I had moved from the south of England (Plymouth) to the north (Cumbria).
I had followed a girl, who, it turned out, was not the love of my life. But as part of that adventure, I became a manager of an independent cinema. The average age of the staff was probably 70, but then Saturday arrived. Emily rocked up, intent on revising for her A-Levels, rather than doing any work or noticing me. I had a ponytail at the time after all. She was a student, and so just worked weekends.
I was smitten. Was it because our culture values youth over all else? Or was it because she was intelligent, funny, charismatic, and not in any way interested in me?
But we worked together a great deal. We did fall in love. And at 29, this was not a boost to my ego. This was a scary, “is this verging on grooming/what will her father say” nightmare.
However, that was not how society reacted, because it values youth.
As our relationship continued and I moved into my thirties, and Emily into her twenties, it was awesome. I was apparently an alpha male! I would get high fives and nods of appreciation.
How had I done it?
Thirty-two years old, with a 21-year-old old girlfriend? What magic did I wield? She was also a high level student that went on to get a 1st Class Honours degree, and a Masters with Distinction.
Sure I basked in the awe. But what I actually felt was insecurity. Everyone was right. How had I done this? What did she see in me?
Those early years I was paranoid she would leave me, as my self-esteem was so low, and society valued her youth and beauty so much I never felt as though I was good enough.
Over time I did grow up. I levelled up, and broke out of the “man box”. I got better. I became worthy.
At 40 years old I am very comfortable with what Emily sees in me. I am kind, patient, and love her and our daughter a great deal. I laugh easily and make her feel safe.
Emily has just turned 30. For the next ten years, I will be a forty-something, married to a thirty-something. This has no kudos. But as a 40-year-old, married to a twenty-something, I was looked up to!
Her age never mattered to me the way it did to everyone else, she was always “Emily”, the person I fell in love with. She has always been more mature than I am, and I have learned a great deal about myself through her influence.
It was others that made her age out to be important, as though she was just that number. Now she is 30, age is no longer discussed in terms of our relationship, and it no longer looks like I am having a mid-life crisis.
People focus instead on the fact we love each other.
It is hard work keeping a relationship going, especially with the white noise of society’s, and the media’s, expectations and judgments. But as we all know deep down, all that matters is how you both feel, and that you love each other.
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