Friday, 18 November 2011

The Unbearable Alarmingness of Youth

Somewhere in a box across an ocean lies a list of qualities I wanted to have at forty. I cannot remember what was on it in detail, although I think "Fluent in French, Italian, German and Latin" is on it. (I always want to be fluent in something other than English, but I never am, despite endless assaults on the walls of foreign.) I seem to recall the overarching theme was that I was supposed to be a slim, well-dressed lady of unshakable confidence and sophistication. My youth at an end and my children all born (ha!), I was supposed to be serenely ruling my world.

I bet I was supposed to have a housekeeper, too. My sister-in-law has a housekeeper, although that is probably because instead of writing detailed lists about her future self, she studied anatomy and became a medical doctor.

To make a long intro shorter, I do not measure up to the heights of my optimistic list although I occasionally have my moments of supreme confidence. And one of the gifts of middle-life is that I am not afraid of twenty-something boys anymore.

I went on at great length to a pal about this yesterday. In short, when I was in my early twenties, men in their early twenties were alarming because I viewed most of them as either (A) sexual threats or (B) the holy grail. It was very, very difficult to see them just as people, and if I could go back and talk to my early-twenties self, I would beg myself to try to see them as people.

This reminds me of Gordon. Gordon was in a play I directed, and all the girls knew Gordon. I think he must have lived in one of the men's residences, for he was famous among the girls in women's residences. He was tall and broad-shouldered, pleasant-looking instead of handsome, and had buckets of laid-back charm. But winged-footed rumour had whispered in my ear that Gordon slept around--or if not around, where he ought not. So I was utterly terrified of Gordon. My psyche unsheathed invisible spikes all around me.

But, amazingly, Gordon was not just an object of sexual threat. He was also a person with a soul and a brain and rather awesome powers of observation. It was not lost on Gordon that I was reserved around him.

"It's like you've surrounded yourself with an electric cow fence," he complained.

And this was quite true. And it was a useful electric cow fence because it intimidated people who needed intimidating, even if it also intimidated people whom it would be nice to know. It took me a very long time to learn how to turn it on and off as I liked.

I think I lost my fear of twenty-something boys (in general, more on that) for good when I went to theology school. I was very much at home at theology school, and got very good grades, and seemed very clever, so I had tons of confidence. The school was very big on hospitality, so I flung myself into hospitality, and went up to new people to introduce myself and after a chat introduced them to other people. As most new people were women or male religious, I had no ulterior motives. And then at parties, when rambunctious twenty-something boys lit up joints, trashed John Paul II, were rumoured to sleep in the wrong place, and said "Lookin' fine, toots," I found them merely amusing.

Eventually I went to Germany, and some of my adventures there are in My Book. Go reread the bit about Max, because I am now thinking about Max. Anyway, in Germany, I discovered that twenty-somethings there are not as allergic to thirty-somethings as they are in other cultures. I had many conversations with twenty-something German boys, and went to their parties, and generally got along with them. And although I was frankly amazed, I understood that this had something to do with me being (A)foreign, and therefore glamorous and (B)a doctoral student, which in hierarchical Germany meant a lot.

The one exception was Max. I was terrified of Max, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because he was so intensely good-looking. As much as I liked looking at him, I was in a welter of fear lest I (A) make a complete ass of myself and (B) make some life-altering mistake. I used to march down to a telephone centre and call a pal in Canada to go on and on about Max.

"Listen," she said. "You must stop this. Just make out with him and come home!"

Hi-LAR-ious. I never did, though, and thank goodness, for the news would have been all over the entire campus in milliseconds.

Anyway, this seems to be All About Me again, so I will sum up with a generalization that twenty-something men may seem terrifying when you are twenty-something, but when you are no longer twenty-something yourself, twenty-something boys just seem like people, unless they are supernaturally good-looking, in which case you might very well shake in your shoes again. Discuss.


Domestic Diva said...

ROFL at your Canadian pal's advice!

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

While you guys probably are all aware of this already, this problem is nearly identical for guys towards young women. Although rather than seeing them either as sexual threats or the holy grail, it's either the holy grail, or we're afraid that they'll laugh at us, basically.
I feel like there's a good book to maybe play to be written around this; guys are terrified of the young ladies, and young ladies are terrified of the guys.
The only difference between most people, I think, is how well they're able to hide their terror.

theobromophile said...

I discovered that twenty-somethings there are not as allergic to thirty-somethings as they are in other cultures. I had many conversations with twenty-something German boys, and went to their parties, and generally got along with them.

Oh, but then when you meet some poppet of a college student and start chatting with him because, as a person and not as a potential suitor, he is quite interesting, you enjoy your discussion of Antonin Scalia. You think nothing more of him upon departing, but then find that he looks you up through the host's friend's Facebook page and asks you out, and all you think is, "You are half the age of my last boyfriend! I'm not Demi Moore, and even if I were, well, look how that worked out! Heavens, that was a friendly chat at a party and I haven't been asked out by anyone your age since 2003!"

...wait, where were we?