Age is just a fabulous number
March 25, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

What can I expect in a Younger/Older relationship?

I am a young (24) gay man who met and fell in love with this great older (52) guy. I can see this relationship growing into something long term, my first, possibly his last. Aside from keeping the lines of communication open, what can my fellow mefites share, to help this relationship flourish. I'm interested in what to expect as far as lifestyles, health, sex/libido, jobs/supporting each other, family matters, living together, acceptance by friends/family, etc. Any hurdles to cross and how to deal with them. Personal experiences would be great but it any input is welcome, even from the straight younger/older relationship demographic.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your first and his last? Expect a lot of people to gently and not-so-gently advise you that this is very romantic, but that you (or he) may not feel this way in a few years.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy the relationship and that you shouldn't calmly tell the nastier naysayers to fuck off. But don't set yourself up for a situation in which you feel like the two of you have to maintain a fairy-tale romance at all costs in order to Prove Them Wrong.
posted by desuetude at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2008

I agree with desuetude. It's good you see this relationship going the distance, but don't cut off your nose to spite your face etc etc. Be willing to admit there's going to be disagreements, fights, arguments... as there is an any relationship.

Heteroexample: My husband is 10 years older than me. I'm 28, we've been together since I was 18. We are really good friends and we accept that we will both change as individuals over the long haul. Like you said, communication is key. I have definitely noticed a power shift in my marriage in the past few years. I am becoming more comfortable with being myself and knowing what I want. Luckily my husband's on board with that. I think it's really hard to give relationship advice since there are so many variables. Basically, if you both agree that nothing is off-limits, communication-wise, you'll have better odds. You should feel comfortable bringing up anything with each other in a non-confrontational way. So, it depends on both of your personality types. Honestly, I know there are some legitimate concerns when people with an age difference get together, but so much depends on the individuals. As far as other people's reactions, I don't think about our age difference when we're doing things alone, but I am a little more aware of it when we are in public... Who cares? You're both adults and it's your life. You have to choose what makes you happy. So if this guy does it for you, and vice-versa, go for it. (Sorry for the rambling, hope some of that makes sense.)
posted by hulahulagirl at 8:45 AM on March 25, 2008

I'm in a relationship about like yours, only both me and my partner have been together ten years since we met around the ages you two are. I could say a lot but don't really want to get that personal on AskMe. Send me a MeFi mail with a contact address if you want to have a confidential dialog.

Long story short? I'm very happy and wouldn't change a thing. Honestly, a big age difference has some disadvantages; finances, health, interests. It also has advantages, different stability, perspective. Mostly I love the man I'm with and don't really think of our relationship in terms of age difference anymore.

(And speaking frivolously, I recommend you learn a light-hearted way to correct people who think you are father and son. They're usually terribly embarrassed when they figure out they're wrong :-)
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on March 25, 2008

I have some experience in a situation kind of related to yours - although I am straight and the age difference between us is only ten years, but still here are some things to think about -

- Be aware that the two of you will have a very different knowledge/ memory base from each other. He will know of bands/ famous people/ historical events/ whatever that you will have no knowledge of whatsoever. You may be into more "modern" things than he is. None of this matters if you guys have stuff in common, obviously, but just be aware that he may assume you are aware of things of which you are not and vice versa - sometimes my boyfriend mentions a tv programme or something and I have no idea what he's talking about!

- What are your expectations of the relationship? Make sure you are both on the same page and that you discuss what you both want from the relationship and what you both envisage for your futures, whether they be together or not.

- Be conscious of not taking a "baby of the relationship" role just because you do happen to be younger. Sometimes I find myself deferring to my boyfriend in certain situations just because I assume he knows more because he is older, or is able to handle situations better, or whatever, but I have to remind myself that his age doesn't make him any more knowledgeable or capable than me. Your boyfriend isn't with you because of your age (I assume), he's with you because of who you are, so don't act as if he is an elder figure - he wants an equal.

All this said, I think a lot of this is what you'd have to consider going into any relationship, anyway, and I don't think you age really affects the fact that you should conduct this relationship in the same way that you would any other - i.e. communicate!!!! and have fun! I think a lot of stigma is placed on age-difference relationships especially when the difference is as great as yours, but really, if you are happy, then with regards to acceptance - who cares?!
posted by schmoo at 8:54 AM on March 25, 2008

Over nearly fifteen years, I have had a number of relationships, two of which have been very long term, with people much older than myself. I have also had a few short-term (six months to a year) relationships with people five to ten years younger than myself. So I can empathise with you and feel qualified to share my own insights.

The biggest challenge I have encountered in age-gap relationships is (for lack of a better expression) the balance of power. Most couples experience some degree of power struggle from time to time, even if it is quite subtle: for example, submissive/dominant, aggressive/passive. In an age gap relationship there can be a power struggle around experience versus naivité. Indeed that can be part of the appeal on both sides. For a younger person it can be exciting to be with a partner who can teach you things, show you experienced perspectives, share wisdom, communicate with confidence and act independently. For an older person, it's refreshing and revitalising to meet someone who lacks some of the more jaded and cynical qualities that we collect over the years as negative experiences take their toll.

This power balance between youth and experience is often pretty explicit in a relationship where there is a significant age gap. But even if you deny the existence of this youth vs experience power struggle, it will rear its head anyway in your respective understandings of everything from artistic / cultural references to technology. Every now and again, something will be said or done that will remind both of you that one is a child of the Reagan era and the other is five to ten years shy of being a Baby Boomer. This can have unexpected emotional side-effects. Your partner may start off feeling rejuvenated, but a decade down the line, he may begin to feel disproportionately older. He may develop insecurities about your youth, or your youthful-looking friends. Or you may find that he wants to "settle down" - and by settle down I mean retirement home - just at the point when you're having your first ever mid-life crisis. It can be a single silly comment or happenstance event that can trigger these kinds of feelings.

By and large I believe that the majority of noticeable effects relating to age differences begin to dissipate after you've been seeing someone a while, but don't be too cavalier about emotional issues that can spring up from the subconscious balance of power that you establish in an age-gap relationship. As an example, I had a very long term relationship where I was the younger partner and, subconsciously, adopted a somewhat submissive position in the relationship compared to the older partner. Sexually this was certainly the case, but it also was apparent in other aspects of our relationship. But over the years I got older and became more confident and experienced, and eventually I no longer perceived myself as "the young one" in the relationship. Over eight years into the relationship, I began to encounter people who adopted a submissive position to me, and I learned for the first time what it felt like to be perceived by someone as experienced in my own right. This caused me to challenge the status quo in the relationship and really upset the balance in terms of how we related to one another.

Here are three cliches related to the age-gap that I have found in my own life to be true.

a) In your teens and early 20s, you have a lot of growing and learning to do. Someone in their 50s has already done a lot of that growing and learning. They won't be growing and learning with you, so it is conceivable (as with me) that one day you will grow and change, and you'll no longer be the person they fell in love with.

b) There can be a biological clock. It may be more pronounced in women, but some men report it as well. Some people hit an age where they want to nest or have kids. What if your partner hits this soon, and you're not ready? Or what if you hit that same point, but in fifteen years? Will that cause you to seek a different kind of person to the one you're with? It's not a crisis, but be aware of this as a possibility, and talk it over with your partner.

c) You may realise one day that you have spent your twenties living life very much like someone a lot older than you. You may begin to hear a voice in your head asking whether you missed out, whether you have failed to have the number of sexual experiences you might have had, or whether you should take the opportunity to act utterly irresponsibly, while you still have the chance. In my opinion, these kinds of urges are manageable. If you can be honest and open with your partner, even if they don't share your desire to buy a red Ferrari or have anonymous sex, you can reach arrangements which will allow you to experience those things. The crucial part in my view is not to allow yourself to feel you were trapped, but always to feel that you have consciously chosen your lifestyle and that you can amend your lifestyle with permission from your partner.

Some thoughts on a few other issues:

Money. This is not exclusive to age-gap relationships, but problems related to money can appear more severe when there is an age gap. If your partner is looking towards drawing their pension and you haven't even begun to think about saving for a pension, it is inevitable that you will both have different perspectives on money. Your partner might well own their own home; you may be saving to buy a place, or may rent, or may live with your parents. Either way, when one partner has more money than the other, it is a potential destabilising factor. Fortunately I have always been financially independent, though never to the degree that I have had more money than the older partner, meaning that it's always more of a challenge for me to "treat" an older partner to an expensive date or weekend away.

Friends. However supportive they might seem on the surface, there will be friends raising doubts, and they will have a variety of motives. Some will claim to be concerned that one or other partner might be abused or "taken for a ride". Some will be jealous. There may be ex-partners, or friends, who make snide and unhelpful remarks. I have heard people say things like "Well done - how did you manage that?", which can be upsetting and insulting to either partner, regardless of age. The key is to keep your head held high and act with the best possible grace in front of your partner's friends. Sometimes you will need to act much older than your age, so that you can never be singled out as the immature one. Over time they will accept the situation, and as they get to know you, each will eventually see you as a person in your own right instead of a person of a particular age.

Family is impossible to predict. Some families already have age-gap relationships and accept them with no argument. For others it can be a nuclear bomb of gossip and worry, with people asking "what if a decade or two goes by and you have to support your partner in old age or ill health?" I suspect the fact that you are gay means that your respective families will already have encountered some degree of gossip and worry, so this is unlikely to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. But let's not discount the very obvious truth that this guy is old enough to be your father. Assuming your parents are still around, how do you feel about entering a relationship with someone who shares as many references with your parents as he does with you? How would you feel if he got on like a house on fire with your parents, but not with your younger siblings?

You ask about various other issues including libido, lifestyle and living together, but in my experience many such variables can have as much to do with your own respective personalities as they can with your age differences. You will figure these things out as you go along. Enjoy the differences, embrace the similarities, and have the strength to be honest with each other whether you encounter joy or pain. Good luck!
posted by skylar at 9:37 AM on March 25, 2008 [11 favorites]

If you guys stay together, when you're 52 you'll be banging an 80 year old. Whereas he was banging 24 year old when he was 52. This fact shouldn't have much effect short-term, but be prepared to deal any resentment that you may feel a decade or two from now.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:43 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I dated older men almost exclusively before I met my fiancé. (I'm female, btw.) Many were 20+ years my senior.

Pros to dating older men: Their relative level of maturity, their level of experience (sexual and otherwise), their sense that life is not just about climbing the career ladder and acquiring stuff. They have things to teach me because they've already done them. Having sex with a much older man is taboo and exciting.

Cons: My parents' quiet disapproval, the lack of shared cultural touchstones, the fear that I'd still want to be physically active in a few years when their health was starting to go. They were tired a lot more than I was. They were sometimes patronizing and overly protective, like a father figure. Sometimes I felt like a dumb n00b because they had already made mistakes and learned from them. Some had kids and it was awkward if I was close to their age (or younger!). I did not want to be a "stepmother" to someone 5 years younger than me.

Pros to dating someone my own age (I'm 33, my fiancé will be 37 in a few weeks): The energy level is higher. We grew up with the same TV shows/music/cultural events. He's at the same point in his life and has experienced roughly the same things. We're learning things together instead of him teaching me everything (say, how to buy a house). I don't ever feel stupid and naive around him because he's making the same mistakes I am.

Cons: Well, because women generally mature faster, I've got my shit a bit more together than he does. Obviously that doesn't apply to two gay men. I'm not generally attracted to guys my own age, but I am attracted to this one in particular.
posted by desjardins at 11:05 AM on March 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend is 42 and I am a 22 year old woman.
SEX. I think that at this point in his life, he feels about sex the way he feels about going to see a Nick Cage movie. I wouldn't mind seeing that movie. I heard good things about it. But I don't really feel like moving. Or paying 5.50 for a Pepsi. But I like Nick Cage. Fuck it, I'll just rent it when it comes out on video.
He doesn't have a problem with getting it up or anything, it's just that we basically have to be having sex already for him to want to have it, or to think of going there. I have to whip out the old skool tricks to get any, and not just strutting around in next to nothing or cleaning house in frilly panties but making actual physical contact. Except for every now and then when he gets some overwhelming desire, I have to initiate. And not just start the engine, but scrap the ice of the windows, defrost the windshield, turn the heat up, the headlights on, and whatever else until we are well on our way down the road. So much for being a subtle little tart.
But honestly, I don't think it has as much to do with the links between his age and his libido as much as it probably has to do with the meds he is taking.
posted by thebellafonte at 12:43 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend is ten years older. Physically acts like he's twenty years older, but mentally is around, oh, 12.

Currently, I'm having a LOT of difficulty from my boyfriend's family because they think that younger = dumb = does not contribute to society (please don't ask. i dunno either). If I say a slang word or do something Mia-like, like a thumbs up or throw some metal randomly, he gets a lecture on dating someone "a lot!" younger. This is actually a very long, drawn out story that you can check out at the link on my profile. But basically it comes down to your age being held against you. Maturity, to some people, means absolute shit.

Another issue ("issue") we're (i'm) having is that he throws out the Age Card if he feels defensive. "You wouldn't know - I'm older."

Bitch, please. Mr. Silver Spoons would have a stroke if he had to live in a "sub par" neighborhood without his Benz and his Ralph Lauren. I'm not saying I'm Mizz Ghetto-fyed... but just because I'm 10 years younger, that doesn't mean I don't know anything. He has a hard time accepting that Age does not always equal maturity or wisdom.

Sex? I'd love it daily - ideally, more than that. I'm just a horn dog, sorry. With him? I get it, oh, every 7 to 10 days. And he doesn't last that long. And it's generally because, well, he's older and just to that point where he's pretty much where thebellafonte's boyfriend is - I have to plot and scheme on how I'm going to get my next fuck. Sad, but true.

That might sound horrible, but look, okay? Yeah, I absolutely adore sex - but I've also gone without for a LONG time. Sex is awesome, but it's not the only thing. As long as I can have my boyfriend in my bed, brushing my hair away from my face and acting goofy so he can make me laugh, I'm good. Yes, he treats me like I don't know anything, but from my experience, that's just men in general. And yeah, his family might not like me - but it's because they haven't taken time out of their couture shopping and golf tourneys to get to know me a bit.

Bottom line: if it works for you, then it works for you. But go into it loving this person - don't go into it because you want to be a good memory, or you want him to like you, or because you don't want to have to find someone else to fuck for a while. Do it because you not only like him, but you love him for the way that he gets a bit preachy on you and for the way that he makes up for the lack of sex.
posted by damnjezebel at 5:12 PM on March 25, 2008

A cold-hearted actuarial question: if you become life partners, he is probably going to die decades before you do, leaving you as a lonely middle-aged widower. Do you want to set up your future self for that much pain?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:17 PM on March 25, 2008

There's also the monogamy question, which is more of an issue in the gay community.

A significant number of people will assume that you are not monogamous. You two can decide if you want monogamy can be a decision that you're "out" about or quiet about (whatever that decision is.) Expect a lot more snark if you're openly monogamous.

Worth noting that both of your feelings about monogamy may change. No need to drive yourself nuts speculating on what you two might want in ten years or twenty years. (Straight folks quietly make these decisions too, but non-monogamy in a LTR is generally quite taboo.)

You may realise one day that you have spent your twenties living life very much like someone a lot older than you. You may begin to hear a voice in your head asking whether you missed out, whether you have failed to have the number of sexual experiences you might have had, or whether you should take the opportunity to act utterly irresponsibly, while you still have the chance. In my opinion, these kinds of urges are manageable. If you can be honest and open with your partner, even if they don't share your desire to buy a red Ferrari or have anonymous sex, you can reach arrangements which will allow you to experience those things. The crucial part in my view is not to allow yourself to feel you were trapped, but always to feel that you have consciously chosen your lifestyle and that you can amend your lifestyle with permission from your partner.

Quoted for super-well-stated truth.
posted by desuetude at 5:59 AM on March 26, 2008

I was with a guy for 6 years, 23 years my senior. My partner before that was 16 years my senior. The difference was surprisingly large. My first was still from my era, albeit a much earlier part. The other guy remembered the bombing of Pearl Harbor! That being said, our age difference is not what drove us apart.

Now I'm the opposite. My partner is 16 years my junior. But that difference is less felt than it might be, since he's also European, and I'm American, so there's plenty background stuff we don't share anyway. What does haunt me at times is my own mortality, and what that will mean for him. I'm likely to be dead before he retires. Ouch. The situation has been worsened the past year, due to a knee injury. I've become slow and lame. Hoping it can be fixed!

For gay relationships, at least in decades past, an age difference has actually been good for the longevity of the relationship ("The Male Couple", a book. You can look it up.) I do wonder if that still holds, as being gay is so much less a Big Deal than it used to be (my perceptions effected by 10 years living abroad).

My first partner never met my family, we lived in different part of the country. I wasn't overly worried about the age difference at all, I was more bothered, in a background kind of way, our social differences (midwestern wasp vs. Brooklyn Italian!). With my second partner (the first died suddenly of heart attack, at age 46) I was very aware of the age difference, and it did age me upwards.

The biggest assumption gay people are going to make, is that you are "kept", he's your Daddy Sugar. That can get tiresome! Straight people will tend to assume you're father and son. For myself, this simply amuses me endlessly, and I often allow people to continue that notion, especially if it makes things less complicated (one person sought to understand how my 'son' had a different nationality. I just said it was complicated and private. Bet their imagination went wild on that!). If you can allow yourself amusement at such things, enjoy!
posted by Goofyy at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2008

Another heteroexample:

My husband is 16 years older than I am. We're very compatible especially considering our different childhoods (his was fairly idyllic, mine was fairly hellish). We spend a lot of time being 13 year old boys together (nuh uh, my burp was louder!).

Lifestyles: we mesh well together, we like to do a lot of the same things (gaming, geeking out, movies, reading, fishing, camping, etc.).

Health: he's the healthier partner, I'm diabetic and I'm starting to have issues from that.

Sex/libido: a bit of an issue here (mostly health problems, not diabetes), but we're working on it.

Jobs/supporting each other: he works, I don't tho' I may in the future. I feel guilty at times but he's glad to have me at home. I also remind myself that at one time, for several months, I was the sole breadwinner.

Acceptance by friends/family: no problems here except for one. One of my sisters-in-law had a problem with our age difference. She's 12 years older than my brother. WTF?

Balance of Power: on the outside my husband has most of it, but it's because I allow it. I let him make most of the money decisions because a) he's the breadwinner and b) I usually don't care. Most other decisions are by consensus. Except, maybe, the time I brought home two kittens without consulting him. Ooooops.
posted by deborah at 12:16 AM on March 27, 2008

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