The Glamorous Older Man's Lessons: 'An Education' In More Ways Than One

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  (L-R) Actors Do...
Carey Mulligan, star of The Education, second from left...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Call him the GOM.

Every woman needs to encounter at least one, as the terrific new film, ‘An Education’, based on an extraordinary memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber about dating an older man with a distinctly shady side, and adapted by Nick Hornby, makes clear. Barber, a writer for The Observer, is called “the rottweiler of journalism” by The Telegraph; being so totally deceived as a young girl, turns out, was great prep for a career in journalism — cynical, suspicious, challenging and questioning are all excellent reportorial skills, no matter how hard-won.

In this film, set in 1961, Jenny/Lynn is 16, serious, studious, attending private school in a sea of Virgil and grey wool, studying really hard to win a place at Oxford and an escape she desperately craves from her dull home and long-settled, unquestioning parents.

A handsome older guy, David, in a gorgeous maroon sports car, picks her up one day in a rainstorm, ostensibly to her protect her cello from the downpour. What happens next — as Jenny is drawn, awestruck, into a swirl of nightclubs, hotels and unimagined adventure — is a powerful little picture that sent me home from the cinema flooded with memories of my GOMs and how they, too changed my life. (A con man also came along later to up-end my world, as David did with Lynn, but that’s a whole other story.)

The GOM, whether 10, 20 or 30 years your senior, already knows the world in a way you can then barely imagine. You dream of one day, maybe, visiting Paris — he, as in the movie, knows it well, and takes you there. You long to be elegant, seductive, knowing and, in his eyes, you are, blossoming in his company. His older friends accept you, celebrating and validating your attractiveness to him. You’re probably in school, whether high school, college or grad school, or newly out of it, tethered like Gulliver by a zillion strings of debt, responsibility, expectation and hope, when you meet him. Guys your age are still flailing about, obsessed with video games or the corner office or their ex. Lacking savoir faire (or even knowing its meaning), they’re lousy in bed, don’t know how to dress, gormless. Enter the GOM.

He, in contrast, glitters with promise. He’s long since entered, and likely conquered, some of the scary, unknown land of adulthood, of paid work, serial romance, finding and furnishing a home. He knows what to order in a really good restaurant. Of course, he pays.

I met my first GOM, an antiques dealer, when I was 25 and he 35. He was, to my booooooooored Toronto brain, deeply exotic — an American who ran his own business, a man simultaneously very successful and seriously offbeat. I was desperate, then, to flee a dead relationship, a city I knew too well and a life that looked like a repeating tape loop. It was, as the French say, a coup de foudre,  knee-weakening attraction. Our six-month affair, half of it conducted across an ocean,  had all the hallmarks of the GOM: a fab weekend trip to Vienna, long, romantic dinners, a sort of hot pursuit I thought only happened in movies.

When you’re young and not entirely sure of your allure, maybe wondering if you even have any at all, discovering you wield that sort of sexual power is heady and hypnotic, a new toy to play with. Eventually, you both realize there are hearts involved and several might get broken.

Twelve years later, barely a month after my husband walked out, my other GOM re-appeared, another American. (Why did Canadian men never make the cut?) We’d met 15 years earlier when I profiled him for a magazine. Turns out, we’d fantasized about one another ever since we met. Within weeks, he proposed. He was all that I had remembered: funny, fun, loving, a whirlwind of activity. In July, he’d already planned our Christmas in Stockholm. How could I possibly refuse?

Of all people, it was my Dad — then barely a few years older than this man — who helped me decide this wasn’t a great fit for me. The age difference of 30 years was daunting enough. But the GOM’s bossiness was the dealbreaker. GOMs know so much more than you, o’ innocent one, in which lies so much of their appeal. But it means they’re, sometimes literally, in the driver’s seat. They’re a perfect fit when you’re as yet undefined, searching for identity and a glimpse of life’s possibilities beyond the predictable treadmill of school/work/marriage/kids. Barber’s GOM was a bad boy and so was one of mine. That’s part of the frisson. They’re not, thank God, usually husband material.

Unless you marry them, GOMs usually pose a clear, life-altering choice: you can have them, and their lovely, if fully-formed life into which you must neatly fit, or you can have your independence. Rarely both — as Jenny/Lynn learns for herself. She, as I did, chose the latter.

Go see this amazing movie!

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