24 July 2008

The Older Woman

A busy week it's been. If I can grow as tired as I am without having (or having had) kids or to take care of anyone but me and Charlie and Max (and, for them, Iams does the cooking!), how could I ever have been a parent? Oh, dear....

The funny thing is that when I feel tired and ragged and useless and fat and incompetent and hopeless, someone tells me I did (or do) something really well or that I look good. Sometimes that someone is a complete stranger. As happened to me the other day, and today.

And I think of the past spring semester. I felt like I was doing the worst teaching I'd done in my life. It seemed as though nothing went right, at least for me, in the classrooms. And what happened? I got one of the best evaluations I've ever had--from someone who's regarded as one of the toughest evaluators, if not the toughest, in the college. And the students gave me excellent evaluations on the surveys at the end of the semester.

Still, I find myself wondering if I've remained an educator for longer than I should have. Sometimes I think most people shouldn't teach for more than, say, five years. Any longer than that and it's easy to lose one's sense of what the rest of the world is like. In other words, it's too easy to lose any sense of what life is like on the outside. Then again, I suppose that one can do that by growing old in any one place.

So what happened? Just when I think I'm beyond my expiration date, so to speak, the provost told the English Department chair he wants me to teach there full-time. I guess he hasn't heard the news about me: That I'm getting tired and old and soon my students will try to sell me as an antique so they can pay their tuition. Just one thing: no-one's going to mistake me for one of those goddesses whose likenesses are on coffee cups in diners.

Ok, so I'm not a Greek statue. Good thing. Otherwise, I'd be even older than I am now. Then again, some rich collector just might like older women--as long as they're made of stone or plaster.

As for the ones who like us in the flesh: I have great love and respect for them. Of course I'm going to tell you that! After all, when I was talking to my friend Bruce the other night, I realized that I am indeed the "older" woman. What a twist of fate, a reversal of karma, or whatever you want to call it, is my lot in life!

If I believe in karma (which I am willing to do), I guess it makes perfect sense that I'm the older woman now--for Dominick, anyway. (Then again--not to boast--he is not the first younger man who's been attracted to me!) According to karmic knowledge, he has me because when I was his age, or even younger, I was dating women who were just about the age I am now. Which is to say they were/are more-or-less my mother's age. Make what you will of that.

So what is it about the "older woman," anyway? I think that having lived on both sides, if you will, I can explain, at least somewhat. Why are young or youngish men like Dominick attracted to antiquities like me? (Remember: Neither he nor most of the men I'm talking about are historians, archeologists, curators or appraisers for Sotheby's.) Why was I, when I was young--and, in fact, through most of my life as a male?

Some say it's a mother fixation. Maybe. I'll admit that for me, it probably had something to do with having a mother who's a formidable human being. That's been a blessing in my life, especially now. Anyway, if you have, as I do, a mother of substance, as you grow to love and learn to appreciate her, you simply come to value women more in general. At least I think that happened to me. And I find that men who like "older women" --at least for reasons other than money or green cards or such--generally appreciate, value and even love women more in general.

All right, so I've described the man-to-older woman dynamic a bit. So what have I learned from living as female and being the "older woman?" That a truly beautiful woman--as opposed to a generically cute young woman--is all her own, sui generis. She has her own face: She doesn't look like any number of other people who might pass by her. She has her own thoughts and ideas, some of which she's had to pay dearly for. She has her own expereince which, while it shares common traits with other women's experience, is still all her own, as are her responses to it. And, finally, the kind of woman I'm talking about has her own style, whatever it is. It may not be in synch with the latest fashions, but when you meet the sort of woman I'm talking about, you wouldn't want her to dress--or look--any other way.

I think now of a professor at the college where I work. She's probably 60, or close to it, and is an attractive woman who dresses plainly and wears very little, if any, makeup or jewelery. I think much of her attraction, though, is that she's a very intelligent and intuitive woman. She's the sort of prof about whom students say things like, "I never could do (or "I always hated") math until she taught it to me."

Anyway, one day, one of my students--who's probably a third of this prof's age--confessed to me that he had a crush on her. He felt embarrassed and apologized. I tried to reassure him there's nothing wrong with his attraction, though I wouldn't advise him to act on it. (She's married, she's your prof, etc.) Instead, I advised him to think about what he finds so attractive about her.

"She's not like anybody else."

"Well, that's a good start."

"And she's really smart and caring."

"I see you really do appreciate her--and women."

"So what are you saying?"

"Just remember what appeals to you about her and you'll find a woman--of whatever age, and whenever time in your life this happens--with those qualities. It shouldn't be hard for you: You appreciate women, and the good ones will see that."

"You think so?"

"Oh, I'm sure of it. Just don't try to be anybody you aren't, because that's what those women don't do."

I don't know if I helped him to understand why he's attracted to an older woman, and how, at least in some fashion, can follow that. Maybe he'll find his "older woman" in someone who's his own age, or older than his grandmother. Whatever he does, I think he'll be fine.

And he'll have an "older woman" to thank!

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