Aside from a competitive job market and through-the-roof rent which can be very stressful to an unemployed recent grad, New York City offers another big set of problems: the melting pot of older men.
It’s only after you graduate and enter the real world that it suddenly hits you: The rest of the world is not your age. Just because you were crazy enough to take off and come to the big city at 21 doesn’t mean that the rest of the 21-year-olds out there did the same, no matter how great their idealism. Because everybody dreams about escaping to the city—the city of lights, people, life—but most are either too afraid or too wise to do it. I was neither.
The way I see it, most young professionals of New York City are in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. They come here after entry-level, to further their careers. Once they’ve stayed here for a while and are nearing forty or fifty, they move upstate or to a more spacious state, to start a family or simply to rest in a more low-key lifestyle.
That leaves the few 21-year-olds like me to constantly make friends–and dates–with vastly older people.
My ideal age range for a dateable guy used to be 22-25. Of course, I didn’t always follow that rule even before I moved here, but nonetheless, I used to keep it in mind. Now, that, too, has been adjusted to fit all my other changing ideals.
It was during a night at Cibar that the age ideal really went out the window. I had just broken up with a 27-year-old production assistant, who had also come here from the South a year ago and was too cocky for his own good. I felt empowered after the break up, inspired to go out and do good. So, I found myself at this upscale party in Gramercy, where I figured the open bar wouldn’t hurt my new, single sensibility and neither would all the cuties sprawling in the place.
But the first cutie I talked to really first approached me. Modest, understated, and kind—that’s how I would describe him. He was curiously attractive to me from the start—curiously, because I usually don’t fall for 35-year-old, Muslim men.
I was raised in an all white, Greek family, with a mother who is not the most open person when it comes to mixing with other races. My father is as idealistic as I am, and his advice always consists of, “Follow your dreams, follow your heart.” My mom’s, on the other hand, lies more along the lines of, “You date an Indian guy, I kill you.”
I used to agree with her, too. Why date someone so vastly different from me when I have enough trouble dealing with those who aren’t? Besides, I had never been attracted to anyone of another race before.
But this man is different. Maybe it’s the fact that he lived in Pakistan half of his life and in America the other that makes him so unique. He has a pure Middle Eastern heart and an American sensibility. He is a gentleman. Not like the frat boys you so often find in New York City, who are here not for lights, not for careers, but mainly for the “slammin’ hotties,” and while one slammin’ hottie is drinking a beer he just bought her, another at a small apartment halfway across town is crying herself to sleep because of him.
But this man is a true gentleman. Refined, cultured, and honest, he has the memory of an elephant, which is scary knowing that nothing escapes him, and the heart of gold.
His Middle Eastern name translates to “kind man,” too. Kind of fitting, I like it.
But still, as if the problem of culture and religion wasn’t there, the problem of age is. When my parents met, they had a twelve-year gap: She was eighteen, fresh out of high school and ready to take the next step, and he thirty, in college, about to finish his degree. They fell in love, and despite the six-hour driving distance between their cities, they kept the feeling alive: They wrote letters every day and called each other whenever possible; that is, whenever my mother could sneak past the strict rule of my grandfather.
It’s kind of romantic if you think about it, especially if you see the packs of yellowing letters my mother still keeps stored away in a big bookcase drawer. It fulfills the romantic ideal that love is blind, love has no borders, love is beautiful. My parent’s story is like a Hollywood chick flick. Except, unlike Hollywood, real life also reveals the end of the lovey-dovey stage and beyond. And my parents’ story doesn’t end with the beautiful letters and sweet kisses of youth.
My mom never went to college, got married instead, and she blames my dad. My dad puts up with her rude, rash behavior and secretly wishes they had never married. Sure they still love each other somewhere in the very bottom of their hearts, but my mom is constantly upset, and I don’t think it’s because of college or because of my dad for that matter. I think it’s because of her own decision to marry an older man.
Truth is, it’s sexy when a man has his life together. But it’s also dangerous. Because an older man has untangled the complications that twenty-somethings face, it becomes easy to lean on him, take his advice, blindly look up to him. Too easy. And you do it, and the years pass, and no matter how much you love him, there comes a time when you look back on your own life and you see gaps. Where there should have been struggle, and victory, and loss in the process of figuring yourself out, there is instead a smooth road of pleasant nothingness. And so you get angry, feel that you wasted your energy, or rather, that you bottled it up, because you didn’t get to do all the things that girls in their twenties do. While your friends were out partying, clubbing, you were sitting inside, drinking expensive wine over a nice dinner, discussing ancient art or Nostradamus with your wise, old man. And when you finally reach your thirties and forties and are happily married to your wise, old man, perhaps you start to feel a restlessness and a need to release the energy that you were so stupidly holding onto, composing yourself in your twenties.
So many times my mother looked nostalgic when my sister and I threw house parties in college. So many times her mood changed during our preparations then, and she became giggly, almost like a little girl, and asked if she could join us, half jokingly, half seriously. But her time for those things was over and she knew it. And so many times, while we were out drinking, smoking cigarettes, and flirting she was at home, crying herself to sleep, and not because of what some guy did to her, but what she brought upon herself with her choices.
I can see me falling into the same pattern with my own 14-year gap here, and I don’t really want this for myself. And since this guy is Muslim also, who knows what kinds of different ideas he has about life and women and relationships. My heart tells me, “But he’s beautiful when he speaks so well about women, about their struggle,” and my little mind is already looking up to him as if he were God. It’s funny sometimes that you know what you should do, yet what you keep doing differs drastically.
Instead of ending this, I say yes to his dates. Instead of trying to find younger guys, even if they are half as cultured, I go out with him, to nice Indian dinners, exquisite walks around Greenwich Village, and independent movies about life and love. He waits for me to get on the subway and sees me off, waving goodbye, never staring too much, as the train starts to roll on its course. He kisses me on the cheek, never intruding too much, either.
And yet, last night when we found ourselves at another one of those upscale parties, in the Meatpacking District this time, I kissed him. Not a full-fledged, make out kind of kiss, but a peck on the lips. I will admit to having been a little tipsy at that moment, and to feeling a little embarrassed about the kiss today. I wish I hadn’t done that, to be honest. I like the way things were going, slow, beautiful. After a rocky relationship with a 27-year-old country boy who had amazing skills in bed, yet was as shallow as a rock, it’s a beautiful thing that is happening here. But alcohol makes you do stupid things, and there I was, touching his lips with mine in front of all of our friends. So now our secret is out also, and who even knows if he wants it to be? Who even knows if he likes smooching in public?
Perhaps that’s the other big part of the attraction: the mystery. I am constantly learning new things and trying new things with this guy, and it’s all refreshingly enriching and non-sexual. I don’t know his reactions to things yet, and I haven’t figured out his personality, his mindset.
I guess that unfamiliarity you feel towards others is also a part of New York City, a true melting pot full of different mindsets, different races, struggles, and love matches. And figuring it out, all in good time, is part of making it in this city of strange love and mystery. And figuring yourself out—whether it takes dating five 35-year-old, Muslim men or ten rough-and-tough frat boys—is also part of life.
You just have to explore with an open mind, keeping newly-found love and your ideals side by side at heart.