How we’re all animals

And how that’s a good thing

Aug 27 · 9 min read
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I have what I think is an interesting story. Interesting because it surprised even me, and it happened to me. Meaning, I didn’t expect the finding that presented itself to me. Never in a million years.

This story is about sex. Sex and love. Sex and a little bit of love. Sex and some love. Sex and regard. Sex and scent. Sex and pheromones. Sex and… age. And the surprise lies in the last couplet.

I’m in the extremely surprising, supposedly enviable, totally weird position of having a lover 15 years younger than I am. This, after having a lover for four years who was… far too old for me. My former lover was 23 years older than me, which made him, ahem, 73, now 74 years old.

My current lover is 15 years younger than me. Which is really weird, and not something I sought. Decidedly not. In fact, I don’t actually love it, the concept, I mean. I have always skewed older. Older men make me feel safe. But who am I kidding? They make me feel safe in (large?) part because I feel in control. I feel more in control with an older man. I feel more attractive, more sexy, because, well, it’s relative, right? I have a better chance at “keeping” an older man. Right?

Not that I ever have a problem keeping them. Or in the them keeping me part. I tend to choose men who are rather intent on “keeping” me. Again, this is in no way to blow my own horn. Rather than this being a reflection of any sort of attractiveness I do or don’t posses, this is about choosing men whom I will be able to dominate on some level. With whom I will feel secure. With whom I will be fairly sure they will not be walking off. With whom I am fairly sure, it is I who will do the walking.

My former lover pursued me for four years. We had nice times together, but I’d done the much older boyfriend thing before, and to be honest, rather than going that route again, I’d sooner pick up again with the man I fell in love with when I was 19, who was 31 years older than me. In other words, I’m 51 now, and I’d rather be with my 82-year-old friend than my 74-year-old friend. IF I’m going to do the much older guy thing. Which I don’t want to do.

I finally extricated myself from my older lover, the one who was 23 years older than me. I thought it best. I wanted to release him to find someone new before he was too old to be able to do that. And find someone he did. She is my age, if not a year or two younger. Sounds, in fact, like she is a year or two younger. Ah, well.

The thing is, me and — let’s call him Sam — had an incredible chemistry. I noticed it the first time I met him. He had intelligent eyes that lapped me up. I noticed his gaze the first time I met him. Warm, effusive. When I danced with him, I found his scent intoxicating. He smelled so good. It wasn’t cologne. I never figured out what made him smell so good, but he always did, each and every time I was with him, beside him, before him. Against him.

He smelled like… sugar and spice, and everything nice. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s kind of true.

The first time I danced with him, I was a disaster. I was falling all over the place, a hazard on the floor. I had no idea how to dance Argentine Tango. He was patient and kind. He said I had a great embrace and was a “sensitive follower.”

From that day on, I had a crush on this guy. But I didn’t let it show. I knew he was too old for me. I was trying to comply with my daughter’s wish that I date someone “age-appropriate.”

But, eventually, we got together, Sam and me. And the chemistry I sensed from the get-go was true. It got stronger when we were together. When we kissed. When he was near me. When he held me. I ached with longing. My whole body ached.

And he was performant. Not that it necessarily mattered. I’m a firm believer in the mind being the sexiest organ we possess. If his “junk” didn’t “work,” it would not necessarily be any kind of problem at all. As long as desire was there, imagination, good hand work, toys, mouths, whatever, we’d be fine. Just fine. Surprisingly, perhaps, everything did work. Just fine. And all the accouterment worked as well. So, that was nice.

Still, I kept my older lover at arm’s length. I wouldn’t let him get too close to me or my family. I wouldn’t let him meet my dad. I just couldn’t go there. I knew I couldn’t commit to this man. I was open and honest about it. He didn’t care. He was exceedingly patient. Eventually, he met a woman who could go there, and who wanted to try. And that was that.

Which brings me around to my 36-year-old lover, a lover I never sought, never asked for. I would never in a million years set my profile to such an age range. Again, I’ve never dated anyone near my age, let alone younger. The youngest man I’d ever dated in my life was a mere seven years older than I was. So when baby-face came my way, I was astounded.

So astounded in fact that I ignored for a full seven months his overtures. I literally assumed I was not reading “millenial” signals correctly, that he can’t possibly know what he was saying, that he wasn’t aware that he was flirting, that I was becoming such a dirty old lady that I was reading signals that weren’t there, that couldn’t possibly be there. I laughed at myself. I enjoyed the silliness of it all. I felt only tenderness for the boy.

But also crazy nervousness when he did find his way into my house one day. You see, he lives a few streets over, and when I had a holiday open house, his street was invited. He texted me the day after the party. “I meant to come by,” he said. “I’m sorry I missed your party. May I come by with some wine now?”

We sat in front of the fireplace, across from each other, in these silly-formal chairs I inherited from my parents, chairs with burgundy leather seats that came from Harrod’s in London. I was embarrassed, shy, dying. Breathless.

We chatted for an hour.

He began inviting me for dinner. He’d invite me casually, via text. In a kind of, You should come over sometime, way. A way that couldn’t possibly be taken seriously, in other words. I ignored those invitations for months. Then, one night, when my daughter was in Santa Cruz for the weekend and my son was in China, I made myself a forlorn dinner for one, lit a single candle, and posted to Facebook something along the lines of “Getting used to the empty nest.”

The young thing private-messaged me on Facebook within five minutes. He said, “It’s silly for you to be eating alone there and me to be eating alone here.”

I still didn’t go… but the gauntlet was thrown.

The next day, he said he was gardening out front, and I should stop by and say hi.

I found my prettiest sandals, checked my toes for cleanliness and prettiness, and walked to his house. He was, indeed, in his front garden, where he said, looking me steadily in the eye, “I’m lonely.”

I could have laughed out loud. I almost did.

Instead, I was touched.

I was also — and I realize this will sound disingenuous — still disbelieving. I was a little disconcerted. I realized he’d said he was lonely. But I still didn’t interpret that to mean he’d like me to help him with that. Rather, he needed a friend, he needed commiseration. I could provide that.

We began to have dinner.

The first night I went there, he had fresh flowers on the mantel —in a little vase — modest garden or meadow flowers — and a candle on the table. He made me orecchiette — little ears pasta — with chickpeas, which was a lot better than it sounds. And good red wine. I brought a salad. I was practically fainting from nervousness. My voice rising too high sometimes, my breath running away from me sometimes.

“What does he want with me?” I thought. “What does he want from me?”

We had several dinners and a couple of walks around the neighborhood before I was absolutely, 100% certain he wanted to kiss me. Then, I kissed him in his back yard, while we listened to The Doors beneath a bright waning moon in an inky sky.

And we became lovers.

And, here’s the amazing part.

We are good lovers, for sure. We are good to each other. We are learning about one another. We are having good sex.

But, there is something missing, something that I had with Sam. It’s chemistry. It’s pheromones. It’s scent. It’s that je ne sais quoi that makes certain things sublime, and we don’t know why. We do not know. It’s a mystery.

It’s the mix, the blend, of me and Sam, and it worked. It clicked.

When I kiss my young lover, it’s good, and I get into it, sure, after a few minutes. But, on some level — some rather big level, some rather important level (I know it’s important because it’s distracting as hell )— I feel like I’m observing myself from on high, from afar.

Is this just my insecurity speaking?

Is it my refusal to go all-in, to go feet-first, in an effort — a determination — to protect myself?

Is it really that we lack chemistry? (Do we lack chemistry?)

Is it because I feel so old? He feels so young? I just can’t get with the program? I simply don’t like or want to be with a younger man? I don’t believe in it? I don’t believe his regard for me is real? I’m suspicious? I’m scared?

Perhaps it’s that I know this will never be “permanent” (as if anything ever is). I know he wants to find a woman he can have a family with. He wants to have everything I got to have, a family in which to raise kids, build something meaningful, for which to leave a legacy. He wants all that. As he should.

Is he holding back from me, and that’s what I feel, and that’s why the chemistry between us can feel a little flat?

Everything just feels a little… mechanical. I must say. It’s true.

And yet, he’s very, very good to me. He insists on total honesty. He loves to converse, relate, share. He reaches out every day. He’s game to meet… just about every day, it seems.

But here’s the important and surprising part. At least, I think it is. He’s not a better lover than my old man. He’s not better just by virtue of being younger. That trope is not true. And I think that’s great. I think that’s amazing. I think more people should know it.

But, I gave this story a title, something about animals, how we’re all animals. I guess it’s the concept of pheromones I want to leave you with, the notion that there is something afoot that is entirely out of our control. We can’t control who we love, who we feel attracted to. And that is the best thing about love. The surprise of it. The way that it can sneak up on us. The way it forces us to listen, to notice.

This is good to know as we get older. That our attractiveness is so much more than our skin, our beauty, our “virility.” Love and attraction are more subtle than that. For some of us at least. For all of us, I think, if we can open up our awareness, our channel to subtlety, and the sublime.

Christiana White

Written by

I write personal essays about food, travel, love, loss — the viscera of life. Currently at work on a memoir. Visit me at ChristianaWhite.com.

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