Saturday, 28 July 2012

Young Man's Darling

I wrote a novel about a woman in her mid-thirties who is romantically involved with a young man in his early twenties. Ignatius Press tells me it will be out in 2013, but I am not sure exactly when. If you wish to know exactly when, ask Ignatius Press.

This week I have had requests to talk about Younger Women Dating Older Men and Older Women Dating Younger Men, and I had to squish up my inner eye and stare into the dark shadows of my memories to try to see this all from a younger woman's perspective. For lo, I am 39+ and married, and incredibly tolerant about both situations.

If you are being pursued by an older man, and his grizzled charms make you go weak at the knees, by all means go out with this older man. If you are being pursued by a downy faced infant and you think his blushes are adorable, by all means go out with the infant.

By infant, I mean an infant over the age of 18, of course. And by you, I mean adult readers.

The older you get, the less age gaps seem to matter. When you are eighteen, it seems wrong to date a fourteen year old and worrisome to date a twenty-two year old. But when you are thirty, nobody worries if you date a thirty-four year old, and dating a twenty-six year old may seem a bit of a coup.

Incidentally, the age gap is not as pronounced in Europe as it is in North America. Europeans are just not so obsessed with age. It is not unusual for European university students to seek friendships or romance with people much older than themselves. Attractiveness is not equated with youth. Catherine Deneuve is in her 60s, and young men still fall down and worship her. Behold:

The title means "You or No-one", btw.

But even in North America young men can find older women attractive, and one of the most charming couples I know became a couple after the surprised woman decided that the younger man wasn't, as he complained, "just some kid."

Frankly, I think such younger man-pursues-older woman relationships very likely to succeed, if the woman actually does like him, because women are usually too inhibited prudent to chase men much younger than themselves. Therefore it is definitely a case of a man going after what he wants, and being determined to win in the face of a stupid obstacle, which is the woman wondering if he isn't too young for her. It is not a case of a self-deluding woman chucking herself at Mr Rapidly Being Spoiled.

That said, some women are just not attracted to younger men. I think this mad, as younger men are much better looking than older men. And as an older woman it is so much easier to deal with all their young man storminess. The sulks, the rants, the poses, the politics, the confusion that so oppress you when you're their age are much easier to deal with when you're over 30.

But I can see that a very gentle woman might want to give youthful Sturm und Drang a miss altogether and just date a kindly older man. It is not a hideous insult to be wooed by an older man, by the way. If you want to see him, see him. If you don't, say "No, thank you." All you have lost is your right to complain that nobody ever asks you out.

If he tries to make you feel bad for not wanting to go out with him, however, tell him to go to hell, gramps.

I was once in a marriage-track relationship with a man ten years older than myself. It didn't work out because he wasn't Catholic. Also, he had non-age related health problems and my mother was worried I was going to end up his nurse. Well, if you love someone, you don't mind being his nurse, but if you don't, you do. So it wasn't just that he wasn't Catholic but that I wasn't just that into him.

But a pal of mine married a man about 20 years older than herself--a big, funny guy with a motorcycle and a receipt showing an enormous bar bill taped to the wall--because she was that into him. We had a conversation about how they might not have a really long time together, given his age. She was a bit sad about that, but that's just how it was. And is. Sure enough, he got cancer five years later, but it looks like he's pulling through, thank God.

I realize that people are always jabbering on about "Is he too young for you?" or "Is he too old for you?" but once you are both ADULTS, and nobody become a really, truly adult magically at the age of 21 (let alone 18), these questions make little sense. In the case of teenage girls, everyone is terrified that Mr Older Guy is going to seduce her with the shameless lies teenage boys haven't yet figured out how to tell convincingly.

Yes, most of us westerners are adolescents until we are about 25. Girls mature faster, apparently. I didn't. But if you are a 30+ year old woman, the only thing you need to worry about is if your under-25 boyfriend is an adult yet or not. And maybe you are the patient kind who can put up with adolescent sulks and storms, and the smart one who isn't going to be his Older Woman Who Initiated Him Into the Sweets of Love, like an 18th century courtesan, only unpaid.

"I'm not going to be one of those b*itches who ruins children," said Brett, Lady Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. Words to live by.

As for older men, I could barely see them until I was over 30. I thought it was an age thing, but now I think it was a North American thing, too. But anyway, it was only after I was 30 that I would ever ever ever have considered going out with someone as old as 40.

It is traditional to complain that men always want women much younger than themselves, but I don't think this is true. Single men generally pursue women their own age, and most Single men are in their 20s. Most Single women are in their 20s, too, which may be why older Single men are so willing to try their luck with them. And I don't think older men who think twenty-something women are luscious are any less moral than older women who think twenty-something men are toothsome.

It has also been complained that playboys suddenly panic at the age of 40 and then start looking for women to have their babies. Well, more fool them. The way not to be hurt by playboys is not to go to bed with them. Indeed, quite a lot of modern misery could be solved by just not going to bed with men. Complaining because a man has had 20 years of strings-free fun and now is looking to settle down strikes me as a waste of breath and ink.

I shall end with my usual kind of advice.

* Do what you want as long as it isn't a sin. Smoking a cigarette or eating meat is not a sin. Going for coffee is not a sin. Heavy petting is a sin. When in doubt, check with your confessor.

* Don't chase men. Wait and see who shows up. Say Yes to what or who you want and No to what or who you don't want. It's your right.

*Stay rooted in reality. Don't delude yourself. If a man walks you home after dark, it is not a sign that he is that into you. Particularly not if you asked him to walk you home in the first place.

Update: I acknowledge the screams of horror from Women Younger Than I at the idea of (female) young things giving (male) old cougars the time of day. The idea is that older men are wily and experienced and wicked.

And to be honest, I was thinking of 30 year olds dating 40-plusses, since I can't imagine why a 20-something would want to date some guy with orange peel skin when she--unlike me--has access to all those toothsome 20-something hotties.

No offense, 20-something hotties. You're not supposed to be reading this blog.

Anyway, I have put up two new surveys. The top one asks "How old is too old?" and the one underneath wants to know how old you are, so that I will remember that some of you are bouncing babies.


Ridiculous, I know, but.. said...

how do you say No to what or who you don't want? Well - that's not really my question. Because you just say No. My real question is: how do you not feel guilty about doing it, especially to a legitimately good and nice guy? (Note: I'm not talking about potentially sinful things, just going out on dates etc.) Now, I don't have much dating experience. One man asked me to dinner and then continued to try to spend time with me - and because my mind immediately jumped to what it could lead to (a relationship! dating! marriage!) and knowing I didn't want that with him, I avoided him until he gave up. Hardly kind or fair. What I worry about is whether it is kind or fair to respond to a guy who is being friendly, if one day I am going to have to turn him down. You will probably say this is not being rooted in reality! He just (apparently) wants friendship, so until he says something else I don't have to do anything. But if that happens, and I do - it's seems similar to having to fire someone. Not a pleasant task. How do you not feel bad about it? What is your source of strength, or courage?

Seraphic said...

The anonymous comment may stay because it is a cri de coeur.

First of all, don't let your mind jump like that. Deal with each situation as it comes up without huge fears or hopes for the future. If a man asks you to dinner and you think you would enjoy having THAT dinner with him, then accept the dinner invitation.

If you don't think you would enjoy having this dinner with this man, then say so and why. ("I don't think I would enjoy that because [you're always so rude; I've just ended a relationship; I know you've taken out lots of girls from this office"] Be honest, to a point. It's not a good idea to let a man you don't know very well know how very vulnerable you are, so "because dating terrifies me" is probably not a good answer.

If you subsequently don't like what happens at dinner, tell him he doesn't have to go out of his way to take you home; you'll just take a cab. If you DO like what happens at dinner, he can walk you home--leave him outside your door--and you can hope that he asks you out again.

But you cannot tell how dinner will turn out until you go to dinner.

Sweetheart, you were free to avoid him all you wanted. If it wasn't kind or fair, mostly it wasn't kind or fair towards yourself to be hiding and running away like a bunny-rabbit.

Let me say this again. If a man invites you out for coffee, it means first of all that he wants to chat with you over coffee. IT IS NOT A MARRIAGE PROPOSAL. It is not wrong to have coffee with a man who asks you to have coffee with him even if you don't think you would like to marry him one day. Maybe it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Maybe he will become a business contact.

It. Is. Just. Coffee.

Don't live in an imaginary future. Live in the concrete here-and-now present.

On my birthday, I had a nice coffee with a handsome young man who has such high standards he would only ever take out a supermodel type Single Polish girl or an old married Canadian lady like me.

Anyway, occasionally I seek a Young Man's point of view from this bestower of coffee, and his no-nonsense attitude towards women who refuse to have coffee as a pre-emptive strike against marriage proposals is "How will they ever get married if they never go out for coffee?"

The thing is, the guy who asks you for coffee just wants a chance to get to know you better and for you to get to know him better. Of course you do not want to marry a man you hardly know.

I certainly did not want to marry my husband when I first saw him, that's for sure. But fortunately, he didn't ask me over our first meal together. Men very very rarely do that.

My source of strength is the knowledge that I am free to say "Yes" to invitations I want and "No" to invitations I don't want. And I have real sins to feel guilty about; I don't have much guilt left over for imaginary ones.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear, I don't think I answered your question, which is "How do I not feel so badly after telling a man I have been having coffee with that I don't want to be his girlfriend or his wife?"

Well, I think the way to do that is through pure honesty. If a guy asks you out for coffee, that's not a huge investment on his part. If a guy asks you out for dinner, again, not a huge investment. If he invites you to something expensive, and if makes you uncomfortable, then SAY SO. You can say, "Listen, I would enjoy/really enjoyed having coffee and dinner with you, but I don't feel comfortable accepting expensive presents from you."

Honestly, you never have to go out for coffee or dinner with any man ever, ever, ever, ever. If you don't want to, don't. But if you do want to, do. It is my long-held view that every NCB should get three dates (e.g. coffee, dinner & dinner) before a NCG has to make up her mind if she's enough into him to encourage future meals.

Most guys just want a chance. And after three dates with a NCG, many will come to their own conclusions that, although nice, this NCG is not the One.

You got three dates before you are responsible for making sure a guy knows he's never going to be your boyfriend, okay?

Obviously I don't think you can go for dinner and shows and get nice presents for a whole year and then suddenly be surprised if the man comes out with a marriage proposal. But I think you should be able to have a grace period of at least three dates. Otherwise we have a CRAZY situation on our hands, with men too afraid to ask women out at all and women too afraid to go out for even a $1.95 cup of joe.

Mustard Seed said...

It does feel like firing someone! I don't like how occasionally having to tell nice men "no, I'm just not that into you" is a part of dating, but so it goes, I guess.

I met a bunch of slightly older guys at the ballpark when I went to a game with a friend. She is very outgoing, and started chatting with them (I've always admired how easily she makes friends). Anyway, one of them came back later to ask me to go out sometime... we had talked for maybe 10 minutes, and I could tell it made him nervous to come back and go out on a limb. I don't know why, but I suddenly felt soooo uncomfortable and awkward trying to answer him - I ended up just taking his number to give myself time to think it over. I decided not to call him, because I didn't like the idea of dating a guy who was maybe 10 years older and 2 inches shorter than me (I know this is superficial and maybe awful), so I went with my gut. I didn't foresee myself feeling excited about seeing him again, though he seemed perfectly nice and harmless. But I'm not getting any younger either. Should I have given him a chance? I don't usually feel panic when guys show interest in me, so I didn't know what to do.

Seraphic said...

Hmm. You had known him for ten minutes. He was a complete stranger in the ballpark. He gave you his number instead of taking your number. You don't usually feel panic when guys show interest, but this time you did.

I'd say you did the right thing by going with your gut.

Don't worry so much about not getting any younger. Young men aren't getting any younger either. Maybe some toothsome young thing will demand your phone number at the next ballgame. You never can tell.

Seraphic said...

And incidentally, it doesn't sound like you wanted to have coffee with that guy. It is okay not to want to have coffee with that guy.

Seraphic said...

But it wouldn't have been "dating a guy who is ten years older and two inches shorter than" you. It would have been "having a coffee with a complete stranger I met in a ballpark."

Sarah said...

I was involved with an older man between 19 and 20, and so now am totally against it at that age. Maybe if I had been 30, it would have been different, but as it was, I was easily manipulated and charmed by a man nearly twice my age.

He took advantage of my naivete in horrible ways, and ways that made me loathe myself and him.

However, one of my very best friends is a man 13 years older than me, who I have known since I was in 8th grade (though a friendship didn't develop until I was an adult.) That also changed the way I saw age gap relationships (relationships in the GENERAL sense of the word, not "romantic relationships").

Being friends with him has shown me how older men SHOULD treat a young girl: as a young girl. I can trust him not to take advantage of me, and my trust and filial love for him. He'll help me and advise me in the ways a wiser, more experienced person can, without being manipulative or selfish.

Older men can be wonderful friends, but I will never, ever be romantically involved with someone that much older than me again.

Alephine said...

I have to disagree with you on the topic of young women dating much older men (as in, say, 25 dating 45). Of course there are exceptions, but in general the power and experience gap is just too great. Attraction isn't enough to make it a prudent choice for the woman. What will tend to happen is that she will be conformed to the man – his tastes, his opinions, his desires – instead of them influencing each other mutually and completing each other. Maybe some people find this ivy-twining-round-the-sturdy-oak sort of thing attractive; I don't. That's even if the man is a gentle well-meaning type. If he really wants and intends to dominate her of course it's much worse. In other words I think your instinct when you were younger (not to be interested in older men) was healthy. There are other young women who see some special glamour (probably not very deeply rooted in reality) in older men and I think it's important that they at least be wary.

Seraphic said...

Adult. I said adult. Very few contemporary 20 year old are adults. If a 25 year old wants to date a 45 year old, she might want to discuss this with her parents, who may be best able to determine if she is really grown up enough for this or not. But I see no problem with a 30 year old dating a 50 year old.

Sarah said...

At 20, I was certainly an adult. I had my own apartment, had been living a state away from any family for nearly two years, and worked for a law firm. By anyone's standards, I was an adult.

I was far more MATURE than this guy was, but I had 20 years experience to his 40, and that means a LOT more when you ARE 20 and 40, than when you're 30 and 50.

Lack of experience, while perhaps often going hand-in-hand with immaturity, is not the same thing.

Mustard Seed said...

Yes I see your point. One coffee would have been fine and potentially interesting, but I haven't thought about it much since then. I appreciate the input :) The older I get, the more I realize my gut is actually pretty smart.

A totally separate topic: considering that smoking cigarettes is addictive, and that, over time, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between regular tobacco use and disease... is it really not a sin to smoke? One is doing harm to her own health and risking developing an unhealthy habit. Maybe it's the same thing as eating the occasional donut?

Alephine said...

The trouble is that the starry-eyed young thing with a crush on an older man who makes a move is as likely as not to think "Well, I'm an adult after all, and he's not *that* old." Your 30-year-old, who may be able to bridge the age gap, is less likely to ignore it because she has some perspective on what x years of experience means. I'm only belabouring this point because you have a lot of very young readers and because I speak from painful experience, albeit as an onlooker. In that situation the girl was also very mature for her age by the kind of standards Sarah mentioned.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I've always been much more understanding to the older man-younger woman relationships than to the younger man-older woman relationships. It may be because I myself am attracted to older men. It may be because I genuinely think that the first case is more natural.
Many things suggest that this is an advantegous arrangement: men grow up slowly and girls faster; girls are ready to become a parent earlier then men; men are the supposed providers for family, so it makes sense for them to first gain some position and then marry; then there's the natural "need for protection", which is more subjective... It just makes sense to me, to the point where I can't imagine I could marry a man my age - he has to be at least a couple of years older.
But it all apllies best when you want to marry young. As you said, the older you get, the less important any age difference becomes. Now, if I think that it's good to marry (relatively) young and have children (relatively) soon and on the other hand that young men are generally immature and therefore uncapable of taking the responsibility of having a family - then I must come to the conclusion that it's better to marry an older man. But it's really only applicable to a small percentage of cases (we do marry later and later, don't we?) - and, after all, every case is different.
But let me make one thing clear - I don't think there's anything wrong with the older woman scenario. I generally think that every relationship is so completely different and un-fully-judge-able form the outside that all that's really important is wether or not both interested parties can make it work. And if they're listening to what God's plan is for them, of course. After all, everyone needs and likes something else and it's important that your spouse fits you, and that is something completely unrelated to age. It's more important to choose the right person than to realize some sort of an ideal (society's or your own) of what the relationships should look like. And the right person's age is secondary.


Seraphic said...

Yes, I think it comes down to WHICH woman and WHICH man. There may be a PARTICULAR 20 year old woman who could be happy with a PARTICULAR 30 year old man because of how they simply are: she might be a very confident girl, and he might be a very easy-going and respectful man.

I would not suggest any reader under 25 just go willy-nilly into relationships with men over 40. It would never have occured to me to do so until I was 30 because I simply was not at all attracted to men over 40.

By the way, manipulative abusive men are to be avoided at whatever age you are and whatever age they are.

I think I had better do another check on readers' ages. When I started my first Seraphic Singles blog, I was writing for fellow 35 year olds. Generally I pitch my advice to women in their late 20s, early 30s.

I didn't think that 20 year old girls would be worried about their Single state yet. I was wrong, though.

Seraphic said...

I don't think it is a sin to smoke the occasional cigarette, and I don't think it is a sin to eat the occasional bag of pork rinds or the occasional bowl of Ben & Jerry's. Too much tobacco may be a form of gluttony, however. Check with your friendly neighbourhood confessor today!

Claire Christina said...

Too many comments to read... Just giving you context for my vote in the sidebar.

I turn 26 in just over a month. In my family, there is an observable gap (15+ years) between each of the four generations. My parents are both the oldest, but I'm not the oldest cousin. If I were to date a man more than ten years my senior, he would be closer in age to my aunts and uncles than to me or any of my cousins.

Not that family makes this impossible, but that it would be strange to bring home a suitor who belongs to the wrong generation, especially since they already has trouble understanding me because I take my faith seriously.

Anyway. My two cents, for you to take or leave as you choose. I'm not subscribing to this post, so if you want me to see your reply, I'm afraid you'll have to email me (but I won't expect one). Since you asked for feedback, here is your feedback. :)

Sarah said...

Well, to be fair, though I may be one of the "bouncing babies" of which you speak, I have been reading since you first started your blog in 2009, and have always answered the age survey, so my age bracket has always been represented in the stats. ;)

Anyway, to maybe offer some explanation on why a young girl might want (or think she wants).

Being someone who was, as I said, a mostly grown-up person from a young age, most of my coworkers and "peers" were actually around 10+ years older than me. I didn't enjoy spending time with boys my own age, because they seemed immature and, frankly, dumb. Which is basically what boys in their teens and early twenties. Not their fault, but it's just how it goes.

Not only that, but I had just never quite fit in with people my own age. I was bookish and wrote poetry and went to the library instead of parties.

So, I met this guy, who was smart and educated and seemed to see in me things that I wished others saw. He overwhelmed me with affection, and being lonely where I was at that time (though, I was actually lonely for friendship. I only wanted to be friends with him at first, but he told me it was either we enter a relationship, or I'd never see him again).

In my experience, being courted by an older man is not a plain and simple matter of "I like you, orange-peel skin and all, and am attracted to you." For me, it was him preying on my insecurities and taking advantage of my loneliness, convincing me IN THESE LITERAL WORDS that no one but him could ever love me, while he drained my energy, and fed on my innocence. I'm not trying to sound melodramatic, but one of the main things he said attracted him to me was the innocence he didn't have anymore, while at the same time, also being the one to steal bits of mine.

Yes, manipulation can come from anyone at any age, but it's a lot easier when one person has enough life experience to know exactly how to do it to one who is too young to have any clue what true manipulation looks like.

Another "quirk" of this kind of age disparity is that the older one may try to convince the younger one that if SHE doesn't marry him, he has no more chances at love because he's too old, but he wants a family so badly and he's had such a hard life until he met you and blah, blah, flippin blah.

A 19 year old adult with her life basically in order should be allowed to date, but a young girl being with an older man does not seem to me as romantic or fun or some love-that-beat-the-odds story. It's depressing, and scary thinking how it might have ended up had I not finally had a flash of good sense and realized that I WANTED to just be 20.

I realize what you meant, Seraphic, and that this post was directed at late 20 or 30 somethings. But I didn't realize that at first, so I guess I'm just explaining. I would never, ever, ever tell one of my friends, sisters or future daughters that age is no big deal when they're in their 20s.

Jam said...

I fell for a guy who was 11 years older than me when I was in college, with unhappy results. In my defense, I thought he was only four or five years older than me at most, and only found out the truth a couple years after he was gone. For lo, one of the most important things I have learned about myself as an adult is that I have no freeking clue how old anyone is.

Anyhow, in that situation, if I had known his actual age, the fallout would have been not "he's too old for me" but "good golly, he's a mess for as old as he is". His immaturity was troublesome but excusable when I thought he was a peer; it would have been a big red flag if I had known he was that much older. I like to think I would have made the definitive break much sooner if I'd known.

I don't know if that contributes anything to the discussion :P except maybe that finding out how old someone is helps you make a realistic assessment.

Ridiculous said...


Thank you very much for your responses! It helps to be reassured (again and again sometimes) that I really do have the right to say Yes or No to what I want or don't want, and I don't have to worry about what may or may not happen five years down the road when a guy asks me out for coffee. The three-date rule is also PERFECT (and so helpful as a practical means of dealing with things), and the "crazy situation" if all women were too afraid to go out for a $1.95 cup of coffee made me giggle.

Thank you also for letting my anonymous comment stay...several of my friends read your blog and I don't really want to air my emotional/romantic conundrums to them!

Another reader who won't admit who she is said...

You know, I've seen happy marriages of both sorts--man twenty years older, and woman twenty years older--so I'm not doctrinaire about this. BUT, I did have an experience something like Jam's that's worth repeating.

I was briefly pursued by a guy who was twenty years older than me (I was in my mid twenties at the time). I was not interested in him in that way (though we're still friends, though not close friends); but the one thing that really tipped me off and told me I did NOT want to do this was ... his immaturity. Really. He was literally old enough to be my father, and yet he was amazingly reduced to the level of a giggling schoolboy (I'm sorry, but it's true) when he was around me. In a guy my own age, I would have felt it was kind of a compliment. All guys in their mid twenties are a bit awkward. But in a guy in his mid-forties ... it was just embarrassing.

So, bottom line, as Jam says--older is fine, as long as the AGE comes with the VIRTUES of age. Old people should be mature and complex like fine cheese and wine (which can also be, in their own way, to use Seraphic's slightly naughty word, "toothsome").

Charming Disarray said...

I've definitely seen age gap relationships that work, but in those cases it's the younger person who is the mature one. There's a couple of marriages like this in my family. However, I'm going to add my story to the others here that in a LOT of cases, the reason why an older man is attracted to a younger woman is because of his own immaturity. I dated a man who was twelve years older than me in my early twenties, and since I was definitely young and innocent for my age, it's pretty darn weird that we had so much in common, including an inability to face the responsibilities of adulthood without fear. It was a very stressful and unhappy few years, and if either of us had been an adult it would have ended much sooner.

As for younger guys, I'm rarely attracted. I don't find their boyish freshness very, um, interesting, and their personalities tend to be undeveloped. I've only been interested in a younger guy once, and that was only after he made a lot of effort to get to know me and during that process I realized he was really mature for his age. So yes...I guess I agree with your point about younger men chasing older women! is insulting for a young pretty girl to be approached by a very unattractive older man. This happens to Catholic girls a LOT. There's something objectifying about it. Men should have some boundaries and respect. I mean, yes, she can always say no, but isn't there something wrong with a gross fat man in his forties hitting on the 18 year olds at his church? This happens!! And obviously it's very different from a women in her late twenties or thirties or whatever going out with a man she likes who's in his forties or fifties.

Urszula said...

I just wanted to say - thanks for another nice Polish song!

Charming Disarray said...

Can't wait to read the book, by the way. The premise sounds great.

Ania said...

Auntie, you were telling many times that when woman should go for a coffee etc. with the guy if she wants to. OK, I understand the idea. I understand that it-is-only-a-coffee-not-marriage-proposal, too.

But, what if it's obvious that he's falling for me while I know that we could be only! friends (for some important reasons). I would like to go out with him but only as friends hovewer he would like more. I don't want to hurt him so maybe I shouldn't go out with him although I would like, because I like him as a brother...?

Ania said...

Auntie, you were telling many times that woman should go for a coffee etc. with the guy if she wants to. OK, I understand the idea. I understand that it-is-only-a-coffee-not-marriage-proposal, too.

But, what if it's obvious that he's falling for me while I know that we could be only! friends (for some important reasons). I would like to go out with him but only as friends hovewer he would like more. I don't want to hurt him so maybe I shouldn't go out with him although I would like, because I like him as a brother...?

Seraphic said...

Ania, what do you mean by obvious?

It is interesting--if you refuse to have coffee with him, it probably will hurt him, and if you have coffee with him and tell him its just as friends, it will probably hurt him, and if you have coffee with him and later tell him you just want to be friends, it will probably hurt him.

It appears that no matter what you do, he will probably be hurt, so do what you like.

Everybody else, I think we have hit one of these Major Differences Between Ages.

Before I was 30 I would totally agree with everybody that older men are ugly, fat, creepy, dangerous and old and it is OUTRAGEOUS that they would even LOOK at lovely little me.

But after I was 30 I was, like, oh! That silver-haired guy in the office is kind of cute! And now that I am over 39 (ahem), I can see how some 50 year olds have a rugged charm and why my mother so admired Harrison Ford until (I think) recently.

So if you are under 30 and you think I am out of my mind for even suggesting dating way-older-men is fine, then that is possibly completely normal for the under-30 set. But I do know women who married way-older-men and they are (or were) really happy and not at all oppressed.

Obviously me and me alone is not a good scientific sample, but honestly I'm telling you when I turned 30 it was like all of a sudden there were these cute men I had never noticed before and I didn't even mind when they were kind of bald.

And that reminds me. The fat old 40+ guy does not realize how unattractive he is, so he isn't insulting you by chatting you up after Mass. If he knew what he looked like to 20-somethings (as opposed to more tolerant 30-somethings, not to mention the possibly even more tolerant 40 somethings, and then his mother, who thinks he is the cutest), he would fall into abject DESPAIR.

That said, you don't have to go out with him. Never settle for a man you think is fat, old and ugly. Never, never, never. Hold out for True Love.

Seraphic said...

Oh, you said 18 year olds. Well, that kind of is gross. If I were a widow, I would definitely be leaving the 18 year olds alone.

His mother or an usher should take him aside. Isn't that what ushers are for?

Jen said...

It seems so obvious when you say to "Never settle for a man you think is fat, old and ugly", but I did date a man who I thought was all of those things - for over a year! I was living in a place with a dearth of Catholic men, and I thought that was about as good as it was going to get. We were even looking at rings...yikes! Thank goodness my father stepped in at that point and advised me to end the relationship. I felt him meddlesome at the time, but I have been so very thankful ever since, and am now determined to hold out for True Love.

By the way, that boyfriend was fourteen years older than early-20s me, so I have soured a bit on relationships with a significant age difference due to that experience. Maybe things will change when I hit 30...we shall see!

And - I can't wait to buy and read your new book!!

Kate P said...

For the poll, I said no more than five years older, but it is hard to quantify. I just want someone I have things in common with, and that includes music taste and pop culture interests (so that's where I think age might come into play).

The things is, my family has a history of older women/younger men. My grandmother was seven years older than my grandfather, and one aunt (to whom I am very similar in personality) is married to a man five years her junior. I am not completely comfortable with people exactly around my age and tend to relate better with older or younger people. (I look younger than my age, too, which makes me think online dating would not work for me.)

Also, I didn't realize how much senior my cousin's husband was to her until he passed away (he was close to 20 years older). . . leaving her to raise a special-needs teenager and a pre-teen. The kids are doing well now but it was heartbreaking.

Domestic Diva said...

I have several friends who married (in their early 30s) men significantly older (10-15 years) than they were and it's all worked out well. Do they struggle? Yes. Because of age? No, but because of the usual married life struggles. Do they all laugh about being in the Early Widows' Club together? Yes. And they wouldn't change their decision for it.

Noting their example, I became involved (in my mid-30s) with a man nearly 20 years older. We were together about 3-4 months, and as the relationship became more serious & we began talking marriage, I became more nervous. I slowed things down; he insisted on a commitment to marriage; I refused to give it yet; he became verbally abusive and highly immature; I told him never to contact me again. Did this stink? Yes. Do I fault our age difference? No. Would I date someone much older again? It would depend on the guy. THAT guy, I realized in retrospect, had some personal issues that I'd noted in my gut but hadn't consciously acknowledged. Thank the Lord for feminine intuition. Trust your gut, ladies...the guy who is immature, alcoholic, abusive, manipulative could be your age to the day and make you miserable.

Just to cite a couple of good Catholic examples of couples with huge age gaps: the Captain & Maria von Trapp (she was his children's governess; his character was rather warmer than portrayed in the Sound of Music), Dieterich & Alice von Hildebrand (she was his student and continues his work after his death). I'm sure people gossiped about both, yet 2 beautiful stories of honor and true love. And that love didn't fade when they joined the Early Widows' Club.

Athanasius lover said...

I'm under 30, but I tend to be attracted to men in their early 40s, so I guess I'm unusual for the under-30 set. When I was younger (teenage years) I tended to be attracted to men 5 years older than I was; as I've gotten older I've become comfortable with more of an age gap (my last major crush was on someone 16 years older than I). Granted, I've never dated anyone, whether older than I am or around my age, so I can't speak to the problems those relationships might encounter.

n.panchancha said...

This is fun, and seems to come up again and again among female friends.

Until I was about 22 or 23, I couldn't IMAGINE wanting to date a younger man - and this made perfect sense, since most men younger than me were teenagers and hence, annoying. I considered myself to be someone who was attracted only to older men. I think you reach a point, though, when younger men are actually MEN, in the sense that they can be mature intellectual and social equals. After this point, eligible and attractive fellows can pop up anywhere. And heck yes, it is flattering when a lovely younger man is pursuing you. One must keep one's wits about one, one must!

Emphasize again and again the "BOTH BEING ADULTS" part of this - and part of that means you have the self-confidence and resources to get out of a bad relationship, should you need to. In 99 cases out of 100, I think [and would I make up stats?], it's not healthy for a twenty-year-old to be dating a forty-year-old. But - and herein seems to be the perpetual rub - it all depends on the ACTUAL REAL CONCRETE PEOPLE involved in the relationship. "I want to marry someone 2-5 years older than me" is an ineffectual, abstract criterion, in my opinion. I want to marry my husband, whoever he is.

One of the most beautiful weddings I've been to was the marriage of a 33-year-old woman to a 24-year-old man. In her speech, the bride quipped, "I kept asking God why he hadn't given me a husband yet. It turned out that God was saving him until it was legal for us to date."

SASS, to the max. And her husband was super cute, so good on 'er. :o)

Jim said...

When we married, I was 26, my wife was 35. We had known each other as acquaintances for 2 years before we started going out, and probably we waited as long as we did because we both wondered about the age difference. But we hit it off immediately, were married within 9 months, and we are still happily married 27 years later.

american in deutschland said...

To be honest, the thing that disturbs me about big age gaps between older men and younger women is NOT that I find the men unattractive. I've been attracted to older, just-under-father-age men since I was eleven -- they were teachers. And that's my issue #1. I think it's healthier, at least for me, to marry an equal and not a "teacher." Some men are very good teachers, and some probably make very good husband-teachers, but the risk of being a bad-husband-teacher is too great, plus it just sort of wigs me out.

#2, and this is somewhat connected, but while I am attracted to older men FROM A DISTANCE, it ruins the whole illusion if these men prove themselves unattracted or disloyal to women their own age. Either it smells like a trophy thing ("I *could* date this woman who is my own age, but why should I when I could get a younger, therefore better, one?") or just an unattractive cluelessness about their OWN age and their own state in life. The midlike crisis man is pathetic.

Maybe this is still a young-20s-girl perspective, and I'm definitely aware that for some people, based on the individuals, it works out fine. But I'm still suspicious.

That said, I think at my age (24) I would date someone up to his early 30s, and once I'm in my late 20s, up to a ten year gap. I would probably date a bit younger than myself, but I've honestly never thought about it. Currently I look at youngish (late teens, early 20s) boymen and sigh about how cute and lovely they are from afar, but um, up close, I think the charm recedes pretty quickly.

Joan of Quark said...

My best female friend married, at the age of 40, a widower 30 years older than herself (he looks about 55!)

They are blissfully happy, and I greatly enjoy teasing her about being a 'grandmother' to his several grandchildren. She can't have children anyway, so it's all worked out in the best possible way.

She acknowledges that they won't have a 'long' time together, so they are making the most of it while they can!

April said...

When I was 18 I began seeing a 22-year-old man whom I dated for several years years. Although in retrospect 22 is hardly greying and distinguished, at the time the age difference and our different states in life-- he working full-time, me finishing up high school (yeepers!)-- seemed very significant and confirmed my idea that I was very Serious and Discerning and Mature For My Age.

Fortunately, the relationship wasn't particularly toxic, probably because it was the first serious romantic involvement for either of us, but all the same I experienced many of the same bug-a-boos as other readers: an oppressive expectation that I would be "mature" beyond other girls my age and content to bypass all the "silliness" of things like having college friends and get down sooner rather than later to the Serious Business of marrying him and starting a family. Like Sarah, it took me a long time to realize I just wanted to be 20. A relationship shouldn't feel like a responsibility you are forcing yourself to shoulder to prove you are Serious and Mature.

Even so, for years afterward I carried around the idea that "I could only be attracted to older men." However, time and life experience has caused me to reconsider. Perhaps I have reached the point N. Panchancha describes where younger men are adults too, but I have found there are lots of delightful younger guys I wouldn't have previously given the time of day. It's true that they don't have the suaveness or polish of older men, but (perhaps because of my negative experience? perhaps this is a phase) I am "over" the mystique of someone older and More Serious and am interested in finding men who are happy, enthusiastic, and good, even if these qualities are clothed in youthful cluelessness (they'll learn!).

Athanasius lover said...

I do have to say, seeing so many attractive young men in the Olympics is making me reconsider my general prejudice against younger men.

MaryJane said...

I have a quasi-moral problem with older women dating much younger men - and by that, I mean men in their early twenties. These women are called "cougars" for a reason... and in most cases, the much younger man in his early twenties is barely an adult (jobs not withstanding), thus creating an almost abusive situation. I've known NCBs whom this has happened to, and it's just really sad. I suppose there could be one or two exceptions, but generally, in Western culture, I think it is a TERRIBLE idea.

[Not to mention that there is a plethora of young NCGs around for young NCBs to date!]

Ania said...

What do I mean by obvious? I mean that his behaviour is not normal when I'm around, he tries to attract my attention and I feel some kind of tension between us, moreover it's not my opinion only. My other friend told me that she saw that there's something going on while I hadn't mentioned anything about him earlier, so I guess it's not just my imagination.

I liked your response, but do you think that the solutions are really equal?

I think that being honest from the beginning would be the best for him and would cause less pain that in other solutions.

Anonymous said...

As a chronic dater of older men, my viewpoint (with the caveat that you're late twenties or older):

(1) Ask yourself why this man is not yet married. Ask him that, and ask his friends that.

(I dated a man 15 years my senior who had never been married. Medical school, residency, and several years working in a community with more retirees than single women made it hard for him to find someone.)

Do not date commitment-phobes. There is but one way this will end.

(2) Ask himself why he's dating you. Do you really want to marry a guy who is looking for the upper hand? who doesn't want his equal?

Easy way to figure this out (aside from listening to everything he says): find out about the women he has dated. Some of the reason I agreed to go on a date with the NCM was that his previous girlfriends spanned many ages, and they were all smart and independent (so sayeth our mutual friend).

(3) Related to the above: don't be that woman who is left by her middle-aged husband for a younger woman. If he's middle-aged and can't appreciate middle-aged beauty, then he's not going to think you are beautiful when you are middle-aged.


Personally: I like dating older men, but that is because I like dating men who are mid-thirties and older, and I am 31. Perhaps when I am 40 I would swoon over a 33-year-old, but, as men in their twenties simply do not appeal to me, I date older men for now. Perhaps that is because I was "born 40" (in the words of my family), or perhaps I've had a lifetime of "you're intimidating", but, older men it is.


Seraphic said...

Some older women are called cougars because they are just interested in cheap flings. But other older women are called cougars because North American society doesn't like older women very much.

Oh, it's okay to be an older woman like a grandma, or a soccer mom, or a piano teacher or a wise doctor with silver hair and no-nonsense spectacles. But an older woman who falls in love with a young man? Eeugh!

It's not like that in Europe. Ah, Europe. I love you. If only you would have more babies and a little more fiscal responsibility...

Seraphic said...

Some older women are called cougars because they are just interested in cheap flings. But other older women are called cougars because North American society doesn't like older women very much.

Oh, it's okay to be an older woman like a grandma, or a soccer mom, or a piano teacher or a wise doctor with silver hair and no-nonsense spectacles. But an older woman who falls in love with a young man? Eeugh!

It's not like that in Europe. Ah, Europe. I love you. If only you would have more babies and a little more fiscal responsibility...

Joan of Quark said...

I agree wholeheartedly about asking WHY this man is not married - and also asking yourself the same question, if you're in the same age group! Fr Benedict Groeschel has some very comforting words about bravely examining the reasons why one is not married - and then comparing them with the reasons people get married, which can be equally embarrasing.

Beware the older (40+) unmarried Catholic male who has now - after a misspent youth with lots of lovely uncommitted lady friends - come back to the Church, and is looking for a nice young woman to give him the children he has suddenly discerned he needs/wants.

Far from having any kind of 'vocation to fatherhood', these men are usually completely inexperienced with children and have zero idea of the work and commitment it will involve. I am inclined to think that they've mistaken Mother Nature's last hurrah, hormone-wise, for a 'vocation to fatherhood'. (Either that, or it's a cynical excuse not to date scary 42-year-old bags like me.)

Because sensible young Anglophone Catholic women of 25 know this, they won't go near these men, which leads these same gents to complain that 'If you want a REAL Catholic woman, you have to go to Latin America/The Philippines/Poland/Ukraine' etc.

Untrue. There are real Catholic women right here who'd probably suit them very well, but they're not 25 any more and thus no longer a Babe, and possibly can't have any children, let alone lots of them.

Eowyn said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the half-your-age-plus-8 "rule" (guideline!). It's a surprisely reasonable bit of math, though of course fallible. Take your age, half it and add 8, and that's the youngest age of person you can date. To get the oldest, subtract 8 from your age and double that number.

So by this logic, 16 year olds could only date 16 year olds, 20 year olds could date 18-24 year olds, 30 year olds could date 23-44 year olds...50 year olds could date 33-84 year olds....

Obviously not a hard and fast rule, but useful. By this math I could date 20-34 year olds...which in the abstract I find strange (20 being too young, I think, and past 32ish too old), but as n.panchancha mentioned, with real people things could change.

Thoughts on this "rule"?

Anonymous said...

Beware the older (40+) unmarried Catholic male who has now - after a misspent youth with lots of lovely uncommitted lady friends - come back to the Church, and is looking for a nice young woman to give him the children he has suddenly discerned he needs/wants.

Moreover, a NCG/W has little desire to spend the rest of her life with a man who spent half of his in other women's beds. That twenty years of frolicking may have destroyed his ability to be a good, committed husband. (To be as gentle as possible about it, there are many times in which a woman, especially a NCG who believes in babies and doesn't believe in contraception, will not be available to her husband due to her own biology. Personally, I'm cringing at the idea of marrying one of those men who complains about how he "got more" when Single than when married, or trying to explain to him, "No, we can't - why? because I gave birth to your child three days ago.")


Seraphic said...

Or he may be disgusted with his past, have made a sincere conversion and want to live a decent Christian life with a decent Christian girl.

That's always a possibility. Which scenario is true depends on the man.

Katie S. said...

Thanks for writing this! And I wholeheartedly agree with your last comment, about sincere conversion.

Anonymous said...


Nevertheless, if such a man were chasing wide-eyed, innocent NCGs more than a decade his junior (the context of this discussion), I would call shenanigans on his desire for a decent Christian life.

There's no shortage of lovely, talented Christian women between the ages of 35 and 45 who are looking for nice Christian husbands. That said women have either made mistakes which they sincerely regret, or been castigated for refusing to engage in those mistakes, would only dissuade the type of man that I warn about.

On a more constructive note, from the "don't ask me how I know this, and why I'm so gosh darn cynical" files: don't date a man unless he's made a sincere conversion at least a few years ago and is sticking by it. Dating a man who has recently decided to stop sowing his wild oats is like dating a man who just filed divorce papers.

Not that I mean to sound judgemental and unforgiving, but I think that there are some life changes that are best left to settle and steep a bit before the person in question starts dating with an eye toward matrimony. Regarding chastity and promiscuity... as sincere as such a man may be, he's faced with the monumental task of undoing decades of behaviour, attitudes, and actions, all of which have an incredibly powerful psychological and physiological pull. Then he's trying to do so while taking a sweet, lovely NCG out to dinner, the movies, for picnics in the park.... Not that anyone is asking my advice, but I don't think that a NCG should get wrapped up in that. Give the NCB/M time to work it out on his own.

~theobromophile the cynical

Joan of Quark said...

Seraphic, I know, I know - I'm one of those women who regrets HER past, has made a sincere conversion, and would like to settle down with a decent Christian man! I also know that God may not want me to marry at all, and that's generally fine (except for all the times when it isn't).

It's when these guys express a sudden (and suspicious) desire for a large family. I know Nature is on their side, as older men can father children when older women can't conceive any more, but I'm always a little dubious about this
'vocation to fatherhood' involving marrying a much, much younger woman.

Yes, the scenario depends on the man.