Loving

An Ideal Husband? My May-December Romance

by Suzannah Gilman 

The last thing I thought I would ever do is get romantically entangled with a manmorality card 25 years older than me. But here I am.  I used to think of it as “sick” when I saw couples like us together.  I’m sure I said that word.  I’m sure there are those who’ve said it of us.  But it’s not sick; it’s a healthy relationship between two adults. 

I’ll admit that when I was 15, I had a mad crush on a man who lived a few houses away.  He was tall and athletic, maybe in his late 20s.  He drove a red Datsun 280Z.  I’d walk up and down the street—even in the rain—while trying to compose lines of poetry in my head, and I always kept an eye on his house as I passed.  But I never would have gone on a date with him.  It wasn’t like that.  I was a kid and he was an adult.  That would have been sick.

There is the theory that women choose mates for their financial stability and men choose mates for their looks; if that is true, we both did well enough by those standards, but what we have between us can’t be explained that handily.  By the time my beloved and I got serious with each other, three of my four children were grown.  I’m an attorney with a great academic record and excellent skills in the courtroom; I didn’t need to be rescued by an older, wealthier man, and he could have dated women much better looking than I.  He still could. We just happened to fall in love.

A common thought among those who would judge us (as I’ve been told) is that I was looking for a daddy and found him, which is just so much bull.  My ex-husband, who was only 6 years older than I, acted like my daddy.  Good riddance.  My fiancé, who hates that frou-frou word, is an only child with no children.  I am a nurturer with an empty nest.  If anything, I am the mommy and he is my fifth child who is once again getting the attention he craves.  That suits us both—unless I get too smothering, which my children will all tell you happens from time to time.

When I first started seeing my fiancé, an older girlfriend said to me, “Yeah, older guys are great in bed.  They’re so desperate, they’ll do anything for you.” But that’s another misconception: that he is my sex slave (or that I am his).  The truth is, he knows more about sex than the younger men I’ve known, though I don’t know that I can attribute that to his age.  The bare fact may be that he is just a very thoughtful lover, as he is a very thoughtful person.  I have not once, ever, wished I’d had a younger sex partner in his place—and that’s without any help from the pharmaceutical profession.  But if the day comes when we do need that kind of help, we’ll know where to get it.  Commercials for those kinds of drugs dominate the network news we watch every night. We really don’t get the Cialis commercial: they’re in separate bathtubs holding hands. Just holding hands. Separately!

Of all the dirty looks we’ve gotten, most are from women older than I am.  They stare rudely and even make faces at us.  I think they are reacting to their pasts and projecting it on us. Maybe they’ve been dumped for younger women or think I displaced an older wife.

But when we get an ugly reaction like that, we get more lovey-dovey than we might have been.   In case they’re wondering whether we’re lovers, we make it clear that we are.  When one of us suddenly says, “Kiss me” to the other in public, we both know what’s up.  And if we are getting looks because they’ve figured out we’re lovers, we lay the love on thick and relish their growing surplus of disgust.  If they don’t like it and let us know it, we’re going to make sure they don’t like it even more.

Who are they to approve or disapprove of our relationship?  These judgmental fools might have remained stone-faced had they known their reactions would provoke the creation of our Society for the Protection of Trans-generational Love (SPTL), which we fondly refer to as “Spittle.”

fortune cookie stupidity

Bolder than the looks we get are the words.  One night, the woman at the Chinese restaurant where we used to get takeout asked if he was my father—while he was standing right there.  I kissed him on the mouth with much enthusiasm, turned to her, and said, “Yes.  I’m his favorite daughter!”

And just the other day before he was headed to surgery, his anesthesiologist tried to get a jab in.  He was asking medical questions and when he got to whether my fiancé ever stopped breathing at night, I said “yes” over my fiancé’s “no.”  The anesthesiologist asked him, “And this is your…”  I answered, “fiancée.”  He looked at me conspiratorially, gave half a wink and said, “Or daughter.” The nerve of a medical professional insulting the patient right in front of him, and expecting that I would get a little thrill from it.  “That’s not nice,” I said, looking him in the eye.

I’ve found that looking someone in the eye is fundamental when you want to make a powerful impression.  It’s more powerful than growing your grays out, which I did for several reasons, one of which was to appear to be a woman with life experience, a woman who knows what she’s doing and can make her own choices.

Me on November 18, 2012, my youngest child's 20th birthday.

Me on November 18, 2012, my youngest child’s 20th birthday.

Yes, he had surgery—he had his gallbladder out, a common procedure for adults of all ages, even those in their 20s.  His health is excellent, overall.  He exercises every day.  He exercises more than I do.  His brain is quick, his wit is sharp, his attitude most days is as good as I can stand.  (Sometimes I like to sulk in my pajamas.)

But his breathing issue that I later learned was sleep apnea—a condition that is also unrelated to age—at first had me wondering whether he was dying, right there beside me in bed, and if not this time, would that be the way he would go some night.  I even wrote a poem about it.  It’s jarring, realizing in the dark that the person you love is not breathing.

This is how I look now.

This is my newer, more mature look.

There are two things I regret about our relationship.  One, because we met at a time when we were both mature (which made our age difference immaterial) it was too late for me to give him a child.  No one in the world who knows him would think he’d be anything other than an excellent father.  But he never got the chance.

And my second regret is that one of us is going to die first, leaving the other a life with a big hole in it.  That became more real for me during the sleep apneas scares, when the rest of my life suddenly seemed uncertain.

But the statement “One of us is going to die first” is true for every couple who stays together.

Besides the negative people, there are the ones who cheer us on.  And I’m not talking about the well-balanced people such as our close friends and family who see that we’re good together.

They are strangers, usually, or acquaintances.  Men who leer and silently cheer my man for tagging a younger broad.  Older men who talk to me as though I might have a thing for them, waiting to see a sparkle in my eye.  We met a poet in Ireland (whose name does not rhyme with “famous”) whose company was enjoyable otherwise, but he acted as though because I have a thing for my man, I would have a thing for him, that because he and my fiance are roughly the same age, my love was transferrable to him.  “I love Billy,” I said, looking him straight in the eye.  “I don’t love older men.”

Yes, I love Billy.  And Billy loves me.  Though there’s really no such thing as an ideal husband, I do believe he’s as ideal for me as someone my own age could be.  It boils down to this:  what matters is that we have true companionship.  A thread of something that may be unknowable or unnamable binds us together.  We are compatible despite our differences in age, upbringing, family experiences, and the lives we led.  (We are both intensely stubborn; we have that in common.  I’m not saying we always get along perfectly.)  But beyond our shared sense that we belong together our love can’t be explained.

Or, as Billy succinctly put it: “If a matchmaker had put us together, I wouldn’t have gone for it.  I would have had him shot.”

19 replies »

  1. I say, delete and screw everything you just said! No one should try or have to define their relationship.
    When you love, and are in love, it is quite simply that. The heart and mind combined create a magic. And through your years together love grows, then your life together becomes a true comfort love, that hold’s you all your years together.
    You know that a day will come, when one must live without the other. If you live in the joy of each other now, right now, it will make that passage easier.

    • Hol, you are right that no one should try or have to define their relationship. After I wrote this post, I was thinking about why I felt I had to and whether I was wrong to give in to the pressure of feeling I had to. I came to the realization that I did it because I’m someone who rears up on her hind legs when provoked. I don’t think I felt I had to defend my love life, just that I WANTED to. Rarrrrwww! It’s me and my Great Big Voice speaking out and talking loud. You are also right that living in the joy of each other will make the passage easier. No regrets, right? We loved the best we could while we could.

  2. Love this post! Though my husband is only eight years older than me…I can’t count the times I’ve heard people say to him, “Did you snag your kid’s baby sitter?” Thanks for writing the post…people need to hear it and understand that who we choose as mates is our business and ours alone…it is our life after all. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your beloved Billy!

    • Thank you, Susan! I’m interested in how you handle the comments you get. And you’re right that it’s our business and our business alone. Do you give them that kind of answer, something along the lines of “Why would you ask?” or “Wouldn’t you like to know?” I am always interested in hearing from a reasonable voice.

  3. I’ve tried leaving this comment twice…perhaps it will work this time around.
    Suzanna, thank you for the comment you left on my blog!
    Now to answer your question. It all depends on who makes the comment. Sometimes I say, “Actually I’m older…I’m just aging well.” Sometimes I say nothing at all and ignore it altogether. Sometimes my husband will say, “Yeah, I did. How did you know?” I’ve honestly never understood what compels people to make comments in the first place. It’s bizarre.

    I hope you have a GREAT Valentine’s Day!

  4. Glad I found this post. It is nice to see that I am not the only woman who dated, fell in love, then married a man 25 years her senior. Although I didn’t need rescuing, our relationship did free me to be able to be transparent to at least one other person in this world. I didn’t feel that freedom in past relationships. The funniest thing that happened to us was at a music festival when the bartender apologized but said he had to ask me for my ID because of my appearance. My [then boyfriend] asked me to please put on some makeup next time so he didn’t look like my step-dad (we are also an interracial couple – an extra obstacle).

  5. Hi,

    Thanks for posting this, it was very helpful. I have a question about levels of energy. I am 46, in great shape and dating a woman 18 years younger than I am. Usually people think she is older than I am, and in fact she wondered if she were older than me in the weeks we knew each other before we begin dating.

    I mention all this to say that now, everything is cool with us. However, I am curious about 10 or 15 years from now, when she is still young and spry and I am much less so. I am worried about keeping up with her physically, pardon my frankness, but I think that unfulfilled spouses/partners become unfaithful, or at the very least it creates a strain on the marriage.

    Just curious to see your thoughts on this

    • As with anything, the answer depends on the particulars of the circumstance and people, but my experience is that what you are talking about is not a problem. I’ve spoken with several others recently who are in May-December romances, and none of them said this was a problem for them. I’d wish you good luck, but you probably don’t need it.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I’m 48 and in love—really, really in love with a man who is 32 years my senior. We get the shocked stares in restaurants. I want to make the most of the time we have but I am genuinely afraid of him becoming ill or dying. I suppose it is all a part of this but I’d love to meet other couples in this position who can share their stories. Any suggestions?

  7. Hi, Angela. I do understand your fears. My SO has had some more health issues recently, and I wonder what my life will be like in 10 years. I expect him to live over 20 years more and reach the age his parents were when they died (94 and 97), because he’s much more physically and mentally active than they were, and he watches what he eats (for the most part). I met a woman recently who is a healthy and young-looking 69 whose husband is turning 85. He has serious health issues now, and she said to me, “Just remember: When you marry an older man, one day you will be married to an old man.” She thinks the world of my SO, but she wanted to make sure I’m seeing my future realistically. I am. And the thing is, I am having a health issue right now that is more significant than his, so there really is no telling the future. I have to add that we are friends with a couple who are amazing people, going to Burning Man and traveling the country coast-to-coast in their Mercedes SUV towing their Airstream behind them, traveling to the Far East, and doing other things people half their age don’t do. He is 85. You would not know it. (I think she’s in her mid-to-late 70s, also something you could not tell.) Tall, debonair, smart, handsome, and charming, he is a shining example of what “old age” can look and act like.

    To find other couples who can share their stories, you might want to look for May-December support groups. I just did a Google search on “May-December support groups,” so I’d caution you to choose carefully. Some of the results were not what you are looking for. I especially bristle at this whole thing in the context of young women in their 20s (and younger) who are in relationships with much older men; the power balance is skewed there. I worry that these men are not merely in love with a much-younger woman, but that they only want to have relationships with much-younger women. But there are other people like you and me who are truly in love with someone whose age just happened to be much different from their own.

    I’m a realist and a romantic, so what I suggest to you is that you take your 80 year-old and love him all you can while you have the chance. That’s what I’m doing. I hope it lasts until I’m in my seventies. Nothing could please me more.

  8. may december relationships can and do last, but not all of them. I think more often than not, they fail. But that doesn’t mean the one you are in will fail or is unhealthy.
    As long as the younger person in the relationship is at least 25, I don’t look down on the couple. At 25, you are old enough to make an adult, mature decision as far as who you want to be with. Before that age, your prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed and you don’t have the brain capacity to make an informed, mature decision. Especially about a marriage or something lifelong.
    Now when I see an 18-21 year old with a 45-50 year old, that turns my stomach. At 34 years old myself, I don’t even find men under 25 attractive. Not being a prude; I physically do not find them attractive. They are children. They are not fully physically developed. Gross: just gross. So it turns my stomach when an older man finds such a young teenager attractive. UGH.

    Also I think it’s unreasonable not to be realistic about most of these May-December relationships; almost always, the younger person ends up being the nursemaid more than a spouse. The aging process rapidly speed up the older you get. Definitely puts a strain on a marriage when you have to take care of your spouse much like you would have to take care of a child.

    Love is love, I completely agree that you can have a long, healthy love with someone that is much younger or much older than yourself. But given divorce stats, I think it’s clear that these marriages don’t typically last. There are always exceptions, and you may be the exception. But it’s best to look at all sides of things before you commit to a marriage. The good and the bad.
    I myself am in a high-risk marriage; most people in my situation don’t stay married, either. In the first year over 90% get divorced. However, it’s been 5 years this August and we are still going strong. So don’t take my words as saying you are doomed to fail; I am not saying that at all. Don’t let what other people think about you bother you; I don’t let what others say or think bother me.
    I am just saying you should keep your eyes wide open and realize that things might not always be so easy. Marriage is hard, no matter who you are married to. But to be married to your soul mate is something not many folks get to experience!
    God bless all of you and I hope all of your marriages last forever and are filled with happiness.

    • I very much appreciate your point of view, Charlotte.

      I agree that young adults should not enter into relationships with adults who are much older, and not just for the physical reasons, but for reasons of imbalances of power. A young adult is not likely to be financially independent, one area of a potential power imbalance. Another is that the older partner, experienced in life and sure of him or herself is more likely to exert undue influence on the younger partner in a host of areas. I, too, am disgusted by older adults training their sexual gaze on young adults.

      As for my situation, my oldest of four children is 28, and I was married for 20 years. I’m set with a professional career and more life experience than is necessary to analyze a new, long-term relationship. Not all May-December relationships are like mine, I know. Even women who are my age can fall prey to a partner (of any age, really) who wants to control them.

      Another advantage I have is my training from the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women, which was required for me to represent victims of domestic violence in their civil suits. Not all of my clients were physically abused, but emotional and financial abuse are equally debilitating if not moreso. They’re not visible from the outside, so the hurts are not often visible.

      What I wish for every young woman is that she could at least be introduced to the power and control wheel that details what many types of abuses are: intimidation, isolation, minimizing denying and blaming, using the children to get to her, asserting privilege (defining their roles with hers as subservient to his), economic abuse, and coercion and threats. None of these behaviors is “normal,” and none of them are due to anything she has said or done or who she is; they are all abuse, yet many women excuse the abuser’s behaviors to herself and to others. Younger women are especially vulnerable. Many high-school age girls are in relationships with males who use many of these behaviors on them.

      I’ve linked below to the NCADV’s page that goes into more detail about these behaviors.

      And you are right that even healthy relationships end for various reasons that are not related to abuse, even for people of the same age. And there are abusive relationships where the partners are the same or near the same age. In my 20-year marriage to a man 6 years my senior, I experienced six of the above eight types of abuse– and I didn’t realize it was abuse. I thought it was wrong, and it made me feel awful, but I didn’t see it for what it was.

      http://www.ncadv.org/need-support/what-is-domestic-violence

    • I forgot to add that I know I will end up being a caregiver, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I’m a nurturer, my children are grown, and I have no grandchildren. That turned me into a cat person. I adopted two rescue kitties, Audrey Hepcat and Frankie Blue Eyes, who give me someone to take care of. I’d never liked cats before, but they are just the thing for me, and later I’ll be taking care of my love. That’s a reality I face in being in a May-December relationship, and while I do not look forward to it, it’s the price I pay for the love, companionship, friendship, and full life I am living now.

  9. As an older man who fell in love with a younger woman, all of the issues raised here are relevant. They come up fairly often and we try to accept and deal with them. But I absolutely adore my wife. I think she really loves me, and we take it a day at a time.

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