All I wanted was a sandwich.
I was driving home from work and daydreaming of tomatoes and banana peppers, oil and vinegar. Bread. I stopped at the sandwich shop, one I’d been to dozens of times before. I ordered my usual: a veggie sub, all the veggie toppings, no cheese, no mayo. Salt, pepper, oregano. Spicy mustard. He looked me in the eye. He was cool and calm; deliberate. Present. We made small talk about my cheese-less hoagie. He saw a documentary once, he told me. A plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat, he’d been convinced.
I noticed his rather large forearm tattoo. I noticed his nice smile. I noticed he was very young. 24 or 25, I guessed. Maybe 26. (I’m 37). We said our thank yous and goodbyes and I moved down the line to the register, where a different young man rang up my order. As I stood there, I watched the tall, thin guy with the tattooed arm and tried to imagine myself someplace else with him- sitting at a bar, at a table in a restaurant, walking to the car. What would he be wearing? I wondered. It didn’t really matter, I quickly concluded. He was way too young.
The next time I craved a sandwich he was there to make me one. That time we exchanged names. His name is Austin. I felt a little nervous. I was nervous because I could tell that he was nervous. It was sweet. He was sweet. He asked me how my weekend was. I told him that I flew to Florida to visit friends. He asked if I had a good time. I told him I had and asked about his weekend. It was nice, he told me. He relaxed.
A few days later I decided I was looking pretty cute. Coral is a good color on me. Thinking of this, I suddenly felt hungry for a veggie sandwich. I had butterflies. It was weird. I mean, he was so young. But still, I enjoyed our interactions. And his smile. He made me a sandwich and rang up my order. “When will I see you again?” he asked. A bit stunned and unsure of how to respond, I said, “what do you mean? I’m in here all the time.” He said, “no, I mean when can I see you other than here?”
I told him to give me a call and we’d plan something. I then went home and Facebook stalked him trying to learn something more about him, and figure out how old he was! He was smart and removed his birth date. He knew it might scare me away, he’d later admit. He called two days later while I was driving down Charlotte Street. We chatted for a while and then I came out with the big question- how old are you? He went into a speech about how souls are ageless. “That’s sweet” I said. “Tell me how old you are.”
“I’m 21”, he said. I nearly drove off the road.
I agreed to meet up for a drink, but made it clear it would not be a date. “I’m just out of a relationship”, I told him. “A marriage. I’m not ready for something new. AND you’re way too young for me. “Fine,” he said. “I just want to get to know you.” I had reservations, but I was also intrigued. “Why not?” I asked myself. He could be interesting to talk to.
Now allow me to insert that prior to and up to this point, younger men were normally out of the question for me. 16 years younger? (yes, 16 years.) NO. WAY. IN. HELL.
We met up at a restaurant bar on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm. By 3:20 I was head over heels.
To explain it is nearly impossible. No, it is impossible. All I can say is that that afternoon we laid on a blanket in the grass at a park feeling all the comfortable feelings you share with a long-time love and the intense passion and excitement of a new flame. We talked and laughed and kissed and hugged. We stared deep into each other’s eyes with more ease than I can ever make any sense of. We were completely vulnerable. Fully open-hearted. Totally connected.
I struggled with my feelings and the situation for the next few weeks. The very first time we held hands out in public together I was certain everyone would notice that I was much older than him and wonder what was wrong with me. I thought our age difference was so obvious, and that people would think it was weird or creepy or wrong. I was self-conscious and anxious. But then-suprise!- no one looked at us strangely. No one seemed to care. No one seemed to notice. It was my own ageist beliefs that were making me uncomfortable.
But still, I kept waiting for that moment. The one where he’d say, do, or reveal something about himself that would confirm that our age difference was just too big. That he wasn’t mature enough, or experienced enough, or knowledgable enough, or emotionally intelligent enough, or otherwise “grown up” enough to have a serious, functional relationship. And it’d be confirmed once and for all that he’s too young for me. And I could snap out of whatever it was that had me believing so foolishly that this could be a real relationship.
That moment never came. Instead things just kept getting better. Instead we would talk for hours and hours about everything. Instead we would go out to dinner, and dancing, and hiking, and for walks around the lake. Instead we would lie for hours in each other’s arms, staring at one another, relishing this new found bliss that neither of us could explain except to think we might be soul mates. My fear crept in on us a couple of times, and through it he simply understood and reassured me that our age difference means nothing to him. He loves me for who I am.
It’s been almost 6 months. We have spent very few nights apart. We live together. Every day, every moment we share is so utterly wonderful that it’s terrifying at times. The way we get along, the way we never run out of things to talk about, the way we completely accept and genuinely like everything about each other, the way we enjoy long, comfortable silences, is like nothing I have ever imagined before. It’s-dare I say-easy. Relationships are supposed to be work. But ours flows steadily, naturally, effortlessly. It’s so easy to love him. It just pours right out of me, unabridged.
I cry when I think about him. I cry because I can’t believe it. I cry because I feel so lucky and I am so grateful.
And so I’ve decided to embrace this unusual love connection. To transcend my beliefs about a (much) younger man being unable to be a good partner for me. To get out of my own way and stop telling myself the timing is wrong, the age gap is too large, other people will judge us. To accept this rare, profound, and magnificent love that has somehow found its way into my life. To take this risk, despite the odds, and to trust love. To trust life.
And the truth is, if it ended tomorrow, if it turns out it wasn’t meant to last, for whatever reason, I will never regret this. I will never wish I hadn’t chosen this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime raw, magical, vulnerable kind of love- a kind many never get to taste. I’m in love with a much younger man. And I’m scared to death. And I’m loving every second of it.
Be you and enjoy it!