February 23, 2006
Of all the May-to-December romances that were not meant to be, mine must top the list.
For starters, I met Rick in a hot tub -- a cliché I was sure we could never get over. We found ourselves at the same party, where he was being accosted by a woman who kept sidling close to him and saying, "When I was at Harvard..." and "At Harvard, my friends and I would blah-blah-blah..."
Finally, I went in for the rescue: "When I was at Florida International University, we took classes in trailers," I said, trying to mimic her smug tone and referring to a school so new that it barely had walls, much less Ivy-covered ones.
He was so grateful that, as we climbed out of the water, he thanked me and began to make conversation. Somehow, it came up that the following week was my birthday. "How old will you be?" he asked.
"Thirty-two," I answered.
"Wow, you look way too young to be in your 30s," he said.
"And you?" I inquired.
"Twenty-three," he said.
Rick was visiting South Florida because he and his fiancé had recently called it quits. A mutual friend of ours had sent him a plane ticket to break the cycle of self-pity and draft ale that had been taking place in a bar in Pittsburgh, the city where he lived and worked.
In the days that followed, Rick and I spent quite a bit of time together. I worked nights as a reporter, so our friend asked if I'd entertain him during the day while she was stuck in the office. We had lunch, went for walks, visited museums.
He was charming but not the kind of guy I usually went for, with his Coke-bottle glasses and geeky clothes.
And yet before Rick's weeklong visit was over, we found ourselves in the midst of a flirtation -- even if it was one I wasn't taking seriously. After all, Rick was on the rebound. He lived 1,200 miles away. And, most frightening of all, he was nine years younger than me.
At the time, I knew no one involved with a man that much younger. I had heard, of course, of some celebrity pairings: Cher was famous for dating men half her age, and Susan Sarandon had been with Tim Robbins, 12 years her junior, for quite a while.
But in my mind a match between an older woman and a younger man conjured up little more than "The Graduate." I wanted none of it.
In fact, I indulged in the flirtation in large part because I believed it wouldn't go anywhere. It was a mild distraction, safe and fun.
But Rick had other plans. After heading back to Pittsburgh, he began a long-distance courtship. He called. He wrote beautiful letters. And he kept his local florist incredibly busy.
One day, I walked into my office to find a dozen red roses sitting on my desk. The card read, "When you're 109 and I'm 100, it won't matter."
Slowly, the unthinkable began to happen: I was falling for Rick. But I was also nervous -- very nervous.
Were we moving too quickly? What about the geographic distance between us? And then there was the toughest hurdle of all, at least for me: our ages.
It wasn't the inevitable cradle-robbing jokes that bothered me. I was more worried about the day-to-day realities of such a match. If this were the real thing, what would we do about having children? I was ready. Was he?
Then there was my vanity. Sure, a nine-year spread was no problem while I still looked youthful. But what about later, when my age would begin to show?
And that's when my mother -- a perfect mix of pragmatist and romantic -- reminded me of something: Men have forever been leaving women for younger women.
"Dating a man your own age is no guarantee that it will work out," she said. "He's either a mensch or he's not."
While I couldn't yet fully attest to Rick's character, I knew deep down that he was nothing if not a mensch.
In a matter of months, Rick and I decided to start a life together in Los Angeles. Before we left for Los Angeles, we visited his parents in Baltimore. It had not been long since his former fiancé had vanished with the string of pearls they had given her to mark her engagement to their son. And now here I was at her heels -- and nine years older. What could they be thinking?
"Are you kidding me?" an old friend of Rick's said. "They won't care if you're the same age as his Aunt Lil. They'll be so happy that he finally found a woman who is Jewish, they'll be dancing 'Hava Nagila' on the dining room table."
I'm not sure about "Hava Nagila" on the dining room table. But 18 months later, they danced the hora at our wedding. And now, 15 years and two children after that, I am sure Rick was right: When you've found the right person, age is beside the point -- whether you're 109 or 32, or somewhere in between.
Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.