"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In Praise Of December-May Love Affairs

Robert Allen had no idea that he was unhappy in his marriage until he met Daniela, a 24-year old Romanian medical student who found him attractive and potentially worthwhile.  Although she was from a modest family from Timisoara which had known nothing but difficult times, and which after Ceausescu's overthrow had to rely on the generosity of rural relatives, ingenuity, will, and resourcefulness to survive, she was not for sale, but simply a woman who understood the weakness of men, especially European men, and took advantage of their interest.

Daniela was dyed blonde (she had heard, correctly, how blonde hair gives a woman at least a 10 percent advantage with men), short (‘diminutive’ she preferred, again correctly understanding men’s preference for women who literally look up to them), busty (all men were attracted to women’s breasts and hers were round, full, and inviting), and intelligent. 

She met Robert at a public health conference on the Black Sea; and despite their quite different professional levels (he a PhD from Hopkins, expert in preventable ‘environmental’ diseases; and she a third-year medical student in a Romanian program which required little more than lasting out the three-year Soviet-style curriculum), they began an affair which was to last three years – intermittent only because of his wife, family, New York residence, and infrequent trips to Eastern Europe.  As far as she was concerned, he was a potential husband – handsome, wealthy, professional pedigree, virile, and respectful – and if marriage had to wait years of international courtship, divorce, and relocation, she – only in her early twenties – felt she had plenty of time.

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It would be wrong to call her a gold-digger.  Although there was no doubt of her interest in leaving Romania, Ceausescu, and enforced penury behind, she would not settle for just any wealthy American or European.  She had correctly valued her charms, the weakness of older men, and the romance of her poor, benighted, but alluring country; and knew that she would never have to settle but would marry someone of merit who would appreciate her for her beauty, talent, and ability.

It would equally be a mistake to assume that Robert was naïve sexual prey – nose open, immature, desperate for some sexual lifeline.  On the contrary he was prudent in his affairs, careful to protect his wife and children, and while looking for the romantic love that had escaped him, was not ignorant of the perils of December-May relationships.

On the contrary, he overestimated her ambitions, cached her in a wrongfully-ascribed category of manipulative women, and lost much of the spontaneity that should have been part of the rejuvenating experience of young sex.  He was always on his guard.

Daniela, on the other hand, was young enough to have no such secular concerns.  If Robert didn’t work out, there would be plenty of others.  Men were so predictable, childlike, and incredibly innocent when it came to women; and older men were so sorrowfully predictable, so desperate for young love, sexual redemption, and  Lawrentian epiphany, that they could be had in great numbers.

Marc Antony, member of the ruling triumvirate of Rome, naval hero, wealthy aristocrat of the Roman Empire fell completely for Cleopatra, a younger woman of beauty, charm, sexual allure, and power.  So much so that he let her lead him to defeat at Actium, a key battle which would determine the extent and strength of Roman rule in Egypt.  Cleopatra toyed with Antony, made fun of him with her minions, and was confident enough of her sexual allure – after all she had bedded Julius Caesar and had his children and had a dalliance with Pompey, another powerful member of the Roman ruling elite – that she had no fear of losing him.  Despite his military acumen, his civil savvy, and his universal respect as one of Rome’s greatest leaders, he threw caution, sagacity, and common sense to the wind when it came to Cleopatra.

Image result for images marc antony cleopatra eliz taylor

That’s what older men do, after all, give up worldly profit for the chance to regain their youth – or at least the most important semblance of it, sex – and Antony willingly, nose and eyes open, let Cleopatra take him in.

Coleman Silk, the main character in Phillip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain, a widowed college professor in his sixties, resigned to a life alone, meets a woman thirty years his junior, a janitor and farm worker who has survived an abusive marriage and the death of her two children, and for whom, in her depression and anomie any mutual companionship will do; and begins an affair.  Despite the difference in age, the threat of violence from her psychotic first husband, and the opprobrium of his academic society, he persists, and comes to love her.

“Granted, she is not my first love nor my best love”, Silk tells a confidant, “but she certainly is my last love.  Doesn’t that count for something?”.

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Of  course it does, as any older man in a relationship with a younger woman will attest.  An affirmation of potency and sexual allure, a pure and complete abandonment to sexual pleasure, not known since the days of youth.   The lucky older man who has it will never willingly give it up, and the many unlucky men who have only known one kind of abandonment – giving up sex with wives who are as old, dry, wrinkled, and tired as they are – can only dream about the sex that Robert enjoyed.

When Robert left Romania and took a long-term assignment in Moldova, Daniela wrote to him for advice.  She was pregnant, wanted the child, but still had hopes that he would return.  He wished her well with her pregnancy, and her life, and deleted her from all files, accounts, and chats. 

Robert felt no responsibility for Daniela (the child was not his) and because he had never trusted her, was glad that she now had responsibilities that would keep her in Romania and distant from him.  Yet that particular December-May love – in the Novotel, on hard, musty, Soviet-era beds in the cement-and-cinder block spas of the Carpathians, on the Black Sea, and in her childhood bedroom – was unforgettable.

D.H.Lawrence described ‘perfect’ sex as well as anyone, but even he went overboard when writing of the mystical coming together of two sexually kindred souls, the expression of mutually independent but dependent male-female wills.  Sex for Lawrence was never just copulation, procreation, or even mutual assurance of love.   When done right it was epiphanic.

The sex that Robert had with Daniela was nothing like that between Connie and Mellors, no such epiphanic expression of sexual wills; but it was far more than gratification.  Rejuvenating, redemptive, life-affirming…words that Lawrence never used… but how else to describe the sudden, unexpected release from sexual tedium and abstinence?

After Daniela, Robert had a number of love affairs, many with women younger than he; but never did he approach that forty-year difference – a  décalage of rare proportion for a middle-age, middle-class, ordinary professional American.  His affair with a young economist from the Cato Institute, 30 years younger than he, was particularly complicated by her desire to get pregnant – a desire which was all the more sexually stimulating because she conflated love with pregnancy.  Getting pregnant was a matter of affection not physiology; and her lovemaking – protected or not – took on a profoundly female nature. 

Yet it was nothing compared to forty years – a relationship which bordered on innocence and for which even Lawrence had no description.  He was interested in mature sexuality – the consonance of adult wills which had to evolve individually and very personally.  Both men and women could be either dominant or submissive, and the true sexual epiphany was when the two were balanced.  Youthful innocence held not interest for him.

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For an older, ordinary man, however, the sweetness of youth was the only epiphany.  The battle of wills fought out in Women in Love had no relevance whatsoever to Robert Allen or any men like him.
While younger women are often the prey of wealthy, predatory men; neither Daniela nor the Cato economist fell into that category.  Daniela who did expect a way out of post-gulag Romania certainly had her financial antennae up, and while the relationship did not end up in Oyster Bay, it was a feeder relationship well worth the investment and the sex.  Older men satisfy younger women thanks to their patience and self-restraint, and the Daniela-Robert affair was no different   The Cato-Robert affair was complicated by too many feminine expectations to ever have been fully satisfactory, but neither party was exploited.

So, the December-May love affair will outlast any of the more traditional, age-bound ones.  It has too much father-daughter, hope-expectation, rejuvenation-redemption elements to be innocuous nor forgettable.  In fact, when the stage is set right, it rivals anything Lawrence could ever have invented.

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