The Numbers Game
February 8, 2009, 8:59 PM
Filed under: Age and Maturity, Indulgence, Love and Relationships

“Age is just a number.”

This is a phrase I’m told frequently, usually by my subconscious or through newspaper clippings of the Anna Nicole ordeal.  I believe it, but that’s not saying much, since I tend to believe anything if it’s repeated enough.  When you think about it, age is almost too definitive.  People say to me, and to others, “Oh, can’t you just act your age?”  That’s when I wonder when the age etiquette handbook was released, and if I can still buy it in paperback.

I was having a cigarette upstairs with my new roomies, when one of them put her face into her hands.  When she emerged, the expression she had on was a mix of uncertainty and mirth.  She said: “Oh, man!  I can’t believe I’m going on a date with an eighteen year old!”  I’ll have you know this girl is twenty, hardly the correct age to yet be considered a cradle-robber or a cougar.  She begged others and herself to confirm that this date was a good idea.  Of course, trying to be as biased as possible, I told her that I had dated men with relatively large age gaps before, and we never really had problems, except for the fact that we were at completely different stages in our lives.  But eighteen and twenty was, at least in my eyes, the same word with a different spelling.

My other roommate said it best: “It’s not the number, but the maturity level.”  I can’t even begin to explain to you how true that statement was, but I suppose I’ll try.

In my past, I had the tendency to date older men.  We’re not talking hospice old, or even mid-life crisis old, but generally the man of interest was anywhere between four and ten years older than me.  I justified my apparently inexcusable choice by saying that I needed someone with a higher maturity level then the guys I dated who were my own age.  But in order for that to even be viable, I had to date someone who indeed was my age, otherwise the jig was up, and I would go from looking like a noble, headstrong young lad to a lonely teenager searching for a sugar daddy.

When I went on my first date with Thomas, I knew it was doomed from the start, because I didn’t treat the situation correctly.  I saw of him more as a lab rat than a boyfriend.  He was my test subject to prove to myself and, more importantly, others, that I was right.  I was too sophisticated, too witty, and too worldly to date someone my age.  My cockiness clouded my ability to even have a good time with him, but his cockiness made it impossible to want to try.

We went out for coffee at 10 PM, which used to be a normal coffee hour for me.  The conversation was carried, not surprisingly, by me.  Because I’m a big fan of flowing conversation, I won’t shut up if the guy across from me has nothing to add.  I’ll talk about seedless grapes, the hair on my knuckles, or even radiology, so long as there isn’t the awkward first date silence I dread so much.  But I honestly wonder sometimes which is more awkward: the silence, or the silly queen who goes into detail about his childhood love affair with orca whales.

During the conversation, Thomas was staring into his soup, which meant there was no eye contact.  ‘There’s one strike’ I thought.  If there had been something in the soup, a finger, a fly, a bone, I could have understood, and maybe even forgiven him.  But with this soup came no surprises.  It was chicken noodle, just as he had ordered.  What did he expect?  The soup to begin a whirlpool and suck him out of this horrible, miserable date he was on?  Not on my watch.

I spun the conversation toward music performance, a topic I can never fully cover, because no one ever wants to hear what I have to say.  I figured Thomas would interrupt me whenever he got too bored, as most men do, so I began my speech.  As soon as I mentioned I played the flute, he did indeed interrupt, but not with the comment I was expecting.

“Well, of course you play the flute.  You’re gay.”

I tried to hide my incredulity, but being a homosexual and an actor, that was no simple task.  I waited for a “Just kidding!” or “I was being sarcastic!”  All I got was him somberly spooning at his broth, as if it was his last meal before his happiness was finally sucked out by my constant jabbering.  The gall!  The nerve!  I wasn’t actually mad, in fact, I was secretly quite pleased.  This meant that I could go home and prove to all who doubted me that I was meant for something better than this.

“So, how did it go??”

“How do you think?  He was nineteen!”

They would all cringe, console me, and remind me not to waste my time unless the man I was with was finishing his doctorate.

I learned not too long after that date that it didn’t matter what degree a man, he could still be an immature dickweed.  About a month later, I had met the man that I, at the time, figured to be absolutely perfect for me.  His attractiveness was staggering, as was his passion in the bedroom.  His wit was sharper than mine, which took some getting used to, but I ended up actually enjoying laughing at someone elses’ jokes for a change.  He love classical music, poetry, and art.  He was bright, charismatic, opinionated, and strong-willed.  He was also twenty four with the demeanor of a sixteen year old.

Sal and I had our first date at Cafe Hollander.  I looked like a complete fool, which usually happens when I try to hard to impress someone.  It’s one of the most obvious statements you can possibly make that says, “I really like you, and I’m probably not worthy.”  It was exactly how I felt, but not how I wanted to look.  I ended up calling Erin before the date and I couldn’t shut up about how I knew that he was more attractive than I was, and that this was going to be a total disaster.  She promised me it wouldn’t be, but she said if it was, that I should try and steal his leftovers when he goes to the bathroom.

I was unbelievably nervous when he sat down, mostly because the anticipation of his arrival had made me even more skeptical about the date.  I could feel my armpits getting wetter and wetter every time I spoke.  I double-checked my sentences before I let them out, and I tried way so hard to plaster a smile to my face that my chin was actually trembling at one point.  I was no longer appeared to be a sophisticated young lad.  I appeared to be a heroin addict suffering severe withdrawal.

I nearly fell off my chair when he asked if I wanted to go back to his place for a drink.  A sensible first date answer, no matter how well it went, may have been a simple “Thank you, but no, my cat needs feeding.”  But this was no sensible first date, and I was no sensible person.  I graciously, almost eagerly accepted his offer, and we drove to his condo when we had finished eating.

His condo was exactly how I imagined it.  Nearly pristine, but not like a museum.  The architecture and furniture gave the impression that it had been lived in, but the cleanliness gave off a pompous air that smacked me across the face as I entered.  There was a breakfast bar, stainless steel everything, a fancy T.V., and of course, a balcony, for the finishing touch.  “Cigarette?” he asked, pointing to the balcony.  I nodded, the lump in my throat making it nearly impossible to talk.

I ended up spending the night that night.  Judge me all you want, but after three glasses of gin and tonics, an entire CD of Prokofiev, and a beautiful man constantly reminding you that you, as well, are beautiful, I’d like to see you try and take a bus home.  We saw each other the next day as well.  And the next.  And the next.  He quickly became a staple in my life, and for two weeks, we would call each other, not to see what day we would hang out again, but what hour.  We also attempted to do daily runs, something I killed immediately after we first tried it.  He was so regal and impressive on a treadmill.  I, however, looked like a greasy pig that needed a severe hosing down.

After the second week, Sal didn’t call.  For an entire week.  Day after day, I would call, my confusion slowly moving to suspicion, to anger, to a state of sheer panic.  It was unfair of him to say, when he finally did pick up, that I was being crazy and neurotic, since I wouldn’t have acted that way if he had just picked up the phone.  It’s the romantic equivalent of water-boarding.  It seems cute and harmless at first, and then…

When he finally did pick up the phone, I tried immensely hard not to scream at him for ignoring almost ten calls in six days.  Even before he began the sentence, I could tell by the tone of his voice, that it wasn’t going to end well.  Something was different about the way he spoke to me.  His manner was curt, almost business-like, and highly inappropriate for a break up conversation.  “Listen…this…just isn’t working out.”

I knew I should have just went home to feed my cat.  “Wait, what?  What…what did I do?”

He paused.  “Well, you didn’t really do anything.  It’s just…you’re still very young.  You have a lot to learn.  I just don’t feel like we fit, you know?”  What he meant, in uncertain words, was that I was immature.  I can’t always pride myself on my looks, or on my intelligence, and sometimes even on my own natural talents.  But the one thing I can pride myself on is my maturity level.  This set me into what Webster’s Dictionary defines as a “gay tizzy.”  I shouted.  I cried.  I begged.  I stomped all over what was left of my integrity, just to convince him to stay with me.  It’s not that I didn’t think I could live without him or anything crazy like that.  It was mostly because I wasn’t about to let a guy break up with me because I still had “growing up to do.”

In the end, all of my efforts were futile, and to a point, they made matters worse.  After the tears and the yelling, I was near positive that he thought I was even more immature than before.  At that point, I was too livid to give a damn.  We left it on what he would consider decent terms, and what I would consider “I need a shot” terms.  I drank myself into oblivion that evening, hoping that even just the stench of liquor on my breath would make me feel fulfilled.  Of course, all it did was make me puke.

I respected Sal in the days to come for handling the situation so well.  I was over it quicker than I thought I would be, but the bad news was that I would still have to see him, as some of my things were being held hostage at his condo.  I sent him an email while I was at work one day asking him nicely to return my favorite pink tie at once.  He obeyed, and said he would drop it off after work.

I walked up to his car and opened the door.  There he was, all grins as usual, and I could feel the lump in my throat rising, choking me.  “Hey,” I said.  He continued to smile.  Then, without warning, he started driving.  I shot him a strange look as he said to me:  “So, are you hungry?”

‘Do I even have a choice now?’ I thought.  Since I was kidnapped, things were, as usual, completely on his terms, and I continued to ride as a passenger.  We went to Beans and Barley where the conversation flowed seamlessly, as it usually did with us, and as the check came, he paid for it.  I objected, but only slightly, since he was, you could argue, the reason I had lost my entire helping of Qdoba nachos during the vodka binge.  ‘Eh, you owe me.’

Turns out, he never even brought the tie.  Which meant that we would have to return to the condo, the once active set of our former relationship, to retrieve it.  Saying that I was upset is an understatement; it was the last place I wanted to be.  Yet the butterflies that I had felt that night at Cafe Hollander were fluttering again.  I had seriously considered downing some antifreeze and killing all of the fluttery fuckers, but I couldn’t see a bottle anywhere.  It was probably in the trunk.

After we got the tie, he dropped me off and said he wanted to hang out Friday.  For some stupid reason, I nodded and smiled.  I justified it to myself by saying that I did have a fun time, and now we could just become really good friends.  I should have known better.  Two people who make the bed springs squeal that much can never become just good friends.

We ended up going for a “run” on Friday, so when I got over there, I was already dressed the part.  He however, was sprawled on the couch watching reruns of Golden Girls and looking sorry for himself.  I didn’t listen to Four Minutes the entire way over there just to join a pity party, but I asked anyway: “You okay?”

“Eh, I just…I don’t know, I don’t feel well.”  This wasn’t a statement.  It was a whine.  It was cute while we were dating.  Now, it seemed infantile and off-putting.

“Well, we don’t necessarily have to run.”  The honest truth was that I didn’t enjoy exercising with Sal.  I don’t enjoy exercise at all really.  For me, it has to be cleverly disguised, like putting a pill in a hot dog for the family dog.

“We will.  But can we just finish up watching this?  It just started.”


I sat on the opposite side of the couch purposely, which annoyed both him and myself.  ‘Look at yourself, playing games.  He doesn’t want you anymore!’  I hate my conscience sometimes.

He gave me a quick look, “You know…you can sit next to me.  I don’t bite.”

‘Yeah, maybe not necks, but souls are fair game, right?’  I moved anyway, to avoid awkwardness.  I began to feel awkward though, and I turned to him to see a pained expression on his face.  Again, I took the bait: “What’s up?”

“I want to ask you something, but I don’t know if I should.”

Blank stare.

“It might be inappropriate.”

Blank stare.

“Never mind…never mind…”

‘Oh, GOD, just spit it out already!’  I wanted to shake him.  All of the mixed messages were driving me closer and closer to sawing my leg off with a steak knife.  But I blinked a few more times, and eventually he asked.

“Would you…mind giving me a head massage?”

‘Of course I would, you twit.  I used to hold that head when you…’  But he had some sort of strange effect on me.  It was his eyes, I’m sure of it.  One look, and you can fall right in.  So I shrugged, told him to sit on the floor, and began my assault.

Sal begged me for head massages constantly.  He claimed that my fingers were magic, but it was a statement that, no matter how many times it was repeated, I couldn’t bring myself to believe.  He would coo and purr as I kneaded my fingers through his hair, grazing his scalp, and felt all the creases of his brain.  Sometimes I would imagine that I was reading a crystal ball, as if by doing this, I could learn something new about him through osmosis.

The massage apparently made him sleepy.  So we moved the massaging into his room and against my better judgment, onto the bed.  And his bed, I guess, made him horny.  I hate to quote Genie in a Bottle right this moment, but I find it not only applicable, but absolutely necessary: “My body’s saying let’s go, but my heart is sayin’ no.”  It was exactly how I felt.  Oh, the passion!  The ardor, the fire, the spark!  It was heady, potent, making it’s way through my veins with no apologies and no reassurance.  Just simple pleasure.  And, within twenty minutes, it was over, and the reality check hit me like a drunk stepfather.

I left immediately afterward, canceling all plans to run, as I was sure we had had enough physical activity for the day.  He gave me a kiss and said he would call.  He didn’t.  Ashamed, used, and downright depressed, I knew I couldn’t use alcohol to fill the void this time.  Good thing we had weed.

That wouldn’t be the last time he pulled something like that with me either.  In months to come, he would use me as he saw fit, knowing full well that I still had an emotional connection with him.  Regardless, I would come running like a lap dog, eager for some of my master’s, err, milk.  And every time it happened, I was given the same line.  “I’ll definitely call you tomorrow!”  Tomorrow became weeks, even months.  It was the third and final time that I realized he was not only immature, but selfish and slightly cruel.

It’s strange.  I told myself that older men were better, because they were bound to be more mature.  Yet I almost exclusively date older, even if it’s just a year, and the relationships usually don’t work out because of maturity issues.  They say I’m the problem, but really what they’re doing is projection.  I’m not perfect, and yes, I do have a lot to learn.   But the men I seem to snag are constantly stuck in the past.  Maybe because I’m younger I bring it out in them.  Maybe they feel they need to “sink to my level,” so to speak.  Or maybe men are just, in general, wild and untamed.  They live and roam free until they find the one that can give them a reason to domesticate themselves.  I guess I just wasn’t that person.

Thinking about all this as the conversation in the attic continued made me snap back into focus.  My roommate was still talking about this boy, who was, apparently, cute, charming, cordial…all good and wonderful things.  And yet she couldn’t seem to place why this was bothering her so much.  I smiled, because I understood all too well.  I lit my cigarette and said, “Babe, age is just a number.”

Realizing that is half the battle.  I’ll let her figure out the rest for herself.


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You know, I hope you’re compiling all these for your memoirs. And then you won’t even have to change the names to protect the (not) innocent!

Comment by Douglas

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