Substacks are the new sonnets, and we are the best age gap. For Joel.
I was planning to write this week’s newsletter about something entirely different so this took me a bit by surprise.
But it is Valentine’s Day, after all, and I am in love, after all. Objects of love are, as is custom, worth an ode or a sonnet, or at least, a card.
I can’t write in iambic pentameter so this Substack is as close as I’ll ever get to Sonnet 18.
A sonnet wouldn’t really cover it though. Joel is worth an essay, or three. And even as an essay, he’s a hard read, a human Ulysses. Maybe all the best people are hard reads.
Or maybe everyone is a hard read but I just can’t be bothered to read most of them.
Whereas I would read Joel all day long. I find him endlessly appealing.
We met on Bumble. I say met. I mean swipe-matched. I liked his face immediately; liked the rest of his pictures in the swipe (jumping off a waterfall; smiling with his whole face).
He was deeply, instantly familiar to me in an unfathomable but unmistakeable way. I knew him already, knew a lifetime of him. I remember thinking “oh, there he is!”
That’s all a cliche. It is just code for:
Basically, reader, I just really fancied him.
That hasn’t dissipated. Now, call me shallow if you like but there’s just no intellectualising attraction. It’s either there or it’s not, and if it’s not, it’s not. No matter how eligible, no matter how good on paper.
There’s a sizeable age gap, you may be interested to hear. I don’t often think about it.
Until a new acquaintance asks if he’s my son, which has recently — and I feel rather unfairly — actually happened. More than once.
Anyway, at knitting group last night (as all great stories start), we were talking about age gaps. One of the gals mentioned her “old soul” 29-year old boyfriend and said that another of her colleagues also has the same age gap, being eight years older than her partner. Yet another woman in knitting group chimed in that’s funny, her parents have the same age gap too! Her mother also older than her father.
And this was of great interest to me, also being being eight years older than Joel, who is also 29.
I have always thought there is some magic in the older woman eight year gap. Maybe it’s a magic number. There’s a certain mystique to it.
Think Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde (I know they already broke up but hot damn, they were sexy and glam together weren’t they). Also, Ann Hathaway and William Shakespeare, who will forever be a singularly flames item in my head thanks to the best sex scene in modern fiction (and yes, I know Shakespeare spent his years in London shagging assiduously outside marital bonds, but still).
And what about Emma Thompson? Her husband is the guy who played the cad in Sense and Sensibility, which blew my mind and still makes me smile. They’re still together and, I understand from a humblebrag by one of the hosts of my favourite podcast who apparently attended one of their dinner parties, still happily married.
So there’s that. Older woman, younger man, eight year gap. It works. Trust me.
But obviously there’s more to it than that. Ask me why this might be. I don’t have any clear answers.
Sitting on the kitchen floor, he is all legs sprawling studying a tub of ice cream.
“Why do I care if the strawberries are picked by hand?”
He’s got me.
“I mean, if there’s a machine that can pick strawberries, I’d just as soon have those.”
Perhaps it’s also worth mentioning that Joel is a remarkable and lovely and ferociously intelligent human. Parenting alongside him the four children we have collectively spawned is a joy (well, it is bearable, which is really as good as it gets isn’t it). His patience truly knows no bounds, which is a good thing when there are tears because pretzels haven’t been divided *exactly* evenly or when he is summoned from bed to the loo at 6am with the bellowed “WIPE MY BUM”.
I digress. Back to Joel and his ludicrously outsized intelligence. He — and his ten, yes TEN — siblings were all homeschooled. Hampered by no more than an hour or two of formal instruction a day, Joel focused on the thing he was most interested in; the magic he could weave on his computer. There is an actual BBC documentary about one of his sisters that aired about fifteen years ago. Joel features in it only silently and tangentially — the spectral figure at a laptop in the background, studiously ignoring the camera.
When he was fifteen he could design web pages. By the time he was 20, he was getting headhunted on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, he’s just built an open source library that is apparently kind of a big deal. I make it sound like I know what he does. I have no idea what he does. But I know enough to know that he is very, very, very exceptionally good at it.
And without ever having a drop of formal education. He is just effortlessly, casually, an entirely self-taught genius.
I am in awe of him. Luckily, he thinks nice things about me too. He says to me: You write English like I write code. To both of us, this is praise of the highest order; he, in his language and me in mine.
I love hearing what he thinks about all the things, big and small, that cross our path every day. I love watching him optimise the shit out of every single damn thing in our lives. I’ve already mentioned the perfect way he laced my new boots, with great attention to method. You should see the caddy under our sink, the dishcloth bin (he washes them separately so they don’t make our clothes smell mouldy! A revelation!). All the places he keeps things, in our house and in his brain. The rigorous attention when he turns his mind to the perfection of a thing. He is fascinated by the power — and limits — of technology. He says the people who hail machine learning as the future of search engines this year are the same people who thought that crypto was the future of finance last year. I nod and pretend to understand.
He wonders what would happen if Siri could really find your iPhone. It’s on the floor. Under the couch, to the left of the discarded pair of socks. No, now it’s crawling towards you. Your iPhone just sprouted arms and legs, it’s crawling towards you!
There’s a little river (a stream, really) in our back garden. He said to me once that you can sit and watch the river like you can sit and watch a fire.
I watch him and I think being in love is a little like that too.
It’s like lying by the river, with a really good, long book, that you just don’t want to stop reading.