In Love, Age is Just a Number

CAPITOL LOVE Mark and Lilly reminisce about their days in the Capitol Press Corps. Photo by Scott Holstein
In Love, Age Is Just a NumberOld enough to know better, but young enough not to care is just right
By Lilly Rockwell

if I could climb aboard a time machine and tell my 20-year-old self I was going to marry a man 18 years my senior, I wouldn’t have believed it.

To my younger self, it would have seemed as unlikely as aliens invading our planet.

In college, I didn’t have a “type.” There was the rocker with shaggy hair and hipster jeans, the smart engineering major who taught me how to play poker, and the funny guy from Spanish class who wrote much better fiction than I did.

The only thing they had in common was they were all about my age.

Like most young romances, none of them lasted longer than a few months, and quite a few were undone by long-distance romance.

By the time I was 21, I was eager to start my career as a journalist. I accepted an offer to write for the Florida Times-Union for its Tallahassee bureau during the spring legislative session. I drove the 16 hours from Texas to live in a small, shabby apartment.

The Times-Union had an office on the third floor of a beige three-story building that housed most of the city’s Capitol Press Corps. I was on the third floor, right across the hallway from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offices.

My first week on the job a tall man with blue eyes stood in the doorway of my office and introduced himself as a Sun-Sentinel reporter named Mark.

I stood to shake his hand and was struck by how handsome he was. I learned that Mark was 39, a soon-to-be divorcée with a nine-year-old daughter and a boyish grin.

I dismissed him as too old for me, with too much baggage.

Yet every time he came into my office, I got that queasy feeling in my stomach, that said “you like this guy.” He was an expert at the wonky topic of Medicaid reform, and I found excuses to ask for his “help” on the subject whenever I had to write about health care reform.

He seemed awfully thirsty, going for frequent trips to a water fountain just outside my office door. And every time he joined me for after-work drinks he asked lots of questions about myself, curious about my life in Texas and my family.

Finally, one night in mid-March a late night poker party led us back to his apartment and we kissed. I’m a bit ashamed that my first thought was: “Wow, he kisses just like a younger guy would.” I had imagined that he might kiss differently, but was pleasantly surprised to discover some things only get better with age.

We fell into an all-consuming infatuation. I slept at his apartment frequently and he took me on actual dates at nice restaurants. This blew the mind of a 21-year-old who had been romanced before with video games and potato chips.

When the gossipy press corps learned of our relationship, Mark got all the high-fives and fist-pumps, while I got curious glances and probing questions.

For the most part, our age difference didn’t matter. The conversations flowed easily and we had our passion for journalism in common.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question our relationship at times. I fretted over the long-term consequences. I pictured myself at 60, a working woman with plenty of energy, and Mark as a crippled old man of 78 with one foot in the nursing home.

When my internship ended in May, Mark helped me drive back to Texas. We vowed to try a long-distance relationship after exchanging “I love yous.”

I had been down this road before. One boyfriend sent love letters from Australia that got progressively shorter and less ardent before breaking up over a long-distance phone call.

With Mark, it was different. We sent dozens of e-mails a day and spent hours on the phone every night. We flew to visit one another every few months.

I fell deeper in love. Mark was a good man, the kind that cooked my favorite meals upon request, put up with my obsession with bad reality television and stayed up with me all night when I had a bad migraine, rubbing my head until the pain faded. 

He encouraged me to take a job in Austin, Texas, working for my hometown newspaper, even though it meant our long-distance relationship would likely drag on.

Even if I did have to care for Mark later in life, it would be worth 40 years of him taking care of me. When he proposed atop an Austin hill at sunset, my answer was “Yes.”  ec