"I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear my trousers rolled."
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.
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
--- 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.
--- 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
--- 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.
--- 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
--- 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.
--- 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
--- 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.
--- 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).
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,"
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.