We went to the movies to celebrate my 50th birthday last weekend (a double-header with the new Indiana Jones and the new Narnia flicks) and saw a trailer for “I Could Never Be Your Woman” – a tale of a mother who falls for a younger man while her daughter falls in love for the first time. Given that my husband is 15 years younger than me – well, right now he’s actually 16 years younger than me until his birthday next month – we both enjoyed the clips, especially the jumping on the bed part (which, yes, we have done).
It piqued my curiosity to think that the media is finally paying attention to age gap relationships. So I went searching on BlogHer to see what my sisters are saying about younger men and older women partnerships. I found several great blogs - by Susan On Dating Younger Men, by Liz Dating a Younger Man, and Chantelle had me rolling on the floor with 3 Pros And Cons of Dating A Younger Guy. But that was it. And none of them talked about long-term relationships.
While it would be scandalous, and in most states illegal, to match a 15 year old boy with a 30 year old woman, when that young man reaches 20 or 25, the 15 year difference doesn’t seem so insurmountable, even if it does remain fuel for gossip. Such matches are more easily understandable as women have the means to stay healthier and good looking much longer than their mothers did. Even so, it’s that element of scandal, of taboo, that keeps many women from taking the advances of younger men seriously.
I was born in 1958. Growing up in California just north of San Francisco, I became interested in boys sometime between puberty and starting high school. Like other girls of my generation, the boys I was interested in were predictably older than me. At home, though, I had different role models. My mother was 5 years older than my father. Then she was 8 years older than my stepfather. When I reached 17, my 32 year old sister left her husband of 18 years for a friend of the family – an 18 year old classmate of mine. That was when I took notice and started thinking something weird was going on. Too weird for me, thank you very much.
The skewed public images of young man/older woman matches didn’t help the issue either. In films, for instance, we can start with Harold and Maude (the spunky Crone must die to free the enchanted Teen), move right along to Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (the first Cougar willing to sacrifice his future for her pleasure), and round it out with How Stella Got Her Groove Back (the Amazon Warrior unwilling to trust a man).
Off screen we had Elizabeth Taylor (the classic Man Eater) and she was followed by a lengthening line of aging actresses who can’t find a moment’s peace with today’s media – like Demi Moore and Tina Turner (my idol, but frighteningly powerful nonetheless); and even now the Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, is stepping out with a woman 7 years his senior.
According to the press then and now, if one of the partners has money, the other is a gold digger, and if the woman has a mind of her own, she’s a lecherous Cougar. None of these images led me to believe that my mother or my sister had made wise choices.
But when I was single and in my 30s, I started meeting a new breed of age gap couples: older women and younger men who neither hid nor flaunted the difference in their ages, people who loved each other because of their age difference, not in spite of it.
A closer look at real life demonstrated a long list of the attractors of age gap relationships for both partners. For the woman, her young partner was usually an independent thinker that encouraged her personal growth as much as he sought his own. He never tried to own her or rule her in the way her peer-age male counterparts had been trained to do. His passion and stamina kept her young. And she was never accused of marrying a father figure!
The women I met ignored media messaging about body image and youth obsession, and became confident, sensual, experienced partners that brought to their relationships a store of wisdom, an unhurried appreciation of life, and an informed recognition of the pitfalls inherent in relationships and a strong desire to avoid repeating them.
Now that was an example I could follow.
By the year I turned 40, I had dated men from 24 years older than me (when I was 20) to four years younger than me (an unimpressive Momma’s boy that couldn’t take responsibility for his own life). I was twice divorced (both older men) and happily single. As the cliché goes, I was comfortable with the idea of remaining single and totally not looking for a long term relationship. Then I met Miguel. He was fun. We laughed a lot. From the moment I first saw him, I knew he was “The One.” But he was 25.
At this point I have to thank my middle sister. By this time in my life she and her 15 year junior husband had been together 24 years. And then there were M & K, another 15 year gap couple who I adored and admired because of their respect for each other. So, I had good age gap role models for longevity and success and didn't have the same doubts that most women would have in the same situation.
But it was still weird for me. We dated (yes, lots of sex). We spent weekends together (and went on long drives and had strange adventures). We did not move in together (but we talked about being together). When he moved away and we became a long distance couple during our first year, it was Miguel who flew up to see me every payday and he never thought to ask me to pay his airfare. And I intentionally never offered.
When we hit the one year mark, we couldn’t stand being so far apart and decided to get married. Six months later we moved in together and three months afterward we got married. And we’re still on our honeymoon all these years later. We’ve had a lot of adventures in the last 10 years – and a lot of ups and downs – but there really is no secret to this. It’s all about respect. I don’t care how close or far apart your birth years are, respect is the single deciding factor to making a relationship work.
I’m not talking about lip-service respect here. I’m talking about the living every single day with a person in such a way that they feel valued and you do, too. I say “thank you” a lot. I say “I love you” frequently and repeat it with every glance and nuance of body language. I do my best to listen without interrupting. That style of communication is two-way.
Miguel knows that I want the best for him in his life and he wants the same for me. He never saw me as having already lived my life “before him.” And he was never an immature youth looking for direction. Like Chantelle’s experience, Miguel’s dreams inspired me. He knew what he wanted and he knew he was going to get it. Even as a non-union carpenter, he knew he was going to accomplish what he’d set himself to do. That kind of dreaming is contagious.
One of the hardest things for me to learn was not doing everything myself. I’ve been moving my own furniture since I was five and with Miguel I had to learn to let him do things for me. I had to learn to not grab the step-ladder and put the heavy box on the top shelf. I had to learn to ask for his assistance. And then I had to learn to be patient and wait for him to do it (putting my need for instant gratification aside).
And when a problem arises we talk. Even if I am older and more experienced, I can’t just say “because I said so.” I have been very careful to never treat him like an inexperienced person (and never say anything a mother would say). When issues of experience arise, I tell him my experience and let him choose his own way. Miguel may be young, but he is one of the wisest people I’ve ever known.
The last two years, since moving back to Miguel’s home town, we’ve had some real issues to deal with: his soon-to-be 12 year old daughter and her abusive mother, his readjustment to being in the old neighborhood, old friends who are a good influence and those that are not such a good influence. That last one was the hardest part. When we moved back here, I knew Miguel as a self-confident, intelligent 33 year old. All of a sudden he was hanging out with single childhood friends who had misspent their youths, had nothing to show for themselves, and wanted him to come drinking with them – and he didn’t know how to respond. Miguel was having an identity crisis right in front of my eyes. And all I could do was feel alone and abandoned in a strange country with no friends. An identity crisis of my own. Our initial freak out was not pretty, but we did eventually find ourselves again, and re-define ourselves again, and our relationship is even richer and stronger for it.
I’ll be blogging more on this topic, but the key take-aways here for both partners are:
1. Respect above all else – for yourself and for your partner
2. Carry your own weight
3. Accept your partner’s help
4. Acknowledge your partner’s inherent wisdom
5. There is more to communication than words
6. Forget the differences (like the years) and focus on what you have in common
7. Define yourself and your relationship and to heck with the spoilsports
I don’t really see these points as being any different than those for a successful peer-age relationship, but it does take special people to walk this particular road less traveled. One of the comments to Susan’s post, from a fellow called youngguy, was a very sad story about a failed age gap relationship that left youngguy very bitter. Thinking about his post now, I realize that if there is a single essential characteristic for a successful age gap relationship it is that the man be mature beyond his years. He must be mature enough to recognize the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship and secure enough to step away if that’s necessary.
And the woman? She must be adventurous and unafraid to face the truth – whatever that may be . . . and that’s why we’re part of the BlogHer community, isn't it?
Achaessa lives with her younger husband in Mexico City. It's a growth experience for them both. Check out her blog at Achaessa Writes.
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