Can someone tell married men to stop hitting on 24-year-olds?

Your quick wit and Eng Lit degree have qualified you for an ass grab


Here’s a question: why do married men think it’s cool to hit on our generation of smart young women?

At the same time as you learn what it’s like to be twenty-four, you learn what it’s like to be treated like a twenty-four year old. Among the many things this means––being charged more for groceries, being showed the expensive lingerie they keep in the back, no longer getting free night bus rides just by saying your boyfriend dumped you––is that married men start chatting you up.

I remember what it was like to be treated like an eighteen-year old, back when men a decade ahead of me would patronise or ignore me, and then ask for my number if I referenced a 20th century thinker from mainland Europe. Is it just that those same men are married now? I thought I was a nihilistic last hurrah––not so, it seems.

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Turning 24 (right)

An example: a few weeks ago I was at a literary party full of thirty-somethings who thought they were famous. I’m their type. There I was, manning the on/off switch of a cessant patio heater, making conversation with a film-maker about an essay I’d read that day when it hit me: this man is a decade older than me, he has a wedding ring on, and his hand is on my ass. I’d crashed the party, so my appeals for female eye-contact went unreturned.

I removed his hand.

‘Come with me’, he whispered.

‘Where?’ I asked.

‘I’d like to kiss you in a corner’.

(It’s worth noting here that at this point we’d been talking for five minutes.) I asked if he was married.

‘Yes’ he said, insouciantly.

‘Where’s your wife?’ I asked, not insouciantly at all, but I was surprised, and now doing field-research for an article on gross men.

He shrugged. ‘At home’.

The patio heater clicked off. I told him I was ‘fine thank you’ (damn) and headed optimistically in the direction of the free bar. But he grabbed my arm, looked deep into my eyes, and said, with disturbing intensity: ‘You know, you’ll feel differently about this when you’re twenty-five’.

What the fuck is this guy’s problem, I hear you ask. But I no longer do. Since entering my early twenties I’d say I get hit on by a married man about once a week, and not just because I’ve started going to office parties for the free booze. What do these men want? Why do they expect our complicity? And how can we help them get their fucking shit together?

These and other questions were crossing my mind as I handed over a jacket someone had given me for the cold after it became clear I wasn’t going to make out with them (they asked for it back!). It’s not the infidelity that offends me––I’m generally an all’s fair in love and war kinda gal––but we’re not talking about love, we’re talking about ego. These men don’t want to take us home (though one guy did invite me to his ‘chateau’ – ew) what they want is proof of their assumption that they’re getting more and more eligible as they get older.

The disturbing thing to discover is that this culturally implanted idea is something that still has the power to compete with things like, say, meeting your soul-mate and vowing not to part with them ‘til death does it for you. Empowered, married men may be the best window we have into what its like to think patriarchally, and I don’t like what I’m seeing. It’s sad: I mean, those guys made this world and its cultural discourses, and now its making them boring at parties.

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Exception

The worst part is it’s not naivete or teenage cleavage that’s the source of our charm anymore. That I could deal with. What plays is a predictably ‘twenties’ mix of cynicism, self-awareness, and intelligence – all the things that should make us threatening instead of fair game. Three relatively interesting replies to a precis of his new novel? Expect to be upgraded to ‘good conversation partner worth treating like an equal’? Congratulations, your quick wit and Eng Lit degree have qualified you for an ass grab.

Well, I didn’t see any of them on the picket lines defending our right to the cheap education they had, and their shitty marriages are taking up the last of the affordable housing. But now I’m charming because I’m an artist living in London and can recognise an ironic reference to Camus, and, most seductive of all, making it look easy. As though they didn’t shit on my future and make it almost impossible. Eugh. Don’t they get it? This is intergenerational warfare––why would we go behind enemy lines for a kiss in a corner?

If feminism had worked, these men would a) be terrified we were going to kick them in the groin, and b) assume that our complicity would be with our sisters, their wives, not them. The entitlement I get to witness now I’m twenty-four is a chilling insight into just how disempowered the generation above expects us to be. I weep for them and their creaky old delusions. I just hope one of them’s reading this over the shoulder of his unpaid intern.