Looking way back at age 40, from a male perspective – though it may well be valid for many females; I would say that deep inside, most 40-year-old men still think – if that is not too strong a word – that they are: 1) still 20, and 2) devastatingly attractive. I am reminded of Steely Dan’s song “Hey 19” and the lyric,
Hey Nineteen; No, we can’t dance together. No, we can’t talk at all. Please take me along when you slide on down
With some rare exceptions, people in their 20’s tend to be attracted to others in their 20’s. If people have an age difference of ten years, they still retain a good bit of pop-cultural commonality. By the time the age gap stretches to 20 years, the “attraction” aspect potentially becomes quite complicated by issues of social abnormality on the part of both parties.
Is an attraction that spans more than 20 year age gap driven on the part of the younger party by displaced parental affection? By some sort of deep-seated insecurities? By a gold-digger inclination? Is the attraction on the part of the older party, an exertion of narcissism? Is it a self-deception that will wear thin? I am not saying it is impossible for any two people of whatever ages to find deep and enduring love, or maybe only a mutually-beneficial interdependency; but I think it is a mistake for someone who is entering their 40’s – when their brain is functioning at the most sophisticated level it will ever achieve; when they are perhaps their most acute – to fall into patterns of behavior that may be ill-considered and which a younger partner may not be mentally equipped to evade.
I came to this realization when I took a brief stint as a high school teacher in my early 40’s, and was surrounded by teenage students over whom I had authority. Some few of them reacted to this relation with varying degrees of flirtatiousness. But they were not actually “attracted” in any way to their crusty and grouchy old chemistry teacher – they were just exploring expedient means of avoiding bad grades! A young, healthy, intelligent human is beautiful to all of us – the subject of our arts. But it is ridiculous, every time, for a school teacher to forget that their students are children. They literally do not know what they are doing! It is up to the teacher foremost, to manage the teacher-student relationships.
Soon afterward, I also realized that I have a very difficult time telling, at a glance, whether a young person is 17 or 27. I also realized that, not having had kids of my own, and having been away from the reach of television for some years, I was out of touch with the latest entertainment trends. As a middle-aged person from another country, my commonality with my students was one thing only: the chemistry course we populated. And that was as it should be.
After a month or so of teaching, I recognized all of this and left behind the initial giddiness rush of having felt “popular” with the new students. The teaching adage “Don’t smile until after Christmas” shone it its wisdom. But I gradually found that this realization extended far beyond the classroom. Now, almost everyone twenty years younger – and that now includes those approaching their 40’s – are still “children”. They are to be nurtured and supported, but they are not “prospects”.
Beginning by age 40, a person needs to have developed the mental habits of critical thinking about social relationships, and also to cultivate an appreciation for the physical appearance of one’s age-peers. Although the straight-grained wood of a Douglas Fir is praiseworthy for its uniformity and strength, a truly regal desktop is made of burl wood – minutely twisted and contorted by the years! So to, with humans – in their appearance, and even more so in their consciousness – do not fail to absorb that into your aesthetic.