The Younger Woman
I always made excuses for their behavior, telling myself that an authority figure that was older and wiser than me wouldn’t dare to do something inappropriate.
There is nothing more appealing to middle-aged men than the younger woman. Beauty, eloquence, style, and success are meaningless when compared to youth and perceived innocence.
On a subconscious level, I guess I always knew that. I noticed the way older men looked at me from a young age; the way they would linger on my pre-pubescent body. I told myself they were looking at me with innocent eyes; maybe they had a twelve-year-old daughter too. Maybe I reminded them of her.
When I was fifteen, the attention became harder to ignore. Friends of my father would ask me about boys, casually hinting that I seemed like the kind of girl to get along better with older men. Male teachers would call me into their classroom for extended “meetings” that usually only involved asking me about my personal life and trying to make an excuse to touch me. I always made excuses for their behavior, telling myself that an authority figure that was older and wiser than me wouldn’t dare to do something inappropriate. Besides, I wasn’t even that pretty- why would they want me?
Things changed when I turned eighteen. Men didn’t look away when I noticed their intrusive eyes. I was a woman now; an adult. They were allowed to look at me however they wanted.
I never understood the appeal that I had to them. Boys in school never liked me; I was never the “pretty” girl. I was a loner. The girl with no friends. Sometimes I wonder if that was obvious to older men; if they could sense that the young girl beside them was lonely and desperate for any kind of attention.
When I go to bars full of men in their twenties and thirties, I’m invisible. But when I go to restaurants with older crowds, I can feel their eyes on me. They watch me from behind their wives, trailing their gaze lower as I pretend not to notice. Eventually, a 50-year-old man with a wedding ring indentation will sit next to me- ask me about myself, tell me I’m a “mature young woman”, an “old soul”; all the excuses he needs to tell himself so that he feels good about talking to a woman thirty years younger than him.
I wish I could say this is an experience I’m less familiar with. I wish I could say it was rare.
At a certain age, I became obsessed with staying young. I developed a subconscious fear at age 22 that I was prematurely aging, and therefore wouldn’t be desirable to anyone. At some point the lines on my forehead would become impossible to ignore; my skin would become less soft and worthy of praise. I would no longer be the younger girl. Nothing about me would be special anymore.
I started wearing my hair in pigtails, applying my makeup to make my eyes look bigger, and wearing sundresses that left my knobby knees exposed. I made an effort to sound younger when I spoke, and giggled between sentences. The men still liked me, still felt charmed by me, but when a bartender didn’t ask for my ID, I wanted to die. I felt worthless. I needed there to still be a question as to whether or not I was old enough. I needed them to look at me the way they did when I was 15, 16, 17. At 22 I was an old woman, washed up and wrinkled. Nobody would want me like this.
When I was a teenager, I hated the way I was looked at. I didn’t understand the power I had. I was afraid of older men, painfully aware of the danger they always carried with them. I don’t know when that changed. I don’t know when I started to be conditioned into needing their attention. All I know is that now, at 24 - as I clutch as hard as I can to the last traces of youth that I have - I can’t find anything else that I have to offer.