I have never been very interested in having a relationship with a man who was significantly younger than me. Once I had a boyfriend who was 22 when I met him (I was 25), and I thought that was rather naughty of me — cradle-robbing such an innocent! I laugh now about it because I have a much more balanced perspective about any such situation at my current age of 47.
When I was 18, I moved in with my 27-year-old boyfriend, John. We were in love, and I didn’t really think much about his age. His friends teased him for going out with a baby, but he acted like me and we had a lot of fun together. He had not really developed himself in the sense of having a career or investing in his future. He was still in "playtime" mode, just like most guys in their 20s. It was as if he was more my age than his own age. It worked well for about three years. Then I began to realize he had no ambition, no desire to better himself or morph into the butterfly version of himself. He had the same routine that suited him. It was his comfort zone, which I was rapidly growing out of. I knew there was more to life than the little world that we had enclosed our selves in for three years. I was antsy and curious about what else was out there. I began to see my life with him as played out. My lessons were over. I left him and sustained a badly broken heart, as we did have a deep love for each other. We both knew I would never be happy unless I was able to spread my wings and explore the perimeters of my own comfort zone.
Over the years I had loves who were about my age, rarely younger, often older. When I hit 30, that all changed. I found myself head-over-heels with a man who was eight years younger than me. This love crept up on us unexpectedly. We had been good friends since he was 19. He was one of the art students who painted me as I posed in an art-school classroom. We sometimes hung out with friends after school, and a smoldering crush developed, which neither of us spoke of.
When he was 21, and I was 29 (almost the same aged difference as me and my first love, in reverse), I found myself estranged from my first husband, and pregnant with my oldest daughter. Michael wanted to sketch me pregnant, he offered to paint the ceiling of my living room in exchange, and I agreed to the arrangement. I would go to the penthouse in Manhattan where he lived with his mother to pose. We never touched each other. We were quiet and usually very nervous, not able to speak of our feelings for fear of rejection by the other one. These sessions were sometimes agony, and Michael could not concentrate. We would end early and go our separate ways.
One day after he was painting my ceiling, he asked me if I wanted to go to the planetarium to see the Pink Floyd laser show. He heard it was really cool. I said yes, and we packed up for the day and went on our first date. During the show we sat side by side in the theater, leaning back, millimeters from touching. I wanted to lean into him so badly, but I didn’t dare! He looked as if he was in pain. His hand would accidentally brush the edge of mine, then move away. I could hardly bear the agony of wanting him. It was almost a relief when the show was over, and we could leave.
We decided to go to Central Park for some fresh air and to calm our palpitations. It was a July night, full moon and stars were visible. I showed him my favorite place, a clearing with a huge old tree east of Strawberry Fields. We lay with our backs in on the grass, looking up and talking about stuff. Suddenly he turned to me, took my face between his hands and began kissing me. Our three-year friendship was transformed in that instant, and we allowed in the love that had been growing contained and politely between us. It was let out at last, and we began to make love in the twilight. I was nearly 30, seven months pregnant and a divorcée. He was a student, barely into his 20s, still living with his mother.
But none of that mattered. We were in love. Fast-forward 18 years. Michael and I are no longer together, but our relationship lasted almost four years. We traveled together to France, he was at the birth of my daughter, and we created many beautiful works of art together over the years. We continue to be friends and work on the occasional project together which is a testimony to our indelible connection, but because of the disapproval of people close to us and various endeavors of those people to break us up, we did not last. We were affected by their words and opinions, and neither of us was strong enough or wise enough to handle the opposition.
However, I did learn so many empowering things from knowing him, loving him and being loved by him. I realize now that we have a deep connection that cannot be diluted by the opinions of others. I also realize we are always going to know each other, and that was a complex matter of transforming our status over time (with a long break) to that of friends. I have learned that no one can tell you who to love or not to love. I was recently in another relationship with a younger man, this time 11 years my junior. I did not pursue this man by any stretch of the imagination. He did all the chasing to get me to go on a date with him. He was relentless! He won me over with his playfulness, his humor, his artistic side, his undisguised admiration of me, his persistence, his energy, his lack of cynicism (as is the case with many men in my age group), and his blatant adoration of me as a 40-something mature woman. All that is great to start with, but how do you sustain a relationship with such an age difference? I have three children. I’ve been married and divorced twice. I have a career, a degree, I’ve lived more of my life than he has lived his. It was an agonizing process for both of us, deciding when and how to involve him in my children’s lives.
On the one hand, I knew he was a good person and trustworthy, but I didn’t want to have my kids become attached to him only to have things not work out with us. They did not need to have that kind of disappointment in their lives. I also knew that at my age it would be more difficult and complicated to get pregnant and give birth. He didn’t have any children of his own. What if he wanted to have biological offspring later? I argued against myself, before anyone else did: I’m not going to be in my 40s forever. When I’m 60, would he dump me for another babe in her forties? He laughed at me and said he will be in his 50s, and we will both be getting older together. It was the thing I wanted to hear, but somehow I didn't believe him. He was straining himself too hard to be with me. Neither of us could simply relax and enjoy ourselves together. There were a million looming questions and no answers. What about the kids? He tried hard to be kind and patient with my children, and he claimed to be content to think of them as the only children he will have. It still bothered me that we might never make a baby of our own. I left it up to nature, but I did not get pregnant with him in the five years we were together.
Eventually our differences became larger than everything else and we spent the last year of our relationship breaking up. These differences had origins in our upbringing, our cultures, our life view and approach to everyday situations. We were ultimately incompatible. As nervous as I was about how our breakup would affect my children, I realized that they were understood and were even relieved to see us part ways. The fighting created an uncomfortable environment that no one missed when it was gone.
Now I am together with a man I met 23 years ago, when we were both in our 20s. We found each other four years ago and rekindled our friendship. Last year we took the next step and became a couple. But having known each other for so long, we have an advantage over most yearling couples. We are of a similar age (he's only five years younger!) and background. We are both artists who had very similar childhoods of world travel and divorced parents and multiple siblings. We are both in the world of performance art and fine arts. We even had the same painting teacher before we knew each other so long ago! In a recent article (October 2012) in Psychology Today, I read a great article about five truths, life lessons people learn too late. Lesson #3 was opposites don't attract forever. It advises you to seek a mate whose values and background echo your own. Perhaps the age difference between the last guy and me was not the problem. Our overwhelming differences as people were what tore us apart.
The bottom line is that you have to know yourself and know your mate. You have to like that person as well as love them. Age may not be the issue, but something about the age difference may factor in if you are of completely different generations and value systems. Our background affects how we see the world and how we approach it.
And, in the end, it is a huge turn-on to be on the same page as your mate.