Nance wants to know why.
I think I’ve read too many novels, because when these things happen, when powerful men take proactive steps that they know hold the seeds of their destruction, I want to get inside their heads….Why, Mark Souder? Why, in one’s 50s, when the hot blood of youth has cooled considerably, does one take up with a married woman? She’s no hot-fudge sundae of erotic possibilities, just your basic cute northeast Indiana Republican hausfrau, with a bit more polish than the ones you see shopping at the mall in Christmas sweaters. Maybe, like a lot of guys who fall well short of the George Clooney looks standard, he thought that he would never again find a woman other than his wife willing to go to bed with him, and decided not to deprive himself of the experience.
This is what I worry’s going to be my downfall.
I’m not concerned I’ll make a fool out of myself over a very young woman. Not that gangs of cute forty-ish hausfraus are holding auctions to see who gets a night out on the town with Lance, but my guess is that the pool of twentysomethings who’d even consider a fling with me is three, and two of them are nuts and the other is a Tour de France groupie and has me confused with Lance Armstrong.
It’s the thighs.
I have moral and aesthetic objections to chasing women who aren’t old enough to run for the US Senate anyway. Like calls to like. Beautiful girls belong with beautiful boys and anybody under the age of thirty is beautiful. I would mess up the picture.
And a twenty-five year old who preferred having the picture messed up by a man old enough to be be her father over the dozens of her choice only old enough to have graduated from high school with her must be out of her mind or emotionally damaged in some way that I’d feel bad taking advantage of or would lose patience with or would cause me to wear myself out with fear and dread as I waited for the inevitable crack-up, breakdown, explosion, or sudden return of her senses.
There are always exceptions. I’m sure there are many sane, sensible, and well-adjusted young women who have found happiness in the arms---and beds---of men other women their age have to resist referring to as Gramps.
But I’ve never been inclined to bet on myself being one of the exceptions to anything.
So I think I’m safe from making a fool of myself that way.
Let any prettily plump intern in a red beret flash a thong at me and I’ll give her a good scolding and send her straight home to her mother.
Ah, but if that mother turned up in my office to talk it all over working a nice pair of slacks to her advantage or wearing a sweater revealing a hint of cleavage that would be the end of me. The Appalachian Trail beckons.
Really, Lance? I hear Nance ask, because I know she won’t mind if I use her as a rhetorical device. You’d Souder your life, Sanford your marriage for the likes of a forty-five year old Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman and would-be Republican evil twin to The West Wing’s CJ Cregg?
I don’t know.
Guess it would depend on just how polished she looked in her Christmas sweater.
Particularly if that’s all she was wearing, the Christmas sweater and a pair of heels.
Look, like I said, it’s not as though crowds waving dollar bills are forming at the foot of the stage. What I do know is this. I fell into a terrible funk the other day when I realized that I will never again go to a beach with a woman who looks good in a bikini who wants me to notice how good she looks in her bikini. That was the subtext of my goofy post last Tuesday on Cameron Diaz. I think---or I want to think---or I want you to think---that the real cause of my funk was the anger I felt at myself for not having followed up my realization with an un-self-sympathetic, Of course you won’t. You’re an old man. You might as well feel bad you won’t be asked by the Mets to play centerfield for them.
The vanity behind my self-pity annoyed me too. There I was lamenting the loss of the sort of company who if I had my wish would not get to enjoy the same sort of aesthetic privilege I would be enjoying.
I don’t look as good in a bikini as I used to.
I used to promise myself I wouldn’t turn into one of those middle-aged men, that I wouldn’t try to kid myself with spiritual and emotional comb-overs and metaphorical red convertibles. I intended to age gracefully at least to the extent of not whining about the inevitable. And so far I’ve kept my promise and been fairly true to my intentions.
My problem hasn’t been accepting getting older. It’s been seeing a point to getting any older.
But just because I am determined not to be one of those middle-aged men doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with those middle-aged men, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t feel pangs of envy when I hear about how one of those middle-aged men has made a fool of himself in the way now Ex-Congressman Mark Souder has made a fool of himself.
Souder is odious and despicable because, well, he’s odious and despicable generally, but also because he was so brazen in his hypocrisy. Souder wrote a note excusing himself from moral PE a long time ago, and then made a political career out of telling the principal every time he caught someone else skipping gym. But there’s still a part of me that watches that risible video of him sitting there going all Aw Shucks, folksy as the woman he’s committing adultery with praises him for his efforts to make other people feel bad for having sex and thinks, You lucky bastard, I know why you did it.
“Really, Lance? Really?” Nance asks again, still comfortable in her role as rhetorical device. “Isn’t that insulting to the blonde? And would you actually do that to her?”
Look, Nance. Like I said. I don’t know. How can I know until I face the temptation?
I suspect that I am now as far past desperate housewives wanting to tempt me as I am past women of any age or marital condition who look good in bikinis wanting me to notice. But for all I know I have faced the temptation and either I’m such an angel I don’t even notice when I’m being tempted or I’m a blind fool.
It may be that the same problem---if you can call it a problem, and some of you won’t---that cut down on my opportunities to give in to temptation in college and grad school persisted into my graying middle-age.
Back in college there were girls who “wanted to” but they thought I was such a good guy that they were afraid I would think badly of them if they’d put the moves on me. Telling me this was a way of putting a move on me, of course, but these confessions---and it’s not as if there were dozens of them---came too late, at times when I had a girlfriend in the vicinity when the confessions got made and in letters written and phone calls made after we’d both left school and were living with large chunks of the country in between us. Once it was made under both circumstances, in a phone call I got while my new girlfriend was in the room.
In graduate school, the problem was slightly different. The women who claimed later they would have liked to have tempted me were a little older and wiser and knew I was no angel, but I’d made the mistake of letting my girlfriend (the blonde) come visit and the would-be temptresses had met her and liked her and they told me they couldn’t do that to her.
So, for all I know, years have gone by when I could have been tempted if only I hadn’t appeared to be quite such a nice guy or if the blonde had struck the right wrong woman as more of a bitch.
You might have noticed that in the above characterization of myself as untempted, temptation presents itself—or rather fails to present itself---in the form of women putting the moves on me. This might make you think I was a passive by-stander in my own romantic and erotic life, either because I really was too much of a nice guy or I was a coward.
You’ll see I said the problem cut down on my opportunities. It didn’t eliminate them.
There are some guys, the Sam Malones of the world, who can focus their seductive attentions on more than one woman at a time. There are men who can juggle chainsaws and men who can solve differential equations in their heads and men who can stare down grizzly bears and grin them to death.
I’m not one of them.
The truth is I don’t know what I’d do but not because I am clueless about my own ability to resist. I know what I did in the past and sometimes I was good and sometimes I was bad. I was young then and it would be pleasant to think that now that I am old I am wise and have developed more strength of character and an iron-willed self-command.
But that’s not the way life works for most of us.
We don’t get stronger morally as we grow older any more than we get stronger physically. We just don’t have the same opportunities. Fewer temptations come our way for reasons similar to our not being asked along to climb a mountain or hang-glide or run a marathon or drive all night to be on the beach at dawn to catch the waves. The younger and stronger people---people stronger in will and mind as well as in body---who plan and arrange these things, including the things that are temptations of one form or another, know we’re not up to it.
Older people who feel the urge to cluck smugly over the sins and foibles, crimes and misdemeanors of others need to ask themselves if they are really such moral paragons themselves that they would never do anything that rotten or stupid or if it’s actually the case that no one thinks anymore to ask them to join in on the sinning, foibling, criminality and misdemeanorhood.
After a certain age, it’s just not going to happen. Fame, fortune, and beach dates with someone who looks as good in a bathing suit as Cameron Diaz or Tom Cruise are for the young or, at least, the younger.
As it happens, women reach this certain age sooner than men. It’s unfair. But it’s the way it is. There seem to be more younger women who are crazy enough or damaged enough or just plain unprejudiced against gray hair, bald spots, slack guts, and wrinkles or for whom a trim waist and a youthful attitude and a sparkling personality are attractive enough than there are younger men similarly crazy, damaged, or unprejudiced. That may be changing. But for now there’s also the problem of that hormone drop which has the effect of making women of a certain age less interested in sex (at least for a certain key number of years) and one of the things that makes a person interested in having sex with another person is that person’s interest in having sex.
But the same thing does happen to men. That certain age does arrive, and sooner than the men themselves know.
Sooner than they are ready to admit, at any rate.
Actually, I think a lot of women admit to it too soon, that they underestimate the allure of a good figure, a youthful attitude, and a sparkling personality, but that’s another post, and probably one I don’t have the courage to write, but back to men.
A trouble people have adjusting to getting older is that bodies don’t age all of a piece. The parts of us that make us desirable age faster than the parts of us that make us desire.
Our spirits and personalities do age and they age in response to the aging of our bodies, and you would think that a man who knows he can’t vault parking meters anymore would know he can’t do other things either. But as other parts of our psyches decline, one thing seems to grow stronger. Our vanity.
That certain age arrives. The hormone levels drop. The bald spot expands, the wrinkles deepen, the jeans start hanging slack in the rear. And Vanity says, Nah!
Vanity says, It’s not happening or if it is it doesn’t matter or if it does matter, it matters generally, but not to a stud like you.
Vanity says, And anyway, you deserve one last chance.
And vanity isn’t always talking about sex.
It’s just that in this case that’s what I’m talking about.
Vanity conquers some men right way and with obvious sad results. They buy the convertible. They do the comb-over or the equivalent, applying Rograine, shaving the whole head, buying the rug, or going in for plugs. They start thinking that biochemically induced four hour erections are what nature intended.
They might as well wear signs. “I Am One of Those Middle-Aged Men.”
But for other men, Vanity lies in wait. It sits back, reading a newspaper or surfing the web, patiently, knowing that the moment of weakness will come when the man in question, whom Vanity has been indulging with the foolish idea that he will never be one of those middle-aged men is suddenly shaken by the realization that he misses going to the beach with Cameron Diaz lookalikes and that an older, dumpier, grayer, dweebier man like Mark Souder has been enjoying the company of a cute Hoosier hausfrau who looks good in, and probably out of, her Christmas sweaters. And when that moment arrives Vanity puts aside its paper, sets down its iPad, steps up and throws a friendly arm around the poor, disappointed, and self-loathing man’s slumping shoulders and says, Why not you too?
The issue here, then, Nance, and now I’m addressing you as a pal and not just as a rhetorical device, isn’t whether or not I’d give in to temptation and why I’d be such an old fool.
I don’t know.
The issue is that I want to know.
One way or the other.
I want the temptation.
More humiliating to admit. I still expect the temptation.
The disappointing point is that I failed in my resolve.
I am one of those middle-aged men.