Ask Dave-Dating A Younger Man…
One man wonders how a significant age gap can impact a relationship. Here's insight and advice.
I really hope you will respond to my dilemma! I am 42 and have been in a year-long relationship with my boyfriend, 26. I have never been so confused. When it comes to energy levels, sex, and overall compatibility, we connect very well. He is sweet, thoughtful, and seems to be very committed.
But sometimes, we have little to talk about (beyond the latest CDs, trends, etc.) regarding the more
worldly topics of today (the war, politics, the economy, business... even relationships). Also, I am leaps and bounds ahead of him regarding finances and career.
|It's not strange at all that you have conflicted feelings.|
But I'm torn between my heart-felt feelings for him and whether or not it's "practical" for us to think about a long-term relationship. On the one hand, I am very attracted to him and care for him very much, plus I am newly out, and he's the first man I've ever loved openly, which makes my feelings for him even stronger, and my situation so intensely confusing. Then again, I know that while I am in fantastic shape now, the law of gravity will catch up with me long before him. And what then? Do I break it off? Give it to me straight (so to speak)!
– Insecure and a Little Scared In San Diego
You are in the midst of a classic head vs. heart dilemma, and the problem is that there's no hard-and-fast rule on age differences. For every rule (date someone your own age), there's an exception (a May-December romance that's lasted for years). Yes, he could wake up one day, decide that being with an older man doesn't work for him and leave you. He could also choose to stay (and you could grow in similar ways and find more common ground) or leave for reasons completely unrelated to age. You see my point? You have to make the best decision you can with the information and feelings you have at the time.
Given the focus on age, it's not strange at all that you have conflicted feelings. From research with single gay men for my book The Mandates: 25 Real Rules for Successful Gay Dating, I found that opinions on age difference run the gamut from vehemently anti to completely pro.
For example, Alex, 27, told me that there was "no way dating a guy more than 10 years older than me would work. I want a boyfriend who's my age so we can go through similar stages together. I don't want a guy who's already 'been there, done that' when I haven't."
But Ian, 25, felt the opposite way. "My boyfriend is 46 and moans about our age difference way more than me. I hope I am as energetic and together as he is when I am 46. He's very hot, too, which helps. But most importantly, he brings a lot of stability to my life. I like that he's been around and isn't scattered like guys my age. We love each other, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Those answers worked for Alex and Ian in their relationships. Your answer will come after you explore the depth of your feelings for your boyfriend and weigh the pros and cons of your life without him. It's hard, at any age, to find a partner who is, to borrow the words you used to describe him: sweet, thoughtful, committed, sexy, and compatible. But since you're
having doubts, quantify those, too. Make a list of the pros and cons. Before making a decision, evaluate these issues specific to dating a man significantly younger than you:
|My boyfriend is 46 and moans about our age difference way more than me.|
How uncomfortable are you with the financial disparity? Is it a wedge issue, or could you work it out? Some couples are happily ensconced in relationships with economic imbalance. Others find the economic disparity troubling, especially when it leads to power imbalances. If you're in a relationship for the long haul, remember that financial situations change, too, depending on career ambitions and choices. Financial situations don't have to remain static.
Write down your shared and non-shared interests and prioritize the ones most important to you. Is there any way to compromise on a few of those, like politics and world news? For example, maybe he'd be willing to read the paper a little more and discuss it with you? On the other hand, how much can you realistically expect to share with any partner? Keep in mind that no one person can meet all of your needs.
He's your first gay love, which, in some ways, may put you closer in emotional age than you realize. As a newly out man, how much you are dealing with issues regarding coming out and self-esteem? Those impact your romantic relationships and have nothing to do with chronological age. Face the fact that some of your insecurity and fear around this relationship stem from your issues. Self-esteem is the rock that every aging gay Sisyphus pushes up the hill yet again. Work on those first before you make a decision.
In this case, I'm addressing yours, not his, since he hasn't appeared to express any. Are you sure that part of your questioning isn't related to a fear-related pre-emptive strike? For example, do you want to leave him before leaves you, since, of course, all older men get dumped? It's hard to ignore the gay community's — OK, let's get real, mostly gay male — ageism. But I hope you'll tackle this issue head-on, before your fear-focused hardwiring leads you to short-circuit a relatively good relationship for the wrong reasons.
Bottom line: Explore your feelings for this young man, weed out the warning voices of friends, and decide for yourself if your life feels better with or without him as a romantic partner. Remember that two of the issues you've mentioned, financial disparity and shared interests, aren't really about age. With economics, it's more about getting respect and balancing power. With different interests, it's usually about willingness to compromise. It's important to remember that, regardless of age, most couples struggle with this from time to time.
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.