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August 2, 2017

He is 56 & I am 22: Lessons from an Unexpected Love.

He is 56. I am 22.

We began as lovers, and rapidly fell into a whirlwind romance.

Over the months, we’ve joked playfully, “We’re crazy,” and to the outside world, perhaps we look it. Society surrounds us with a supposed ideal love: young infatuation and shared ambitions for thrills of unknown adventure.

For some, this rings true, yet my relationship is the dark horse. One which has been stigmatized and disregarded by social norms. This life is not forever, and for the first time, I realize not settling in a relationship means not expecting that a relationship should look a certain way.

We were introduced outside a bar, sipping beers before a weekly bike ride we both attend regularly. His eye contact jolted my core and sent my head spinning. In my short years dating, I often turned up my nose at stories of sincere romance, refusing to acknowledge how much I actually craved it. Suddenly smitten with an older man, I cherished our rich connection, and at the same time admitted total uncertainty of how to act.

This was new territory all around.

As we began seeing each other with more frequency, we shared numerous articles debunking social stigmas of an older man with a younger woman, much of which we identified with. There is great stability with a man who is comfortable and authentic in his emotional vulnerability—traits I have only witnessed in older men.

When dating within my age pool, I consistently struggled to connect with a partner beyond physical intimacy. Sex plays an important role in any intimate relationship, but pursuing conversations past the bedroom leads to more profound relations, something I had not achieved before.

Dialogues like these set my relationship apart from others from the beginning. Perhaps they could have come from someone younger, but as it is, these talks blossomed from a genuine attraction that happened to include our age difference. Discussing the polarity in couples and relationships became a recurring theme between us.

He holds his masculine with both confidence and gracefulness, again traits I have not witnessed in men my age. Ordinarily, I asserted myself in ways I now see to be hostile. Together, we opened a conversation about the intricate dynamics between a man and woman as lovers, and I came to see how I had tried so readily to hold both roles.

Following the wreckage of an abusive relationship, I threw my energy into a warrior-like independence—power in upholding an aggressive and outwardly masculine face while burying my feminine attributes. These behaviors reinforced fears of my womanhood being manipulated, and quickly built barriers between myself and potential lovers. The analogy of my life as a freight train without a sidecar had allowed me to continue accelerating forward in my career and hobbies, while ignoring the true self-work needed to learn to trust in love again.

Today, I practice bringing forth my best—especially my warmth—knowing now I do not have to compromise myself to build a strong bond. So frequently, I have seen friends settle into relationships that allow them freedom to be themselves, while failing to expand the dynamics of their couplehood. It’s often easier for us to hold space for ourselves but not always for our partners, or vice versa.

My relationship challenges me in ways that far exceed what I alone am capable of. And while all moments are time-sensitive, the passing of seasons is exacerbated by his being older and me being so young.

Rather than fear the dissection of our paths, we are wholly present for each other in the time we have. Without expectations, we are patient for the storms of life and unreserved toward the wisdom gained. I learn to love each day, unafraid of any perceived shelf life, and believe that I finally deserve such happiness.

Our story may or may not resonate. My goal here is to share the joy and lessons found in a completely unexpected passion, one that I am grateful for every second. My hope is that we all open ourselves to the possibilities of love, and reap the endless rewards.

~

First Nights

Teetering above rushing water, across his wooden bridge,
we are both eight.
Gripping rope to steady both body and heart,
I am unwary and all imagination;
I follow into shade and magic of the old growth,
greens of every green,
air ripe with our Pacific Northwest
forest kingdom.

He is smiling, jumping, gathering dry branches.
I am leaves swaying in the breeze,
ready to move back and forth, back and forth.
Settle with gravity on this rich soil;
light me up with his fire.

Legs pretzeled with couch cushions, I look across at him
and we are both 15—nervous and flirty,
giggling between coughs of marijuana and sips of his beer and my wine.
I am butterflies skipping up and down between stomach and heart;
same as the first time I saw him,
same as the second,
same as the third.

French press like a dance,
choreographed to grab each mug just so.
Grind beans,
pour careful,
stir slow,
except it is improvised.
Wanting this coffee to somehow win him,
to mask my performance anxiety.

Enveloped in the dark of night in his massive bed, we are both 22.
The sensuality of youth burns through me;
I shed my fear of inadequacy.
His rough hands wise with navigation of a woman’s curves,
gentle with this new exploration
all at the same time.

~

~

Author: Renée Barasch
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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