Relationships…with a Difference

This post was contributed by Shae Hadden.

I find myself wondering why we let a difference in our ages limit how we relate to each other in our personal relationships. I’m not speaking of the obvious social taboos like pedophilia and infantophilia. It’s the relationships between consenting adults that have me pondering. Why are different arrangements acceptable in different cultures and societies? Why is what is considered perverse in one accepted in another? Why is the most common pattern of heterosexual relationships still a slightly older man with a younger woman? Why is it that age disparity is less of an issue the older the partners involved are?

Psychologists have developed a host of terms to describe age-disparate relationships such as gerontophilia (attraction of non-elderly people to the elderly), teleiophilia (attraction of young people to the elderly) and the more general chronophilia (for any age-related preference). These terms make intergenerational relationships sound like a disease. They even assign ‘causes’ in the form of reasons for the attraction—usually from financial and social security to compensation for lack of parental bonding. These analyses would discourage even the most warm-hearted from developing a relationship with an older person.

Social imprinting impresses us with a host of concerns and assumptions about intimate relationships that step outside what is considered ‘normal’.

  • When the woman is 5 years or more older than her male partner, will she be able to have children and raise a family in the time left on her ‘biological clock’?
  • Should very elderly people form intimate relationships when they obviously have so little time left?
  • With partners who have more than a 15 or 20-year difference in age, what will happen when the older person dies?
  • Can these May/December relationships work at all, considering neither individual may be accepted by their partner’s peer group?
  • Can they understand, accept and respect each other’s viewpoint when they come from different generations?
  • How will they deal with the perception of others?

We’ve also inherited disparaging terminology to classify the people involved in age-disparate relationships—from cougars, bobcats and pumas (women in their 40s, 30s and 20s with younger men) to the traditional gold digger who robs the grave and the ‘Sugar Daddy’ who chases younger women.

Do we need to perpetuate this ageism in our relationships?

We are all in relationship with older and younger people all our lives. When it comes to committed relationships, we can choose whether we want to limit ourselves based on age or not. Certainly, partners need to align themselves in the areas of health and shared dreams; however, they need not let looking good, fear of losing the other partner, issues concerning their changing bodies or energy affect their choice. We have no control over what other people think of us, no control over who we love or who loves us, no control over when it will be impossible to have children anymore, and definitely no control over when we will die. No matter what our age now, we are all growing older and we will all die someday. Why deny ourselves any time together on the basis of any of society’s prejudices?

I propose the following basic tenets for a new ageless perspective on committed adult relationships:

  • Both partners choose to have no problem with the difference in their ages
  • Both authentically love each other as they are
  • Both are committed to each other and to the relationship
  • Both people satisfy and enjoy each other
  • Both commit to never taking the other for granted
  • Both have a profound connection that makes them right for each other

As I did in my marriage, I would advocate agreeing to be together for as long as both people continue to grow and learn from each other, and that they are both free to move on when that is no longer the case.

Thank you, David, for letting me learn and grow with you these past 20 years. I never once thought of the difference in our ages … only of who we were for each other.

PS. Here are some interesting examples of relationships with age disparity of 10 or more years.