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.