It was a typical Tuesday morning at the neighborhood playground. I’d loaded my three-year-old grandson, Baker into the wagon and we arrived before the sun could heat up the sliding boards. He was now confident enough to come down the slides without me on the one next to him. A man with a young boy in a carriage strolled over to our area. The young fellow raised his arms to the man, eager to be out of confinement and free to crawl on the paved blue track that circled the swings and climbing structures.
“Looks like he’s having fun,” the man said, and nodded to Baker who was climbing up the slide.
“Yeah, he loves it here. Glad the weather’s nice so we can get out,” I said, referring to our recent rainy weather.
He told me he kept his son except on Fridays and weekends–when he had a part-time job.
“His mother’s in medical school so I do more of the child care,” he said, and reached for the little boy who’d crawled over into the mulch, putting him back onto the cleared surface of the track.
The man had an easy smile and relaxed manner. He had dark brown hair that curled at his neck with the ends tipped in gray. His blue eyes sparkled when he talked and by all accounts he was a handsome young man–which he said was forty-four as our conversation progressed.
We talked about how long we’d lived in the apartments and I divulged that I’d moved there when I divorced. He said his parents had divorced later in life, too. That had impacted him personally and the topic of marriage and family was especially interesting to him–since he had a masters degree in that area.
“I never did clinical work because I didn’t complete the licensing requirements,” he explained, then said he had a sales job for the time being. He went on to share more about his mother remarrying and how the family navigated the changes.
“Yeah, it’s not what you expect after so many years of marriage,” I offered, and looked over to check on Baker.
The man grinned when he spotted Baker under the slide, partially hidden but enough in view to see that he was peeing. He’d recently learned that boys can drop their pants and pee when they’re outside; oh, the freedom he’d found in being a boy!
I shook my head and continued with our conversation.
“I never knew I’d be sixty-six and navigating the strange world of online dating. It’s so different from how we did things ‘back in the day.’
“My mom did that and found a partner. It’s worked out pretty well,” he said, commenting on how they were opposites but that seemed to make for a good marriage.
I thought about all the profiles and pics I’d gone through over the past months. Would I ever find a partner, I wondered, and watched Baker climbing up the rope ladder.
I sat down on the track, close to the man and his son who kept reaching for the mulch.
“What gets me about online dating,” I continued, glad to have an adult’s ear on a day when my only listener was a 3-year-old, “is that the men that appear to be my equals in age, education, and appearance seem to be looking for women a lot younger.”
He grinned and then responded, “That’s right. It’s because women at your age have decreasing Market Value.”
OUCH! Did he really just say that, I thought.
He had to see the startle that registered on my face at his glib analysis.
“No, it’s true. When we men are in our twenties, we have a low market value. The women we’re looking at aren’t looking at us because the older guys have more value. We have nothing to offer.”
I was quiet, considering his perspective and checking for Baker who played in the beach volleyball court, his expansive sandbox.
“Then when we’re older,” he continued, “the tables turn and younger women see older men as having worth.”
I felt irritated at another proclamation of the futility of my search.
“Well, that’s not fair,” I retorted. “I wasn’t dealing with this in my twenties. I should be valued now for who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I can run circles around a lot of men who are younger than me.” I thought of the men whom I danced with and were winded long before me.
We digressed and he talked about his own experiences with dating– not saying if he met the women online or in person. He said that he didn’t really care about the age of the women he dated–and mostly noted women much younger; His partner, the mother of his child was twenty-seven. Emboldened by our conversation, like talking to a stranger on the plane, he said he’d even dated a 19-year-old when he was in his late thirties.
He’d clearly been quite the charmer, a real lady’s man.
His little boy tried to stand and teetered briefly before plopping down on the track.
Baker came over with a ball and sat near me and the little boy smiled–eager to have an older child to play with. Baker rolled the ball to the little fellow. His father helped him to push it back to Baker.
“You shouldn’t worry about the age thing too much,” the man said to me, as if trying to console this stranger that he’d warmed up to. “Some men, like me, don’t hold a certain age to be too important.”
Maybe I’d become more of a real person to him in our conversation. Maybe I was more than just a doting grandmother bringing her grandson to the park.
“And if you do start going out, well don’t be too eager— you know,” he said, looking at me, making eye contact as if to send a secret message. “There are some real characters out there.”
Oh, he means sex, I thought. He’s trying to tell me to be careful– this 44-year-old player, who’s young enough to be my son, is trying to tell me, a 66-year-old grandmother to watch out. Really?!
I looked over to his son who had put a piece of mulch in his mouth. I pulled him to me and did a finger swipe, fishing out the piece then handing him to his father. He grinned, shook his head, and took the wiggling boy.
It was time to go.
We gathered our things and said goodbye. I watched them walking away, the 44-year-old Mr Mom pushing the stroller back to their apartment. Unlike a stranger on the plane, I knew I’d likely see him again. His pronouncement about my market value lingered, the odds that felt stacked against me. I thought about his future and wondered what his market value would be in ten years; then he would be 54 and his physician-wife would be 37 and in her prime in her profession while he’d be careening toward his senior years.
Guess I should just focus on his words from his undeveloped professional side, I thought. “You shouldn’t worry about that age thing too much.”
Maybe he’ll be saying the same thing to himself one day.
How About You?
Do you feel devalued because of your age?
How can you change your focus, your view of yourself and the impact of aging?