Sometime in the ‘80s, the hair metal band Winger had a hit with a song called ’17.’ In the song, Kip Winger, the dashing vocalist for whom the band was named, meets a teenage girl and, after questioning the ethics for a verse or so, engages in a passionate relationship with her. It’s a song about how love and Kip Winger’s horniness know no bounds, and cannot be tamed by silly things like laws or morals. Back in the ‘80s, when Kip was young, it was acceptable for him to sing about sleeping with a 17-year-old. People didn’t really have a problem with it. However, when I saw Winger in concert about five years ago and a bloated, 40-year-old Kip Winger belted out his affection for the 17-year-old, suddenly things didn’t seem so kosher. Hearing the song from the modern incarnation of Winger and watching the crowd of middle aged men pumping their fists and singing along…it was more than a little creepy.
I wish I had a time machine, so I could go back to the ‘80s and consult Kip when he was writing the song: “You have to think long term, Kip. How about tweaking these lyrics a bit. Maybe, instead of seventeen, you can say ‘she’s only seventy.’ Then the song will become more acceptable as you and your fan base get older. Really, it’s better to be laughed at now and applauded later than the other way around. Think about the future of Winger, Kip!”
But enough about Winger. Let’s talk about me.
On Christmas Eve, I met a girl at a club and we exchanged numbers. Later, I asked her out on a date via text message (if she didn’t respond, it obviously would’ve mean something terrible happened and she had died). As luck would have it, she was alive and said yes. Things were peachy. But since the nightclub was dark and I was a little intoxicated at the time, it was hard to say with much accuracy what she looked like. Nor did I remember anything about her, other than that she was Korean and worked at a language exchange program. Other than that, she could’ve been Kim Jong Un in drag for all I knew.
I texted again and asked her what time would be good. She responded with: “Six o’clock will be good. My classes at University will be done then.”
“University?” I thought, beginning to feel a bit queasy. How old was this girl? Seeing that she was still in college, she had to be about 21. I sighed. In my head, I considered the age difference. It was pretty tough to deny its significance. “Wow,” I said to myself. “When I was a teenager, she wasn’t having her first period, she was writing her first period.”
Still, I would go through with the date. There I stood in Bupyeong Station, waiting for her. She texted me and said she’d be late – not just a little late, mind you, but an hour and a half late. I walked around, trying to fill the time. At a store in the underground shopping mall, I bought a pink ear hoodie for my little niece. I wandered around. By the turnstiles, I ran into Mike (of Stupid Ugly Foreigner).
“I’m waiting for a couple North Koreans,” he said. “I’m giving them English lessons. What are you doing here?”
His was a good, morally strong reason to be there. He was giving free English lessons to two people who had fled the North. I lowered my head and spoke honestly, “I have a date with a college girl.”
“Does she know how old you are?” he asked. I glared at him.
Truth be told, I have never, in my life, dated someone my own age or older than me. They’ve always been younger. The last three women I’ve spent time with here in Korea have all been under 24. It’s not that I specifically want younger women…that’s just sort of how things work out. Recently, though, after my pseudo-relationship-from-hell that ended in August (she was 23), I’ve started to believe that age really does matter and that things have been working out so poorly because I’m trying to connect with women who at such a different place in their lives than I am. Yeah, we have fun and get along great, but there’s not a whole lot we have in common. For example, it would be nice to date a girl who could relate to the pain and frustration one feels when the VHS tape unwinds inside the VCR halfway through the movie.
Finally my date arrived. The first thing that struck me was that she had braces. I started feeling guilty and hoping we wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. The braces were such a symbol of youth, I felt really sleazy – it would be like setting up a date with an older person and having her show up using a walker. I had planned on having dinner and then going out for coffee. I asked her where she wanted to go.
“Let’s go to bar,” she said.
“Um, ok,” I said. “Do you want dinner? Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” she said, “we will eat French fry. And drink beer.”
That’s exactly what we ended up doing. We sat in a bar, ate French fries for dinner, and drank a pitcher of beer. She was very nice and friendly; it turned out she attended one of the best schools in Korea (Seoul National) and was studying biochemistry. Dipping a fry in ketchup, she asked me how old I am.
“I’m an old man,” I said. “I’m 33.”
“33!” she shouted. “Very old!” She took her hands and covered her face like she was embarrassed or going to cry.
She put her hands back down. “It is okay.”
“In Korean age I’m 34.”
“34! 33 is international age?”
“Yes,” I said. I looked at the ear hoodie I’d gotten for my niece and wondered if my date could fit in it. After we finished the fries and the beer we decided to call it a night. I decided to meet up with C-Batz and some other friends instead of going home. We drank and drank into the night, and by two in the morning I was alone in the bar, sitting on a bar stool and drinking whisky by myself.
“I don’t wanna be Kip Winger,” I slurred to myself. Lighting a cigarette, I sent the girl a text. I said she was very nice, but that the age difference was too much and it would be better not to have another date.
“I think so too,” she immediately texted back. “Thanks for fun date.”
A great sense of relief came over me. In a flash, I was so happy to be 33 and alone. It felt good to finally say, for once, “I’m sorry but I’m too old.”
The subway had closed and I was stranded. I got a room at a love motel by myself, and slept like a grandpa.