I’ll own it: I Googled her.
My ex’s new squeeze, that is. Her name was magnificent, falling trippingly on the tongue as though plucked from a Hugo novel. I envisioned Catherine Deneuve. A government website informed me that she was tippy-top brass and also that her salary made mine look like the tip I gave my barista by comparison.
Her bio placed her in her mid-60s, almost 20 years older than Luke, my handsome, head-turning ex. I’m one of the nicest, most egalitarian people you’ll ever meet, honest to peaches. But when I saw his new lover on my computer screen, I was dumbfounded.
Luke’s old lady (no pun intended?) flew in the face of conventional beauty. She paired a fuzzy Betty White bob with a stage-of-life-appropriate sensible suit. Her face spoke of a life-long laissez faire relationship with sunscreen, and the thickening in her middle announced, “Screw it, I’m going in for the tres leches.”
My mouth formed a single word: unbelievable.
When we first met, the twice-divorced Luke had let me know straight off that he was gun-shy about three things: marriage, living together and merging assets.
I was in no rush. Freshly divorced myself, I was as undecided about the M-word as he was. “Just a piece of paper,” Luke said cheerfully on our third date, which happened to be my birthday. He bought me two cakes, because he didn’t know if I favored chocolate or vanilla.
Luke and I had just cleared the big four-oh! and went on to have three years of bliss. We were both INTJs on the Meyers-Briggs, BBC aficionados and recipients of the perpetual youth gene. Luke was “dishy,” as my late grandmother might say. He had the rough-cut features of Sean Bean circa his LOTR years and kept in shape with triathlon trainings.
Coupling up with an age-matched peer fostered camaraderie. Luke and I shared the same cultural reference points. We spent hours on YouTube watching our childhood TV shows. We saw touring acts and relived our salad days, when Peter Murphy, The Cult and The Cure were de rigueur.
We were too old to booze it up but too young to hang it up, happily exploring that medium in between. The sex was delish. We fought about exactly nothing, and I grew to love him deeply. I told friends that he might be The One.
Luke moved into a complex down the street, and I took this as a gesture of penultimate togetherness. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t as sure about our future as I was.
Our break-up was even less straightforward. His job security had gone wobbly, and he was on edge. I didn’t know that our relationship security was just as at risk until he told me he wanted to call it quits, straight out of the blue.
“We’re just too different,” he told me.
‘Scuse me, what–? I blinked at him as though he were speaking a dead language.
“You don’t like snow skiing and mountain climbing,” he explained. I reminded him that I’d lived in Colorado. Did he think we played croquet there?
Convinced that stress was responsible for this gibberish, I pleaded with him to think about it. He remained resolved: the split was on. He swore there was no one else, and I believed him, whether or not I should have. I knew there had to be another reason—the real reason.
When you don’t know the real reason, I think it’s natural to assume you’ll find it in the next person your ex ends up with. If I only knew who Luke would choose after me, I’d have the biggest piece of the puzzle. Actually, that would have been the only piece of the puzzle. Then I’d know what it was about me that hadn’t worked for him.
Because he had told me I was his physical type to the letter, my imagination formed a picture of a woman a lot like me, bird-boned and petite, with olive coloring and long, dark hair.
But how would she differ? I was the cool girl that high-fived him on his way out to meet his buddies on beer nights. Would she demand more of his attention? Would she have a quiet desk job like I did, or would she be a pharmaceutical rep?
Luke and I stayed friendly-ish for a while. We had to—we were practically neighbors. This was hard, because I still loved him. I think it was hard on him, too. Every now and then, I saw hints of regret in his smile.
We occasionally went to movies and cafes together, but we never backslid into bed. I took care of his cat when he went out of town, and he assembled an ungodly number of IKEA pieces for me when I decided to redecorate.
Then I fell bone-achingly in love with another man, and the mutual favors dropped off. I wasn’t just over Luke; I rarely thought about him during my waking hours. However, my nefarious subconscious had other plans, cooking up disconcerting dreams about our break-up. I woke up wondering what he had meant by that too different remark.
Months passed, then a friend in real estate tipped me off: My erstwhile “One” had inked a pretty important piece of paper with a wealthy woman many years his senior: a joint mortgage. Inexplicably, I was burning up with curiosity.
And I Googled.
I studied the older woman’s image on my computer screen as though she knew all my forgotten PIN numbers. She hadn’t aged gracefully, but the bold, confident look in her eyes told me that she did not give one frivolous fuck. This was one Golden Girl gonnabe who hadn’t hesitated to snag herself a fine younger buck.
I couldn’t exactly judge her, because I once had a Demi-Ashton romance with a man 10 years my junior, and it was a blast. People assumed we were the same age, and there was negligible disparity in our incomes, but it would be a lie to say that the age difference didn’t matter. How would Luke and his new older lover bridge far bigger gaps?
So although I felt a reluctant “You go!” admiration for her, I couldn’t picture them at a Cure concert together. I couldn’t picture them together, period. Because I know Luke.
I remembered what he had told me about his tries with much-older women. He enjoyed their company but wasn’t sexually attracted to them. “They look like seniors to me,” he confessed sheepishly.
I flinched because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stave off time, but I took him at his word. I may be telling Noah about the flood, but science says that men invest more of themselves in women they find attractive, and Luke never made it a secret that he liked women that were easy on the eyes.
Indeed, his other exes had been his age or younger and strikingly pretty. They had also come from money, and this was the only thing that had given me pause, because I didn’t.
Luke didn’t either, but his tastes always ran bourgie. He lived for international travel, trendy restaurants and the latest techno toys, just within his means. I’m content with second run movies, food trailers and the silly plushie he gave me.
Luke emailed to say he was moving, and I dropped by to return a couple of books he’d left at my place. We made the requisite “How are your parents?” small talk. He didn’t mention a significant other, and I didn’t bring up the late model Mercedes I’d noticed parked in his guest spot on occasion.
But I sensed her presence in the guardedness of his eyes. Luke had never been cagey around me before.
I want to believe that he would have committed to his live-in had she taught pre-school or worked in retail simply because she’s a wonderful human being. But there’s always Occam’s razor.
Does she have doubts, too? Does she wonder, as I did, if Luke is committed for the long haul? Navigating big age gaps is tricky. Throw in discrepancies in perceived attractiveness and wealth and solder it together with a contract, and the playing field can become a seesaw.
Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s an arrangement. Whatever it is, I’m relieved it’s not mine. I have full closure now that I know what Luke hadn’t found in me. Turns out he was right.
We were too different after all.