How do I cope with being in love with an older man?
January 24, 2008 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I am very much falling for a (much) older man. How do I handle this?

For a year or two now I have a very interesting toeing-the-lines relationship with a man much older than myself. We are compatible on about a bajillion levels, aside from him making me fluttery in my stomach and hot in other areas. I've been with plenty of guys before (both my own age and older) but none of this has compared to the way I feel about him.

The problem is, he's about twenty years older than I am. From what I've observed, this is social taboo for anyone who isn't marrying for money or fame by proxy. Is it worthwhile trying to pursue this? He's been married before (and has a daughter, who, awkwardly, is older than I am), and has dated plenty of women between my age and his own, so I don't think this is just the novelty of a younger girl to him. I guess it's what you'd call a May-December relationship.

He's good for me on the level that he's helped me break out of my shell some and learn to communicate better... I just don't know if it will feasibly work on other levels. What do you think, AskMeFi? Does this have a chance? I really, really care for this man, but how hard is society going to make it for me to pursue this? Any anecdotal advice would be superb.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking whether you should give up on the basis of age alone? No, you shouldn't.
posted by phrontist at 10:18 PM on January 24, 2008

My new girlfriend is 20 years younger than me. We've been living together for a year now, and it's the best relationship I've had, out of many. Don't worry about the age.
posted by growabrain at 10:23 PM on January 24, 2008

Me too. I'm 42, she's 25. (and he's 43, but this is an age thread, not a poly one...)

Age doesn't have to be a problem.
posted by baylink at 10:27 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

My uncle had long term girlfriend who was in college when they met (and a few years younger than his eldest daughter). It was no big deal. People will notice, but an older man/younger woman is pretty commonplace. Older woman/younger man is what people might get mean about.
posted by cali at 10:33 PM on January 24, 2008

As another data point, close friends are happy in a similar circumstance.

You'll probably get shit about it from somewhere in the family /friends / jerks-in-public sphere, but a happy relationship is certainly worth that.
posted by oblio_one at 10:48 PM on January 24, 2008

Uh, I need to know how old YOU are first. There will be drastically different answers if you're 18 vs. 40.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:58 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Love isn't mathematical. Go for it.

On preview: Uh, unless as the previous commenter worries, you're really young. In which case, please lead a very happy fantasy life. Yay.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:33 PM on January 24, 2008

I know someone who married someone who was maybe ... very late 40's or early 50's ... when she was about 30. Her parents had trouble with it, now they're fine with it since they see how in love she is. They just had a kid, and the dad is sometimes like a grumpy grandpa toward the 3-year-old but also sometimes quite playful. The dad is at retirement age and wanting to move to Mexico, while she is looking at schools and neighborhoods for a child. And the dad recently had some rather serious health problems that were quite scary for all of them -- having two dependents has made getting used to the idea of his own mortality a bit more stressful.

All that said, they have an amazing love each other that even near strangers like myself can clearly see. So, I say go for it if you think you can handle stresses like those listed above.
posted by salvia at 11:53 PM on January 24, 2008

I've been in a relationship with someone far older, and I wrote about it earlier. Prior to meeting him, I had dated guys my age who were always asking me to buy their beer and falling asleep on my couch. But he was the first true gentleman I ever dated... the first person to ever treat me like a lady. It was my first grown-up relationship and it was really a big growth experience. It was really difficult for me at first because I was VERY ageist... I'd imagine what everyone else was thinking when they saw us together. But then every time I'd see him thinking I was going to break it off, he'd make me laugh and I'd think he was cute. So I'd say to myself, "Okay, well, maybe next time." And we ended up dating for 7 years. We did break up a few times during our relationship... often because of age or cultural issues. Sometimes he would get insecure and jealous that I was going to cheat on him with a younger guy (I wasn't) or I would worry about what people thought about me dating an old guy... when who cares? (I mean, I was in a happier relationship than many of my friends!) While I wasn't dating him, I'd go out with men my own age and I would spend most of the time missing all of the rare qualities he had going for him that they didn't. He may have been older but I began to realize that he had more life and energy in him than anyone else. In many ways, knowing him made me a better person.

A few years ago I moved away and he moved back to his home country, but I'm very very thankful for the relationship even though it wasn't traditional. My only regret is that we both spent so much time worrying about the age difference and letting our individual fears get between us sometimes. If we hadn't, we might've actually ended up really happy together. Who knows. I still miss him sometimes. We were a really great couple in some ways. (In other ways, he was a pain in the ass. But hey, that's normal.)

So my advice to you is... if you are drawn to this person and he's drawn to you? Go for it. Don't overthink. Life is short. Just enjoy. Fuck everyone else, be responsible for your own happiness. Don't let age be a factor if you really have feelings. Embrace them and be good to eachother.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:21 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

BTW, one thing I found out... I hid the relationship from a lot of people at first because I was scared of being judged. But when I finally introduced my friends to him? THEY LIKED HIM. They actually thought he was cute. And I thought my mom was going to get all upset but she ended up confessing that she was jealous that she'd never been in a relationship as fun as ours was. You just never know.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:24 AM on January 25, 2008

Ohhhh yeah, but on preview? If you're really young then that's a different story. Being really young and pursuing a relationship with an older man is a WAAAAY different situation than what I went through. Because I was 29 when I was dating him... it wasn't a father thing, nor was he cradle robbing. We were both mature adults. And yet it was STILL tough.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:28 AM on January 25, 2008

Pretty much what everyone else has said: unless you're very young, the age difference doesn't necessarily stand in the way of a great relationship.

A close friend of mine is married to a man 20+ years her senior. She's only a few years older than both his daughters (with whom she gets along very well.) They've been married for over 10 years and they are perfect for each other and very, very happy together.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:55 AM on January 25, 2008

Don't worry about the age difference unless you're 18 or something, like everyone else has said.

From my personal experience, I've dated a couple guys 20 years older and fell hard for one who was 30 years older, but who didn't have the same feelings I had for him.

About this last one, I fell for him because he was a gentleman and helped me have confidence in myself and really listened hard to what we talk about (we're still friends), talked to me nearly everyday on the phone, and it turned out he was just interested in being friends and nothing more.

Of course this situation doesn't necessarily have to do with his age, but I wondered if I was interpreting his kindness and respect as more than it really was because I was used to younger guys who aren't so considerate.

I only mention it because of this:

He's good for me on the level that he's helped me break out of my shell some and learn to communicate better... I just don't know if it will feasibly work on other levels.

It sounded like me prior to confirming his feelings.

I don't really get any indication from your post that he has made a "move" at you, indicating he shares mutual feelings, so just be careful if this is the case. I spent so much time obsessing over the age difference and "what if" that I didn't use my head and realize the relationship wasn't what I thought it was.

If this isn't the case, and he has indicated mutual feelings for you, then go for it! People probably won't care as much as you think.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 1:35 AM on January 25, 2008

my uncle is 14 years older than his wife (who is only 3 years older than me). they've been married for about 12 years now. i wouldn't let age alone stop you. yes, it's unusual, but love sometimes surprises you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:29 AM on January 25, 2008

It depends on what your relationship goals are.

If it's just love, why not? Sure, you'll get social pressure from unexpected quarters and support from others, but I think it's a bad precedent to yield too often to society's restrictions. One of the hardest things I have learned (and still am) is "What do you care what other people think?". Think for yourself and act appropriately.

If it's marriage and kids, it might be problematic. He already did the family thing and might not want to do it again. Could be a disconnect and show stopper.

Potential problem areas and benefits? Here's what I find being married to a woman that I have been with since she was 24...

Cultural differences (music, references, childhood experiences, etc.) You get to learn who Benny Goodman is and he gets to learn hip hop! Actually, that is a great thing for both.

Peers (if you are really young and statistically unusual in your maturity, your friends probably aren't. His peers are likely going to be different than he on many levels. Soon, you'll see many subtle differences... some good and some bad.)

Trajectories (You are probably in career building mode, and he may soon be winding down. You are building networks, his is HUGE due to age. His friends, family, etc. will begin dying off sooner. Death is generally stressful. )

There are many reasons that you won't align, of course, but older male/younger female seems to work. Older men are typically more settled, mature, connected, wise, experienced, stable, higher status. On the other hand, younger men are typically more driven, ambitious, experimental, healthy, undamaged, etc. What you like, notice, need is up to you, but I certainly can vouch from personal experience that it can work well.

I have at least 1/2 dozen couples like this in my current posse. I have two where the woman is older. (With one exception... a friend who is not capable of fidelity... they work.)

I think there are socio-biological factors involved, as well as personal psychological ones. (By socio-biological, I mean the genetic tendency for men to seek fertility in a mate and women to seek status/security. What you 'feel' is a free-will kind of decision might have a strong push from our species' genetics....not predestination, but predisposition.)

One big thing to consider... (if he's REALLY older), health and death, generally. All other things being equal, he'll be dying sooner than you. What will you do with your last years if you are left behind? Worth considering. Sadly, nature does not treat an aging woman the same as an aging man.

I think it's wise to begin practicing flexibility in relationships. It really comes in handy. They change so much. Remember, you are not a fixed quantity and neither is a mate. Change happens. More often than not, change of both partners works to separate, not to unify. It's exaggerated when the same world works differentially on two humans who have dissimilar age horizons.
posted by FauxScot at 5:27 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I could be wrong, but I get the sense that you're in school or a similar situation where this person is a supervisor or in a position of power, and that's how all this came about. Does it have a chance? Sure. But I'd really think about how the person's influence affected the situation. Also, you really don't mention his feelings for you. Just don't let your feelings blind you from the realities of the situation.
posted by cashman at 5:50 AM on January 25, 2008

How old are you? You sound very young, or perhaps, inexperienced in things. The "bring me out of my shell" quote is the main reason I'm asking.

The 10 yrs between 20 & 30 aren't even remotely the same sort of 10 yrs between 30 & 40. If you're 20 & he's 30, just realise that you're going to be a different person in 10 yrs time than you are now... while he'll be roughly who he is right now.

Not against age differences - I've always dated guys a bit older or younger than I am. When I was 24, I dated a guy who was 42 (my dad's age at the time). Lots of fun, liked him a lot - but nothing serious. We were just having fun. No harm in it... but neither of us were kidding ourselves that we were seriously dating.

So, sure, go out with him, but don't hang your hopes on it being a really serious relationship. Might do you some good if you're shy to go out with a man you know and trust, regardless of age.

DH is 11 yrs older than I am and looks quite a bit older than his age, poor lamb. We get comments every so often, but it's more like "wow, didn't know you're together" comments. Whatever. He puffs up like a peacock and I give him a kiss or put my arm through his to mark my territory. No big deal at all.
posted by Grrlscout at 6:57 AM on January 25, 2008

I have to go with cashman. It sounds to me like you've fallen for someone who has brought a new dimensions to your life and who is powerful and effective. People like that are amazing, I fall for them all the time. Just be very careful that this is not an unbalanced power situation - that's not fair to anyone.
posted by MiffyCLB at 7:34 AM on January 25, 2008

Age isn't the problem, it's people's perceptions about it that will be your burden to bear. I never knew how much people cared about little preconceived notions until I went through the whole wedding ritual. People tend to question anything that is outside of their usual habits and norms, and the burden for you will be if you are willing to put up with it. It won't always be easy, and you won't convince everyone, but as long as you don't need to convince yourself, then it's not really a problem.
posted by furtive at 7:41 AM on January 25, 2008

I've also had/have relationships with older men, and found them to have an incredible impact on my growth as an individual. I had a somewhat undefined relationship with a man 26 years older than me for almost seven years (we met when I was 24). Despite some differences between what I wanted and what he wanted in the context of "relationship", my time with him was utterly life changing in terms of my own self-worth, confidence, and understanding of the world. We are still in touch.

After I formally ended my relationship with him, I decided I needed stick to guys my own age. I ended up living with two different men, but I found that neither of them had the confidence and sense of self that I find appealing with older men. Still, I made a rule that I wouldn't date anyone more that 10 years older than me. But after a long string of first dates, I stumbled across the profile of a man on a dating sight that was incredibly appealing to me. And who was also 17 years older than me. I broke my rule. That was four years ago, and I am happier with this man than I've been with anyone else ever. We are talking about marriage, and I have no qualms that we will be together a long time.

Which brings me to some of the issues that you might deal with. Personally, I've never gotten much static from my friends or family. In fact, I've never perceived disapproval based on our age from anyone that I recall. It helps that my bf looks much younger than his age, I suppose, and that our physical differences are more striking than our age difference.

What I have encountered is dealing with his history. When you date men much older, they generally have a legacy of children, ex-wives, or ex-girlfriends, with whom they maybe on very good or very bad terms with. In either case, it can impact you. You really have to make an effort to be at ease in these encounters, and also deal with them gracefully.

Secondly, he may have eldercare issues. In the three significant relationships I've had with older men, all of them have been in the midst of dealing with the chronic illness and/or death of a parent. In fact, the main reason my current bf and I aren't living together is that he has just moved in with an elderly parent after the death of the other parent. It's not fun stuff.

I agree with the other posters that this might not be a good idea if you are quite young (late teens, early twenties), and/or if this person is in a position of power (professor, boss, etc). Otherwise, I say go for it. Even if it doesn't work out, you'll likely experience a great deal of personal growth.
posted by kimdog at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2008

Go for it. Be safe. Have fun.
posted by fvox13 at 9:45 AM on January 25, 2008

I've been in several such relationships; my preference has always been for older men. They didn't work out because of the usual reasons - long distance, incompatibilities that were ignored in the throes of passion. The age was not a factor in the breakups. My father had the worst time coming to terms with it, and if I'd been close to marrying any of them I probably would have gotten a stern lecture. My friends were just glad I was happy. No one ever chastised us in public or made snide remarks (to my knowledge).

Of course, now I'm in a relationship with a 36 year old (and I'm 33), but the closeness in age is purely coincidence. The advantage of being close in age is that you're (theoretically) at about the same experience level with life, and that you have a shared culture (you remember the same TV shows, music, etc.). I really don't think those things are all that important to the success of a relationship, and if my fiancé had been 53 instead of 33 when we met I still would have pursued a relationship. My one concern would be health - even a healthy 70 year old man is unlikely to want to pursue physical activity to the same degree (I'm not just referring to sex). My mother remarried a man 14 years her senior, and in their later years he's slowed down quite a bit while she's still very active.
posted by desjardins at 11:37 AM on January 25, 2008

Others have said a lot, so I'll just add/echo:
It won't be healthy if your relationship's power dynamic is skewed (e.g. you are in your teens while he is (whether by default or choice) in a position of power/authority over you).
How does he feel about you, and how committed is he towards making the relationship work? Sometimes society isn't as much the obstacle as is your partner's willingness to commit, sacrifice, etc. Do your peers and your families know about your relationship? If so, what do they think?
(Are all issues with his ex-wife settled? What does his daughter think/feel?)
I personally think a good relationship should be one that is not just mutually satisfying for the two immediately involved in the relationship, but also one that can bring some good and happiness to the families and friends around them (or, at the very least, one that doesn't harm or betray the families and friends around them). Age is not necessarily a problem (unless you are very young), but it can sometimes be tied to other problems, as others have already pointed out.
Has he demonstrated a willingness to try to make it work, to try to get to know your family and peers, to basically try to ease the relationship into becoming more socially acceptable? On some level, I think gaining acceptance from your families and peers is ultimately more the issue than general acceptance from 'society'.
posted by aielen at 12:06 PM on January 25, 2008

I really, really care for this man, but how hard is society going to make it for me to pursue this?

Go for what makes you fluttery in the stomach and tell society to kiss your ass.

You only have one life to live and the people around you, many of them being oh-so-quick to come up with reasons to judge your life, most certainly don't care about your happiness and fulfillment.

You do.

Be selfish. Be aggressive. Go for what you want.

Have fun.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:17 PM on January 25, 2008

The issues have already been well addressed but I want to go into a bit more detail on advancing age. My great uncle married a woman about twenty years younger, when he was about 60. As time went on he, naturally, started slowing down, while she still wanted to maintain an active and busy social life, things along those lines. Now he is in his 80s and in a nursing home with rapidly failing health. She's been very supportive of him through all of this but I do wonder would she make the same choice if she could do it over again. The fun and active man she met slowly disappeared. It's tough to watch happen to anyone you're close to. And it's severely impacted the type of lifestyle she had and one point and probably still wants.

So that may be years away but it's something to think about, should you end up in a long term relationship. And, as has been noted, he has already done the family thing and may not be at all enthusiastic should you want children at some point.

But it's your life so have fun with it!
posted by 6550 at 2:37 PM on January 25, 2008

My husband is 30 years older than me & while I love that man to death I can't say for certain that I would do it all over again. We have a wonderful, healthy, committed partnership BUT when there is such a huge age difference then age DOES take more of a staring role than it would in a typical relationship- especially if you have kids. I will just touch on some of my biggest issues.

#1) I am not the person he married. I was 21 when we got married & I have grown, changed & evolved enormously during our marriage but he has understandably remained the same. I am fortunate that he loves who I am but as selfish as it sounds if the roles were reversed I can't say I would be so accepting or understanding when the person I married is no longer the person I am married to.

#2) Finding mutual friends can be difficult. This is especially bothersome now that we have a young daughter because all of my husband's friends have children who are in high school or college so there is never anyone for our daughter to play with when we get together. This has put an enormous strain on friendships because we cannot be as care-free & spontaneous as his friends tend to be, with a child in tow.

#3) "In sickness & in health". My husband has had numerous health problems, surgeries & most recently double bypass heart surgery with a 2 week hospital stay. Health issues are something we will always deal with because of his age. He is starting to slow down at the time in my life where I want to speed up.

#4) My husband is admittedly more of a 'grandpa' with our daughter than a father. He is much more lax on discipline & structure than a father should be. This is a very big issue for us.

For what it's worth we do have a great marriage & are very happy. Every marriage has problems but the majority of our issues stem directly from our age difference. My husband is an amazing man who has helped me grow & become the person that I want to be. He has supported & encouraged me through everything that I have done & he is truly my backbone. I look at my friend's husbands & see that they are still immature, selfish children & I am thankful that I don't have to deal with any of that.
posted by peacelovecoffee at 7:19 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Is there a name for this film technique?   |   What are some good uses for spare smaller capacity... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.