Things That Will Happen When You Date Someone Younger
You will be a time-traveler. And not science-fiction style, with your thirtysomething mind taking a nostalgic trip back to high school housed in an awkward adolescent body. These will be gifts of whole days, maybe weeks, complete with the naïve pleasure you didn’t even recognize at the time for what it was, having no basis for comparison.
You will be young in a way that you never were. Youth (with some inspiration from Bob Dylan here) is before we understand that we are young. Becoming conscious of it, we immediately begin to lose it, trying to preserve it, to make the most of it. Reality: youth is infinite or it is nothing.
But you. You’ll be given a few of those days back, which you’ll store carefully as rations for a long journey. You’ll feel gratitude at a scale too large to contain, for this chance to replenish your reserve when everyone else has to make do with what they’ve managed to hold on to from the first time around.
You will be schizoid, in closer communion with your earlier selves than is considered usual. It will not make you less mature, but it will make you more compassionate toward your own teenage self, and everyone else’s too. You will practice forgiveness at an epic scale, first learning to forgive a hundred stupid mistakes a day because she doesn’t know better yet, but later letting that clemency wash over onto everyone you know as you begin to recognize those old programs still in there running parallel with later versions of themselves, just like you.
You will doubt everything you’ve done. It’s inevitable that you will, standing so close to him with his potential (for love, for learning and doing) shining out of him, blinding, dangerously high-voltage. You’ll wonder, more often than those who stick to their own peer groups, what became of yours, what you did with all that energy in order to arrive at your current, more stable condition.
You will be cured of any lingering adolescent ills, by the only person who can cure you, the one you’d have loved silently and passively when you were twenty, whom you’re somehow allowed to love now just as you would have wished to then. By some startling error in bookkeeping, you are permitted a do-over, one that erases (or at least detoxifies) the missed chances and regrets that we all carry over.
You will receive other gifts: utterances and encouragements that are too precisely on-target to have originated in her unformed mind. It’s true that they might be flukes, chance words that came together on her lips by accident or by the beginnings of a gentle instinct. But you will recognize them at once for what they are: signposts sent from your god, however you conceive him; cairns left in your path. You will love her for them, all the same (prophets are feared and loved as much as the divine Mind they represent, often more since they are us and not-us, a kind of holy minotaur, half-human and half-monster).
Maybe as part of some karmic pay-it-forward campaign, you’ll tap a generosity your former, miserly self never experienced. Forgiving preemptively, you begin to forgive permanently, uncalculatedly (which is, obviously, love). This will to give is persistent, even as its object is resistant, fearful of your lack of conditions, which he can only interpret as one large and unfulfillable condition (that he love in return). Unable to meet this imagined obligation, he’ll draw back; your desire for his wellbeing, if it’s sincere, will seem to twist and turn upon itself, but it is really seeking his needs, to find and fulfill them invisibly (to both of you).
Eventually. Eventually the need that most needs filling is your absence from her life. Eventually you will notice, and remove yourself and your belongings. You will be gracious, graceful in your departure, wishing to do no harm. She will be less so, unnerved by her paired impulses of desire and independence. You will understand; you will tell her so and she will not believe you, but you will let your actions speak for you, in hopes that one day she will.
You will let him push you into the past tense, even though he’s still always present for you, a talisman against harm. You will let him tell himself whatever story he pleases about who you were and what you did; you will never dispute his version of events. (It is an attribute of histories that they are constructed by those who outlive us; no one really gets to choose what legacy they leave.) You’ll let him paint you as a girl he used to know, or a girl he hooked up with once, or a girl who got away; it will be the last, twisted work of that will to give: to let him erase you.
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Even as I write this now I am debating whether or not to erase it all together.
When I say I’m in love with you, I mean I love the story I can tell to my next lover, about my ex-lover, about how beautiful things were, how intense, how storybook, what a couple we were, and how you gradually, inexplicably, painfully, bit by bit, disappeared.
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I was 24 and, while not gay, ever since college I had been getting more attention from gay men than from heterosexual women.