(About a 6 minute read)
I have noticed we are always discovering “the last taboo” these days. That is, the sole remaining thing that nearly everyone considers immoral and unacceptable.
One newspaper says the last taboo is “mothers walking out on their children”. Another source describes it as “viewing the Palestinians as terrorists”, and a third says it’s “dating your biological parent”. Of course the people calling these things “the last taboo left” want to persuade people to break their taboos, and accept them instead.
But something a little more profound is also implicit in all of this taboo naming. It’s the notion that we live in an age in which we have almost systematically eliminated all but a single one of a zillion former superstitious taboos.
I myself do not believe that’s true. Far from it, I think we have at most ameliorated a handful of the old things — most notably perhaps the notion against premarital sex. Studies now consistently show about nine in ten couples have sex before marriage.
But even that can be misleading. I have known several couples who had sex before marriage, but then assumed they absolutely had to get married since by having sex, they had “spoiled themselves” to any other possible partners. Is the taboo really dead if people still believe that they can spoil themselves by having sex?
Taboos are stubborn weeds to root out. Maybe the only ones we’ve really ever rooted out have to do with the sort of clothing we should and should not wear.
One taboo in particular interests me this morning. The taboo against age and youth engaging in romantic relationships. One of the great, amusing ironies of my life is I became voluntarily celibate shortly before a series of much younger women began offering themselves to me unsolicited by me.
Those offers would give rise to quite a few mixed feelings on my part. For one thing, the women were almost all of them the sort of people I would have killed grandmother to have dated when I’d been their age — had I any sense about women back then (I did not), or had I sense enough to have murdered grandmother for a good woman back then (I was even less sensible about that — back then).
All of them were notably kind — which is the primary trait I look for in people, male or female. Beyond that, at least one of them came from a family of geniuses and was a honest genius herself. In the best family tradition, she now has a daughter who is at least as smart as her.
But none of them were less than bright. One was somewhat troubled — a 16 year old who first began offering herself to me when she was 15, and who gave up and found a 55 year old doctor out of Denver by the time she was 16, after I had repeatedly declined her offers.
The oldest of the much younger women — a woman in her early twenties — again, repeatedly — offered herself to me, and over a period of years this time. She and I came the closest of any of them to becoming lovers. To this day, I don’t know why, but she was the sole young woman who seemed a complete mystery to me.
The others seemed more or less transparent. When we’re young, we don’t usually understand that it is all but inevitable for a much older person to see right through us. But there is so much power of recognition in “been there, done that”, that it’s almost certain they will.
To me, one of the most curious things about these women is that all but one or perhaps two of them were Hollywood beautiful.
Now, I have heard handsome men describe themselves as “average”, but it is with no modesty on my part that I describe myself as such — it is mere hard-nosed realism. So why the exceptionally beautiful women? Why not at least a few “average” rather than all above average or beyond above average? That’s something I have yet to figure out and probably never will now.
While I certainly have absolutely no prejudices against beauty, I’m amused — again ironically — by the fact that had I not been celibate, I would have embraced below average looks in a young woman who was kind, bright, humorous, and in possession of a handful of other virtues
such as the social skills of a Los Angeles suck artist.
Here’s the thing: I would not needed to be celibate to have declined the offers. At the time, I fully accepted and even endorsed the taboo against mixing age and youth romantically.
My chief reason for opposing old and young getting it on like a hot pack of rabbits in a forest fire was that I worried the older person would use his (or even her) experience to manipulate and exploit the younger person. Never mind that I myself would not have done so by that time in my life — it was to me the principle of the thing.
That’s how I saw it not only at the time, but for years afterwards — until one day a strange thought came to me almost out of the blue. I had been thinking about ways in which I was arrogant, for I had decided to become a blogger and was naturally concerned with enhancing my arrogance for the sake of making it emotionally easier on me to inflict my opinions on innocent people. Same thing I’ve always instinctively done before mugging panhandlers for their change.
That day, I saw all at once and suddenly that I had arrogantly thought of myself as wiser and smarter than the young women. “She doesn’t realize how foolish she is to desire a relationship with an older man.” “She’s infatuated with me, and does not know her true feelings.” “She’s unaware that such a relationship would in some ways be unequal.” etc.
The one that really struck me as especially arrogant was my assumption that those young women were too young to know their own hearts.
Yes, there might have been a bit of that, but when I thought about it, I realized I’d always known my heart when their age. At least about something as important as who I loved. My problem had been I so seldom followed it – not that I so seldom knew it. Besides, none of the women had ever struck me as being immature for her age.
So today, I would impose no theoretical limits to older and younger relationships. There are practical problems I’d take into account, but none of them amount to principled concerns in my book.
My guess is there is most likely enough of a taboo against mixing age and youth that any such couple would face a great deal of ostracism and the loss of some friends — the usual friends who were not true anyway, and who are always lost anyway whenever we so much as fart in public.
About the same day I changed around my views on this matter, I recalled a fact. A fact that I found strange I should have forgotten for so many years in the first place.
My mother was twenty years younger than my father. She was anything but a fool, and she had once told me that the decade or so she’d had with him were the only happy years of her life — all the other years of her life, she’d merely been content, but those were truly happy ones.