“New Wives For Old”: Older Men, Younger Women, and Cindy McCain

When I was a teenager, a couple of relatives cautioned me about marriage: “Never go for a younger man, or even a man your age. Go for the older ones, who have money and success and no energy to leave you.”

This advice did not just materialize out of the ether: nearly all the women in my family have been cheated on by their husbands with younger women. One was left with three kids on her hands when her husband walked out on her with a woman half his age. One killed herself. One had to survive the humiliation of having her husband waltz in with his mistress during a state dinner in his wife’s honour.

In Ukraine, these practices are defended on the basis of evo psych: men cheat, women are cheated upon. Men leave, women are left. If a woman decides to cheat or leave, she’s a slut and a whore, but for a man, such things are “forgivable” and “natural” and “hell, he can’t help it if his wife has stetch-marks after giving birth to three children.”

The younger mistresses of older men are looked upon with similar disdain: they’re sluts and gold-diggers. The men themselves are like teflon – nothing sticks. They are only doing what is natural and normal, in a world populated either by worn-out hags or slutty bitches.

I’ve noticed that Cindy McCain gets somewhat similar treatment.

Of course, I can’t compare the attacks on her with attacks on Michelle Obama: brazenly hateful, racist attempts at showing “the angry black woman” her “place,” ignoring her talents in favour of caricature. I furthermore like to think that I have no illusions about Cindy McCain’s privileged, wealthy status, and that she does not need a white knight on her steed to come in for a dramatic rescue right about now.

But I’ll never forget the New York Times article that basically stated that after John McCain left his wife Carol for Cindy, it was Cindy that was socially ostracized in Washington and not John. People turned up their nose at her, not him.

This bothers me.

I have no doubts that Cindy knew all about John’s family and marriage when he started pursuing her. I don’t think Cindy is a helpless victim, I think saying so would be insulting. But in the relatively multi-cultural circles I run in – Cindy is usually the “bitch” to John McCain’s “experienced statesman,” etc.

I hated Radulova’s election coverage (all this ignorant talk about blacks voting Democrat because Obama is black… ummm, history lesson anyone?), but if there is one thing she got right was when she said that John McCain behaved like a cad, and should be judged no less harshly, if not more so, considering that it was him who initiated the relationship – if you are going to judge anyone at all, that is.

Now, I don’t think that people necessarily have to stay with each other for the sake of staying. A sham marriage where both parties *pretend* that things are OK is pretty damn depressing, by my standards. But I find it interesting that when men leave we (women especially) consider it nothing out of the ordinary, yet a woman who abandons her family is practically Satan. Even the resigned commentary of my relatives presumes that there’s no criticism to be leveled at the men – “it’s just the way they are” – and the best way to deal with it is beat them at their own game.

I’ve also had men telling me, for many years, that the way they see it, it’s in a woman’s nature to “screw you over” and make away with all of the cash. This is a cultural archetype as well. Yet I maintain that in a relationship between an experienced older man and a relatively inexperienced young woman, the older man holds the vast majority of trump cards. And prenups take care of the possibility of getting taken to the cleaners.

There’s a reason why a movie about Jack Nicholson sleeping with a bunch of younger women does not have a female equivalent (sure, Diane Keaton does get it on with Keanu Reeves in the same film, but that’s, like, one guy!). In that sense, I’ve kind of welcomed the term “cougar,” if only because it reflects reality.

When I was younger, I knew a guy in his mid-twenties who pretty much coasted for five years on the attentions and graces of older women. He even thought about becoming a professional gigolo for a while. Then reality slapped him hard in the face when a woman, twenty years his senior, left him for a man her age. His sense of invincibility was shattered, especially because he had genuine affection for this woman. I met him in the aftermath, when he decided to take a break from school to work retail. And he told me, a year after we got to know each other, that you can’t really talk about things like that, because it’s supposed to be “humiliating” for a man in his position. Which made me wonder how many more men like him are out there:

You meet a gorgeous, wise older woman. She lavishes you with attention and makes you feel like the center of the universe. Then she splits and you realize that you were her entertainment, nothing more. It can and does hurt.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong or immoral about shacking up with anyone you fancy. I think that even the most negative consequences do not necessarily negate the legitimacy of one’s desires. People fall in love, or lust, and then we face the consequences. Even a happy partnership has its downsides. So I’m not here to beat my breast in alarm over age discrepancies.

But the one thing I always told several of my relatives when the “get an older man” comments came up was this: it’s not for everybody. If you can’t handle yourself in such a relationship, you shouldn’t get into it. I’ve always been a pushover, even on good days, and the last thing that a person like me needs is some guys saying, “I’m older than you, and I do know better.”

For knowing myself and for knowing what I want, I’ve become pitied. The ranks of the abandoned and the scorned are awaiting my arrival. I hope this won’t be the case, because I trust the man I’ve with completely, and he trusts me. But bad luck, evil eye, bad juju, an inheritance of loss – it swirls around you like snow in the wind, and there is nothing you can do to make it better.

Either you’re Cindy, or you’re Carol, they say. Cindy’s “evil,” but at least she’s “smart.” Boy. Lucky her.

11 thoughts on ““New Wives For Old”: Older Men, Younger Women, and Cindy McCain

  1. good morning!

    I love this post.

    I’ve always dated older guys. I suppose up until recently, younger was going to cross some boundary that I wasn’t ready for.

    Lately, I’ve been finding younger men who are actually mature adults…and yet I catch myself still feeling weird about it, as if I’m doing something wrong. They’re legal, a few years younger, and yet I feel like it’s unacceptable.

    Funny to think about, no?

  2. yep.. we like to think things have improved but really there is much work to be done still towards ethnic minorities, homosexuals and women of course. I didn’t know about this story of mccain’s wife being ostracized, god, why???

    Anyway.. mccain isn’t a bad man, to be fair, so maybe people just agree that he is rather untouchable (http://www.spinwhip.com/John_McCain41) and so they pick at the ppl around him??

  3. I’ve always been attracted to older dudes, but I’ve been unlucky with them. I don’t think I’ve ever met an older dude who didn’t act in this whole “you’re younger, hence easily manipulated” way that always, always threw me off. Then again, I also gave off those kinds of signals to begin with. I suppose it’s a good thing I had the sense to back out, several times.

    Being in a relationship with a man who is 9 months my junior, I am repeatedly told by well-meaning people that he will leave, that it would only be natural. But what IS natural? Shacking up with someone only because it’s the “done” thing?

    Screw that. I think people should follow their instincts. I don’t have any advice to offer on the subject beyond that. We all get burned, in different ways, but at the very least, we should do it when we follow our own path.

    P.S. I don’t think there is such a thing as an untouchable politician or human being.

  4. This made me emotional. I have been both Cindy and Carol. At least I embodied the stereotypes.

    I married my high school sweetheart a few months after graduation, and 5 years and 2 babies later, we were on the road in the rain late at night. He lost control of the car and although he ended up with a few cuts and bruises, I ended up needing major surgery and it was very uncertain for a long while. My doctors described my recovery as “miraculous.”

    When I was spending all that time in the hospital, he cozied up with a much younger girl. She was 18. After getting found out he told me very simply that he felt “guilty” every time he looked at me. We split up. I was just lucky I had good insurance and that my older brother was successful and generous.

    Then when I was in my thirties and the kids were finishing high school, I met a wonderful man. He and his wife separated the year before after the death of their daughter, also in a car accident, ironically. He divorced his wife for me.

    I don’t pretend like I didn’t split that family up for good, although the rift was there before I had arrived. I know his wife hated me for a long time, but she didn’t hate him. I guess that’s the way it is you can’t turn your love around like that.

    My kids don’t really speak to my first husband. My second husband’s remaining kids don’t really speak to me, but his ex-wife and I ended up on good terms eventually even if that sounds strange.

    No stereotype goes deep enough.

    And thank you for this post.

  5. My wife’s a cougar. She’s a whole 6 weeks older than me. It’s like The Graduate, really.

    Seriously though, I was thinking of the same thing not too long ago re: Cindy McCain. And to be fair, the Reagans actually lost all respect for McCain and his break with them was largely due to the way he treated his first wife. But yes, Cindy’s the home-wrecker and McCain’s the statesman, and we’re quite alright with that narrative most of the time. Even though McCain was (allegedly) a serial philanderer who makes Clinton look like a cloistered monk, who wasn’t even legally divorced when he got a marriage certificate with Cindy. And now it’s Palin’s fault he lost the election; it’s apparently always a woman’s fault that McCain is a fuck up. So it goes.

  6. Right on, Natalia. I think the person who’s hurting someone who trusts them is always the guilty party. The person they’re cheating with may or may not also be guilty, but we don’t know so cannot say.

    McCain’s relatives claim John told Cindy he was separated, divorce pending. I know many guys who are actually in that situation, who are dating. Why blame the woman for believing that story?

    I think it’s bizarre that when a woman is less than ten years older than the guy, but she’s older, it’s remarked on. That’s pure sexism. Any guy who’d cheat with that kind of age difference would cheat without it.

    “I’ve also had men telling me, for many years, that the way they see it, it’s in a woman’s nature to “screw you over” and make away with all of the cash. This is a cultural archetype as well.”

    Yup, and I maintain that (approximate) income parity is the best way to get rid of that.

  7. I’ve always found myself attracted to slightly younger guys, and I’m now dating one who is 6 years younger than me. I love him and I think he is a wonderful person, but I’m not going to lie — I live with the fear that I’ve set myself up for heartbreak because of the age difference. Especially since I am the first girlfriend he’s ever had, and I can’t shake the culturally stereotypical idea that men need to sow their wild oats and be all studly and sleep around before they can settle down and be ready to sustain a monogamous relationship. So in the back of my mind there’s the little voice telling me that he’s going to dump me, eventually. The sad thing is that he hasn’t done anything to demonstrate that he regrets being in an exclusive relationship, or that he’s planning on leaving me — these doubts come directly from the notion that that’s just the way men are, and you can’t blame them or get angry about it. The idea that if you love a younger man you’re taking a risk and have only yourself to blame should your gamble fail.

    In a perfect world, we should expect honor and fidelity from men and look on those who fail to stay true, with disappointment — instead of expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised by those who prove the exception to the rule. Is it naive to think this way in this imperfect world, or could it be made a better place if expectations for men were higher? I don’t know, but I struggle with the fear and the feeling that if I end up heartbroken it’ll be my fault for being the older woman.

  8. Good post. Yeah, I have no particular affection for Cindy, but the fact that McCain hardly got any flack at all (if any) for this (at least during this election cycle, considering all the ancient crap that was being dug up and flung at Obama) is pretty telling.

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