Maybe it’s inappropriate to start off the new year with ruminations on pedophilia, but while I was in Ohio for Christmas, my best friend, Tracey, and her friend Kim were in the midst of seeing all of this year’s potentially-Oscar-nominated films, and I tagged along to see An Education with them almost as an afterthought. It’s mostly plotless–a sheltered 17-year-old girl loses more than her virginity to an older man when she’s dazzled by his worldliness–and it’s not for everyone, but it was entirely for me.
It was a great story and all, but for days afterward, it was still consuming my thoughts in a way that I didn’t think it should have. I found myself feeling detached from everything I did, because all I wanted to be doing was watching that film again. I finally decided it was because the girl in the film, Jenny, reminded me so much of myself. Growing up in smalltown Ohio, I wasn’t at all interested in most of the boys I went to school with, because I was way too smart for them, and I don’t mean that to sound narcissistic. Even the ones who could hold a conversation with me didn’t seem to appreciate me in the way I thought my awesomeness merited. I didn’t find things much different in college, so I “dated” first a 35-year-old and then a 41-year-old and just didn’t think anything wrong with it. Brains and humor have always made people more attractive to me than classic good looks alone, and men twice my age seemed so thoughtful and funny. They got why I was so interested in literature, and they listened to the right kinds of music, only they knew bands and read books I’d only heard of. They were so serious about politics, unlike the boys at school who were only Republicans because their parents were. And they both lived somewhere other than Ohio, which was really the most important thing.
The sad thing I realized after watching An Education is that the main reason I wanted to date older men no longer applies. Somewhere between 18 and now, I figured out that the guys I thought were so wise back then had really just accumulated the sort of life experience you do when you’ve had a job, had a wife, had some birthdays. They knew bands I’d only heard of because they’d been my age when those bands were making music, just like I know more bands than someone half my age does. My best friends now are just as literate, just as politically-conscious, and just as funny as any of those guys were. In fact, my current boyfriend, who’s only a couple of years older than I am, is smarter and funnier than probably anyone I know. It wasn’t that boys my age were necessarily not good enough for me but just that I hadn’t met the right one. Not that I regret any of it.
My even sadder realization is that I probably already ended my tenure as pedophile bait without even realizing it, and despite being wise enough now to recognize that older isn’t always better, I’m still going to miss the attention. Sure, I can date 80-year-old men for their money in my late 20s, but no one’s going to question that guy’s morals or mental health. If I’m not attractive simply for my ability to get someone arrested for touching me, what do I have to live for? What’s the point of being seen with an old codger if it doesn’t garner him disapproving glares and me worried glances? What’s the point if I’m not being taken advantage of?