Thoughts about Age Gap Relationships



This article is written by a very close friend of mine, who has experienced May December relations, and asked me if she could write this page:

"I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear my trousers rolled." T.S. Eliot

It's hard to know what to think and feel about age gap relationships. There are so many variables: gender, culture, religion, power, money, sexuality and, of course, personal preferences.



As a young woman, I always wanted to be older than I was. I felt like I was missing the mark in relationships, and was drawn to older men.

I had a boyfriend twice my age, and he seemed to care more about who I was. He was a generous lover. He taught me about myself, about politics, and racial inequalities. He was confident in who he was; for him there was no hurry or pressure between us. He knew how to savor conversation, laughter and love.

Older men always seem to appreciate me more: my humor, my flirtations, and my womanliness.

When I was a young nurse, it was the older men who would make the advances. Maybe it was the fight against infirmity and mortality, but we nurses joked about the "gropers," and responded with good nature.

Age Difference Couples

But what constitutes an age difference for you? How many years between partners constitute a 'May-December romance'?

age gap romance picture
When I was in my teens, it was 5 years. Any girl that dated some guy five years older than her was immediately revered.

In my twenties, 10 years was a good gap.

Now as I approach 60, a twenty-year spread (with me being the youngest!) doesn't seem odd at all.

When I was 30, and lived in France, I remember a conversation with the French language school director. He was dear to me, like a father I never had. Perhaps 25 years older than I, he looked at me, paused and said wistfully "That's all? You see me as your father?" I hadn't considered the possibility of a romantic liaison with a man that much older ... But then, in France, age didn't seem to matter so much.

In West Africa, I learned about my American age bias. I lived in a polygamous society where men had up to four wives. A widow's husband's closest relative was responsible to care for her and any of his relative's children through marriage. The age of either partner was irrelevant and the union provided an umbrella of care.

But my girlfriends would tell me that it wasn't as good as it looked. They felt that their husbands were on the lookout for younger, virgin flesh. The first wife might have a status of power, but the honeymooning was often for the youngest wife. The compound was often rife with jealousies over who cooked the evening meal and thus slept with the husband.

Facing the Stigma

My travels have led me to believe that I am rather sheltered when it comes to age gap relationships. I am simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by great age difference couples. "Is that her father??" "Is that his granddaughter, or what??"

Young men with older women are called "gigolos," financially supported for their sexual attentions. Older women are called "cougars," clubbing to find prey. Old men with young women are "robbing the cradle," and she is the "gold digger."

Willow Lawson ("The May-December Couple," Psychology Today, 1/1/06, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200512/the-may-december-couple, accessed 2/10/11) has observed that age gap relationships experience the same discrimination as interracial and same-sex couples. However, the main burden is born by women of all ages. Lawson notes "women are most likely to bear the brunt of society's reproach." Men, on the other hand, are affirmed, and given a subtle pat on the back - whichever end of the age gap they hold.

But if we put these cultural prejudices aside, what are some pros and cons in age gap relationships?


(Male to female)

1. Young man with older woman

Pros:

--- She will probably be confident in who she is and not need affirmation and bolstering of her fragile ego.

--- She will probably understand your needs

--- She will likely be at a place of greater sexual experience and relaxation, without fear of pregnancy.

--- You will probably be safe from the pressure to perform.

--- Her wisdom and acceptance is likely to give you freedom.

Cons:

--- She may be threatened by the age difference, and fear younger women as competition.

--- She may want you to take more of the financial lead.

--- She may become preoccupied by the need to look young and pursue the addictive (and rarely very satisfying) course of cosmetic surgery.

--- You may become restless or lonely, desiring more age-compatible relationships.

--- What was restful may become boring; what was exciting may turn to exhaustion.


2. Old man with younger woman

Pros:
--- She is likely to bring life and enthusiasm to you, brightening the landscape of your years.

--- She will probably honor and respect your wisdom and experience.

--- She may renew your passion and youth.

--- You will have the chance to build another family and to establish a new legacy.

Cons:
--- She may be perceived as a threat to your existing family and may cause conflictual relationships with your children.

--- You may become over-vigilant, suspecting infidelities.

--- You may find her fatiguing, and long for the peace of your peers.


(Female to male)

1. Young woman with older man

Pros:

--- He is likely to be confident in himself, and have reached professional and sexual acceptance.

--- He will probably appreciate all of you and sex can be an expression of your whole relationship.

--- He can guide you into sexual fullness.

--- He will provide for you financially and bring you safety.

Cons:

--- He may not want children.

--- You may become lonely in the face of disapproval or disconnection from friends and family.

--- His wisdom may begin to feel parental or controlling, and what was safe may begin to feel trapping.

--- You may begin to long for the wildness of youth.

--- He may become dependent on things like erectile dysfunction drugs and an ongoing search for hair enhancements.


2. Old woman with younger man

Pros:
--- He will bring less relational history or baggage into your relationship.

--- He will delight you sexually and be more compatible to your sexual drive.

--- You will know how to please him and be confident in your womanly wisdom.

--- He will bring you adventure.

--- You will be the envy of younger women and the interest of other men.

Cons:
--- You may start to feel maternal with him and demand his personal growth and performance.

--- Your children and friends may pity you or find you ridiculous.

--- The early attraction may not survive the test of time and further aging.


According to Ruth Houston, popular author of 'Is He Cheating on You?' (2002, Lifestyle Publications) significant age difference couples will all have to face the threat of infidelity due to growing sex drive disparities between them (Houston, R. 2002. Is he cheating on you? Lifestyle Publications).


Recommendations



1. Communication is essential.


Charlotte Martin, relationship expert for Britain's 'The Sun', stresses that communication is crucial for a successful relationship ("A Lil' advise on dating older men," http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/article2089295.ece, accessed 2/10/11). Communication skills need to be developed early in the relationship to discuss expectations and changing needs. Crucial conversations are needed around family planning, income and finances, power differential, individual and coupleship use of time and outside activities.

2. Family and friends should be informed and invited into the relationship as it develops. You will need to initiate this and be intentional to fight against disconnection.

3. Address barriers and prejudices openly and in a non-defensive, non-threatening way.

4. Discuss and negotiate honestly sex drive disparities.

5. Be aware of cultural pressures, but do not allow them to limit the desires of your heart. Trust the process and enjoy each other's uniqueness.


The Blue People of the Movie 'Avatar'


So many fantasies and longings. So much expectation and disappointment. Such cultural prejudice.

But today I long to see and be seen like a blue person from the movie Avatar. I remember my African friend, 17 years older than I, reciting a poem to me on my 36th birthday. He told me that I was a rose, fresh in my early bloom. I remember that when I look in my mirror, and think that I have become invisible.

May-December relationships, creepy to some, may be warmth, kindness, passion, and vitality to others. What may be "squicky" to one is life and home to another. So bring on all the months of the year, and let's set each other free!



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