In with the old: Why I prefer dating older men

I have never dated a teenager. Except once, in high school, when naïveté counted as a valid excuse for poor decisions.  Yet even at that time, I recall almost dating this 20-year old college graduate, had not my overly paranoid father naturally cautioned me against it. “Older men know things,” he warned, eyes aghast across the dining table one Sunday night. He was poised to fire his lecture, likely culled from that morning’s sermon on the tree of knowledge and the loss of Eden.

Just last year, a friend had reposted on my wall a confession from one of those online Secret Files. It went like this, “I don’t want to date you. I really want to date your dad. I like my men like I like my wine; aged, robust, and in large doses.” Let me clarify: I didn’t write that overly suggestive remark. My mom forbids any mention of romance that verges on taboo. I admit, however, that whoever the sender was, in college I had obviously shared her sentiment.

There is an unspoken rule they say I follow when it comes to choosing men: the older, decidedly, the better. At 21, I’m in a relationship with a guy who’s older by 12 years, and yes, I’ve dated someone older than that. Psychologists, and all those crazy breeds of intellectuals determined to make sense of our basest selves, have explained why older men might be ideal. Girls’ brains mature years ahead of boys growing up, and the masculine set catch up only in their early 20s. Thus the segregation of boys and girls in exclusive schools. Thus the reason why some age gap might make for a good match.

The internet, of course, has taught us its own formula for dating: the girl’s age must be half the guy’s plus seven. If we believe these completely rational assertions, then yes, men, like wine, taste exceedingly better when they age.

Yet notwithstanding the almost-science behind these claims, no matter how convincing the theory, the real picture looks as sketchy as it is. Take for instance the ex who could pass off as my dad given five more years or so—one friend even said he noticed the resemblance. A night with just the two of us in a bar has all the makings of a creepy film scene: the aged guy preys over a frail fifteen year old, buys her a drink, touches the sweating glass before letting it slide gently across the table. This isn’t 50 Shades of Grey, maybe just some real-life, current-day version of Lolita.

Needless to say it isn’t a pretty picture. Imagine me taking him out to meet my friends and it looks like a group of young girls needed an adult chaperone for the night. If you’re wondering about the other way around, no, I hadn’t been out drinking with their adult circle. I’ve heard of his friends and just met a few on occasional visits. I’ve even watched some of their five-year-olds running around their office.

To an extent, we just kept the entire thing a secret until reality took over: We broke up, decided we had to move on with our otherwise normal lives, and met other people. Ironically, I was about to go out with this guy who’s about the same age as he, had not my thirty-something friend launch a convincing argument on why to finally date someone my age. “At this point,” my friend lectured, “you’re not supposed to be learning things from someone who could be your dad. You’re supposed to be learning life with a kid who’s figuring things out like you are.” Almost compelling, I admit. Although a year later, that same thirty-something friend became my present boyfriend.

I’m a hopeless case.

I’ve lost count of those who’ve asked if my type were simply pedos or if I had some sort of Electra complex. Enter him and me, holding hands; zoom in on the shocked faces; and cue in the expected lines: “Is he married?” “Does he have a kid?” “Is this a 50 Shades kind of thing?” There’s always been, after all, some crazy, intellectualized explanation of why we want what we can’t have. Taboos become fetish, and my dating history could give evidence to those dated far-flung theories of Freud. At the very least, it prompts people to ask the most awkward line to date: “Do you call him daddy?”

It freaks me out. One friend put it bluntly: “You just want him to take away your control.” A lot may think everything’s like a scene from that kitschy Lana del Rey video: the fragile woman surrendering all virtue to the old gent driving the fancy car, in a rhythm that’s powerful yet so sickeningly over-passive. Petite and at 4’10, I’m aware I look like the perfect prey. Add to that the implications of my name, “pristine.”

No one ever lectured me at length about my choice of guys but only made me feel like borderline, unlabelled queerness was a crime. No handcuffs involved, but I feel like I’m always carrying a sort of scarlet letter. A for Anastasia Steel setting back the feminist agenda by a hundred years.

The internet, of course, has taught us its own formula for dating: the girl’s age must be half the guy’s plus seven. If we believe these completely rational assertions, then yes, men, like wine, taste exceedingly better when they age.

Although, on the other hand, it’s just as counter-progressive to blindly prefer younger guys just because the world declares it’s age appropriate. I get that a young girl holding hands with a guy 12 years older isn’t exactly pleasing on the feed. It may not be a pretty picture, yet when it comes to dealing with the overly personal, I can’t just decide on mere aesthetics. I’m not going to reject anyone just because he didn’t pass the filter. We tend to play around so much with images. Even with all the liberties and the LGBTQ openness that this generation claims to have, we’re still uneasy about a host of things—for instance, the overly offbeat who can’t fit the spectacle of a well-curated feed.

Sure, there are Hollywood couples who’ve won the world over regardless or because of the age disparity. The real ones, however, are left to toe the line between romantic and disturbing—and when the scale is tipping to the latter, we blame the media for brainwashing us with the glamorized perverse. But, really, it’s the same set of images telling us to crush on young, hot males with the solid packs. We are, all of us, inflicted with our respective fantasies.

Past our gender politics and our psychoanalytics, my real reason is frustratingly so simple:  I just want a guy who isn’t so attached with the image and the virtual space, someone who could set aside the iPad when we spend the evening out. The boyfriend doesn’t really care much for social media, and one ex ‘til now doesn’t even have a Facebook profile. These days, intimacy can simply mean that the world isn’t tuned in on your everyday shenanigans.

Let me tell you what goes on behind the curtains and let me assure you it isn’t R-18. We go for dinners or drinks without caring much which angle will make for a perfect post. I talk to him about everyday things and just get lost in the stretch of thought. Sans canned retorts and repeating memes, the world looks less predictable than it is.  We rarely take pictures and I feel like dating a real person and not courting the world-wide-web’s approval.

I remember telling my boss a few months back how I can’t wait to be 30. Dating looked like the easy ticket out of the millennial age whose own fixations just as easily freak me out. Yes, we’re all drawn to the taboo, the uncanny, the forbidden—whatever you want to call it—but if you’re feeling briefly romantic about the case, you’d say I’m enamored with the old world that I was never able to have, while he’s attracted to the youth that he can never bring back.

Beyond that, things aren’t so cheesy. There’s something endearingly real about a guy who’s gone through  all those past five-year relationships, because somehow the cheesiness doesn’t carry over to his next one. Scrap the talk about “forevers” and what you have is an honest-to-goodness “let’s just try our hardest as long as we can.” Call me a commitment-phobe but maybe I got the trauma from the boys who were talking about marriage at 16.

So if you really must know, I don’t call him daddy—although, okay, one ex before asked jokingly if I wanted to. A friend remarked that maybe I just wanted his protection but they think it’s the guys I date they should protect me from. But I thought we’ve outlived the middle ages when girls were pitiable damsels in distress. So while everyone is scrambling to the next big gig this Friday, he introduces me to some melodramatic Carpenters song that’s apparently popular back in his days. I’ll get drunk on a club with other young friends some other night, but for now, I’m satisfied with my wine.  He cooks me dinner and the song hits refrain, “Every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-o-o still shines, all the oldies but goodies.

By Pristine de Leon
Art by Camille Tolentino
This story was published in SCOUT Issue 14 Year 2015, featuring Ellen Adarna on the cover