By Helena Bachmann Milligan
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
When Helena Bachmann Milligan found herself divorced at 48, she never thought she'd remarry a younger man. Love, she says, can mean never having to say, "But I'm too old for him!"
(WOMENSENEWS)-- In 1967, when the movie "The Graduate" came out I was in the 7th grade. I didn't see it, but in those days 13-year-olds were still pretty innocent so I probably would not have understood the notion of the middle-aged Mrs. Robinson seducing a much younger man.
Little did I know then that one day I too would become involved with a younger man. Oh, what a difference a mere four decades make!
The bumpy road from the innocence of youth to the reckless foolishness of maturity passed through a 24-year marriage and four children. At 48 I was divorced, vowing never to tie the knot again. Talk about best-laid plans going awry!
In the summer of 2002 I was shopping online and stumbled upon an Internet store that sold just the item I was looking for: a painted porcelain egg for my china collection. I purchased it.
That should have been the end of the transaction, but for some mysterious reason that I attribute to the twist of fate, the shop's owner, Bob, and I started to "chat" by e-mail and on Instant Messenger. I was in Geneva, Switzerland, and he in Pennsylvania. After a while our idle, tongue-in-cheek chats morphed into heart-to-heart talks, and then into hours-long phone calls. Fortunately, we both had good long-distance plans.
We had not, at that time, met face to face yet, but there was an almost palpable connection between us, a bond that defies logic. It was as though a powerful magnet was pulling us toward each other.
Our budding romance suffered a temporary setback when I found out, to my utter dismay, that Bob was--GASP--15 years my junior.
I panicked; he patiently stood by me while my brain went into overdrive. When I am 60, I frantically thought, he'd be 45. Could I handle this? Could he? The lyrics of the Beatles tune sprung to mind: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"
Bob was not even alive when that song was recorded--or when "The Graduate" came out--in 1967. He was born two years later . . . just as I started high school.
I thought of how acceptable it was in our society for older men to marry younger women. The traditional model of an older (or at least age-appropriate) man as the breadwinner and the woman as the child-bearer is still deeply engrained in many cultures.
But while a woman's biological clock does tick faster than a man's, in our case it wasn't key. Bob had two children from a previous marriage and I had grown-up children of my own. Childbearing was not a requirement in our union. We were both financially independent and had no income disparity to squabble over or any expectation that one of us should support the other.
Meanwhile, the days of being shocked at an older woman with a younger man are over. Just think of the roster of high-profile women involved with younger men. Georgia O'Keefe, Madonna, Susan Sarandon, Demi Moore. If they could pull it off, I thought, why couldn't I? To paraphrase Tina Turner--whose boyfriend, coincidentally, is 16 years her junior--"What's age gotta do with it?"
These women are not just groundbreakers but also trendsetters. A 2003 survey by AARP, the retirement group, found that 34 percent of single women in the 40-to-69 age group date younger men and 14 percent of women 50 to 59 said they preferred to date men in their 40s or younger.
I, however, was not trying to blaze any new trails. I was just following the inklings of my own heart.
So began a whirlwind and frenzied courtship that spanned two continents and several time zones. We hopped on planes and zipped across the Atlantic as though it were merely a pond. How many people can say they flew 4,000 miles for a date?
With each meeting our feelings grew and the partings became increasingly difficult. We knew that we couldn't insouciantly whiz across the ocean forever. We wanted to be together, in one place.
In 2003 Bob moved to Switzerland and several months later we married. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the onslaught of negative comments. To my surprise and delight, none came. Nearly everyone--my children, parents, friends, Bob's kids, even the guy who worked at the post office--was very supportive. My girlfriends, single and married alike, were totally envious.
One friend did ask whether I wasn't afraid that Bob would leave me for a younger woman. No, I wasn't. I do know that no marriage comes with a lifetime warranty, but if anything, it seems as though we are enriched rather than diminished by different life experiences and perspectives. I tell Bob about the events he cannot remember: Watergate, Nixon's resignation, even the platform shoes and the polyester craze of the 1970s. He brings me up to date on the latest music, bands, art trends and electronic gadgets. Talk about bridging the generation gap!
I'm a professional writer and shortly after our wedding a crazy idea started to percolate in my head. I began to envision a lighthearted novel about a romance between an older woman and a younger man who meet on the Internet and wind up making their relationship work.
I wanted to offer my own experience as an inspiration to other women.
The key to romance is being open, ready to take a chance on love. Social conventions that say women, after a certain age, are no longer entitled to such things are just plain out of date.
Helena Bachmann Milligan is a journalist and the author of "Teeth in a Pickle Jar," a lighthearted novel published by Hand-in-Hand Publishing about a romance between an older woman and a younger man who meet on the Internet.
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