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JAMES RICCI

Older Man + Younger Woman: an Equation for the Insecure

September 17, 2000|JAMES RICCI

Los Angeles surely is the capital of rich, older men keeping company with women who weren't even born at the time their dilapidating swains achieved adulthood. This probably has to do with the abundance of rich men and of comely young women drawn here by the entertainment industry.

According to 1999 U.S. Census Bureau survey statistics, the incidence of marriages in which the husband is more than 15 years older than his wife is 21% higher in Los Angeles County than in the United States as a whole. The bureau estimates that 37,000-plus men in the county are more than a decade and a half older than their spouses. None of this, of course, even addresses unmarried men.

Anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon is on display every night at Patina and L'Orangerie and other posh restaurants in the city:

Here he comes in expensive, nonchalant clothes, his recolored hair in uneasy coexistence with the flesh collapsing around his mouth. Ankling in on his arm is Jennifer or Heather or Kelsey, her tight little body skinned in a tight little dress--a symbol of his vigor, of his enduring juvenescence.

Well, let's not be too tough on the guy. Any man who's unaffected by the sight of a beautiful young woman probably isn't worth having for a woman of any age.

Some of us older men (possibly concentrated among the non-rich), have trouble, however, envisioning ourselves with women so young. My daughters are 27 and 24. Whenever I see a woman near their ages, no matter how attractive, I can't help but think of . . . tuition bills.

L.A. psychologist Herb Goldberg, author of the seminal book "The Hazards of Being Male," finds that men who seek much younger women tend to be of a certain type.

"They're more into the unconscious aspects of masculinity-- competitiveness, achievement, objectification of people," Goldberg says. "So, naturally, the same process that makes them successful in business is operating in their relationships with women."

Liz Cullumber has a somewhat different take on it, and, to my mind, a peculiar credibility on the subject. Cullumber is the reverse image of Jennifer-Heather-Kelsey. She's a 52-year-old woman who's won national recognition for her eye-appeal.

Cullumber, a speech pathologist, has been married 31 years and has two grown daughters. A slender woman with large, dark eyes and short, very white hair, she recently won first place among 4,000 contestants in a national search for older models by More magazine and the Wilhelmina modeling agency. (Second place went to Cristi Rosenblum, 41, of Westlake Village, a skin-care specialist and the married mother of two.)

Needless to say, Cullumber is quite pretty. More compelling, however, is her combination of brains and grace, of engagement with the world, sense of humor and physical vitality. It's hard to see how any accurately calibrated older guy wouldn't find her appealing.

Over coffee in her Los Feliz home, Cullumber suggested that the propensity of some men to look past her and her age-sisters might have something to do with the fact that men, unlike women, don't experience the clear-cut physical break with youth that is menopause.

"I look at it as a problem with the man and aging," she says. "Women our age are faced with changes in our very bodies, and we tend to start developing ourselves more internally at that point. Men, maybe, tend more to succumb to the fear of getting older. I think women do a good job of paying attention to the wisdom that comes with getting older, and of communicating about it. We talk. I think men may not have that outlet to talk about the insecurities they feel."

Both Goldberg and Del Mar psychologist Sandra Levy Ceren, who specializes in the problems of older men with younger women, sense that the incidence of those age mismatches has begun to fall off (even while that of successful older women combining with younger men ticks upward).

"I think the hazards nowadays, including the legal hazards, are becoming very great," Goldberg says. "Fifteen or 20 years ago, you could be involved with a younger woman and there wouldn't be a lot of pressure on you right away to have a baby. During that time, women weren't so obsessed with becoming mothers. Nowadays they are. A lot of older guys don't want any part of that, and they don't want to be taken financially, so they're a lot more cautious.

"Also, women are a lot more liberated sexually now, and that's a threat to a guy. A lot of older men are going to be frightened that they can't keep up with a younger woman and are going to be cheated on, and that very often turns out to be the case."

No doubt some age-mismatched couples are happy and devoted. But tight little dresses and bodies notwithstanding, most of us older guys are probably better off with a woman who has some memory of the songs and movies and national crises of our impressionable younger days, who voted in some of the same presidential elections and who, as psychologist Ceren puts it, "knows that 'Pearl Harbor' is not a girl."

*

James Ricci's e-mail address is james.ricci@latimes.com

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