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Do We Care What They Think?

I had always danced a little outside the lines when picking boyfriends.

When I was 15, everyone wanted me to date Trevor. We taught Sunday school together, played opposite each other in the high school plays and sat across from each other in freshman geometry. I went for Nick, a mysterious senior with a fast red car who liked to brood in his room watching Tarantino movies. He was four years older than me. It was quite the scandal.

Half way through college I met Todd who was 12 years older than me and had 2 kids. My mother was not really amused by that one but bit her tongue just enough to avoid igniting my need to rebel by doing something stupid like marrying him.

I guess I’d always gone for older men. It’s just all in the definition of older.

We met in Chicago for our 4th date. I was there for a workshop and Ron didn’t live too far from the windy city. Things were still new, but I was pretty sure I liked him… kind of inexplicably a lot.

I’d met him online, which is either another chapter or another book entirely, but from the start it was a complete fluke we’d made it this far. I had very few set rules and standards when dating online. I wasn’t looking for a particular build, faith, career or ambition. To be honest, I wasn’t even looking for a boyfriend. It had been one of those funny ideas I’d woken up with one day to sign up with a profile online. Truly, it was just something that I got would create more in my life, though I didn’t know how, when or why. So I signed up.

I wonder how much fun I can have? I wonder what interesting people I can meet? I wonder what adventures I can go on?

I’d had a blind date with an inventor on Christmas Day. He introduced me to his family as an “old friend” and we made gingerbread cookies in the kitchen with no recipe that turned into a runny comedy. I figured anyone who would meet for a first date at a family Christmas was intriguing enough to meet. And he was. It was a hoot. No chemistry, but certainly worth a day!

I’d gone out with a Harvard poetry professor and spent the day seeing the streets of Venice Los Angeles through his nostalgic eyes. Nice guy. Nice enough that we pretty much turned into pen pals and he ended up a guest at my future wedding. 

I didn’t have a lot of specific criteria for dating, which made it all a bit tricky to narrow things down.

I’d done an exercise with myself when I went to make my profile. 3 steps to figuring out what I really desired:

Step 1- I wrote down all the characteristics I’d like in a man. As you do right? You know: the list.

Step 2- I asked myself for every item on the list- “is that mine?” Do I actually care if he likes to dance or is that some strange ideal I’ve bought into? Not mine? I crossed it off. Do I care about his height, eye color, age? Ummmm…. Not really. Those were also ideals. And they were crossed off as well.

Step 3- Of the things remaining, I asked myself, which did I require out of my partner and/or lover and which could I get from somewhere else? “Someone I could call in the middle of the night?” I had a few girlfriends who fit that criteria. “Someone who is interested in Consciousness.” Others came to mind for that too. “Activities in common?” strike.

By the time I’d gone through them all, I was mainly just left with energies I was looking for: Someone who loved to play. Who adored me. Who was easy to live with or just be around. Someone who didn’t create drama or try to control me. Someone who made my life easier rather than more difficult. Someone who actually enjoyed life and the adventures it brought. It wasn’t very concrete.

My very few absolute rules for determining if I would go on an actual date with someone were this: You have to tell me your real name (so I can google you of course), post a somewhat realistic picture, preferably taken in the last two decades, and we had to meet in a public place (to deter or at least postpone possibly run ins with serial killers and the like).

In short- be a real person.

Beyond that, I was pretty open to following my intuition and asking for joyful adventures to unfold.

Ron was actually the only man that failed my remarkably simple criteria. I found out later he wasn’t really up for dating online. In the midst of a new and fragile divorce, he was more perusing, or testing the waters to see where he’d fit. A flimsy, barely started profile, an absent picture and questionably fake and certainly common name, he was not exactly worthy of a reply to my all too full inbox. It should have been “delete.”

Yet somehow one line emails turned to two lines, and simple questions become interesting stories. He talked of the joy it brought him to bring solution like clean water to other countries. He asked good questions. He shared how much being joyful meant to him. I don’t know… while anonymous, I liked him. Liked him enough to break all my own rules and meet him without a picture or a real name.

“You really like this guy?” my roommate Suzy asked me as I quickly threw on a dress to meet him for dinner.

“Yeah I do. I don’t know why. I’m excited to meet him.”

“Well if that’s the case, would you consider washing your hair?” she said with a kindness few people in the world could have pulled off.

I was 15 minutes late for my first date for taking Suzy’s advice, but I was glad I did.

When I saw him across the parking lot, I was surprised and not surprised. He was winsome and tall, a bit more conservative than I was used to with a blue knit sweater tied around his shoulders, and give or take in the age range of my father.

“Age wasn’t on my list” I reminded myself, and insisted I be open to the possibilities that might unfold.

Which brought us today. Four dates later and still no idea where this was going, we found ourselves in Chicago strolling the park.

“Want to check out the museum?” Ron asked me.

“Sure.”

The woman behind the desk wore thin wired glasses and was old enough to be my grandmother. With a sweet smile she greeted us “Will that be one student and one senior?” she asked in perfect customer service sincerity.

I had to force the corners of my mouth to stay down and quickly looked to Ron. “Hey, double discount!” I thought to myself, tempted to take her up on the offer.

Ron’s faced flushed red and unlike me he was not working to suppress a smile of any size.

“Two adults” he said firmly between softly gritted teeth and handed her the $20 bill for 2 full priced admissions.

I’d like to say we laughed it off. That we fell so in love we didn’t care. But it brought something up for each of us. It was the first comment of many more to come.

I started asking 2 questions.

1) Did the age difference work for me?

2) Did I care what people thought?

The first was easy for me to answer. For me, it worked. There was a mellow in his living that was unmatched by men my age. He knew what was worth raising an eyebrow for. He’d already made a name and a career for himself and had little to prove. It was refreshing. It was ease.

The second questions was an emphatic “no” for me. The kind of no that can’t actually be a no because it is said too quickly and with far too much force. “I don’t care what other people think” I insisted. But it was hard not to care. People cared. It was strange.

Everywhere we went we noticed people looking. We were talked about, pointed at, disapproved of and beyond. It was hard to believe so many people cared about our age difference… but they did. We looked around at times before holding hands. We didn’t kiss in public, or otherwise did it intentionally to push buttons as we knew it would.

It was always up, always in the air, until one day I had to wonder…

How is it that so many people care about our age difference? People can’t usually be bothered to think of anything much beyond themselves. Isn’t that odd? Isn’t that strange?

And a phrase I’d heard and taught countless times popped into my head.

“You point of view creates your reality. Your reality does not create your point of view.”

“Was it possible” I wondered? ...Possible that most of this discomfort was actually being created by us?

Ron definitely had the point of view it was uncomfortable for people. With a reputation within his community, he could certainly introduce me with a great deal more comfort if I’d been more than a year older than his oldest son.

Everywhere we looked, we had been looking at what was wrong and strange and odd about it. And people picked it up like a sopping sponge and spit it back on demand.

“What if we took another point of view?” I wondered. What if we looked for where it was easy and made sense? What if we looked for evidence for that? I wonder what we would find?

It turns out that crazy phrase is right! The more we found evidence for the point of view it really wasn’t that big a deal, the more we got over it and the less people cared. And the less people cared, the more it proved our new point of view correct that it really wasn’t a big deal, and the more we got over it again.

It didn’t mean people stopped asking “is this your daughter?” It was a fair question. I could have been. But it did mean that the teeth gritting stopped, we both found the true humor beneath the question and did our best to lesson their embarrassment by our easy response. We stopped censoring ourselves by our made up stories and started simply to live.

The trouble with caring too much what other people think is it’s a cycle you feed. In order to figure out if your choices are right or wrong or good or bad, you have to constantly judge you and your choices. And if you are trying to avoid a particular judgment, you seem to feed it with the point of view it already exists to be avoided.

“Do we care what other people think of our age difference?” Over time, it became a gentle and honest “not really”.

Before we knew it, we were down to question #1—Does it work for us?

There were all sorts of sides to that. 5 years from now? 10 years? 20? There were certainly unknowns and moments we’d have to navigate.

That was a question worth continuing to ask.