Tuesday, March 24, 2009

May-December's many climates

Bruce Willis, 54, just married lingerie model Emma Heming, 30. Harrison Ford, 66, announced his engagement to Calista Flockhart, 44.

Few relationships annoy women over 50 more than the May-December union where the woman is a generation (20 to 25 years, depending on the source) younger than the man.
The Demi Moore (47)-Ashton Kutcher (31) type of union is rare, and does not provoke as much censure as curiosity.

I've seen women with the perspicacity of a Supreme Court justice lose it when a 50-something man ta
kes up with a 30 year old.

Their response is often like my friend Jay's Jewish grandmother's when he was dating one Bridget O'Hara: "And you're letting a nice Jewish girl sit home?" They see the scarcity of eligible men in their age cohort, and are not pleased to see a guy pass over vital, interesting, lovely fifty-something dames for a "girl".

The assumption is that the man is displaying a trophy, chasing his departed youth or reveling in the sugar daddy role. By the time they are 50, women have seen these scenarios often enough to make their blood run cold.

But let's resist defaulting to the cliché.

Some couples I know tell me they fell in love with a person, not a birthdate, and the years between them simply dropped away. They are willing to brave differences in health or energy as the decades roll up; they navigate family or friends' approbation with good humour. One woman in her early 40s says her 70 year old husband is "the youngest man I know". Several have reared second families blended with first families, and that is some hard work.

And who cares what people think? Would you choose your partner by popular vote? As long as both people consider themselves lucky, who's to criticize?

The Younger Model

In the case where a man has chosen a new, much younger companion to bolster his status and flaunt symbolic virility, let him be as well. Would you want someone that superficial and insecure? Would you predict a fulfilling life for his partner?

The problem with relationships based on a "deal" is that you need your stack of chips piled in front of
you at all times, and if yours is mostly composed of the gold chips of youth and its lingerie-clad charms, it will erode before your eyes.

So May-December might look the same from couple to couple but it's not.

There are great love stories with more than a small measure of courage and devotion, calculated deals, and old (and young) fools who find each other across an age gap. To assume all couples are together for the same reason- a reason that does not flatter the mature person in the couple- is the same error as thinking tha
t a relationship has to be long to be significant.

Woody Allen, who knows a thing or two about intergenerational romance, will kick off the Tribeca Film Festival in late April with his new film on the theme, "Whatever Works" starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley. I hope he has the guts to address complexity, rather than presenting stereotypical characters like those of "Vicky Christina Barcelona".

A 50+ woman whose 48 year old buddy introduces her to his 23 year old girlfriend will need her full complement of good will and grace, because she's probably not going to respond with whole-hearted enthusiasm, at least at first.


20 comments:

Frugal Scholar said...

You've got a good heart, Duchesse. There are so many May-December relationships in which the man is the older and so few when the woman is older. This--in my jaundiced view--reflects the difference in the power wielded by older men/women.

And you're just looking at heterosexual relationships! Even more complexity ensues.

Anonymous said...

I am going to post this anonymously today for obvious reasons. This has never bothered me until recently. I'm a woman in her early 50's. I am still considered by others to be beautiful, young and vibrant. I don't try to dress anything other than my age, i.e. I don't try to look like a 20-year old. I have been married for 31 years. I have friends of all ages. However, recently, I have seen a trend of younger women (mostly 20's) who treat me and make snide comments about being 'older', 'old', 'not caring about anything since I'm older,'. There is a disrespect there that I'm just now noticing. It's as if they are entitled to my job, or my husband. When a beautiful young woman tries to flirt, many of them are perplexed that he doesn't reciprocate - we have daughters and sons their age, and frankly, my husband is happy with what he has.

Trust me, this is not jealousy on my part. I LOVE getting older. And I've only just recently noticed this attitude. I've had other women my age and older say the same thing.

So, really that's the only thing that bothers me about the May-December thing - it's so many times an 'entitlement' on the woman's part. And yes, more times that not, the man wants a trophy to show off for his friends.
Comments? Has anyone else felt like this?

materfamilias said...

I know several very good older men who are many years into marriages and family-raising with much, much younger women -- their older children and their younger ones 15 to 25 years apart. In no case was the older man searching out younger women, but rather he found a woman who happened to be younger and had to overcome his concerns around that. And in each case, I can easily see how easy it is to disregard the age difference, finding the women easy to engage in interesting, understanding conversations.
Like Frugal Scholar, I have concerns about the societal issues these May-December relationships represent, but I would never make a blanket judgement.

Anonymous said...

I am curious when you say he happened to find a woman much younger. Was he by chance married at the time?

Nancy (nanflan) said...

My relationship is more of a May-September one. We've had the conversation, and he says the 10 year difference is about all he could take and still be able to relate.

I didn't get together with him to be with someone older. All things being equal, I'd prefer someone my age. But a lot of them in the 45-55 range are hovering over their children at this stage of their lives.

For the most part, we seem to understand each other and enjoy being together. And that's the important thing.

Deja Pseu said...

I'm of an age where I saw a lot of friends' fathers who had by then (mid-1970's) achieved a degree of financial success "trade in" their middle aged wives for younger women. So yeah, there's sometimes a power differential between men and women, as well as a sense of older women being expendable that irks. Still, I've known couples where that wasn't the case, and the age differential was incidental rather than intentional. And they seem to be good together, real partners.

However, I'm so sick of Hollywood movies where the middle-aged (or older) man is ALWAYS paired with a twenty- or thirty-something woman.

sallymandy said...

Ask my husband how many times we come home from a "romantic comedy" and I spout off about the May-December age issues between the actor and actress. I can get set off easily.

On the other hand, I appreciate, Duchesse and others who've commented, that you're not casting blanket statements. It's so easy for me as a woman in this society to look at these things (and now I'm talking about real May-December relationships, not those in the movies) in terms of the man's benefit (why is that?). But when I consider what younger women might see in older men, it makes a little more sense. Older men have a lot to offer in the sense of having been around the block a few times, very possibly having learned the hard way through divorce about what it takes to make something work emotionally; they've often outgrown or at least tempered the career drive of the earlier years that can make men unavailable to partners and families.

I have a dad who's such a man, and am married to one who becomes more relate-able with every passing year. Hooray!

So there might be some benefits for the women, too. I need to remember that younger women aren't just cute bodies and empty fluff. Thinking of myself first--I was cuter twenty years ago, but I wasn't an empty head.

A very thought provoking post! Thanks.

Duchesse said...

anonymous: Those comments are galling and would infuriate me! And look at where these young women pick up those ideas: every womens' magazine is stuffed with ads to help you "defy age" and "fight the visible signs of aging". They are indoctrinated that aging is abhorrent. When people are taught that any group is deficient, disrespect follows.

ma: Ogden Nash wrote: "Rarely are they incompatible if he has income and she is pattable."

Nancy: "Enjoying being together" is the essence, isn't it?

Pseu: I saw a lot of that too, and even multiple remarriage, each wife younger than the preceding, which creeps me out. One of Dad's friends had 4, two named Dorothy.

Sallymandy: Should have heard me rant after "As Good As It Gets"!

I've heard a few older men say it took them years to learn the value of focus on their family, and if they knew then what they know now, the first family would have endured.

But others did not make a careful and fitting choice when young. I know I didn't, either!

WendyB said...

I like that line "he's the youngest man I know." That's how I feel about 25-years-older-than-me MrB. Well, he's young in terms of his enthusiasm for life, but with enough maturity to treat a woman well, unlike the emotionally abusive/neglectful guys my age I had gone out with before him. One of my friends was dubious about the age difference before she met him, way back in the day, and after she did all she could say was, "This man is a saint." And of course he liked me because I'm a little devil :-)

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

My two cents: The older man is very rarely living off social security and/or poor. The younger woman is very rarely not beautiful.

Mardel said...

This has been such an interesting post and an interesting batch of comments. I too like the "he's the youngest man I know" statement, because I have often felt that way about my own, 29 years my senior, spouse. I wasn't looking for an older man, he wasn't looking for a younger woman and when I first figured out how much older he was I almost called it quits. 25 years later I am even more convinced that would have been a mistake. The past few years have been difficult because he has been ill, but is now much better, but I have never thought of calling it quits or thought he was not the perfect partner for me.

That said, I have known men who flee from marriage to marriage, often fleeing responsibility and the truth of their own age more than any particular woman. Sad is the woman who marries them. I have known young women who pursue older sometimes married men for the security they think these men will bring. I know lots of couples of similar age who have found each other and also couples where the woman is younger or much younger but the marriages are strong and equal. I find it difficult to make blanket judgements. At the same time the Hollywood habit of pairing older men with much younger women galls me now end because it is such a stereotype with broad societal impiclations.

The kind of comments Anonymous reports are incredibly offensive and even though I have experienced some of the same treatment, I still think a man who is lured only by youth and a pretty face is not much of a catch to begin with.

And to be a devils advocate here for a moment, let us not forget that there are some, although I am not suggesting that the women who write these interesting comments are among them, older women too who are looking for someone to take care of them more than they are looking for a partner. I have a dear friend in his early 70's who complains of how hard it can be to find women his age who he feels are interested in him more than his bank account. It may be that he has two homes and spends half the year in Palm Dessert, but he feels, rightly or wrongly, that there are quite a few widows and divorcees who seem to be seeking security more than a partner. He frequently states that he wishes he could find a woman his own age who is as aware, engaging and involved as some of the professional women he meets who are in their 40's and 50's. Granted the age difference is not as great, but, as in all important issues, there are many sides.

CompassRose said...

I'm pretty sure Demi Moore isn't even fifty yet.

Imogen Lamport said...

Interesting topic. I don't know anyone personally in such a relationship, most of my friends as well as I, am in relationships where we are older than our husbands, between 5 - 8 years - but this is not a huge age gap.

This, woman older than man, seems to be a trend round where I live.

Duchesse said...

WendyB: Aarrgh, that's some scary dating you did back in the day!

Tessa: That's commonplace, but I have seen the inverse, where the woman has more means. But behind her back, some people call her partner a boy toy... people seem to be inherently suspicious of an age difference.

Mardel: My mom used to complain about that too; she said "At my age men are only interested in two things, nurse or purse." So I saw that concern in older women, too.

CompassRose: You're right! She's only 47- I changed it, thanks!

Imogen: I think there's a book in this, too!

enc said...

It's nice to see the other side of this subject. It's easy for us to pass judgment on May-December romances without getting all the facts. My dear friend is married to a man who's older than she, and so am I, and neither of us gives it a second thought. We just love our husbands.

lady jicky said...

I too am very tired with the movies. All these old guys with young wifes/girlfriends , whatever!
I am with "Tessa - Scoffs" - you do not see a poor old guy on the pension with a young hottie! Now - that would be a movie to see! LOL

* You do not want to know what I think of Woody Allen!

Nancy (nanflan) said...

Did anyone notice that Bruce's new wife looks suspiciously like Demi?

I've noticed this too, the later wives looking a lot like the original but younger. It can be creepy.

Anjela said...

I don't care so much about the age difference....meaning it doesn't anger me when older men marry younger women- I feel sorry for the women- not knowing the joys of a virile, hard body but a man who leaves a huge indentation on the couch or be asleep by 8.00 o'clock. Yes I married an older man(since divorced) I was noble I seriously didn't mind that he was balding in one little circle in the back. That he woke me up nights with bathroom visits. That he made squeaky noises as he ate. That he forgot important dates and remembered the same old stories over and over again. No, I don't envy them at all.

I do feel irked when I meet someone who is married to an Irishman(I am Irish born and bred) I never minded before. I was dating more exotic men. Now I feel somewhat peeved if a woman comes into my store and tells me she is married to an Irish man and they go home to their cottage love nest to spend Summers. Yes I turn green- that should be me I am thinking. Lol
What a great write up Duchesse.

Duchesse said...

Anjela: Thanks for weighing in as one who's been there. Of course there is a vast range of behaviours and personalities in 'older' men. When I was 30 I had a 55 yr old love who was far superior in every way to the 30-somethings I dated then.

And as for Irish men, you can HAVE my Irish ex, who made Bill Clinton look like an Eagle Scout.

Duchesse said...

Nancy: A LOT of people are pointing out the resemblance.