the receiving end


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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144 Responses

  1. This is a really powerful essay, Kristin. Thanks for writing it.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Okay, cold turkey comment here:
    Yes, women do actively fantasize about teen boys. We have the term soccer mom for a reason, you know.

    Like the men who actively fantasize about 12-14 year old girls, this isn’t EVERYONE.

    People have basic biological inbuilt things. These vary person to person (particularly among men, for reasons that Mama nature thinks are obvious). But they aren’t just “society and all that.”Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kim says:

      Um, no, soccer moms are moms who have children in soccer. Baseball moms have their children in baseball. Hockey moms, hockey. Soccer moms is just the most widespread use of this term but is it not and has never been soccer moms = MILFs or Stacey’s Mom kind of thing.

      I’m not trying to pick a fight but I gotta push back on this one, that is not the meaning of the expression soccer mom. Webster agrees.

      If a person enjoys fantasizing about teen boys, hey, follow your bliss, I guess. For me, I experienced a very clear shifting of my interest as I aged and I think it’s worthy of a mention because I think it’s a much higher % of males who fantasize about barely-legal women than women who fantasize about barely-legal men and I think it means something important for our society moving forward as we try to process where we go from here.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Stats don’t back you up on this.
        Have you watched Stranger Things?
        Focus groups showed women were literally getting aroused looking at the dissection of a kid’s body in Stranger Things.
        Have you watched the new season?
        You can see the fanservice. They had fanservice of Will pissing, for god’s sake!

        Soccer Mom was originally used to mean moms who had kids by the soccer team. Then someone overheard the phrase at a cocktail party, and missed the implication. Apparently 1990’s DC gossip doesn’t actually even rate an entry in urban dictionary, who knew?

        I think there’s a key distinction here. You’re talking about “barely legal.” I’m talking about “barely pubescent”. One’s a biological, hardwired distinction, the other one’s more of a sociobiological entity.

        18 is an age where a lot of people, historically, had already had 3 children. I mean, please, can we process that?Report

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kim says:

          Well, everyone out here in “most of America” uses soccer mom for exactly the reason it is listed in Webster’s Dictionary and I don’t care if a group of insiders use it differently, I am pushing back on using the word incorrectly because that is NOT what that expression means to the vast majority of people.

          Unless you’re saying that 2 weeks ago the LA Times was calling Sarah Huckabee Sanders a sex offender that is still the common use of the expression

          • another datapoint from “flyover land”: my stereotype of “soccer mom” is a mom who aggressively pushes her children to do well in sports, may yell at the coach, tends to be kind of pushy and aggressive in the rest of life. The term I’d use for an older woman running after younger (but AFAIK, “legal”) men is “cougar.”

            Maybe it’s different in other parts of the country. I know my definition of what a “Yankee” was, given my Ohio-raised background, was v. different from what people where I now live (in a western outpost of the South) think of as a “yankee.”Report

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kim says:

          And by the way when I was saying barely legal I was being polite to any males reading this who may experience that attraction. Ok? I don’t intend to make anybody feel bad for desires that they feel (including barely pubescent girls) and cannot help, and don’t act upon. I think it’s probably entirely natural, but my point in writing this is to point out that acting upon it is questionable behavior for the reasons I put into my essay.

          Historically people used to do all sorts of things. Historically people used to beat their wives and send small children to work in coal mines. Historically half of all infants never used to survive till their first birthdays. Historically people owned slaves. It’s amazing how people hide behind this “historically XYZ” in issues of sexual morality when they’d never use it to defend any other behavior that our society has begun to evolve away from.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kim says:

      I’m late to the game here, but yes, as far as I’v experienced, the common parlance for an older woman who pursues an attraction with a significantly younger man is “cougar.” And there’s plenty of that out there. One of the paralegals at my firm is about a year younger than me, closer to 50 than 45. She routinely dates men in their early 20’s. And while mostly most people respect the legal and social boundary of 18 years as the (admittedly arbitrary) threshold between adolescence and adulthood, it’s not so surprising anymore to see stories of older women having at least sexual relationships with teen boys. It’s particularly salacious when the woman is a teacher and her paramour is one of her students and even more so when she’s attractive enough that a third party looking in wonders how it could possibly be that she couldn’t attract a man her own age. Which ignores the fact that her reasons for doing what she did had nothing to do with what men her own age thought of her.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

        FWIW, when I was in my 20s I would have been totally into dating a woman in her forties. I probably wouldn’t have had “marriage material” in mind, but then again I wasn’t looking for marriage when I was that age. But I definitely dug older women.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This was very good. I think it also applies quite a bit to the older woman/young man dynamic even though that is probably less common in practice. The fantasy is that the older person is initiating a younger person into the ways of romance rather having the younger person flail about blindly with another young person. The reality tends to be a lot darker.

    There is another aspect of the older person/younger person dynamic that isn’t remarked upon though. Its usually assumed, for good reason, that the older person has at least an average amount of experience for a person their age. That isn’t often the case. Some adults like myself haven’t been exactly what you would call lucky in this department. I think one appealing of a younger person for inexperienced older people is that they aren’t going to feel inadequate because of an experience gap and might be able to fake normalcy better. Another thing is that inexperienced older people feel that being with younger people will allow them to make up for lost time and finally get to do the things that other people in your generation did.

    With people your age you feel that your lack of experience is potentially off-putting and you need to pretend to have experience, which kind of makes everything stressful and less fun, or that your really looking for two different things in a relationship and compromise ain’t going to happen because of the mutually incompatibility of these conflicting wants.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Trigger Warning for the following…

      (redacted – Maribou)Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kim says:


        Kim, I regret to think you might be personally hurt by my removing this, but your sweeping claims about incest are directly counter to the facts, *everywhere I’ve researched them*, and to my personal experience. I’m not gonna leave them up. This isn’t a place to make those sorts of anti-factual claims (either the site, or particularly the comments of a personal post like this). The soccer mom thing was bad enough.

        Please rein it in. You can demonstrate a fair amount of sensitivity to both context and other people’s experience. You haven’t been since late yesterday. You’re shifting me into a corner I don’t want to be in, and the result will be you getting banned.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Maribou says:

          Allow me to second this — this essay, and the kinds of comments it’s likely to inspire, are going to be intensely personal and arouse sensitive feelings of a kind qualitatively different than, say, a politics post. Please respect that. That actually should go for everyone, but I do hope that @kim understands direct and pointed inclusion within that “everyone.” TIA.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

      My husband pointed that out, that he knew some guys who’d been in the military and they were practically in stasis during that time – developmentally speaking. They were really immature still and had very little experience with women since they’d been in training or deployed for most of their early adulthood. Like I said, there’s a lot of gray here.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lee.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Your welcome. I think your comments about girls being programmed to be swept off their feet is also why a few men feel a bit conflicted about the entire political moment. Boys are biologically or culturally programmed to sweep girls of their feet. The actions that seem to sweep girls off their feet with the greatest chance of success seem to be very close to harassment if done wrong, especially if your a boy or man who lacks the traditional programming. The dual requirements of safety/no harassment and sweeping girls off their feet seem in conflict with each other. That’s what I was trying to get at yesterday in my comment about the political moment conflicting with my personal life. I think many men in similar situations to myself feel the same.Report

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I agree with you, and we have a lot of sifting through to do as a culture.

          My concern is that I feel that we may not like where all this is going and we have to proceed with great caution to prevent really messing things up for everyone by going too “conservative” (for lack of a better word) Victorian, or whatever.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            Like Chip Daniels noted, when you have hundreds of millions of people changing social norms are hard because getting to a consensus point is difficult. We still have millions of people in the United States who think we can and should undue the Sexual Revolution because the pre-Sexual Revolution worked the best in their understanding. You have people who generally like how things are now and think that modern ideas about enthusiastic consent contrast are hogwash. You have people that want to smash the entire system down and start again. And everything in-between.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

          You’ve seen the Oglaf comic, right?
          The one about women really wanting big cocks?

          it’s got a bit more truth than people really want to give it credit for.

          Sweeping a girl off her feet isn’t really what Kristen is talking about above. It’s more of a one-time thing, for one thing. More rapey, more “Ooh! You’re the smartest, best person I’m going to meet in my Life!” (and remember, there was a time that might literally be true.) Or, in Archer’s terminology, Sploosh!

          But “traditional programming” is for monogamy, lack of sex drive, and a bunch of other boring things.

          “Tall Dark and Handsome” only works in a milieu where most people are “short, stubby and ugly.”

          (Spoiler blocks added by Burt Likko)Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kim says:

            “Sweeping a girl off her feet isn’t really what Kristen is talking about above”

            @kim When an author is writing from her own experience, about extremely personal topics, please don’t make statements that assert she is using the wrong terminology to describe it.

            That’s uncivil, to put it mildly.Report

            • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

              I think “sweeping a girl off her feet” has a pretty clear, widely acknowledged meaning. A guy comes out of nowhere, thinks you’re mindbogglingly great, dazzles you with his awesomeness (and yes, this generally involves money), flies you off to Paris for the weekend, etc and by the end of it all you’re madly in love and live happily ever after.

              And that’s how I intended it. Just to clarify. I’m honestly not sure what exactly these other “swept off feet” connotations involve for people and I can’t speak to any of them. I have only ever heard the expression used in one way only.

              There are guys who will play the “sweep u off ur feet” card to get sex and then skip the living happily ever after part of it.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                @kristin-devine Yeah, that’s precisely how I am familiar with the term being used, also.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                In so far as the whole meme is out of the Dark Ages, (along with the Tall Dark and Handsome Stranger motif, which said gypsy fortuneteller was talking about one of her relatives), the “live happily ever after” is a sanitization and bowdlerization.

                Bards came and went, sweeping young girls off their feet, and then leaving before the pitchfork-wielding mob got too big.

                …besides, who do you think started telling these tales in the first place?

                Have you read my comments on how “Sexual Chemistry” is about the immune system? People (men and women) have inbuilt abilities to sense exotic and interesting people (by which we mean their DNA).Report

          • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kim says:

            I’m sorry, I hate to be overly sensitive but I find the above commend about men’s size to be gross and upsetting to me. I don’t understand what the comment is even supposed to imply and every time I scroll past it, it makes me uncomfortable. (and that is not requesting an explanation either, I just find it offputting)Report

        • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I think you are getting at something important here. I have never been a ‘sweeper’, I have been pretty cautious sexually. And yet I am aware of the culture (and not just other men!) encouraging me to be more “forceful”. There’s talk of “spunky girls” and “being topped” and so on.

          It’s bewildering, and these days, a bit scary.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Doctor Jay says:

            What we as a nation are doing right now, is clumsily trying to assemble a new social etiquette.
            Like any task by a 330 million-person committee, its slow and halting and awkward.

            And what makes it even more so, is that our human mores are meant to control our wildly conflicting and contradictory impulses.

            We want adventure, and safety; communion, and independence; peaceful cooperation and competition; equality and dominance.

            That’s why its not surprising that people who seem very prim and mild mannered turn out to have savage dark fantasies, or veer off the path unexpectedly into ugly behavior.

            I tried (unsuccessfully) yesterday over at LGM to make the point we as a culture send each other mixed signals and social cues, then feign surprise when poorly socialized people cross boundaries.

            Its not a defense of their behavior, its more to point out that seemingly contradictory behavior (like a conservative Baptist public official preying upon teenaged girls) is actually consistent with human history.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Doctor Jay says:

            I’d use the word daring rather than forceful to describe what culture expects from men romantically. Daring sounds more positive than forceful. But yes, the expectation is that the men should be the ones building the chemistry and excitement for the early parts of the relationship at least. Its why nearly all dating advice aimed at men, no matter who wrote it, is based around the need for you to be confident and take the initiative. Feminist learning advice would also emphasize the importance of consent while PUA will ignore it but both say be confident, don’t be desperate, and take the initiative.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

              Well, it’s either that or go to bars looking confident and busy reading your briefings… And wait for women to send you drinks.
              … it could work?
              [I know a guy who routinely went into bars without having money to pay, and got sent enough drinks to go home happy. Generally without talking with anyone. He’d do this in gay and straight bars, despite being straight.]Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

              @leeesq I think they may possibly be talking about two different things when they say take the initiative though? At least from what I’ve read… PUA meaning driving the romance / sexual connection through and achieving your own wants, feminist meaning take emotional initiative / initiative for “feelings talk” rather than expecting a female partner to do that.

              I’ve seen plenty of advice to feminist women (and to non-feminist women and to gay men from other gay men for that matter) telling them to be confident, not act desperate, and be upfront about their emotions and/or take initiative for expressing their desires, so I think maybe it’s just that that one of a few pieces of (contradictory) standard advice that everyone falls back on when offering advice for stuff that is actually a lot more complicated and painful than they are willing to conceive of it being.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Maribou says:

                From what I’ve seen on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (The DENNIS System), it’s still cool for PUA to talk about feelings.
                … they just need to lie about them.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

              @leeesq — The PUA advice seems pretty hit-or-miss. After all, there are no real studies showing these techniques work. Instead, you have men bragging at each other on internet forums. Let’s face it, that’s not a reliable measure.

              There is a ton of dating advice aimed at women. A lot. Regarding men building the chemistry — I would suggest you peruse a few women’s magazines. Trust me on this. “How to attract a partner” is something in which women invest a great deal of energy. There is fashion, grooming, makeup, fitness, along with endless articles on how to be attractive and how to be skilled at sex. Add to this the various articles on “how to convince him to go long term.” That’s an industry all it’s own.

              (redacted, veronica I understand your perspective but it’s still an attack, even if couched as carefully and gently as you did. not the venue. i hear you, but not the venue. especially not here and now. the rest of your comment is fine but you know where the line is. – Maribou)Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:


            A social media friend of mine was discussing how disappointed he was with Al Franken yesterday because he saw Franken as one of the good guys. Another woman on the thread asked semi-rhetorically perhaps about why so few guys know not to engage in this kind of behavior.

            My thought was that there are a lot of guys that don’t engage in this kind of behavior but they can also be called boring, uptight, timid, cautious, etc.

            So it seems like there is a lot of “I know you can’t have it both ways but both ways is the only way I want it” at times.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              The answer is right there in the picture.

              Who took the picture? Who was Franken mugging for, if not a crowd of bystanders? Were they laughing? Were they rewarding him with approval and respect?

              I can imagine how he walked out of there with their approval ringing in his ears, then finds 10 years later that suddenly the whole world is demanding his head.
              I joked on the LGM thread that I “have video of Al Franken laughing while man is raped by a gorilla” referencing the scene in Trading Places, which was watched and laughed at by millions of people.

              Again, not an excuse of bad behavior, so much as I want to point out how complicit we all are in building this culture.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                … and to think, some people get offended by Holocaust jokes.
                I feel old now.

                Do you know what kind of jokes you can’t tell?
                You can’t have the black guy in your TV show stealing shit (seriously, the level of epic shitstorm is NotWorthIt, and I know epic shitstirrers).

                It’s getting to be that you can’t tell jokes about GBTA folks… (and that people are starting to force TV shows to include them… Which is rather alarming, when you consider the former being applied to a farcical show.)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kim says:

                What is “GBTA”?

                I am either old, or not up to date on my Liberal Taxonomy.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                @chip-daniels FWIW, you’re neither, she was being kinda creative with the lingo. I’ve seen it maybe once or twice, usually followed by the word “men”. Gay Bi Trans and Asexual men. (why the L isn’t there).

                Example sentence: Many GBTA men do not want to be called “queer,” as they still experience it primarily as a slur.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kim says:


                Look, you’ve put me in a really tight spot. I care about you. I care about your weird hard-to-parse but often emotionally powerful comments, when they aren’t causing all kinds of problems for other commenters and for our writers, and sometimes even when they are.

                And I know you care about this site and the other commenters here.

                But you ignored multiple warnings, including one from Burt at least an hour before this comment, to get a hold of yourself. When a moderator tells you “you’d be better off not posting on this thread,” you should listen. If it’s one in a string of warnings, you MUST listen. And you didn’t.

                If I’d been home and not at a medical appointment, I would’ve just banned you, instantly, and probably without thinking about it, out of frustration. Not even just for this thread, but for several years of not knowing how to act in such a way that you don’t cause offense and discomfort to many, many people.

                As it is, I’m effectively banning you but I’m making up a special Kimmi punishment which I will probably never use again, in hopes that you really are in a better place eventually:

                You’re banned for the next year.

                If you come back and you do similar stuff, you’ll be banned for always.

                Please don’t try to sockpuppet your way out of it, either, we’ll just end up in a fight.

                And I know plenty of people on this board are fond of you, don’t feel like you can’t contact them personally (unless you try and they say so). For myself, that would be okay, but like once or twice a month, alright? I can’t keep up a running correspondence and I don’t want to send you to a killfile in my email. And if you don’t want to write me or anyone, of course I’m not saying you have to. Just, we care about you, don’t feel like you are exiled forever for being WrongBadAwful.

                But you are banned for a year because your behavior has been pretty WrongBadAwful way too much of the time.

                I’ll miss parts of you a lot.Report

              • Avatar BigBlue in reply to Maribou says:

                I think a year is a bit much, even if @kim was wrong about the meaning of the term “soccer mom”Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              A lot of romantically successful behavior from men can look like harassment from the outside. A dancer friend of mine, who knows about energy and advances, states its about the type of feeling you give off. There are men who apparently, for lack of a better word, of an aura where you can trust them to get close up and personal but it feels good. Than you have men you feels like a threat doing the same action. Trying to formulate policies off auras isn’t really probable.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

                @leeesq FWIW, men with good auras who overly rely on said auras… sometimes end up screwing up their lives pretty awfully. Because all it takes is one woman who (1000 percent justifiably) is like “Wait, WHAT did you just do?” and the whole imaginary edifice in their heads of being perfect and never upsetting a single woman ever (probably untrue if my friends are *at all* typical) comes crashing into reality head first.

                As, you know, it probably should.

                But it’s a pretty miserable experience from what I’ve seen.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

                This might be a little dark but I would love to see that happen. It would be a bit of revenge and I’d probably have a bit of smirk on my face.

                I’m pretty doubtful of the aura theory myself but I do admit that there seems to be a small minority of men that are simply chemistry-laden. You see more than few of them in the dance scene because that type of aura is really useful on the dance floor. You still can’t formulate public policy around this though.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Yeah, I wouldn’t call them auras, but it’s something.

                Watching that happen is pretty dark. I’ve seen it happen to someone I very much disliked and I’ll admit it was satisfying.

                But I also saw it happen to one of my best friends, who until that point literally never had anyone he hit on tell him anything other than that they thought he was aces. I had some doubts about some of what he’d done, to other people, not because they seemed upset but because it seemed so terribly likely that eventually SOMEONE would be hurt and/or angry rather than delighted, and was frank with him about them, but it’s hard to listen to the voice of reason when the people in question are *universally* acting like you’re amazing and wonderful and they think you are great, and verbally affirming that and wanting to date you and cuddle you …. I saw all this happen for years while we were both in college.

                And then one time, ONE time, he super-fucked up while inebriated, and someone pressed assault charges. (He paid some criminal consequences, though not jail time, no one wanted that including the victim.) And it’s taken…. 6 or 7 years for him to get his life fully back to some semblance of together? God knows if he’ll ever date again.

                I don’t even think it’s unfair – he sees it as fitting consequences for what he did and that seems reasonable to me – but given how much I love him and all, it’s still pretty heartbreaking. Even though I think rebuilt him is a lot stronger and less wounded than old him used to be…


              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                Also, in the latter case, I’m pretty sure one of the results of the chemistry is that he really struggled to believe anyone could value him *except* for that. He wasn’t a self-assured golden boy on the inside, he was a wounded bird who could still hop around as joyfully as anybody, but who spent a lot of time hiding that his wings were broken, performing for a crowd of people whose affection was conditional (or so it seemed to him) on his performance.

                He and I never had sex, which I think is one reason why we appreciated each other so much. We both let each other just BE, without that expectation. (I definitely fell into the older-wiser-sister role with him, though, even though he’s nearly a year older than I am.)Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

                @maribou — I wonder if we’re talking about the same thing here. I’ve definitely met people who just have amazing approach skills. Generally they don’t seem abusive to me. Speaking for myself, I’ve done things that to an outsider would look out-of-bounds, but it always with someone with whom I had a pre-existing relationship, and thus some kind of blanket consent. I assume people with a lot of solid social calibration can walk very close to the line but never cross it.

                Being drunk will backfire, however. I can see how that happens.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

                It’s not that the things he did were out of bounds before then. They were, as best I could tell, universally welcome. (I did wonder whether one or two of the women were performing being awesome, cool, and having the boundaries they demonstrated rather than some other ones, but that was kind of on them as adults, and something that I wondered about other contexts with those same people – he wasn’t abusing them.) He was everybody’s favorite cuddlebug in his communities, not at all perceived as creepy or inappropriate and I did not think he was abusing anybody. He wasn’t manipulating them. He was doing what he thought they wanted and as far as I can tell they usually did. At most they might find him a bit exuberant.

                But because his skills were so good (and he depended on them so much for validation), I was worried that at some point they’d go astray and, given that he was basically totally dependent on them for deciding how to act, he’d misread something.

                Which, eventually, they did. As I said it was a one-time thing, the fuck-up, not a pattern of fuck-ups. One person whom he thought from previous interactions was comfortable with something they Very Much were not.

                And since these things were never verbally negotiated or explicitly discussed (common among dancers and actors, I’ve found, though that might not be fair of me)… he was, in fact, really out of bounds. And the consequence was fair.

                But it still really really sucked.

                Intoxicants do change people’s awareness of other people’s lines, for sure.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

                At least in the West Coast Swing community, they take issues of consent seriously. My guess is that because the make up of West Coast swing dancers tend include people who take consent seriously. Its also partially because there are professionals and hobbyists and the hobbyists aren’t going to be as socially calibrated as the professionals. Most events have an official announcement about if anybody makes you feel unsafe, speak to an organizer.

                West Coast Swing also has a very wide age range of people involved. If your in your twenties or thirties, you can be dancing with people old enough to be your parents and at times still in high school. A lot of old people really like dancing with younger people in their twenties and thirties. Clear boundary setting is important in these circumstances.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

                (common among dancers and actors, I’ve found, though that might not be fair of me)

                As I was reading your posts about this sort of person, I was literally thinking about two different actors I know. And both are fairly skilled dancers, on top of that.

                I don’t believe in ‘auras’, but I know exactly what people are talking about here. There’s a certain type of people who can read body language of others and dance right on the line of consent.

                This is, in various ways, dangerous and probably not something to be encouraged.

                One of the people I am thinking of is gay and did it to men and women both, and he is particularly lucky he never tried any of that on a homophobe…although I guess detecting that is also part of the skill, and he also did it entirely within the theatrical community, so it would be rare to run across one.

                The other, a guy who was strictly female-oriented (In this manner, I mean, although he was also straight.), did cause trouble once, not because the woman appeared to have a problem with it, but because her boyfriend assumed she was having a problem with it and just too polite to call him out. (I honestly don’t know if he was correct.)Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

                People who have been rejected for a long period of time get confused when they finally meet somebody who wants them. They know its a good thing but they are so totally not used to hearing yes or being appreciated, they don’t know what to. Very romantically successful people getting rejected harshly are probably just as confused but in a much more painful manner. Depending on the person, I’d probably smirk but I’d feel really bad afterwards for taking delight in another person’s pain.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

                They don’t just do that. I know a guy — nice guy, lots of good qualities — who tends to go one single-shot dates and never gets a second because he reacts in one of two ways.

                1. “She’s way out of my league” and acts it.
                2. “OMG. I’m in love we should get married TOMORROW” and gets ghosted because, holy creepy Batman.

                If he just went on a date to have a fun night with someone, instead of this “turn the dial up to 11 and break it off” need for a relationship, he’d get what he needed.

                That’s what years of bad relationships get you. *sigh*. His ex really messed with his head. But of course he won’t talk to a therapist.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Morat20 says:

                I can sympathize a lot with your friend. I’m in a very similar situation in terms of going on a lot of one shot dates but not the reaction. I fell in love at first once in my life. It didn’t work out but it was still a wonderful experience in many ways.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Charisma is a thing, but I think you’re conflating another skill-set as well.

                Empathy. Or more specifically, the ability to read tone, expression, and body language to construct an accurate and reliable model of another person’s state of mind.

                Women are, by and large, more subtle and hard to read than men — although this is more a social construct. (Professionally, my wife knows two women who detest each other. They are always polite and cheerful when together. Whenever I happen to run into them at a work function of my wife’s, I always get her to explain the hidden daggers in their conversation. I’ve got enough empathy to realize they dislike each other and the cheerfullness is fake, but not enough to tell when the knives are sliding home).

                Someone with a well honed sense of empathy, who can step into a woman’s shoes, well frankly be more successful because he’ll know who to hit up and most likely how. He’ll spend less time getting bluntly rejected, because he’ll already have disengaged at the “polite conversation” stage because he recognizes a rejection is forthcoming if he pushes.

                You could call it “Game”, I suppose, but it’s really just having a better sense of reading human behavior than the average bear. I’m not great at it, as my (in my dating days) low self-esteem on that front made my second-guess my own instincts more than once.

                Luckily, my wife can be blunt and when we met I wasn’t actually looking for a relationship. I wasn’t even looking for a one night stand. I just flirted with the old school mate because I was in a good mood, and she seemed to need a distraction. (It turns out she enjoys shooting down over the top flirting I was in the mood for). We ended up dating because, on that day, I didn’t care what my self-esteem said (“You’re totally not her type, it’s not like you even knew her in High School, you moved in utterly different social circles”) because I wasn’t actually looking to get a yes or a no or anything.

                I just wanted to make her laugh. And apparently, that was enough to get the ball rolling.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Morat20 says:

                Empathy is not the word I’d use to describe this skill. To me empathy suggests at least a little bit of need to share in simebody’s Joy or pain rather than just read them for your own purpose.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Ah, no. You misunderstand me. Empathy is the ability to accurately model someone else’s state of mind. The ability to not just step into their shoes, but do so correctly. Properly, accurately model their state of mind.

                Empathy is quite useful for lots of things. Like when flirting or trying to hit on someone.

                Empathy is just a social tool. It’s used for good or bad. Con-men use it to sell you things you don’t want. Therapists use it to help you sort out your issues.

                But at it’s root — it’s using everything from vocal tones to body language to construct a working and accurate mental model of what another person is thinking and feeling.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Morat20 says:

                I tend to mix sympathy and empathy a lot in my mental world.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I’m not sure that most people really put even this much thought into it. When they don’t like something, either timidity or other aggressive behavior, then they don’t like it. When they like restraint or daring then they like it.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

                There’s also the fact that it’s contextual.

                As in “normally I like aggressive men, but not today for X, Y and Z”.

                It’s the fatal flaw of the PUA on a personal scale — people aren’t machines, whose levers can get flicked for predictable responses. Just as there is no “All women like X” ruleset that a PUA can really use, even individual people are going to vary day to day.

                The plain truth of the matter is you might be a perfect fit for someone, 10 days out of 12, and you picked the day she just wanted a few drinks to calm down from a crap day at work to approach her. She just wasn’t feeling it that day.

                But you’re right that most people don’t put too much thought into it. They like what they like, when they like it. And don’t when they don’t. And if you ask them to describe their type, a lot of them can’t really say what they’re looking for. That doesn’t mean they don’t have something pretty specific in mind, though.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Morat20 says:

                Thats another complexity that makes everything so confusing. What I really don’t like about the current national conversation is that you can’t get the sides to recognize that these are messy things that get complicated fast. If your in liberal circles and point out that men who are respectful often get a “I didn’t feel any chemistry” response than they accuse you of nice guy truisms. When you point out that sexual harassment is a real thing in the PUA community, your a cuck.

                I suppose this is to be expected, especially in online culture which generally encourages party line purity and being out for blood. If we are trying for real change, acknowledging that the entire situation is fraught with contradictions seems like a necessity.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

      @leeesq This comment makes a lot of sense to me. I think in a way it’s a problem that’s a mirror image of the problem I describe in my comment, where the people my age had mostly a lot less experience of the world than I did. In another way, though (more of an andbut), people can have less experience of dating, but far more experience of the world in general – which can set up weird imbalances even if their dating history is similar…

      It’s thorny, and difficult, for sure.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds in reply to LeeEsq says:

      This is an interesting angle @leeesq. I am happily married and in my 30s, but if I were to re-enter the dating scene, I can find nothing more terrible than courting a woman in their early 20s. Much like Kristen, my taste in women changed as I got older, but it is also due to the fact that I remember what it was like dating 20-year-old women when I was a comparable age. Informative and necessary, but something I never want to repeat.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        I’m in my 40’s and quite happily married as well, and if I suddenly found in the dating pool again, 20-somethings would be very much off my radar. I mean, sure, it might be fun for a bit, but I highly doubt she’d be terribly into my efforts as a parent, or my desire to start a MakerSpace, or build a WIG, or learn to para-glide, or saving for Bug’s education and my retirement, etc.

        Different life goals and all. It would be a very unusual young woman who was in sync with my life goals enough that a long term relationship could work. Not impossible, mind you, but I wouldn’t bother wading into the 20-something dating pool looking for it.Report

        • Exactly. And that’s how it was, too. He would talk to me about perfectly reasonable things that mattered to him (and would matter to me greatly now, as an adult) I did not give a flying fig for any of them. Yet he didn’t care or even really see that, because he was projecting onto me whatever he wanted to see there. Just wasn’t a good foundation for building a real relationship on.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think it also applies quite a bit to the older woman/young man dynamic even though that is probably less common in practice. The fantasy is that the older person is initiating a younger person into the ways of romance rather having the younger person flail about blindly with another young person. The reality tends to be a lot darker.

      I had nearly exactly this when I was in college–probably very early twenties–with a woman perhaps ten years older. But I would never have put it in terms of being initiated into the ways of romance. It was totally about the ways of fucking, and we both knew it. It was very educational. Looking back, that might have been the appeal for her. What did she see in a geeky college kid? I certainly wasn’t the only guy she could have gotten, and certainly not the physically hottest. But I was an eager learner in general, and saw no reason why sex should be any different. It was a total win-win from my end: I got both laid, and educated in technique; and while technique isn’t all there is to sex, or even most, it isn’t nothing.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        This experience worked out well for you, most likely because you were adult rather than a adolescent when it happened. Others get really scarred by it because they are incredibly young and trusting when it happens. I think one rule of relationships with wide age differences or really any relationship is that you can’t scar your partner. You have to leave them emotionally and psychologically in tact as possible.Report

  4. Avatar Maribou says:

    Kristin, this piece was so moving and so insightful. I really appreciated it.

    On a purely selfish (and probably somewhat ironic) level, it really helped me to understand why I do treasure the experience I had with a man twice my age, and what was different about it – he wasn’t “in love” with me, he was perfectly fine if I wasn’t in the mood for sex and perfectly responsive if I was (what we did was actually quite limited), I was seeing other people the entire time and so was he, so it wasn’t insular in the way such relationships often are – and we had a lot in common. We first started spending time together because we loved the same music, going to concerts and dancing, and I was actively hungry for, yes, his greater knowledge in areas where I was already well-read and actively involved (music but not only music). I also really appreciated the chance to get AWAY from college kids and spend time with his much older crowd, in small groups of 2 or 3, where I fit in and held my own gracefully.

    But also, I wasn’t an empty vessel or raw dough at 18. I was messed up, but wise far beyond what any normal 18 year old should have to be (happy or not). I wasn’t one of those happy, well-adjusted, utterly self-assured young women you describe (and whom I’ve occasionally met) – I was someone who’d been through familial hell of several different kinds since I was 3 or 4 years old. Hell that had also robbed me of my innocence. Hell I was obliged to pretend to all and sundry didn’t exist, including within our dysfunctional family. And in coping with all that, I’d developed skill sets that no one my age – hell, almost no one I knew in their mid-20s – seemed to have, as well as hard boundaries around what I would and wouldn’t do sexually. It was … wearying… to spend time with 17-24 year olds, wearying to date them, to be in love with them, to have patience with their myriad confusions and their… newness, I guess. I did it – my romantic yearnings were within an appropriate range – but it was a lot of work and I felt really different, really lonely sometimes, even with my dearest friends.

    My 36 year old was older, and wiser, and no doubt on some level I’d cast him in the role of a (much better) version of my daddy, who was only 40 at the time (he had two very small children and was a very good father as far as I could tell, and I was very suspicious of fathering) … but he’d also been on the streets as a teenager, been an addict, done the things addicts do to survive, gotten clean, stayed sober. At that fundamental level of… “scarred-ness”? and in our approach to staying sane and kind in the face of it, we had more in common than almost anyone I’ve met before or since. And he *never* tried to make it about me being an empty vessel. He was always super-interested in the areas where I knew stuff and he didn’t, on micro and macro levels, craving learning as much as I did, and he went out of his way to destabilize the normal power imbalances you might expect due to our differences in income levels, years of history, etc. I was still in “tell people as little as you can about your past” mode, so there was a lot he didn’t know about me – but when I did tell him things, he never reacted with the shock and … callowness… of my age peers. He just accepted me, as much or as little of me as I wanted him to, and consistently treated me like someone he was grateful to know. Which was both soothing balm against my parental wounds, and something I didn’t get much of from most (not all) of my college peers, even my best friends. They didn’t know how to offer that, sometimes, and I mostly didn’t know how to accept it from someone my own age even when they could offer it. I always ended up being their older, wiser, reluctantly-dispensing-advice friend, regardless of our literal ages. He was such an escape from that.

    I met up with him a few years ago, when I happened to be in his city and in deep crisis at the same time, and we spent an hour together, drinking Sprite in a bar. And it was evident to me both that we’d aged the same amount since we last met (no arrested development on his part, he was in a committed relationship with someone a couple years older than he is), and that our emotional connection would always be the same wondrous thing that it had been nearly 20 years before. It was a gift, to see each other again. Also quite a relief, as I’d been actively questioning myself due to the nature of the crisis (my dad had just gone to jail), wondering if I had misremembered, smoothed out my narrative, and the person in question was, in fact, a creepy old man. But he wasn’t. In the least. (As mentioned elsewhere, as far as I can tell, I am also the only person he ever slept with that wasn’t in an appropriate age range.)

    So your story of someone who did you a great wrong, and your analysis of why, helped me understand exactly what my criteria are for knowing I was greatly helped, and not harmed. Thank you for that.

    Moving on to a few points that are less personal:

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard a fair amount of opinions about women finding quite a lot younger men (definitely not teenage boys) pretty attractive. Googling men on TV shows to assure oneself one is not improperly lusting after teenagers was quite a pastime among my friends for a few years there when we were in our late 20s. (Now that we’re in our 40s, we’ve moved on to 30-55 year olds for the most part …). I also know plenty of men who are more interested in women who are older than them (not significantly, cougar older, just … older). Among my close friends it’s about 50/50 for who is the older partner in a long-term relationship, and I think the biggest age gap in my circles is about 7 years.

    For me, the media and culture generally reinforce all those stereotypes so hard that it’s nigh impossible to tell what’s culture and what’s biology at this point. I’ve also heard the arguments you ascribe to evolutionists in a different version, where instead of evolution it’s God Almighty that set things up this way – the comment about Mary and Joseph from some official weighing in on Roy Moore was not the first time I’d heard such things, though Catholics tend to reach back to Joseph and Rachel, I suspect because most of them think Mary never had sex even though the Bible mentions explicitly that Jesus had at least one sibling. I’m equally skeptical of both the evolutionary and the religious framings of the argument, mostly because I’ve studied biology and religion and I think they are bad arguments, but also because I am stuck, if someone starts arguing those things in person, hearing my daddy’s voice using any means necessary to justify his incest and his other predatory behaviors. Not directly at the time, but in supposedly unrelated intellectual discussions of the topic. Of course the vast majority of the people making those arguments are not bad people. But it’s hard to take their arguments seriously, given that context.

    I hit tl;dr several paragraphs ago so I’ll end here for now. Just wanted to say once again, I really appreciate this piece, and that you were willing to put it out here so quickly and so openly in order to contribute to the ongoing conversation we’re all having.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Maribou says:

      Once you start talking about the human brain, you’re into the realm of software, and that has very very little to do with the hardware. So people who want to make arguments about humanity need to remember that humanity is changing just as fast as we can.

      … because if you don’t give kids cognitive software, they don’t talk.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

      Marabou, thank you so much for sharing your personal story and just like you say, hearing what you say makes intuitive sense to me and does help me to process what happened with me. Because if a person can be in that situation and look back on it as a positive experience, and yet I don’t, then to some extent that allows me to further allow myself to stop secondguessing and asking myself “but am I really being fair here” which is what I’ve done all these years.

      I hope that makes sense. Either way I appreciate it immensely.

      Probably could have worded the paragraph about my shifting age of interest differently. That seems to be causing a lot of controversy for people and I apologize for poor wording and overgeneralization. Not saying I’ve never seen the occasional cute younger man, it’s just interesting that my tastes have definitely, definitively changed while some men I know still seemingly have a strong preference for the 18-24 age range.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        That makes a lot of sense, for sure. And I’ve actually (less articulately because I hadn’t had your story to ponder and learn from) tried to explain some of that before when young women I know were in exciting! new! relationships with significantly older guys… like, “I’m not throwing stones from my glass house here but there are some things you may want to consider; here is my example; here is a counter-example of a couple i know who ended up with a very toxic divorce that was really hard on their young kid; here’s what i think some of the differences are…” Only not as condescending as that might sound; I’ve actually gotten pretty good at the older-friend-reluctantly-giving-advice dynamic and now only experience it in my friendships with people who are actually significantly younger than I am :D.

        I didn’t find your age generalizations controversial so much as they were just very very YMMV. I still thought they were interesting and worth exploring.

        Both of my younger sisters (one of whom got similar abuse to what I did, the other significantly less but definitely a lot more than none) married men who were younger. One just by a few years (2? 3?) when they were both in their mid-late 20s, but the other started dating her partner when he was 17 and she was 22. Not really a big age gap (I started dating Jay when I was 19 and he was 24 and no one blinked) but because of the gender reversal, and his youth, it was quite shocking to a lot of people. She *still* gets flack for it on a regular basis even though she is now 33 (and he’s 28). The family drama around the age difference was so great (and she was so averse to discussing it which I understood) that I only really understood it was FIVE years, and not 8 or 9, a few years ago. (I was pretty distracted when they started dating, due to some family deaths and fallout from my parents’ divorce, and I wasn’t in nearly as good communication with my family as I am now. A lot more calls where I was 95 percent dissociated the whole time.)

        In her case, even though our abuse was similar, she experienced the effects of the abuse on her development differently than I did, making her grow up more slowly (possibly because of birth order, possibly because she was more vulnerable because she was really life-and-death ill as a kid, possibly because my coping mechanisms were more extreme in other areas, leaving me with some really old parts and some buried really young parts, where she was significantly more integrated … but really who knows?). While she dated some significantly older people, and some people her own age, her current life partner is the only one she really felt *safe* to be herself around. Mostly that’s because of him, and his emotional warmth and his willingness to accept her as is. But part of it is because he and she were about the same age in terms of intimacy/desires/place in life (rather than workplace success or whatever societal measures) – she was much like a sixteen-year-old at 22, both in her own experience and from what I saw from the outside – and so he was a much better fit for her than men in their 20s were. I think it also helped that his family quickly became *her* second family…. much like my mother-in-law did more traditional mothering of me in my 20s than my mom ever did after I was 5 or 6…

        Sorry, getting rather rambly 🙂

        Anyway, it’s interesting and I didn’t find it controversial, I just didn’t agree. 😀Report

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

          My mom married a man 8 years her junior (he was 24) and it was much more scandalous than me only a few years later at 18 with a 29 year old. Ridiculous double standard.

          Now, that one didn’t work out either for a variety of reasons, just interesting that people thought that was much stranger than a girl who still lived at home seeing a divorced father. :/Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

      I’ve also heard the arguments you ascribe to evolutionists in a different version, where instead of evolution it’s God Almighty that set things up this way – the comment about Mary and Joseph from some official weighing in on Roy Moore was not the first time I’d heard such things, though Catholics tend to reach back to Joseph and Rachel, I suspect because most of them think Mary never had sex even though the Bible mentions explicitly that Jesus had at least one sibling.

      The reason that Catholics go to Joseph and Rachel instead of Mary and Joseph is, to be blunt, because Catholics are somewhat less inclined than Protestants to just make up facts and claim them as In The Bible.(1)

      By which I mean: The Mary and Joseph age difference is literally made up. It is Biblical Fanon. In fact, the writers of the Bible almost always go out of their ways to mention when there is a large age difference between a married couple, so the fact a difference in their age isn’t explicitly mentioned almost certainly means there is not a large one.

      Granted, the books were written by a bunch of difference people, so maybe the various writers of Jesus’s story didn’t bother…except other writers mentioning it should be a good clue it was pretty uncommon.

      Due to how things tended to work back then, the most logical guess would put Mary somewhere between 14-16, and Joseph somewhere between 16-18.

      Now, there are at least two different Apocrypha, the ‘History of Joseph the Carpenter’ and the ‘Infancy Gospel of James’ that say there was a large age difference, but, uh, those are not considered part of any version of the Bible by any church I am aware of.(2)

      Incidentally, can I mention how dumb it would be, even pretending this example was a real example, to use Mary and Joseph to justify _sexual molestation_ of a young woman? Hint: A major part of the story of Mary and Joseph is that they did not, in fact, have sex.

      I mean, if the argument was ‘Men who are old should be able to marry teenagers’, and the cited example was a real example of that happening, maybe this would make sense (I mean, I’m not for it, but it would at least make logical sense.), but I fail to see how that example, even if was correct, could justify adult men groping teenagers in a car. It, at best, would justify them attempting to arrange a marriage.(3)

      1) Yes, the Catholic church is pretty good at coming up with complicated philosophical reasoning and stating it is The Truth, but they tends to justify that with using actual Biblical canon. Where Protestants, especially sola scriptura ones, often just…make things up and claim it is The Truth because it’s in the Bible…even when it is, uh, not in the Bible. Seriously, you could write a book of ‘things people believe are in the Bible but are not’…and people have.

      2) And if the people defending Moore consider those to be part of the Bible, well, those books have some pretty weird things in them.

      3) And, in fact, Biblical example _have_ been used in exactly that way.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to DavidTC says:

        Hey @davidtc, I’m a cradle Catholic (since quite lapsed/heretical) who grew up also attending an Anglican (aka Protestant) church, and did a theology minor in college, in case there’s some reason you think my comment was made out of ignorance and that’s why you were explaining at me so hard about something you’ve already said at length elsewhere in these threads. I was happy to just let it go by elsewhere, but now that you’ve gone and @’d me about it, a few comments:

        1) Plenty of Catholics do actually claim the “Mary and Joseph had a huge age difference” thing, even though there are far more of that type of Catholic who go back to Jacob and Rachel.*** I know this *because I grew up around them*. The age difference thing goes back WAYYYYYYYYYYYY farther than Protestantism, you can learn a lot about the history of it at the surprisingly good Wiki page for Brothers of Jesus if you’re interested.

        2) While Mary and Joseph not having sex *before Jesus was born* is obviously seriously important to the story, it is not at all true *in the Bible* that, “A major part of the story of Mary and Joseph is that they did not, in fact, have sex.” They had at least 4 other children (Matthew 13:55, though the other gospels also mention Jesus’ brothers and one his sisters also). Now, all kinds of people come up with all kinds of creative logic to explain that away as Joseph having had a previous wife (this goes along with their theory about the age difference, and in fact is a big part of where that theory came from – the need to reconcile the brothers with the virginity in theological arguments), them actually being Jesus’ cousins (sigh, Jerome, of course HE didn’t want to believe Mary had sex the normal way, he was also super into Joseph being a virgin, grumble misogynist grumble grumble), and so on. People have actually been arguing about this forever, in many different theological traditions, and while it’s settled doctrine for almost all of them that Mary *was* a virgin her whole life (also BibFanon!) and thus that they can’t have been his real (half)-brothers …see that same wiki page… it’s also not because the Catholics (or the Orthodox for that matter) had some special lack of making stuff up that modern-day (or any historical) Protestants don’t. Catholics are just as creative in making scripture fit their other purposes as anybody else. You can’t blame Protestants for 3rd century theologians (at least not any more than you can blame Catholics for them), and I’m surprised that you know about stuff like the History of Joseph the Carpenter, but apparently don’t know about the long and tangled backstory of people fighting over whether Mary was a virgin and,*relatedly*, whether Joseph was really old, or not.

        3) In case it wasn’t *crystal* clear from the part where I said I think they are both bad arguments, I think it’s a terrible argument on a million different levels! But I wasn’t talking about quality theology (or quality evolutionary biology for that matter), I was talking about how both those arguments are weak sauce. And, in the case of religion, I was also talking about what actual believing members of the religion say and do, not about orthodoxy. If you think Catholics as opposed to Protestants have *fewer* folk beliefs that don’t actually line up with their authority’s doctrinaire teachings, you haven’t spent much time with Catholics in Canada or Europe… Maybe not in other places either, but Canadian and European Catholics account for most of the many Catholics I know, and most of the Catholics I’ve studied the histories of, so maybe you know some other Catholics (besides theologians and theology enthusiasts) who are far different in this area. Folk beliefs are sometimes a feature and sometimes a bug, and which is which has a lot more to do with the individuals / very local culture in which they are being held than anything else – especially given that both Protestants and Catholics share the European history of Xtreme Syncretism ™.

        4) My *point* in mentioning the differing tendencies of Protestants and Catholics in this regard was that it doesn’t matter if people think dumb things about Joseph and Mary in order to justify age differences or not, because if you take that away from them they will just fall back on Jacob and Rachel. People who are going to use the Bible to supposedly excuse terrible crimes (or just archaic and creepy norms) are going to use the Bible to supposedly excuse terrible crimes / creepy norms because that’s just what people do, claim higher authorities to justify stuff against other people’s consciences and/or their own.

        Or if they don’t believe in the Bible, they’ll turn to sociobiology. Or maybe they’ll go to both (as I mentioned my incestuous awful father doing in the very comment you’re responding to), even if they normally would strongly object to evolution and/or religion, because they know what they want to believe and they are going to find a way to keep believing that. Litigating the details is not especially useful, any more than trying to figure out if it’s biology more or less than culture is all that useful, a point which Kristin made very eloquently in her OP.


        *** I don’t know WHY I said Joseph and not Jacob in my original comment but probably it’s just that my brain links things up a lot and I was thinking of Herod and “Rachel weeping for her children”.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

          Hey @DavidTC, I’m a cradle Catholic (since quite lapsed/heretical) who grew up also attending an Anglican (aka Protestant) church, and did a theology minor in college, in case there’s some reason you think my comment was made out of ignorance and that’s why you were explaining at me so hard about something you’ve already said at length elsewhere in these threads. I was happy to just let it go by elsewhere, but now that you’ve gone and @’d me about it, a few comments:

          I…really don’t understand the tone I’m getting from this. Perhaps I’m misreading you, but you are strangely hostile.

          First, I didn’t actually @ you, although I was responding to you. And my comment, as most comments I make here, are intended as a _response_ and not ‘explaining hard at people’.

          Second, it’s sorta been my personal experience that Catholics don’t do that as much, but, honestly, feel free to disagree there. I have a lot of experience with sola scriptura Protestants ‘interpeting’ their Bibles by literally making up things and mentally inserting them.

          But for all I know Catholics do that as much and I just don’t interact with them in that regard. I just tend to regard the official Catholic beliefs (Which do take care to be able to point to real Biblical text, even if their interpetation is sometimes screwy.) as the ones Catholics hold, but perhaps in reality actual Catholics have just as much bogus information in their head. I don’t know…and it’s not particularly important here.

          I was just using that opinion of mine as a hook to mention that the cited information was factually incorrect. It was just a segue.

          Third, I am aware you are well-versed in religion. I suspected, while writing my reply, that you already knew all this. But that information wasn’t in your comment and I wanted people _in general_ to know it. Probably because I, as a believer, have lower tolerance for people mis-citing the Bible.

          Seriously, if next to ‘Catholics supporting this sort of nonsense tend to cite the story of [Jacob] and Rachel because many of them think Mary and Joseph never had sex’ you had put ‘…and also there is literally no Biblical mention of any age difference between Mary and Joseph, so mentioning them in this context is actually even dumber than it sounds’, I wouldn’t have commented at all. But you didn’t say that, and I thought it was important.

          Now, you seem to think I had already gotten that information out there, as you think I have ‘already said [it] at length elsewhere in these threads’. But I have not. I have mentioned this once that I am aware of, in a different post over a week ago.

          I don’t think it’s excessive for me to _twice_ respond to a person who says ‘Dumbasses are using a Bible story to justify child molestation’ with ‘And what’s even dumber, they have literally made that part of the story up.’, especially since I then went off in two different ways.

          2) While Mary and Joseph not having sex *before Jesus was born* is obviously seriously important to the story, it is not at all true *in the Bible* that, “A major part of the story of Mary and Joseph is that they did not, in fact, have sex.”

          That was just me being unclear that I was talking about them not having sex before marriage. Which is a rather important part of the story.

          As opposed to them hypothetically not having sex after marriage, which has always seems like an unimportant and weird thing to care about, at least to me.

          My *point* in mentioning the differing tendencies of Protestants and Catholics in this regard was that it doesn’t matter if people think dumb things about Joseph and Mary in order to justify age differences or not, because if you take that away from them they will just fall back on Jacob and Rachel.

          The point in pointing out their dumbness isn’t to take it away from them…I’m pretty sure none of them are here anyway.

          The point is to make them look like liars and fools to other Christians who might possibly be swayed by an appeal to the Bible.

          Same with all other justifications. It won’t do a damn thing in their own head…the point is to knock out the justifications so that others will not go along with their excuses or, even worse, decide they think it is acceptable.

          And, of course, no one who doesn’t want to do that has to participate. I’m not saying that people are required to knock down abuser’s justifications, especially not their own abusers. But _I_ want to do that, and I’m saying, in case anyone else wants to, here are the arguments.

          It is also worth mentioning (Which, again, I am mentioning to everyone because it is bad scripture, not making some sort of attempt to correct you.) that Rachel being very young is also basically made up. The only evidence of this is the ‘biological logic’ that she had a kid about 20 years after Jacob asked for her hand in marriage. Except a) this is a world where Jacob apparently lived to 137, so, you know, perhaps we should stop injecting real-world medical stuff into it and perhaps consider that some of these numbers might not be literal, and b) Rachel specifically prayed to God for a child after years of being barren, and too-old women doing that and it working has repeated precedent in the Bible, and c) even without that, she could have been as old as 20 upon first meeting, and d) she wasn’t allowed to marry until 7 years later anyway!

          So that example is kinda dumb also. I guess it works if someone only look at the _age difference_ and think ‘The Bible says 88 year-old man can marry a women who is no older than 27, so the rule allows at least 60 years. Thus a 34 year-old man could marry a 14 year-old.’…but that sounds really stupid if you make them say it out loud.Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to DavidTC says:

            @davidtc The reason I was frustrated is because I find that springing off a comment (and you might not have at-ed me but you literally quoted me) where I was talking about my dad using this stuff as *justification for forcible incest that was perpetrated on me*, because *your* gig is to make sure everyone knows it’s not valid justification for forcible child rape and knows all the arguments to make is really… I don’t even know. It’s treating my story of things, which was in response to Kristin’s story of things, as a convenience rather than an equally valid perspective that doesn’t need correcting or reworking. Is part of the problem I had with it. I found your approach hostile to me.

            And in general the comments section here is a venue for conversation, discourse, dialogue, not for soapboxing and educating the masses. This is particularly, intensely true on intensely personal posts such as the above. As Burt said earlier,
            “this essay, and the kinds of comments it’s likely to inspire, are going to be intensely personal and arouse sensitive feelings of a kind qualitatively different than, say, a politics post. Please respect that.”

            I felt intensely disrespected by the way you responded to what I said.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

              It’s also the case that I have far too much experience with the justifications of abusers and the ways people find to go along with them, or not, and I don’t think your writing about it in this way is actually going to help anyone. So I feel like you hijacked the conversation into an intellectual argument about the very thing I talked about not enjoying intellectual arguments about because they *gave me abuse flashbacks*, for a reason that I don’t even think will make a difference for anyone.

              So, yep, I was very frustrated. It’s actually good that you picked up on that, but I wish you would have reflected on it,and maybe changed your behavior, instead of keeping on doing the same thing that generated the frustration in the first place.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

              The reason I was frustrated is because I find that springing off a comment (and you might not have at-ed me but you literally quoted me) where I was talking about my dad using this stuff as *justification for forcible incest that was perpetrated on me*, because *your* gig is to make sure everyone knows it’s not valid justification for forcible child rape and knows all the arguments to make is really…

              The comment I responded to was mostly about you talking about how you treasured a consensual relationship with an older man.

              And you made your comment about religious justifications literally under a heading of ‘points that are less personal’.

              Now, you do mention that you have trouble taking arguments for large age differences seriously in person because you have seen abusers do that, but…that’s not what I did, that’s literally the opposite of what I did.

              There’s a rather large difference between ‘I cannot take the arguments of one of the sides in this discussion seriously because I have seen abusers say exactly those things’ and ‘the entire debate about that is triggering for me’. If you mean the latter, please say it.

              And in general the comments section here is a venue for conversation, discourse, dialogue, not for soapboxing and educating the masses.

              …which is why you spent twice as much text as me trying to educate people on how Catholics have just as much folk beliefs as Protestants, or what some of those folk beliefs are?

              Maribou, if you didn’t want to participate in this specific conversation, that is fine. I honestly had said all I was going say in my original post anyway, except your response reminded me of the Jacob/Rachel nonsense also.

              But you can’t respond with a point-by-point rebuttal of what I said…and expect me to come to the conclusion that ‘She sounds angry. This entire discussion of the thing she brought up, and she has continued a discussion about, must be triggering her’.

              I instead assumed you were angry at me about the thing you _said_ you had a problem with me doing, namely that I was explaining religion to you. (And also weirdly making the claim that I had been repeatedly doing that all over the threads.) Thus my response was to reassure you that I had not intended to do so, I was intending to explain that specific story to people in general, and I was sorry if it came across as directed at you, who I generally think of as knowledgeable about all this stuff.

              Moreover, me deciding you were not angry about the issue at hand, but instead had become angry at me because I was talking about something close to your abuse would be pretty offensive of me. That’s dangerously close to ‘Oh, she’s just being emotional’. _You_ can tell me that, but I sure as hell am not going to assume it.

              “this essay, and the kinds of comments it’s likely to inspire, are going to be intensely personal and arouse sensitive feelings of a kind qualitatively different than, say, a politics post. Please respect that.”

              Man, it’s almost as if _I_ have some sort of personal feelings about seeing people make claims about my religious text that are falsehoods, or a matter of dispute, and everyone just repeat those claims as factually true.

              I mean, it’s not as if I’m a Christian that lives in the Bible belt and has a lot of gay, lesbian and bi friends.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to DavidTC says:

                Once in a while, @davidtc, when someone is telling you you’ve hurt them, you could try listening instead of lecturing them on how they’re telling you wrong.

                Apparently you took my previous explanations of why as educating the audience, rather than as what they were, which was trying to get you to stop saying stuff that was both factually untrue and triggering-to-me, about Catholics, that was riffing off something I said about *personal experiences I had*. “I’m stuck hearing my abuser’s voice,” is a clear indication of flashbacks and triggering to anyone who knows anything about the topic. Which you seem to be claiming you do since you’re telling me how I ought to discuss it.

                It was less personal to *Kristin* than my other story, which is why I said less personal. Not that I should have to explain myself to you like this.

                And it isn’t as simple as “you didn’t have to participate” – by quoting me, YOU were participating in the conversation I was having already.

                So let me be more blunt, as you insisted: your entire method of discussing these topics is extremely triggering to me. Has been every time. Going back to before the current week’s discussions. Using my reflections on my own experience to make speeches about The One True Way of interpreting the Bible that contain *factual inaccuracies* is triggering to me. And having you dissect my comments to explain why my upset is invalid and shouldn’t exist is *even more triggering to me*.

                As a bisexual sort-of-Christian living in a very Christian-Evangelical place, with an extense history of abuse and a large amount of the Catholic church, the *official* church, pushing my mother to continue *accepting* her extensive physical abuse and stay with my father, for reasons that were then doctrinaire but not anywhere in the Bible, plus lots of folk beliefs that contributed to the entire society looking the other way about rampant amounts of sexual abuse in their communities….

                If your heart is where it says it is, please reconsider your approach to this topic.

                Because right now, with all your “Catholics are so much more reasonable than Protestants on these topics,” approach, and your enthusiasm for throwing “Protestants” under the bus rather than the specific people making those specific arguments, and in fact any kind of super-abstracted context-independent enthusiasm for educating people about something that anyone with a conscience *should already know* (I wasn’t repeating false claims!!!), all you’re accomplishing is stressing me the fish out.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                tl;dr if your love for your friends is causing you to continue lecturing someone who has told you multiple times that your interactions with them are causing them pain, you may want to look to your own actions rather than to theirs for the explanation.

                Not one thing you said to me after I told you I had a problem with your response was at all “reassuring”.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

                In any other conversation, I would take issue with some of the things you just said I did and said here, but I will not go into that because even this meta-conversation is clearly still upsetting you and it probably should end here.

                So I leave you with: I am sorry if my manner of discussing religion, in general, is triggering to you, and I would be happy to modify it if possible or put a trigger warning now that I am aware of that. We can talk about that in the future.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to DavidTC says:

                @davidtc Having slept on it for a few hours, meditated, and then gone back over your comments here and in some of the other threads I found problematic, where I wasn’t your primary springboard, and where the topics were more varied – from both before and after I became the main moderator – I don’t think we really need to discuss the matter further, now or later.
                I’m just going to make a call and enact it.

                It turns out the trigger under the surface triggers, for me, is that you often respond to content that is part of people’s deeply emotional, vulnerable revelations about their lack of well-being on some axis, without demonstrating any concern for said well-being, in a style that is consistently, though not always intentionally, adversarial. You may very well feel such concern at times, but you do not, at least initially, demonstrate it. (Sometimes you double down and accuse them of making up said lack of well-being, though you did not do that here.) And that, very understandably, puts people (including me) on tilt. Hardcore. Not everything someone says when they’re on tilt is reasonable or fair to you, it’s true, but the “on tilt”ness stems from your style of approach. This is far from the only mode you comment in – most of your commenting modes are far better and quite valuable in my estimation – but you do comment this way. Repeatedly, consistently, it’s something you’ve been doing for a long time and when called on it, you wrangle rather than backing down or just straight up apologizing.

                So here’s what I’m going to do, autocratically, to make life easier on everyone I’ve seen you engage with in this way, and possibly on you too:

                1) Delete the comment in which I feel you are reacting to someone in this way, in its entirety, even if there’s valuable content in there as well; also any similar follow up comments that occurred when I wasn’t around.
                2) State that I’ve done so and why.
                3) If you continue to engage them in the same style, suspend you.
                4) If it happens again, next time the suspension will be longer.
                And all of those determinations will be made by me, not by you, and I’m not going to be particularly interested in how you view them. (Other commenters, I can’t guarantee that I’ll see this pattern where you see it, and I won’t do anything as draconian as the above if I can’t see it, but feel free to request that I look at a comment/thread and consider it.)

                I won’t do any of that this time, as long as you don’t argue with this comment. I also completely understand why you might find that really unfair and find it hard to turn the other cheek.

                But it’s what I’m going to do. Not just so I don’t get triggered – there are a lot of options that would achieve that – but so you stop doing the thing that results in all kinds of people getting incredibly upset at you every so often, and that has significantly made the comments section less welcoming.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DavidTC says:

        Regarding the age of Joseph and Mary, its important to remember that both were Jews and the Jewish custom of the time was to encourage early first marriages and re-marriages if one spouse dies. The Jews of the time would typically marry in their early to mid teens I think. Jesus was also born when the Pharisees were growing in influence over the Jewish community and the Pharisees did not like wide age ranges between husband and wife in marriage. This was mainly because God “don’t commit adultery” and wide age ranges were seen as most likely going to lead to adultery. Joseph and Mary were probably pretty close in age when they got married.Report

  5. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    That was a very honest and good piece. I don’t wish to challenge or detract from it at all. But I want to add another possibility for why someone might do what your 30-year-old did.

    Don’t underestimate the power of loneliness. And while married women edge out married men in self-reported loneliness, single men are far more lonely than single women.

    And, not too dissimilar to what you described, it means a lot to to men have someone actually be interested in them, to flirt with them. Please don’t take this as an accusation. I hear your story and I imagine a man that just experienced a really powerful rejection or loss on top of his responsibilities for his child. I can imagine such a man deriving such pleasure and comfort from the simple interaction of having someone be interested in him.

    It sounds like, in the end, you made a really good decision about what was good for you, and that he figured it out, too. Good for you.Report

    • Thanks so much DJ, I appreciate your input.

      The thing is that I’ve spent 30 years saying things like that (and I don’t disagree with you at all, not at all) and giving him the very most charitable read that I could on his behavior and actions – when I thought about it, which I mostly tried not to. Every time. And this Roy Moore thing came out and for the first time I really took a hard look without flinching, without looking away, and I didn’t like what I saw there.

      So please view this thru the lens of me stopping making excuses and justifications for a person who I now believe did me some lasting harm. Because you’re not at all wrong, you’re entirely correct, and I know that, but this part was about me and not about him. 🙂 Thanks for reading.Report

  6. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    Great piece Kristin. I enjoyed reading it.

    My wife and I were talking about this very issue the other night, and I brought up an aspect of the older man/younger woman dynamic that she found bizarre but I think is relevant.

    For the average younger man (teenage to early 20s), it is often a challenge to get a girl’s attention. At least, it may appear to be for young, inexperienced, insecure and likely poor young men. For some of those young men who feel spurned by girls their age in their youth, hooking up with younger women in their 30s is basically a revenge fantasy. They are sticking it to the women their age (also now in their 30s/40s) who these men feel did not give them attention in their youth. Whenever I decide to dip my toe into MRA sites, this seems to be a recuring undercurrent to the older man/younger woman dynamic.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Roland Dodds says:

      The revenge fantasy angle is interesting. It isn’t exactly the same thing but on another site, a poster was wondering why should he want to date women who rejected him through out his youth after they decided they wanted somebody a bit more sedate than they did when they are younger. There is a sentiment that I see on my Facebook feed and elsewhere on occasion about wanting some hot and steamy bad boy when your younger and then somebody more stable and calmer when your older. This isn’t exactly thrilling to many of the men deemed stabler and calmer because it feels like they are having to sacrifice their youth and wait their turn. I’ve felt that way at times.Report

      • Avatar Roland Dodds in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think I felt the same way for s short while in my youth. Looking back on it now, it seemed like a silly thing to believe since I routinely had girlfriends when I wanted them. That perception of being undesired as a young person might very well carry some negative baggage forward into adult life.

        Slightly off topic, I wish there were more opportunities to reach young men who feel disregarded by women when in their youth. My advice for young men, and I pray there are better voices for this message since the MRA crowd has captured many young men’s minds, is to relax and enjoy your youth. Stop feeling that you are a “nice guy” who deserves someone and just pursue the things you love; every woman I know finds that entitlement off-putting. Read books, play music, travel and stay involved in social organizations beyond bars that have a good mix of men and women. Don’t turn your frustration towards women your age into hatred for women. Just enjoy being free and recognize your passion for life will attract mates to at one point. And if that woman who falls for you went through a phase where she wanted bad boys or older men, you won’t care because you had an adventures youth and are happy to have her adult company now that you are both mature.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Roland Dodds says:

          These things make loneliness easier to bear but they aren’t substitutes for romantic companionship. Even if you do get somebody when their older, you have the feeling of missing out of a lot that can’t be repeated. It’s not like lonely people get to say “hey, I missed out on my entire teens, twenties, and a good chunk of my thirties. Can you please take this into consideration?”Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

            @leeesq I respect your perspective on this, but I find it so baffling because it’s completely opposite to my own.

            If I hadn’t paired up in my teens (I didn’t date anyone until 17) or 20s, I wouldn’t have felt like I missed out on anything. Having done so, having gotten married at 21, yes, it’s amazing and fabulous and far more happiness than I could have imagined… but I didn’t *want* to pair up. It’s a thing that would have been a lot more work to avoid than to embrace, which is why it happened, if I’m fully honest about my 18- through 21-year-old self.

            And I actually fought pretty darn hard to avoid any settle-down relationships, which kept pushing themselves at me. Jaybird tricked me – in the good way – by becoming my soulmate friend-wise before I had any idea of romance with him, before I had ever even met him (that took more than 2 years btw, and thousands of hours of phonecalls and emails). Even so it was touch and go for a long time.

            If I hadn’t been paired up, I would’ve been happy, as happy went, most of the time, I would have kept my loneliness mostly on the inside, and I would have been plenty busy with all those things Roland mentions, and not really noticed the lack of a romantic partner. I would’ve daydreamed about having one sometimes, but when I went to college my lifeplan (hee hee hee hee, like 17 year old me had ANY idea about such things) required minimal day to day interaction with anyone, even my long-distance high school boyfriend, until age 28 or so. In other words, as far off as I could plausibly push it away.

            It took me until a few months into sophomore year to even get a phone, for Pete’s sake (and we all know how that turned out 😛 ).

            I think the tragedy is perhaps not that people end up not being paired up, but that the people who don’t really want to be paired up have some kind of extra magnetism for everyone else.

            Like, if Jaybird dies before me, I really would rather not have another romantic relationship (this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have sex). Lord, it’s so much work! I’m glad I did it for Jay and vice versa but I feel exceptionally unwilling to ever do it again.

            Except that I do realize that in that situation, I’d probably have lovers who had FEELINGS about me who were amazing within like six months and then I’d end up reciprocating their FEELINGS because that’s how my feelings work and while none of them would be Jaybird, my ideal life dream since I read The Horse and His Boy of being a HERMIT for the rest of my life is just. Well. Probably not going to happen.

            If I could trade the improbability of that happening for the angst and suffering many of my single friends who are wired for pairing have gone through, I would do it in a heartbeat.

            But it just doesn’t work that way.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

              Hm, I don’t think I ended that clearly.
              I mean, if I could be a hermit after Jay dies in exchange for you or other people I know not having to be without romantic partners, I would do *that*. Like, it’s not something I would even mind giving up.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

              The culture drills what a typical romantic life should like into you from a very young age and not having that typical life can make you feel like a freak, especially when your surrounded by other people taking about romance and sex. You get older and most people in your respectable dating range are looking for something entirely different than you are. At least personally, my lack of a romantic history and the different things I’m looking for make me feel childish.

              When you combine this with a bunch of different traditional male gender norms, at least I feel I’m in competition with people who know what they are doing while I’m flailing about blindly and that by wanting to make up for lost time a little rather than take the plunge into serious relationship I’m not really seen as a real man.Report

              • Avatar Zac Black in reply to LeeEsq says:

                As someone whose experience pretty much mirrors your own in this regard, this really resonates with me. But I never talk about it because a) I don’t know how to without sounding like a jerk, and b) frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Zac Black says:

                Plenty of people think I sound like a jerk when I post things like this and I find it plenty embarrassing to. Part of me doesn’t care though.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I’m a little confused…

                Is the issue that you absorbed the cultural messaging, try to play along, and can’t find success? Or that you want something outside the norm and can’t find success?Report

    • Thank you Roland

      That’s all very interesting, that is definitely something I have perceived via things I’ve stumbled across online. Thanks for wording it so well.Report

  7. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    My ex-wife left me for a friend who was quite a bit younger-40 versus early 20s. Then my first girlfriend back did the same thing- he was a bit older but so was she. The dudes were of the age where they weren’t being exploited or anything. I just figured my exes were looking for men who wouldn’t challenge them.Report

  8. Avatar aaron david says:

    Thoughtful and wonderful piece @kristin-devine

    A story. In my early thirties, before I met my wife, I worked part-time in a bookstore. It was a trade I knew, extra money never hurt and I got to meet people in a new city, something my inside logistics job didn’t afford. A woman started working there, whom I found attractive, had a good rapport with, similar hobbies, etc. So, one day I screwed up my courage and asked if she wanted to get a drink sometime.

    She looked at me and said “I’m not 21. How old did you think I was?”

    “I don’t know, 25 or so?”

    “I’m 19. How old are you?”


    “That’s my parent’s age!”

    She had been the child of teen parents, early teen parents at that. And she was equidistant between my son’s age and mine. We didn’t really talk much after that.Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This essay made me think back on a relationship I had when I was 29-30 years old with a woman who was, I think, 20 when we started seeing one another. And a fairly immature and sheltered 20 at that. She’d had a high school boyfriend but no other significant relationships since then, and romance and sex and dating were still very new things for her. Not so much for me, although I’d endured something of a dry spell before she came along.

    We wound up being together for more than two years, which if I were able to go back in time and talk to the younger me, I’d tell younger me that this was about one and a half too many.

    She offered me a FWB relationship, but it didn’t stay that way. That created periodic friction point, as she variously fell in love with me or suppressed that feeling. I have to say that while I liked her very much, I didn’t ever really love her. It was something I knew the whole time was going to be impermanent. I persisted in the relationship a lot longer than in retrospect I really should have because there were parts of it (not just the sex) that were pleasant for both she and I. And I didn’t enjoy the thought of hurting her by ending it.

    It’s hard for me to evaluate the role of her agency in her choosing to persist. She was an adult. She too chose to pursue the relationship with me, after she had also observed strains and signs that this was not really a good fit, that we were in different places in life and on different trajectories from that point. Clearly she was enjoying those pleasant parts of it too, and she chose to linger rather than venture on for her own reasons, just like me. All that understood and acknowledged, I was still the more mature of the two of us, so I can’t help but feel I bear the greater burden for not realizing that ending it earlier would have been the better thing to do, and an even greater burden than that for not doing that thing after I did realize it.

    In retrospect, I believe that the emotional needs and desires of the generic older guy dating generic younger woman that the OP imputes were fully present in my own motives in pursuing this relationship as far as I did. Reading the OP, written as it was from the perspective of a woman who is herself an alumna of a similar relationship, I feel awful about how I conducted myself. I, too, was inappropriately immature, and I did this then-quite-young woman a disservice by letting the relationship persist as long as I did. For that matter, I probably did myself a disservice too, but that’s not what I feel badly about now. She was still molding, and I think perhaps I molded her in a way that was not the best way for her. Maybe not a particularly bad way, but also quite likely not the best way.

    So there’s another one of the demons that shouts at me at night when I’m trying to sleep.Report

  10. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    This is a really strong personal perspective Kristin thanks for sharing.
    (I promised myself I wasn’t going to comment on another one of these topics but I’m failing miserably.)

    Since we are discussing scars and the dynamic of age there is a bit I find not mentioned here.

    Although I am a little bit older, the dynamic I remember clearly for justifying young girls to date guys much older was a social agreed upon norm that females were more mature than males (like scientific studies and everything!). I don’t know if it was a particular slice in the march of whatever progress movement of the time but it was prevalent. This was the very forward thinking social norm that could be overheard by the parents of the girl, and the parents of the boy, and the vast amount of socialites yammering about it at ball games, school plays, diners, and such.

    The norm was taken even further, justified, that the pool of non-mature, unwise, young males were in fact dumb for their age. As a young male this stuff registers. Seeing males much older sweep girls of equal age ‘off their feet’ is registered. It’s very much lived in color.

    In contrast to Wills piece, my particular experience with rejects-misfits-outcasts, specifically male rejects, is that our reaction to this stuff was to adopt our own age-norm. We didn’t discuss it much, but it became kind of obscene to date a girl more than a year older or younger than your age. We listened to each others anger about how ignorant it was and the pain of possible relationships that ‘could have been, but will never be’. We sucked it up and marched on. At least those of us who survived it, some didn’t.

    There really wasn’t anything we could do. Society had made up it’s mind, the girls had made up their minds. Even if there was a law, it would not have been limiting to what was going on. It was going on behind the gym, behind the bus barn.

    As time moved on only one of the rejects (my best friend at the time) dated outside the age-norm, a girl two years younger, it lasted a year, and for that year he became an outcast of the outcasts. I showed him no solace.

    So to the rejects, to the dumb, to the unwise, to the immature, to the unpicked, to my son, to his band of rejects, I see you, it gets better, don’t close your eyes, keep marching, straight and narrow.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Joe Sal says:

      That’s a good point JoeSal – personally I don’t think that’s actually true but people do say that and definitely did when I was growing up, as an excuse. As a general rule I have found girls to mature quicker in some ways, boys in others and it all evens out by about 22 or so.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Girls mature sexually about a year earlier than boys. (I can even cite Kinsley on that, although our nutrition has improved, so about a year earlier).

        … This gets WAY WAY tossed up with the whole “boys will be boys” and “girls gotta keep from getting pregnant themselves” mythos, and THAT’s where you get “girls are more mature”.

        Aka, because girls are more picky about who they let in their pants, this somehow counts as “more mature.”Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Kim says:

          Kim could you clarify this one, I’m interested but your shorthand isn’t real clear.

          First sentences is good, second sentence sketchy, third sentence doesn’t have much about the selection process of pickynessReport

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Joe Sal says:

            @joe-sal She can’t actually clarify, sorry. I just banned her for a year based on her complete unwillingness to restrain herself after multiple moderator warnings and a clear indication that she was making the writer uncomfortable.

   if you want more details.Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Maribou says:

              Well that’s unfortunate. And I guess I owe some explanations about my actions.

              When TVD left I made a promise to myself that if Kim ever got banned or whatever, that I would drop off also. When I started on the site I would get dog piled in epic fashion and Kim was one that offered at least a little comforting humor, (that and I kind of dig her madhattery and three layers deep stuff).

              So I have been dropping off when Kim drops off, this time it looks like it will be a year.

              Tell Jay he is the best and smartest philosopher I know.

              I owe Stillwater an answer to a question from a few years back, I offered the question, but not the answer:

              “Who are my people?”

              “My people are free, that’s my tribe.”

              Take care everyone, see you in a year.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but it is still happening. My son describing basically what I went through those many years ago. Girls he has known for years disassociating from his age group, seeking attention of older boys, some of them much older. The few friends he has, hearing the same thing, that girls mature faster, the boys his age are immature.

        Much of my life has been mechanical, not much social, so I haven’t formed useful opinions on how and when a equilibrium is reached. I don’t even know at times what I’m doing here, reading and commenting about social things. I guess I am finally trying to figure out why things are the way they are.Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to Joe Sal says:

          @joe-sal FWIW, though we may butt heads at times, I’m very glad you are here.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:


          Thinking back while running comparisons against what I know of the girls I grew up with as they got older, it’s not about girls maturing faster than boys, but girls maturing differently, and the result of that being that girls felt they were maturing faster. What I recall, however, wasn’t so much that they had matured, but that they were getting really good at acting the part. They had the veneer of maturity, and adults would probably reward that veneer, but when you got under the surface, they were still the normal hot mess of adolescence.

          Boys just didn’t care about acting mature as early, probably because “Boys will be boys”.

          And it makes sense, because at that age, kids are still trying to figure out what is expected of them as adults.

          But as I talk to the girls I grew up with, and listen to their stories, they weren’t any more mature, but they thought they were, and I think for a lot of them, that contributed to many of them getting in over their head in a lot of things. Some of them are still digging out from under those messes.Report

          • @oscar-gordon thank you for putting it so perfectly.

            It’s different. It’s all surface deep and it’s all about putting on a front and a show. Inside you’re not mature, not grown up, and you can’t ever let anyone see that. And I think some men know that and exploit it.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

              I was friend-zoned a lot, which means I got to see the veneer come off more than most.

              One problem with the veneer fooling the adults is that the adults forget that it’s just a veneer (if they ever knew), and so the girls who get good at it are given a lot more autonomy* with regard to their relationships than they probably should. Parents fear the violent rapist or the super-possessive / abusive boyfriend, and forget the ones that aren’t working physical or obvious emotional damage.

              *Autonomy might be a bad word, since I don’t want to imply that a teenage girl should not be allowed to manage her relationships with boys.Report

              • Exactly. When I look back on this as it was starting I have literally NO idea what my parents were thinking (my father, in his defense, had no clue). They could have stopped it with a word. But I think they saw Responsible Kristin Who Has Never Been Any Trouble and assumed I knew what I was doing when I was in so much pain and acting basically on sheer (terrible) instinct.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                @kristin-devine I had this experience as a teenager (13 and up) with my second-family parents. I was so terrified and so adrift by then, as my dad got ever more violent and more swing-y in his unpredictability, and these two good, unscrewed up people knew me so well… in some ways…. I really had no idea how they could imagine I was okay.

                But I was so responsible and so cheerful and so sunny and so full of thoughtfulness and my grades were so good and I was so gifted in and dedicated to my hobbies… and so free from the usual teenage misbehavior (even compared to their own kids, who were great, but not perpetually terrified of screwing up the way I was) that while they knew I was under strain – otherwise I wouldn’t have been sleeping there as often 😀 – they literally had not even the first clue how bad things were.

                No one did really. Except those of us who were performing otherwise.

                After I left the Island, it took me a long time to figure out I was angry at them for not noticing, and even longer to see their perspective enough to understand that it wasn’t a failure of love, or something wrong with me. They just really couldn’t have known.Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

                Yes. Completely. I find I am quite angry at them over this (now that I’m allowing myself to feel anger about it) and without going into too much detail, in our dynamic it was beyond that they just thought I was ok because I acted ok. It was that I acted ok because they needed me to be ok, because they didn’t have time or willingness to hear that I wasn’t. If I wasn’t ok it would have harmed our whole family or at least that was my perception.

                They had busy jobs and small children and I was basically a live-in nanny that did 80% of all the household chores and took care of the children in the evenings and babysitting both Friday and Saturday nights, often for lots of people’s children at the same time. I was expected to have zero parental needs, was expected to take care of school and social life and all the rest of it without ever needing assistance, and plus keep the house running smoothly and in essence raise my half-siblings. It wasn’t an environment where I could freely say “hey I need some help here, I’m really not doing very well”, they just weren’t receptive to it. :/ Not bad people, just not receptive.

                And then when I tried to bring some of it up with my dad and he went right to my mom with it, trying to get into her good graces with tales of how horrible my stepfather was. He didn’t care about what I was going through, he just used it to get my mom’s attention. And of course that ended up in a shitstorm because you don’t talk about family problems outside of the family. Lesson learned, you can’t trust anyone. So really looking back on it, I really was quite set up to be taken advantage of. Probably pretty lucky it was the guy who it was because it could have been someone far worse.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                @kristin-devine That sounds like a whole lot.

                In support of that 18 year old you were then, I will just say, “GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.”Report

  11. @burt-likko My biggest fear writing this was that someone I like and care about would read it and see themselves in it. Please keep in mind though that 18 is not 20 and that many women have entirely positive memories of these relationships. If anything I’m in the minority.

    We are all doing the best we can at any given time with the knowledge that we have. At the time, your relationship made sense to you both and I would never want you or anyone to extrapolate my personal experience to an entirely different set of circumstances involving two totally different people.Report

  12. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I don’t know what it is, and perhaps the other men in the forum can offer ideas as well, but there is something about a girl/woman with low or damaged self-esteem that men can pick-up on with ridiculous ease. Most decent men recognize it and either avoid it, or approach with caution. But for some men, it’s like catnip, and teenage and college age girls must just simply be awash in it.

    I remember the 3 or 4 guys I recall from my adolescence who were all in their mid to late 20’s and were far too eager to hang around my social group. As I think back, the parallels to a stalking predator are way too similar. They would never start on the girls. They’d ingratiate themselves with the guys in the group. Invite us to parties, buy us beer or weed or cigarettes, offer up rides in their very nice cars (rural living, car rides were a big thing), become our good friends. Then they would move on the girls. And it wasn’t until they’d hurt one or two of them that they’d get ejected from the group. It’s like they knew that if they just went straight in, it would be a creepy outsider making a move on one of our friends, which meant they’d have to work harder against our influence. But if they were part of the in-group…Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Maybe its a case of like attracting like.

      When I read these stories like the one by Mike Cernovich, or any other pickup artist types, what strikes me is their remarkable lack of self awareness and poor social skills.

      His story, the one he told in public for the whole world to see, was that a girl accepted a date with him, then rejected him as unworthy of her affection and that the harder he tried, the more she rejected him.

      For most of us, that would be a story of humiliation and pain. But he reacted like some alien being, wholly unfamiliar with humans.

      For some reason, he lacks the self awareness to see or admit to his rejection, and instead spins it into a tale of his masculine skill.

      For him and the pickup artist types, there is some kind of dark brokenness about them, something that is both pitiable and terrifying.

      Terrifying, because the door to that darkness is always right at hand, available to any man in times of pain and isolation.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        @oscar-gordon @chip-daniels I also have this awareness/alertness, for men, women, agendered, and non-binary people under 25 or so in my case, always have had, and although they aren’t catnip for me at all, quite the opposite, at least now that I’m older than 18 – I agree with your assessment, Oscar, that they are catnip for some men. I also think that Chip is right about who they are catnip *for*, though I would add that some of those folks (eg grandiose narcissists like my father) have wildly pendulating self-esteem rather than none.

        In my role at the college I spend quite a bit of time chasing off men like that from student employees, supporting student employees as they grow their self-esteem through changing the lens through which they view their (for their age) considerable accomplishments, and insofar possible, as they shift away from needing accomplishments or hollow, insincere external validation at every minute to feel like they are valued (and/or rejecting all external validation as irrelevant because they are sure they’re awful). They’re doing all the hard work on that, with help from their peers, but we work pretty hard at making sure their work environment nurtures it rather than making it more difficult in any way.

        It’s not on the job description, it’s not most of what we do, and it’s not even the majority of students who need that – but I think it *matters* as much as anything else we do. Particularly since some of our most fragile students are also the most talented and most potentially powerful…. I’m not generalizing that to everybody, I think it may be specific to high-selection environments. But because their college is such a high-pressure environment, for many of them, solidifying their self-respect and internal locus of control is literally make-or-break in later life.

        Sometimes even earlier. We lost a beloved student to suicide, a few years back.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        That Cernovich story quite frankly reminded me of way too many people from my past. One of the really bad parts of Facebook is connecting with those people from your past and seeing that they haven’t grown, or healed, or changed in the slightest.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        The problem I see with Cernovich, is that by himself he is not much to be of concern. The alien and disconnected part has to come from somewhere. If it’s internal then the problem is isolated internally to one person of the one case.

        The problem becomes much worse when there is a social construct to pour their authority into. Building as you mention an official ‘Masculine Skill’ as a social construct may pretty well define it. After that is built, he/they don’t have to work at social awareness or social skill. They just point at the rules/order of the social construct and say ‘this is where I get my power at, do what I say’.

        If the other party doesn’t abide by the rules of the construct then they become the ‘alien, wholly unfamiliar to humans’. They are building a construct of a different reality, trying to gain control. It appears always to be this reach for control of other people that brings the worst out.Report

  13. Avatar Morat20 says:

    The empty vessel you describe? That’s almost explicitly stated in certain evangelical circles, such as the Quiverfull movement, but even in less…edgy…evangelical circles, it’s a concept that’s far more common than one might hope for.

    If I had a bit more time I’d try to link some sources, but the whole concept of “helpmeet” in some circles — well, it often means either maintaining the vessel as empty for her future husband, or actively molding that vessel for her future husband.

    (Well, that’s not what they say it means. And it’s not what, in my opinion, Scripture means. But in some evangelical circles — the home schooling movement is one where it’s common — that’s it’s effective meaning).Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

      And, what’s worse? All the fun “gettogethers” about people’s failing marriages, where women are leaned on (by older women, in general) to “Just get used to settling” and “bend to whatever he wants from you.”

      … shit’s fucking creepy.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Morat20 says:

      Makes me wonder if it’s a way to codify something that some guys are just into. :/Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        I’ve known enough people who want a spouse that won’t challenge them, will support them in everything, and basically will cheerfully do all the work. And be good in bed and in great shape.

        And hey, I’ve even known people who want to be that good little wife or house husband or whatever. People seek different things.

        However, taking people at an impressionable age and training them like dogs for a lifestyle like that….you get poor results.

        Moore’s biggest sin (to certain evangelical sects) wasn’t that he wanted a young girl who he could shape as he pleased. That’s just how marriage works to them. It’s that he didn’t stop looking once he had one.Report

  14. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This was phenomenal, Kristen. Easily my favorite of all your stuff here — which is saying something.Report

  15. Avatar BigBlue says:

    (redacted for being ridiculous and awful. Maribou)Report