarely wanted to talk about anything that involved depth, especially regarding emotions. I will say I’m glad I chose not to provoke the argument and left the conversation at that.
In any case, I thought about the people I did want to talk with, those that would entertain my inclination for more meaningful conversation that includes sharing of feelings with the intention of growth and learning, and it was at this point that I began thinking about my age.
I’ll be the first to say that age is simply a point of reference, and in no way is an all-inclusive indicator of one’s maturity, ability, life experience, or degree of responsibility, unlike several laws that “allow” you to legally drive, vote, consume alcohol, and run for President. Additionally, there are commonly accepted milestones that open up amazing benefits like renting a car, lower car insurance rates, have a mid-life crisis, receive a senior citizen’s discount, or retire.
But age is something often regarded in many social situations, especially in regards to relationships whether they are professional, social, platonic, or romantic. With terms like “cougar” and “MILF” in today’s vocabulary, there are given commendations for the 20s male who is in a relationship with a woman over forty. However, if the genders are flipped, and a man in his forties is dating a girl who can’t legally rent a car, or even drink alcohol legally, then he’s some kind of pervert/cradle robber.
(Don’t worry, I’m not writing this to preface some shocking story about dating someone who I’m almost old enough to be their dad, so there’s that.)
Where I’m going with this is in regards to a noticeable difference in birth years between myself and a partner.
My ex-wife is seven years my junior. We met in college, and at that point, we were both over 21 and still in our twenties. However, had we met a few years prior, she would have been a minor and I in my mid-twenties, and it would have been an open and shut case. (Literally and figuratively.) My parents were both the same year, five months apart. Some friends parents have nearly a decade between them (if not more) but under the circumstances in which they met, the disparity was negligible.
I’m scrambling here. Let’s fast forward past the scratches on the CD in my head and jump to the next track. #datingmyself
For the better part of a fifteen year period, dating someone my age has consisted of approximately 25% of my dating life. Whether I can attribute this to not looking my age (#filipino), joining the military at such a young age, maturing faster in some parts of my life, or whatever else, I cannot (nor want to) pinpoint. But what I can say with certainty is that I have come across two general pools of age groups with my own age as the obvious point of reference.
1. Those younger than me who I can have fun with, who aren’t rushing to get married, settle down, or have kids essentially yesterday. But when it comes to talking about broader topics like life in general, interpersonal relationships, and for lack of a better term, deeper/more mature topics, I usually get blank stares from them, because well, they haven’t had time to leave the nest and learn more about themselves and just live life.
2. Those my age or older who look at me like I’m still a child. They want someone “more mature” that they can be equals with. As we talk more and get to know each other, we have the deeper conversations I can’t have with those from Group #1, and we see eye to eye. The catch comes when I want to play in the sand, or stop by the park to play on the swings and just enjoy the sun, they think I’m immature and that I “need to act my age.”
Typically, I’ve gone for fun. Someone a little bit younger than me (again, nothing illegal here, so keep movin, Sheriff) that I can party with and enjoy a good movie, or walk in the park (really, as cliche as it sounds, I do enjoy it). The few times I’ve dated someone within one year of my age, there were grand rifts between us, mostly due to different timelines in our paths. Specifically, I joined the military after high school, while she went to college, so when I was just starting at a community college, she was already done with her degree and a year or two into her corporate job. (Now we’re talking about Beca #2.) Going out with her friends meant some happy hour in the business/financial district while they scoffed at my attending a community college to pursue a degree in Theater. Going out with my friends meant ordering a couple pizzas at the bowling alley while entertaining ourselves with mini dance parties in between the lanes. Obviously immature and “not her scene.”
I’m not saying my choice to serve in the military is the root of my dating problems. Far from it. I’m saying that because of the unique path my life has taken, very different from most people I’ve met, it has been quite a roadblock to meeting someone I can truly feel equals with. But it goes further back than taking an oath and signing all those papers.
I like to use the term “arrested childhood.” No, I was not incarcerated as a minor. I was actually a really good kid. Mostly by force, but also definitely by choice. Born to two Filipino immigrants, being a first-generation American, I came to realize, made things very interesting. Because of my mother’s upbringing, her decree was that if I didn’t pursue a career in math or science, I wouldn’t amount to anything. And because we’re minorities, we have to work four times as hard to get anywhere, especially around white people. Social gatherings were absolutely unnecessary, because there would be nothing to learn from school dances, sleepovers at friend’s houses, or even playing basketball at the local elementary school. Reading and studying were the only things that I should be doing. I was at school, church, home, or transit between the three.
Because of this, I feel like my childhood wasn’t as, well, childhood-like as I wanted being a kid to be, so when I joined the Navy and squeezed myself out from beneath the iron fists of my mother, I took every opportunity I could to be a kid. Yes, joining the military actually gave me more freedom than I was used to. If there was a beach, I would play around in the sand and splash around the waterline…like a kid. When I saw a park I would stop and swing as far as my short legs would let me (or as high as I could without making myself nauseous). If I heard music, I would dance. If there were people, I would make them laugh. To me, these were more important than burying my head in a math or science book that would not talk back. (Note: I have a deep respect for math and science, and those that pursue those fields, so in no way am I condoning blowing off studies as a child.)
Even though I recognize this is why I enjoy these simple pleasures as an adult, I refuse to regard them as “only for kids.” It is when we choose to stop playing that we become old. I’m sure there’s a Mark Twain quote in there somewhere, but I can’t remember who said it, and my recent web searches aren’t being any more helpful.
Now, in my early thirties, with a full-time job in a leadership position, and no less a desire to play in the water and swing on the swings, the age disparity concept looms over the dating atmosphere. I see something ahead in the distance, and although it may cause some destruction, it will help to filter out some garbage and lighten my load so that my journey from that point on only consists of what is more important to me.
Intentional Emotional Derailment.
Somewhere I need to find my balance of fun and professional. Childhood wonder and adult maturity. I believe these can exist together in a healthy way. Who’s to say that swings have an age limit? No where does it state that you cannot enjoy the sun in your face and the run rushing through your hair on something as simple as a park swing just because you work in an office, or have kids, or drive a minivan? When I’m at work, I’m locked in. I’m in the zone to perform at that professional level, and I conduct myself in a professional, yet fun, manner to contribute to the team while I enjoy my work life. This should be common practice, but unfortunately, I have discovered that it is not.
I need to acknowledge the fact that, yes, my childhood was not as “childhood-like” as I wanted it to be, but at the end of the day, my parents raised an intelligent, healthy, respectful young man, and it is up to me to maintain, develop, and grow as a man on my own. It isn’t about age. Or what job I have, or what degree I have. It isn’t about how young or old I feel, or how much older or younger I am than those I meet. It’s about driving ahead, taking an inventory of what I’ve got, pitching what I don’t need, keeping what I do, and gathering what I want along the way.
And to get myself on track, I think the best thing for me to do, is to head straight for this IED, regroup, and press on. That is to say, if there even is a track, because I’m not following a path someone’s created for me, I’m making it my own.
There was this one girl my age that I dated. For several weeks on three different occasions over a couple years. She’s the only one I came running back to and she welcomed me with an open heart that I, through my own neglect, crushed beneath my feet. Not because I wanted to hurt her, but because of many things I still needed to work on, including addiction and being honest with myself in how much I still was in love with my late best friend. She too is a sailor and understands many of the things that I do in that regard. We enjoyed doing nothing together just as much as we loved partying together. One time, because I got hungry and disregarded my own allergies, my own life was at stake and she sat by my bedside in the hospital while the medication kicked in to bring me back to good.
On my most recent trip home to the west coast, my friend took me a tiny little bar that I had never been to. Once inside I saw a few things on a the wall and a unique display that I seen somewhere before. And then I remembered they were in pictures she had showed me from when she was in school.
I wouldn’t know what to say if I saw her now. And “I’m sorry” won’t ever mean enough for what I want to say to her, even if she thought it was enough.
If I’m lucky, she’ll read this. But even if she does, I couldn’t tell her what I wanted by writing this. I’ll give it a shot, though.
If you’re reading this. I read the book you gave me. About following dreams. Yes, I still have it. And I don’t know if I would’ve understood then when you gave it to me as much as I did when I read it recently. But I read it. So thank you for sharing it with me. And for what it’s worth, I am sorry. I wasn’t anywhere near being the man you deserve, and I may still not be now even though I know I’ve grown a lot since then. I was going to say I can’t say what in particular made me write this, but maybe it’s because I saw a butterfly recently.