Firstly, before I start: I realise this might not be one of those “No! You too?!” posts about an experience that is instantly recognisable to everyone.
I realise that being mistaken for being your boyfriend’s mother might be a somewhat niche experience. Limited, possibly, to women. And specifically: women with younger boyfriends.
But bear with me. Because I do believe there’s some universality in the story I’m about to recount. Some universality in the realisation that you are physically older than you feel inside. Some universality in the return to a place of youth, only to realise that you are no longer part of that world. Some universality in the fact that YOU ARE SLOWLY, INEXORABLY EDGING CLOSER TO THE GRAVE. In a good way.
The story begins just over two years ago, when I met Frank. Two things immediately struck me about Frank when our eyes met over Twitter. One, that he was nice. Two, that he was cute. Four, that he was young. Three, that I’m not very good at maths.
When we met in person, these things were even more apparent. Even the maths bit – turns out Frank was a whole 14 years younger than me, and it took me a while to calculate that. And he was even cuter in real life. In fact, when I described him to other people, I found myself telling them that he looked like “A young Tom Hanks. You know, sort of Big/Splash era.” Which I regarded as a very wonderful thing, because I had a huge crush on the Big/Splash era Tom Hanks.
In fact, if Frank ever met Tom Hanks, it would probably look something like this:
Except without the upper body nudity. Possibly. And: don’t tell me it’s physically impossible for Frank to go back in time and meet the young Tom Hanks, because I’ve seen Big, and that proves that all kinds of weird sh*t is possible. As does Splash, now I come to think of it.
Anyway, Frank and I started dating – because as well as being cute and young, he turned out to be incredibly smart, kind and funny. (Just like Tom Hanks, I imagine. I don’t know. He always seems very nice in interviews, though.) Frank may have only been 25, but he had an old head on young (pretty, amazingly soft-skinned) shoulders; and that seemed to click very well with the fact that I was 39 but felt much younger than I was.
Yes, I was with a man I was old enough to have babysat for – which was appropriate, as Big and Splash are perfect babysitting movies – but we were, and still are, incredibly happy together. And as a result of being happy together, we have of course introduced each other to families, friends… and alma maters.
Taking Frank around Sheffield University, its Student Union and my favourite student pubs, I was struck by the fact that not only was I no longer the right age to be a student, I didn’t even feel the right age to be a mature student. And the reason for that, it dawned on me, was because I was now the right age to have a child of my own at the university. This was almost as alarming as walking into pub after pub only to find that they had all been refurbished.
Sheffield University. Naughty students are kept in the turret.
While Sheffield University, with its red bricks, one turret and badly refurbished pubs, was impressive – and I am enormously fond of both the university and the city – I was probably just as excited to see Frank’s old college as I was to show him around mine.
And ‘college’ is the correct – not Americanised – term here, because Frank went to Oxford Brainy University, and thus to a college. Specifically: Corpus Christi.
Coming from lower-middle-class stock, I am instinctively impressed by anyone who’s gone to Oxbridge. The sensible part of me knows that is a silly, outdated, possibly unreasonable reaction – but the inner me just screams OH MY GOD YOU MUST BE SO BRAINY I AM IN AWE AND I WISH I COULD HAVE GONE THERE AND DO YOU EAT SWANS?
Plus, Oxford is really pretty.
So we had a lovely day wandering around the city and Frank’s old haunts there (he used to be a ghost! Who knew?!) – including a pub next to Corpus Christi College called The Bear, the walls and ceilings of which are adorned with old school ties:
And after a drink in The Bear, we went to Corpus Christi –
– where Frank went into the porter’s lodge, just on the right of this photo, to see if we could possibly gain entrance so he could show me around the place where he’d spent four years of his life.
I hung around in the doorway – as you do, when you’re somewhat in awe of Oxford despite being a grown adult – while Frank spoke to the porter, who was a bespectacled gentleman in his late 40s or early 50s, I reckon. Like I say: I’m not very good at maths.
“Hello. I was a student here about five years ago…” began Frank – and while it took a moment for the porter to recognise him, there ensued a little exchange between them, during which it was established that Frank’s last year at Corpus had been the porter’s first and that the porter did, in fact, remember him.
“Anyway,” said Frank – gesturing to me – “I was just wondering if…”
“If you could show your sister around?” said the porter with a smile, winking at me.
And like that, we were in.
And no sooner were we in than it dawned on me.
By saying “your sister“, the porter had uttered the age-old, cheesy, supposed compliment of imagining that a woman who is your mother will be flattered by the fact that you’ve ‘mistaken’ her for being your sister.
The porter thought I was Frank’s mother.
I wandered around Corpus Christi admiring its golden brickwork, beautiful gardens and impressive modern extension… but my mind was still back there in the porter’s lodge, where I’d been mistaken for being my boyfriend’s mum.
Now, in the porter’s defence: (1) Frank looks younger than he is. He still gets ID’d buying alcohol. Plus, as we’ve already established, he looks like a young Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks was 32 when Big came out, and as anyone who’s seen that film knows, he looked really young in it. Especially in the bits where he was played by a kid. (2) In his porter head, all former students are probably frozen in time – thus Frank is still, to him, 18. Which makes me, at 41, quite plausibly old enough to be his mother. (4) He was wearing glasses.
“But I don’t look old enough to be a student’s mother!” I cried… as I looked out over Christ Church Meadow. “Do I?”
“Do I, Frank? Do I really look old enough to be your mother? Please tell me I don’t look old enough to be your mother. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a huge compliment in some ways… You’re a good-looking lad…”
“Of course you don’t look old enough!” he said. And with that, he’d hit me on the arm, shouted “You’re it!” and we were off. I do love being with a younger man.