A friend struggles with a May-December love13 december 2013, 13:42
I knew something was wrong the moment I heard Ian's voice.
It had a sadness to it, a melancholy I'd rarely heard in him.
“I wonder if we could meet,” was all he said, but I knew it was important. His tone was almost beseeching.
We decided on dinner at the Chocolat Cafe across from the Keruen shopping center.
There were no preliminaries – no “How are you's” or “Good to see you's.”
“I've got a problem,” he blurted out before our pants pockets had hit our chairs.
This was unusual. Ian was normally the epitome of confidence – an accomplished executive, bright, articulate, charming, fun.
Whatever had unnerved him must be momentous, I thought. A row with his boss. Maybe a death in the family.
I braced myself for an emotionally draining session with my friend.
“And what problem might that be?” I asked.
“I'm in love,” Ian said miserably.
“How can that be a problem?” I smiled. “It's wonderful.”
“You don't understand,” he said. “I'm not supposed to fall in love at my age. I'm 56, for God's sake. Set in my ways. A longtime bachelor. And she's 24.”
“Not many guys get a chance at love late in life,” I said. “You're lucky, Ian. God is smiling on you.”
I paused, then added: “You know, most guys would kill to be in love with a woman half their age.”
“My friend Jeremy said I'm crazy,” Ian replied. “He's in his 50s, too. He said at our age, it's all about rutting, not love.”
“I don't know him, but my guess is he's a hypocritical old warthog,” I said. “You can bet that if he could fall in love, he would. There's nothing like it. Makes everything sweeter, more worthwhile. Tell me about this girl, Ian.”
His face brightened. “She's incredible,” he said. “An artist. Really talented. Really smart. High-strung. Emotional. Full of life. And gorgeous. Makes me feel alive.”
He was as giddy as a 17-year-old discussing his first love. In fact the look on his face was so rapturous that it was irritating.
“Does she love you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he smiled.
“Then how can she be a problem?” I pressed.
His face dropped again.
“She wants to get married,” he moaned. “And have kids.”
I was really getting irritated now.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “A beautiful and talented woman half your age, whom you're in love with, wants to get married and have kids – and you think it's a problem. Lean across the table so I can slap you silly.”
“But I'm 56. I'll be like a grandfather to those kids instead of a father.”
“Let me try a different tack with you,” I said. “Haven't you noticed that age isn't a problem in relationships here? You've been in Kazakhstan five years. How many times have you seen a couple where the man is 20 or more years older than the woman? You're a Pushkin fan. He said age is no barrier to love.”
“That's the attitude here – in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “What happens when I take her to Britain? The old biddies there will glare at me like they'll want to skin me alive.”
“Screw them,” I said. “If you're happy, and she's happy, what does it matter what other people think.”
Ian was silent for a couple of minutes, staring at his coffee cup and thinking about what I'd said. I could tell he wasn't convinced.
“Let me give you another example,” I said. “You know the American author Pearl Buck, who wrote about China in the 1920s, '30s and '40s? In one of her books there is a love story between a man in his 60s and a young woman. The marriage works because the man has sown his wild oats, and genuinely cares for the girl.”
“But I'll die long before Zhanur does,” Ian said almost in a whisper. “It won't be fair to her.”
“Everyone's going to die,” I said. “Not everyone is going to have a scintillating love. You and Zhanur have one. Every day you're together will be special. Don't lose this chance, Ian. Marry her. Have kids.”
Ian spent several more minutes in thought, occasionally sipping from a cup of green tea.
“You're right,” he said. “When I think about life without her, I feel miserable. I need to be with her, no matter what.”
“You're doing the right thing,” I said.
“You seem so certain of that,” he said. “Why?”