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.