What Dating Older Men Did To Me
By Rachel Fogletto
We’re living in an incredible time of holding each other accountable for the pain we inflict on each other. Whether it’s calling out everyday racism/sexism/transphobia or outing an abuser, it is becoming more common to encourage calling it out into the open. Like many women, this makes me feel hopeful that things are shifting for the better. I feel hopeful that we are teaching young women they have the right to feel safe accessing the same spaces as men, and that we are teaching young men that they’re not natural born monsters. And like many women, I try to be a contributor to the progress.
Then things took a turn. Late last year Aziz Ansari’s nightmare date story went viral and every woman with a shitty heteronormative sex history became swept up in a war of words and wounds, demanding of one another to spill blood any way you looked at it.
One of things that came up was the drastic age difference between himself and the woman. Him being 35, and her being 22. I froze, as I always do when this comes up as a “creep” factor in men, because when I was even younger than 22, I was on the opposite end of that narrative. I dread every time this argument comes up as a supporting factor. Because if the age difference is by default predatory, wouldn’t that make the whole date wrong in the first place? Should we have been appalled he took her out altogether? Does this make the inherent nature of their initial flirtation problematic?
When I was younger, I had to defend myself constantly to people around me. I had to convince my friends that I was making a conscious choice to date who dated even though I was legally an adult. What’s the old argument? I can fight and die for my country, but I can’t consent to fucking 30 somethings?
There is a tendency to assume that anything beyond the “sexual norm” (whateverthefuck that means) is by default exploitative to women. What is messed up about it is that without meaning to, we automatically take away women’s choice in all of these situations, in a sense, forcing her into a victim narrative by the way we talk about that particular kind of sex.
What makes it even more terrible is that because of this conversation, sexual predators can infiltrate these narratives, hiding under the guise of “sex positivity.” If, and when, they are outed, this simply adds fuel to the fire that the scene was inherently bad for women in the first place.
I feel strongly that of course, two women can have almost the same exact sexual experience and one feel it to be a complete violation or abuse of power, and the other woman feel like it was a laugh over brunch the next morning “shitty date.” Yet we demand each other to take a stance. I wonder, are we as women so conditioned to think we have no sexual agency that we expect one another to redact our own consent and redefine our experiences as violence?
Rape culture blames women for being sexually assaulted or being sexually assaulted and not defining it that way. It blames women for being sexually assaulted and reclaiming the act by finding a way to cum during it because fuck it, you’re there. It blames women for cracking jokes about their experiences with shitty jackhammer sex, bruises, and blackouts. Rape culture blames us. But how much rape culture do we have within us that warrants us believing we can define another person’s sexual agency based on our own abuse?
Sleeping with older men for the most part had an incredibly positive impact on my sexual confidence, especially my (rightful) feeling of entitlement to orgasm. Like most girls, I was told since I hit puberty that men just want sex that they’re always trying to “get it” from you. And if I “gave it” to them it was a big deal. Like it was something I couldn’t get back. Like my vagina would implode into space if I slept with someone I didn’t love.
I was told that I should feel bad for having a 35 year old boyfriend when I was 19. I was told by people who loved me, that I was being used for sex. When in actuality, the sex I had in that relationship made me feel more human and respected than most of my interactions with most people as a 19 year old woman.
What felt bad …like really really bad, was being turned on all the time, and thinking there was something wrong with me. What felt bad was knowing my only defense against the argument that I was being used, was to reveal that I was some freak of nature sex-wanting woman. And that while the relationships may not have been perfect (if you had a perfect relationship at 19, tell me I’m wrong), I was being fulfilled in a way that I needed for so long, without being shamed for it. It was the only time I felt free.
I’ve had men and women since then tell me I was exploited and abused using only the age difference as a baseline. This only further reinforced the feelings of self-doubt that something was wrong with me. At one point I thought maybe I was a nymphomaniac. Because what other reason could there be for me to think I was enjoying something that everyone around me defined as abuse. I was being gaslighted to the point of diagnosing myself.
So even now over a decade later it’s hard not to still have that base reaction anytime someone goes “ewwww what’s he doing with a 19 year old” every time that happens. , as a 32 year woman, I now completely understand why that reaction exists. Maybe that person was abused and manipulated by an older person. Maybe they know someone who was. That might be their trigger. And my trigger is their response. What a fucked-up conundrum. What do we do? You know, as feminists?
The victim-by-default narrative that’s becoming more common in creep callout culture walks an uncomfortable line between awareness and also implying that women cannot actually decide on their own to engage with potential creeps. Whether it’s for our own pleasure, money, or both… our decision to make a patriarchal structure work for us while we’re stuck inside it is disregarded by the very people trying to fight for us. I think the conversation is really important and really hard. And yet, we just need to be more vigilant when we’re having it. How nuance can hurt us is incredibly unfair, but (un)fortunately as women, at this point we’re probably used to it.