The Second Flush Of Youth

Originally published in U MAGAZINE in December 2007

Internet shopping is great, isn’t it? Why would anyone bother to go out to actual shops, where you run the risk of frostbite, turning the balls of your feet to puree, getting your face elbowed in queues or being forced to have lunch in Starbucks, when you could sit at home in your underwear and buy anything you want on the computer?  Books, CDs, groceries, surf boards (“the best surfing gear in the midlands – guaranteed!”), reptile eggs, anything can be delivered to your door these days, all without the inconvenience of leaving the house or lifting the telephone.  Or even chatting people up, it seems.

More than a few times lately, I seem to have spotted some middle-aged, approaching elderly, old fart with his arm ostentatiously hooked around a very young, cute, shapely, exotic and, sadly, lost-looking woman. Upon spotting this type of couple, it’s entirely normal and expected that most people will look away in embarrassment and speculate on: A) how much he might have bid for her on; and B) does she look as nice as she did in the catalogue?

On a night out with The Expert, relationships advisor to the bottoms of pint glasses everywhere, we witnessed one such couple giggling playfully in a city-centre pub. While a grizzled assembly of the man’s peers sat gawping at her in envious disbelief, we looked upon the whole spectacle with amusement, trying to work out what it was about him that first attracted her. The acres of spare face? The wispy fluff sprouting from his ears? The wiry, copper-tinted comb over? The whiskey-ravaged nose that protruded from his face like a giant, bursting, scarlet raspberry? Or was there something large, bulging and enticing concealed in his pocket that he was only too happy to whip out at a second’s notice if she so desired?  Yes, his wallet.

Unable to stomach the sight of them any longer, we averted our gazes from the unfolding tragedy and began to speculate on the wider implications of older people making fools of themselves with partners from an entirely different generation. I trusted that The Expert would be experienced in these matters and, bang on cue, he related a little tale of his teenage self and a mate being propositioned by a couple of doughnut-midriffed mums in a club. “One of them was actually quite hot,” he claimed. “But we couldn’t work out what to do about the other one, so we legged it.”

Cougars, women 35 years plus who prefer the ‘company’ of younger men, seem to be on the increase these days – or perhaps they’re just putting themselves out more. There’s been a persistent hoo-ha in the press over Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s beautiful relationship, and those of past age-gap couples like Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake – but the non-celebrity versions, the fabled “modern-day Mrs Robinsons”, seem to be filling the pages of magazines and tabloids with their ‘true-life’ revelations every other day.

“And why shouldn’t they?” mused The Expert. “It was always acceptable the other way around.” True, I said; old movie idols like Ronald Colman, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant were generally seen canoodling with much younger women, all of whom seemed to be swept up in a fit of dramatic sighs by these men’s ‘distinguished’ features, general maturity, life-experience and rather sinister protective instincts.

Of course, these were the days of beautiful black and white movies where even ageing film stars had a photogenic flawlessness about them; and manners of the day dictated that there was no gritty, sweaty, close-up on-screen rumpy-pumpy, thus preserving everyone’s dignity and Brylcreem. By contrast, anyone who witnessed the clearly crumbling Sean Connery getting it on with Catherine Zeta Jones in glorious, gaudy colour during Entrapment only put people in gruesome mind of Ms Zeta Jones’s actual husband, Michael Douglas; a man she has to help up hills, up stairs, up ladders – up everywhere, no doubt.

So, what, I asked my learned friend, were the advantages of the older woman? As usual, The Expert paused to consider his answer with the look of a toothless judge sucking a lemon.  “Well,” he declared, “older women are going to die sooner leaving you free to hit on younger chicks. But while they’re still here, they know plenty of tricks they want to try out on energetic younger men.”

However crude his latter point is, it actually makes perfect sense. As every schoolboy knows (or thinks he knows), a man’s sexual peak is already behind him before he’s out of his teens; a woman’s, meanwhile, doesn’t ‘climax’ until she’s in her mid-30s. It’s little wonder that there are reported increases in the numbers of older women reinventing themselves as sexual predators and preying on men half their age – who seem only too happy to oblige. It’s everywhere you look at the moment. A new Sharon Stone film, entitled Cougars, depicts just such a predator (can’t think why they chose Stone for this role, she’s like America’s answer to Penelope Keith), while even that nice Agnetha “I’m not just a sexy bottom” Fältskog from Abba, the 57-year-old blonde one who used to be married to Bjorn, is asserting her mature sexiness by stepping out with a chap 20 years her junior.

Relationship-wise, though – what do these age-gap couples talk about? What do they do? Women always seem to know what to talk about and their younger men are astonishingly malleable for the duration of their relationship – although the briefer the better, perhaps. But what of those men who go all out to woo a younger woman? While there are many young women who are so frustrated by the relative immaturity of their male contemporaries that only an older man will do, the male ego soon finds the initially attractive energy, flightiness, and flirtatiousness of the younger woman hugely threatening.

The girl’s male friends are a constant worry, their own friends’ sanctimonious approval of the relationship is irritating and there’s often a gulf in what they find fun socially; dinner parties turn her off, clubbing for him is something they do to seals – and renditions of The Oldest Swinger In Town will only prickle him like a Hessian vest.

So, quietly between ourselves, The Expert and I wished our whiskey-nosed friend with the imported girlfriend the best of luck; he’s going to need it, with the best will in the world, and all the ginseng and Viagra money can buy.

The thing is, neither of us could seriously be smug about it; if what all of us ultimately wants from life is someone to cuddle us warm on cold nights, someone to share intimate little moments with and someone who’ll look after us selflessly when we lose control of our bladders and forget who we are, maybe his is the best path to happiness. We can’t all be Rod Stewart, can we?

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