Why couples with big age gaps are happier, despite the social disapproval

By Gery Karantzas

Updated April 20, 2018 18:09:16

Romantic couples with a large age gap often raise eyebrows. Studies have found partners with more than a 10-year gap in age experience social disapproval. But when it comes to our own relationships, both men and women prefer someone their own age, but are open to someone 10-15 years their junior or senior.

While there is variation across cultures in the size of the difference in age-gap couples, all cultures demonstrate the age-gap couple phenomenon. In some non-Western countries, the average age gap is much larger than in Western countries. For example, in some African countries about 30 per cent of unions reflect a large age gap.

So does age matter? And do couples with large age gaps experience poorer (or better) relationship outcomes compared to couples of similar ages?

How many relationships have a big age gap?

Across Western countries, about 8 per cent of all married heterosexual couples can be classified as having a large age gap (10 years or more). These generally involve older men partnered with younger women. About 1 per cent of age-gap couples involve an older woman partnered with a younger man.

The limited evidence on same-sex couples, however, suggests the prevalence rates are higher. About 25 per cent of male-male unions and 15 per cent of female-female unions demonstrate a large age gap.

But what these trends tell us is that the majority of the population is likely to partner with someone of similar age. This largely has to do with having social circles that generally include peers of similar ages and being attracted to others who are similar. Similarity entails many things, including personality, interests and values, life goals and stage of life, and physical traits (age being a marker of physical appearance).

Why doesn’t age matter to some?

Many of the reasons proposed for age-gap couples have been largely rooted in evolutionary explanations, and focus on explaining older man-younger woman pairings.

From this perspective, it’s thought men’s preferences for younger women and women’s preferences for older men relate to reproductive fitness. That is, the extent to which someone has “good genes” — indicated by their attractiveness and sense of energy (also known as vitality) — and the extent to which they are a “good investment” — indicated by their status and resources as well as their warmth and sense of trust.

Although men and women place importance on a partner who is warm and trustworthy, women place more importance on the status and resources of their male partner. This is largely because, with women being the child bearers, the investment is very high on their behalf (time and effort in child bearing and rearing). So they are attuned to looking for a partner who will also invest resources into a relationship and family.

In couples with an age gap it’s more likely the woman is younger. This is probably because women place more importance on resources and men on fertility.

But because the building of resources takes time, we tend to acquire resources later in life and so are older by the time we have acquired enough wealth and resources to comfortably provide for others. So, women being attuned to status and resources might explain why some women may be attracted to older men.

In contrast, there’s evidence to suggest men value attractiveness and vitality more than women because, from an evolutionary standpoint, youth is seen as an indicator of fertility. Given men cannot bear children, evolution suggests they’re attuned to younger women to enhance the chances of partnering with someone who can provide children.

But the evolutionary explanation is limited in that it doesn’t explain why the reverse occurs (an older woman-younger man pairing), or why age gaps exist within same-sex couples.

For this, socio-cultural explanations might provide insights.

With more women now working in higher positions and being paid more, they no longer have such a reliance on men for resources. So, fewer women will prioritise resources when looking for a mate.

As for same-sex couples, there’s very little research. Some suggest a lack of, or a reduced pool of, suitable age-similar mates may bring about same-sex coupling with large age differences.

What are the relationship outcomes for age-gap couples?

Many people assume age-gap couples fare poorly when it comes to relationship outcomes. But some studies find the relationship satisfaction reported by age-gap couples is higher. These couples also seem to report greater trust and commitment and lower jealousy than similar-age couples. Over three-quarters of couples where younger women are partnered with older men report satisfying romantic relationships.

A factor that does impact on the relationship outcomes of age-gap couples is their perceptions of social disapproval. That is, if people in age-gap couples believe their family, friends and wider community disapprove of their union, then relationship commitment decreases and the risk of break-up increases.

These effects appear to apply to heterosexual and same-sex couples. So the negative outcomes for age-gap couples seem to reside not in problems within the couple, but in pressures and judgments from the outside world.

Another factor at play may have to do with the stage of life each partner is experiencing. For instance, a 10-year gap between a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old may bring up different challenges and issues than for a 10-year gap where one partner is 53 and the other is 63.

This is because our lives are made up of different stages, and each stage consists of particular life tasks we need to master.

And we give priority to the mastery of different tasks during these distinct stages of our lives. So when each member of a couple straddles a different life stage, it may be difficult for the couple to reconcile each other’s differing life needs and goals.

Does age matter?

The success of a relationship depends on the extent to which partners share similar values, beliefs and goals about their relationship; support each other in achieving personal goals; foster relationship commitment, trust and intimacy; and resolve problems in constructive ways. These factors have little do with age.

So the reality is, while an age gap may bring about some challenges for couples, so long as couples work at their relationship, age should be no barrier.

Gery Karantzas is an associate professor in social psychology and relationship science at Deakin University. This piece first appeared on The Conversation.

Topics: relationships, community-and-society, marriage, divorce

First posted April 20, 2018 17:30:48

How the age gap became a thing of the past

I never thought about the 15-year age gap between my young wife and I until the first Eighties rock star came to tea.

This was back in the Nineties. Yuriko and I had not been married long. She was in her early twenties then and had just left university while I was in my mid-thirties and, quite frankly, already had a few hard miles on the clock.

Courting – then marrying – a woman that much younger than me was totally different from the relationships with the thirtysomething women I had been knocking around with for a few years. Many of them had husbands, children and mortgages. All of them had – like me – heartbreak, disappointment and betrayal in their luggage. But life is gloriously different in your early twenties. You are waiting for the world to get started. The big moments are all ahead of you. And for me, after all those furtive trysts with the woman down the road or on the far side of the dinner table, an April-September romance was enormously refreshing.

And, of course, I was crazy about my young bride.

Then the Eighties rock star came to tea.

“There’s an old man coming up the path,” Yuriko called from upstairs.

I went to the window and I saw no old man coming up the path.

I could only see Morrissey.

This was a few years after the end of The Smiths. Morrissey was in his early thirties. But my wife was ten years younger. So I looked at Morrissey as his long elegant fingers traced over the spines of my books – he still has my hardback edition of Elvis by Albert Goldman – and I saw a rock god. Truly, one of the greats. But my missus – too young to be a Smiths fan, and too Japanese – just saw some old bloke disappearing over the cusp of middle age.

We laugh about it now. At least, I do. “I was very young,” Yuriko says, usually with a frown.

But in truth, it wasn’t much better when David Bowie called late one Saturday to invite us out for dinner. Yuriko had been a Bowie fan, but not the same kind of Bowie fan as me. She had been there from “Let’s Dance”, released when she was 14, so she had missed the long march through Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, Low, Berlin, playing keyboards for Iggy. She was born too late for all that. She liked Bowie – and she sort of understood why I was swooning with excitement that we were invited to join him for a late supper at The Ivy. But the thing is, she had already made something for our dinner and Bowie was calling with no notice. So I went to The Ivy alone. Yuriko was always more of a Michael Jackson fan. And she might have dropped everything if it had been Jacko on the line. But here is one thing about an age-gap relationship: your heroes are never her heroes – they are old geezers.

It was only when she met George Michael that Yuriko was impressed – someone closer to her own age. The night before our wedding, the three of us went out to a crowded Japanese restaurant in Islington where everyone assumed he was just some dude trying desperately to look like George Michael. The eternal cliché about relationships with any kind of age difference is that you don’t share the same cultural references. That is true enough. But the heart wants more than a partner who understands the cultural importance of the first Stone Roses album. This lesson was taught to me when I was 20 years old and bumming around the French Riviera. There were beautiful young women everywhere, but they were all interested in older men. To me, in my youth and my steaming sexual jealousy, those men were grotesquely ancient – potbellied slapheads with a bob or two and a boat. I was in my sexual prime but totally penniless. So there were no takers for my sexual prime. Because there is more to life than liking the same songs on Top Of The Pops.

‘There’s an old man coming up the path,’ she called from upstairs. I could only see Morrissey…

The greatest age-gap relationship I ever experienced was when I was a young music journalist going out with a woman at the far end of her twenties. I was a juvenile 22. She was a grown-up 29. The gap between us was tiny in time but light years in experience. I was single and she was married. I lived in a leaky bedsit. She resided in some suburban mansion. I thought I was in love with her and she knew it was just a bit of fun while it lasted. I was a boy from Billericay and she was a woman of the world who was never going to come and live in my grotty bedsit, no matter how much I begged, no matter how good the sex. I had made the biggest mistake in any age-gap relationship. I assumed that our happy-ever-after was guaranteed. But in the end, she was right. It was fun while it lasted. And any man can understand the attraction of women dating younger guys. Given the choice between some besotted young love machine or a portly old chap moaning about his sour ex-wife and their ungrateful brats, it’s no contest. But like me and my long-lost older woman, it usually works best on a short-term basis. Isabelle Broom, author of One Thousand Stars And You, was 36 and coming out of a long-term relationship – brutally dumped for being “too old” – when she met a 24-year-old student on a Prosecco-fuelled girls’ night out.

“We were worlds apart,” she wrote. “But I was intrigued and a quick debrief with my friends decided it. Younger men, said one, who had been having some no-strings fun of her own with a twentysomething neighbour, were the way forward.” But how far forward? Isabelle and her 24-year-old lasted three happy months. It changed her.

“Having learned the benefits of dating younger men, I started actively looking for them,” Broom recalled. “I had flings with men who were 21 and 24, then a holiday romance with a 25-year-old Greek man. Each time my self-esteem blossomed.”

Three years after being dumped for being “too old”, Broom met her boyfriend Ruben, 30, eight years her junior.

“My friends joke: ‘He’s pretty old… for you.’ They might be right but I don’t worry about that. What matters is how kind, considerate and wonderful he is, because there is so much more to him than his age. And to me too.”

For most of the last century, there was a strangely enduring rule about age gaps. “A man should marry a woman half his age, plus seven,” Max O’Rell decreed in 1901. Relationship guru Rachel Russo reckons even now it still works better when the man is older.

“One reason why this rule may have endured is because men are generally more attracted to younger women and would like a rule that makes them feel it is acceptable to date younger,” she says. “Chances are a 30-year-old man dating a 22-year-old woman would be a much better match than a 30-year-old woman and a 22-year-old guy, as men typically lag behind women in maturity and relationship readiness.”

But today there are many women who are wondering if O’Rell’s half-plus-seven equation works for them. Kate Mulvey wrote about what she called “my year of living cougarly” in the Daily Telegraph.

“I had just emerged from a toxic five-year relationship,” explained Mulvey. “I was 46, perimenopausal and facing the cruel realisation that men my age were not looking at me ‘in that way’ any more. After a few disastrous dates with emotionally stunted divorcees – one who memorably told me I was hardly a spring chicken after I rebuffed his taxi lunge – I was at the end of my romantic tether.”

Going for younger men worked great for Mulvey. At least at first. After all those moaning divorcees, David, 17 years younger than her, was a relief. “He wanted a woman who lived for the moment and didn’t whine and ask where the relationship was going. I felt attractive again, stopped obsessing over greying hair and bought flirty little bras and strappy dresses. When I finally relaxed, the chemistry between us was great – he was like a human anti-ageing cream shoring up my flagging middle-aged ego.”

Her friends felt he was too young. “And they were right,” writes Mulvey. “I think somewhere between ‘I am going to die alone’ despair and an aching need for validation, I had mistaken passion and excitement for real love and commitment.”

Eventually her young guy got on her nerves. He drank too much. He wanted to stay at parties after midnight. He obsessively gelled his hair. He could not join in adult dinner party conversations about mortgages and schools. Mulvey’s friends either ignored her young bit of trouser or flirted outrageously. Then – the deal breaker – he took a shine to a young blonde barmaid so his white trainers went in the bin. When crossing the age gap, best not to fall too hard too quickly, just like courting someone your own age.

Relationship expert Susan Winter avers, “Socially speaking in the Western world, women have been granted liberty to unite with men five to 15 years older without anyone batting an eye. Conversely, when a man chooses an older mate he’s apt to encounter judgment and discrimination. Historically, a woman was to choose a man the same age, or five to 15 years older. Mid-century, the reason for the elevated age gap would have been economic. Women had little ability to earn income. Their husband was their access to social standing and stability. Obviously, an older man had more time to achieve a greater number of personal and financial goals.”

If you are raising a child with someone, who cares if they don’t understand the significance of the first Stone Roses record?

Max O’Rell never imagined a world where women had the economic clout of men. And he also never contemplated a culture in which the age gap between them could be measured in emojis. That’s when it all falls apart these days. Nothing is more likely to make the older partner feel as though he or she is writing with a feathered quill and an inkwell than to get a response in emojis. That emoji with eyes replaced by bulging pink hearts has probably killed more relationships stone-dead than porn and infidelity combined. But sometimes age-gap relationships work. Harrison Ford started dating Calista Flockhart the year she turned 38 and he turned 60. Michael Douglas was 56 when he hooked up with Catherine Zeta-Jones, then 31. George and Amal Clooney have a 16-year age gap. Rod Stewart is 26 years older than Penny Lancaster. The age gap is easier if you are rich and famous.

And if you stay together for long enough, a reasonable age gap – let’s call it 15 years – eventually fades. It never disappears because one of you is always closer to the grave. But as time goes by, the age gap between my wife and I has mattered less. Having a partner so young that she did not recognise Morrissey when he was coming up our garden path is less important than what we have gone through together – the death of my mother, the birth of our daughter, the death of Yuriko’s parents, raising a child together, career setbacks and glorious comebacks, having money and having none, building a home.

If you stay together, you find that different cultural references matter less than shared life experiences. If you are raising a child with someone, who cares if they don’t understand the significance of the first Stone Roses record? Age gaps can work but, quite frankly, they work best in long-term relationships or short-term sex flings. Get in and get out quick or stay forever. But if you love someone, really love someone, then in the end that is all that matters, right? Asking for a friend.

Now read:

The new rules for older men dating younger women

How to deal with a height disparity in your relationship

Ten life lessons from Bruce Springsteen

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Are you in a relationship with a woman more than a few years your senior, or do you just dream of having sex with an older woman and wonder what it would be like? The relationship – or sex – can be rewarding, if you know what to expect.

8 Tips for Sex With an Older Woman

All women are different, no matter their age. Open communication is the key to a fulfilling sexual relationship.

1. Embrace the Age Gap

If you’re in a new relationship or you’re looking to have sex with an older woman, keep in mind how different views on sex could be exacerbated by an age gap. A young man looking to “hook up” may not have the same outlook on sex as an older woman looking for a committed relationship. Men think of sex as a physical connection primarily, but women think of it as an emotional and physical one.

2. Consider Past Relationships

An older woman may even wonder if it’s OK to be interested in someone much younger, so she could question her wishes to have sex with a younger man even if their relationship has been building over time. If she’s recently divorced, she may wonder how soon is too soon to be interested in having sex with someone else-and fear that her interest in a much younger man is inappropriate or related to getting over the shock and pain of divorce. If a past relationship is still fresh in her mind, the progression to a sexual relationship with you might happen slower.

3. Make Sure She Feels Good About Her Body

Because everything isn’t necessarily as taut and toned as before, an older woman may feel uncomfortable revealing her naked body to her younger lover for the first time, or even every time. For men, the key is to focus on her whole body and make sure you tell her you like what you see. For the older woman, the trick is lingerie! Not only will it intensify the intimacy, but a well-placed undergarment can instantly enhance and hide the parts of your body that you choose.

4. Reassure Yourself the Relationship Is Acceptable

Unless a person is under legal age, there is nothing wrong with having sex with a younger man. However, be aware of the challenges – both in your feelings and others. Remind yourself that age is only in your mind!

5. Take Your Time

Sex with an older woman should be slower and more thoughtful. No longer are you needing to find time for a “quickie!” Enjoy the leisurely pace.

6. Wisdom Is Sexy

An older woman has been around the block a few times when it comes to sex. She knows what she likes, and she knows a few tricks. Make sure to let her take the lead and show you what she can do.

7. Changing Hormones Come Into Play

Older women do respond to sex different from younger women, but it is not consistent. For some, they become significantly more interested as hormones shift. Others find themselves less interested due to dryness issues or other discomforts. Don’t expect an older woman to have a specific sex drive. There is not a one size fits all when it comes to changing hormones.

8. They Know What They Want

Older women know how to flirt, they have years of practice. They also know how to be clear if they want sex or not. Whatever signals she sends – that is what she wants. All you have to do is ask her, and you will get a clear answer.

Safety Advice

Older women may experience arthritis or general aches and pains later in the day or may awaken feeling stiff from the night’s sleep. Talk to her about what time of day is most comfortable for her in general and plan your intimacy for those times. She’ll be more likely to feel amorous (and more flexible!) during those peak hours of the day.

STD Prevention

Even if a woman is past the age of childbearing and can’t get pregnant, she is still susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, no matter her age. Older women may have STDs that have laid dormant for years and can pass these along unknowingly to present partners. Condoms are still a good idea when having sex with an older woman, not as pregnancy prevention, but for STD protection.

Enjoy Your Relationship

If you are an older woman interested in pursuing a relationship with a younger guy, know that it is completely acceptable, but also be aware of the challenges. If you’re a young man involved with an older woman, understand that you may need to go out of your way to quell her fears about her body or the longevity of your relationship. Take time to get to know each other and commit on physical and emotional levels, and you can both feel completely fulfilled and happy within your intimate relationship.

When I was 11 years old, my mother silently snuck into my bedroom. Under the cover of midnight, she sat cross-legged at the end of my bed and proceeded to give me The Talk, although it was more of a whisper. Instead of focusing on the anatomy of sex — the biological prophecies by which, some say, our bodies were made to meld into one — my mother chose to emphasize pleasure. She spoke about the importance of passion: pursuing it, asking for it and finding it within yourself. “Sex is art,” she told me, as I anxiously played with the hair above my lip. “And art isn’t an act: It’s a process, an experience.” She turned off my bedside lamp; stood up to leave the room. “It’s beautiful.”

Society has a tendency to perpetuate this idea that the older a woman grows, the more she yearns for the beauty of her youth. It’s a convoluted concept, and one that goes hand in hand with the belief that women can only reach a certain sexual peak before hitting a steady decline and returning to a state of childlike innocence. As it turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was once bewildering to me that my mother could be so candid about sex. But after speaking with Sylvia, Barbara and Michele — all women 70 or older — about their relationships to pleasure, I now realize that some women only grow more comfortable in their sexualities and in their bodies as they age.

Below, their stories as told to me — accounts that capture life’s daily pleasures with so much grace and tenacity that you might just understand why people say a work of art only gains value with perspective, over time.

Sylvia, 70

Sylvia is a writer living in West Harlem.

I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, but I left very early as a stateless political refugee. We had a very hard time getting to the United States because the immigration quota system was in effect there — there were something like 17 Egyptians allowed in annually. We spent several years moving around Europe just trying to make it to the top of that list.

When we finally reached New York, I didn’t speak any English. My parents were always acutely aware of the fact that they were immigrants. There was always this underlying current of fear that something was going to go wrong. They never spoke about sex — absolutely not. It was something that was not talked about, at all, ever.

One time, actually, I caught my parents having sex. Afterwards, my mother said, “You must never tell anybody what you have seen!” She put the fear of God into my life. Fast-forward to four years later when my shrink asked me if I ever caught my parents in “the primal act” — I said “yes.” The next week, my mother arrived at the shrink’s office and said, “We pay all this money for you to get well, and you’re telling lies to the doctor!”

When I was in seventh grade, I fell madly in love, more than I have been in my whole life. It was really intense. We’re still in touch, still see each other. We got back together years later to figure out if it was meant to be. I got a letter from him saying, “I’m going to be in California, we should meet.” I was already married, but I turned around to my husband and said, “Bryce — I’m going to California. Something has come up.” I hopped on a plane and spent two weeks traveling down the coast with this guy. And we decided that we were not, after all, meant to be.

When I was younger, sex was fun. And I was lucky — I came of age after the arrival of the pill and before the arrival of AIDs — so we had a lot of time to really screw our brains out. We did! We slept with everybody. You’d be talking to your friends and you’d say, “Oh, I just read so and so, and there was this great sex scene.” Then your friend would say, “Oh, you know, we’ve never had sex. Maybe we should just get it out of the way so that it doesn’t interfere with our personal relationship!” We slept with hundreds of people. Just everybody. It was something that we could do all the time and we had great drugs that enhanced it. We had a lot of fun. And then it just came to a stop. Life really stopped being fun. But I still feel like I’m coasting on the battery of the ’60s and ’70s.

I didn’t apply to college even though I should have. I began working at Brentano’s, which was a bookstore downtown. And I became a drug dealer. It was by accident — I didn’t set out to be that way, I just knew somebody who knew somebody else. It was a good way to make money! I ended up getting busted a year later for what was, at the time, the biggest federal bust for LSD. There was this big conspiracy trial. They hit me with, I don’t know, 97 counts.

I had been living with my friend from high school, Bryce. , my father just turned into this Middle Eastern menace. He went down to see Bryce, who was also in jail, and paid his bail with the understanding that he would marry me. Now, nobody told me about this. I found out about seven years later, when I divorced him: My father had made me marry this man nobody liked, whom I was not in love with, because he didn’t want anybody to know I was living with a guy, and it looked better in court if you were married. (I got two years of probation, and Bryce went to jail on weekends for two years.)

I have since come to realize how lust, love and pleasure work. A lot of this stuff only exists for the species to reproduce, and it only lasts long enough for that to happen. That wild feeling of being passionately in love with someone and you just can’t wait to see them again and rip your clothes off? It fades, and it fades fast, in my opinion. It didn’t take long for me to wake up and look at Bryce sleeping next to me and think, Why am I here? We lived in a human filing cabinet. I was doing any type of clerical position that people would hire me for. I had absolutely zero self esteem.

I was never in love with Bryce. I met someone else while I was still married to him. Dumped him in about 24 hours and moved in with the new guy. Philip, the second guy, had awakened my desire to have children.

I guess it was in the process of trying to have children, and having a hard time in doing so, that sex became more necessary in accomplishing a goal than something that I was really enjoying. I had evolved — I was about 37 when I had my first child. But I do wonder if it had more to do with guy I was with. He was a psychopath, and still is. I thought he would kill me — now, we don’t see him or speak to him. Perhaps if I had been with Prince Charming it would have been better, but I don’t pay much mind to Prince Charming anymore.

I eventually left my second husband. One day my son came up to me and said, “You know what, mom? You really need to do something for yourself.” He handed me a page of The New York Times, one of those half-page ads from the school of general studies at Columbia, and told me I should apply. So I said, “What the hell!” I got in. They gave me a full free ride. I was 57 at the time.

I studied everything — being in school really grounded me. I realized what it really is that I have always loved doing, and what I truly want to do, which is write. I graduated with degrees in evolutionary biology and writing fiction. It was the happiest and proudest day of my life. I was pleased as punch.

The greatest pleasure that I’ve ever felt, the physical pleasure that turns me on more than anything in the world, is writing. I get a feeling like I have a halo of light flashing around my head. Every single neuron is in sync. It is just dazzling. I love that more than anything in the world.

I had a very attractive man sleep here a few years ago; he had been a professor of mine. One of my friends asked if I was going to approach him in the middle of the night. And you know what I said in response to my friend? My idea of great sex nowadays is lying on the bed next to him, with his arm around me, as he reads to me. That’s pleasurable.

Barbara, 73

Barbara is a consultant living on the Upper East Side.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My parents never gave me a sex talk — they divorced when I was seven years old. My mother was single and dating other men, doing her thing. I have an identical twin sister, though; we’ve been attached at the hip since conception. At 21, we moved out together and shared an apartment. We just had the most fabulous time. Then she got married when she was 26, and my heart broke. To be cut off from my sister was very difficult for me, but it was a good opportunity to go out and do something on my own. I loved being single.

When I was growing up, you didn’t have sexual relationships with men until you were married. So, yes, I thought about getting married and having children. At first, I wanted someone to take care of me — it was what everyone was doing in those days! Women weren’t going to colleges and starting their own professions and being on their own. But I changed my mind as I got older — since I didn’t get married young like all my friends did, the world changed for me. You didn’t need to get married to have sex. You could go out, you could meet men. You could sleep with men! There was a point in my life where I was dating a lot of different men, and that was great. But as I grew up, I decided that I wanted just one person. I didn’t want to have sex with anybody unless I had a personal relationship with them. It had to be someone whom I cared about a lot. Always.

Growing up, I felt like a lot of my friends were having sex with men just because they wanted somebody to be with. Somebody to stay with them. And that was never important to me. Life isn’t predetermined in your twenties — you can really redefine who you want to become. Everything changed for me! I wasn’t even interested in getting married until I met my husband.

I got married 12 years after my sister did — at 38 years old. I wanted a partner in life. I used to see women with men, and the men were so obnoxious. I used to think, “I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with that.” But when I met my husband, he was different. He’s independent — I like men who are extremely independent. Any man who is clingy and all over me, I have a real problem with. He is very interesting; we have a great relationship. He does his own thing, and I do mine. I’m eight years older than him. We had major issues because our families are different ethnicities and practice different religions. But ultimately, we decided to elope. The only thing I told him was: I can’t get married without my sister being my witness. So she came, too.

Sex and pleasure are two different things, but they’re very related. I didn’t have sex until I was 21. For me, the only way that I can feel pleasure in a sexual relationship is to be with someone whom I really care about. Who else can give you pleasure? I don’t think I could sleep with somebody just because they’d be a good sex partner! Can you experience different pleasure with different sexual partners? Absolutely. But it still has to be somebody that I care about. That hasn’t changed for me.

I experienced sex as it happened. I learned a lot along the way, but I don’t know if I would have wanted it to be any other way than it was. I don’t really have any regrets at all. Was it frightening to have sex for the first time? Yes. But I knew what pleasured me. I’ll tell you one thing that I really had difficulty with: saying to a man, “Oh, can you actually do this?” Speaking up. As I got older, it got a little bit easier. I think it is something you have to do. There are a lot of men out there who don’t know what to do or what will be pleasurable!

The attitude around sex has changed so much since I was younger. It used to be male dominated, and women didn’t really get a say about it. I think it’s much different now — people are more open and you can talk about it! To your friends, to the people you’re dating. It’s empowering! It makes a difference.

I think in today’s world, women are very careful about protecting themselves. Sex is very emotional. What if you have sex with someone and afterwards they never talk to you again? It happens a lot! You have to be ready to understand that. It’s a big deal. Sex is extremely intimate, and I worry that today, we’re losing the intimacy. But if women want to have sex without that kind of intimacy, it’s their call.

Michele, 74

Michele is an artist living in Soho.

I was born in Miami Beach in 1945, right after World War II — a time of optimism and new ideas. Miami Beach was only 30 years old.

It was a sunny childhood, full of blue skies and warm waters, which really allowed me to think of other things beyond my own physical body. I was able to explore the world around me with a wonderful sense of freedom. People would sit outdoors in the evening and watch the stars or Venus rising, admire the sunset over the tree lines. There was no distraction from the forces of nature.

I was raised in a home that celebrated pleasure. The pleasure of daily life was emphasized. It was important to celebrate each meal. To say, “What a beautiful bowl of berries! Aren’t we lucky that somebody picked them?” The table was always set with a deliberate nod to beauty. Nothing was done with haste, just to get through the day. Meals were always a special time full with pleasure — the pleasure of the food, the pleasure of the taste. In fact, meals were seductive.

In the summertime we’d go to the ocean. It was full of pleasure! The pleasure of the sun and the salt. It was not lost on my parents. They knew the seasons. They knew when you could smell the fertile earth! Everything was celebrated. Everything was, “Isn’t this beautiful!” The ritual of everyday life was pleasure.

Sex was a natural part of living. My parents were openly affectionate. It was never hush-hush. As we became teenagers — and of course, the rules were different those days and sex was not discussed in the same way — my parents never told me that I had to be a virgin when I got married. They never asked what I was doing with my partners. They would hear me giggle and ignore it. They trusted my own ability to monitor my life. A lot of this came from my mother: Her sense of respecting the body translated into sex. My respect for my body being the temple that houses the higher faculty of the mind came from her.

Sex and pleasure were never connected in my life. I felt like pleasure was everywhere all the time, but sex was a very specific act. Pleasure, on the other hand, was a lubricant. Sex still felt like something to be preserved by two people who wanted to use it as a way to bond deeply. Sex was a part of my parents’ life, and it was something they enjoyed. They never discussed it directly, but you knew it from the way my father admired my mother, the books they read, the references. It was so there. Henry Miller had written Tropic Of Cancer, and D.H. Lawrence had written Lady Chatterley’s Lover; we would talk about these books at the dinner table. We openly discussed films and literature which had sexual content, which in the time I grew up, was repressed and taboo. But not in my home.

There’s young love. There’s marriage. And then there’s something else. It’s so universal, and it makes me realize that we’re not supposed to fall in love over and over again. It’s a construct, a cultural overlay on our natural inclinations to bond. I think the notion of the “sacred bond” is something that might be passing. Women don’t necessarily need that bond, which has historically implied submission. We’re in a paradigm shift.

It’s important for women to protect themselves in all of this. Men have something we don’t — testosterone is a drug that nobody has really written the book on, now that it’s not needed to hunt mammoths and chase animals. It’s spilling over into unnecessary fields. You have to decide what is sacred for yourself — and something always has to be sacred.

“Me Too” has done a wonderful job in taking down the last grimm. It’s been painful, but it was necessary. Of course, there’s always Madame Defarge sending the next aristocrat to the guillotine — but no movement is perfect. And this is a movement that needed to happen. I was there for the first movement: Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique when I was 13. And people started talking a little bit, but it wasn’t really mainstream. When I was in college, there were still panty raids. It really was a different world. There was no women’s movement until ‘72. Why hasn’t the women’s movement taken off in 50 years? It’s very simple. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, these are all upper-middle-class women. Others in the movement, if their husbands, fathers, lovers, sons or brothers had wanted to give up one quarter of an inch of their yardstick, there would have been movement. But the men didn’t want it. They didn’t give up anything — not for the people they professed to love. Finally, women had to wrench it out of their hands. They just can’t have it anymore.

Photos by Lulu Graham.

How To Be The Kind Of Guy Women Love Having Sex With


1. “Older women are better at sex, hands down. There is no question, at all. They know their bodies, they aren’t squeamish about ‘what this means’ and they know what they want.”

— Marcus, 25

2. “I’ve been with a couple of women my age that were pretty crazy in bed but the ones that have really blown my mind have all been over 35. One was divorced and one, well, wasn’t, but both of them were hungry for it in a way that college women and women in their 20s just aren’t.”

— Nathan, 27

3. “I’ve only been with one woman who was what you might call older and she was 41. Awesome in bed but not awesome to look at. I was 18 at the time though so I was just excited to be there. Definitely dated girls my own age after that.”

— Arnold, 21

4. “I’m 45, being frank about this feels a bit weird but it is definitely true that women feel differently about sex as they get older. When I was in college I had sexual relationships with women who are now my wife’s age and they had sex with the same awesome abandon that my wife now does. Having said that, my wife, while not cold at all when we first got married, has definitely been more into sex as she’s gotten older. So, that just seems to be how it is.”

— Keith, 45

5. “I’ve been hooking up off and on with a woman who used to be my boss over the last couple of years. Basically whenever I’m single. She’s divorced, has no desire to get married and just wants to have fun. Best oral game ever, doesn’t treat it like a chore, isn’t constantly giving me ‘romance eyes’ while she’s going down on me. A+, over all.”

— Joe, 25

6. “Younger women want to feel pretty, older women want to get off and get you off. That’s the difference.”

— David, 33

7. “I’ve been with one woman who was 10 years older than me at the time. I’m glad I did it but I prefer women my own age. I’d like to have something to talk about afterwards.”

— Chris, 28

8. “It’s no secret among my buddies that older women are better at sex. They’re better at flirting too. They’re pretty much better at everything.”

— Joshua, 23

9. “Older women understand that it doesn’t have to mean something every time you have sex and they don’t care as much about the circumstances around it. I’ve dated a couple of older women and while both liked romantic things they didn’t require it as a pretense before sex. You weren’t renting them.”

— Eric, 26

10. “Older women call you when they want you. Younger women call you when they want you to want them.”

— Arthur,

11. “When I was 22 I hooked up with a woman who was 35. She rocked me out. We’re married now, lol. So, yeah, that’s how they are in bed.”

— Robert, 25

12. “45-year-old man, here. Women my age are wonderful but, well, 45 is when things start breaking down for everyone so you do the math. Sleeping with older women when you’re in your 20s might be a real wake up call, sexually, but when you’re getting older, women younger than you start looking better and better.”

— Rick, 45

13. “My favorite thing about the relationships with the older women I’ve been with was not having to have some immediate answer about how I felt about them the next morning. I’ve never been with an older woman who tried to force a relationship where there wasn’t one and at the same time if they want a relationship they let you know up front instead of acting like they’re just ‘chill girl’ and being mad later.”

— Jeremiah, 24

14. “Older women are better at the dirty talk. Oh, they’re also better at sex. I remember telling my current gf (my age) that once after she pried it out of me. She got so mad.”

— Peter, 25

15. “I have one particular woman to thank for ironing out my sex game when I was in my early 20s. She was great and was able to tell me exactly what to do to make her cum. Up until then, all the women I’d been with had been my age and had either been unable or unwilling to tell me what they liked. After this older woman and I stopped hooking up I realized I’d basically became a god in the sack for my age group. Believe me, word got out.”

— Garth, 30

Older Woman, Younger Man

After that experience, I gave up on sex, determined to live without it, but fate was kind to me one day as I was dumping the garbage I hauled from the ranch. As a steward of the land I forbid a dump on my property. Many ranchers simply dig a pit, dump their garbage, burn it when it becomes full, and repeat the cycle over and over again. Not me. I pay a monthly fee to deposit my garbage in a trailer in the nearest town of Barksdale.

I also take my cans, magazines, bottles, and plastic to the recycle center 60 miles away in Uvalde. My vegetable scraps are placed in a barrel to provide compost for my garden, and my meat scraps are placed in one of the hog traps I keep baited. My garbage is minimal.

On that day I was retrieving a single white plastic bag from the back of my pickup when a voice called to me from the local cafe across the highway.

“What are you doing Sonja Klein?”

It was Billy, an acquaintance of more than a decade.

“What do you think I’m doing, Billy? I’m dumping my garbage.”

I was also on the way to give a talk about writing to the middle school students at the small consolidated school a few blocks away.

Billy looked good. I got in the truck and rolled the window down.

He approached the truck. “You curled your hair.” “Do you like it?”


“You look good too.”

“I had some health problems, almost died. I’ve quit drinking.” “Have you been dancing lately, Billy?”


“Call me. Let’s go dancing.”

Billy is a good dancer. I know that because I have danced with him on a few occasions since our first meeting years ago beside the road. His truck had broken down, and I gave him a ride. When he introduced himself I realized who he was, the son of friends from church. There was a spark between us, but I never fueled the fire though I must admit I thought about it over the years when we ran into each other.

The story is classic. Several weeks later we met at a local benefit. We danced and the rest is history. For once in my life the timing was right. We were both single, had no excess baggage, and the spark became a bonfire – a bonfire that raced through our little community like a raging inferno.

Billy is 14 years younger. After some initial anxiety Billy and I decided the hell with the age

difference. If it didn’t matter to us, why would it matter to anyone else? We were wrong. The relationship was okay with all the men. Not so with the women. Most of them knew my age.

To them I was the older woman seducing one of their young. My reputation was ruined.

It bothered me, but not that much.

We talked about it. I told Billy, “If you were an older man with a much younger woman, it would be okay.”

He agreed. I mentioned several couples in the canyon lands where the woman was much older. The community had accepted them. I asked Billy, “Why not us?”

“Because you are the wealthy woman writer and I’m from here. They either think I’m in it for your money or you are a dirty old woman.”

“None of that is true.” “We both know that.”

“They think I’ve stolen one of their own, and they’re trying to protect you.”

“Sonja, I’m 56, been married three times. I think I know what I’m doing.”

“I’m over 70 and sure as shit think I know how I feel.” “Just don’t die on me.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“I don’t want to get married.”

“Billy, I’ll never marry again, tried four times. Marriage doesn’t work for me.”

“Doesn’t work for me either.”

We spend the weekends together, get along great, and the raging fire of gossip is extinguished. Time takes care of most everything, or as Billy quotes his Granny, “It all comes out in the wash.”

I guess I now fit the definition of a cougar. What a silly term. I’m not that fond of cats.

Sonja Rose Klein is a fifth-generation Texan and graduate of The University of Texas. She is the author of Honk if You Married Sonja, Roundtrip from Texas, and most recently, Ambushed by America. When not traveling (and often during), she writes poetry, essays, and short stories. She lives on Ambush Hill Ranch in southwest Texas and knows her way around a shot gun.

Tags: man, sex, woman

Category: Articles, Blog

‘Scary Old Sex’: Stories Of Love From The Aged

One of the stories is dedicated to the late writer Bernard Malamud and draws on the affair Heyman had with him when she was a student and he was middle-aged and married. The affair lasted a couple of years. Their friendship lasted until his death. “Scary Old Sex” is Heyman’s first book, but she’s been writing throughout her life. She’s a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who lives and works in Manhattan.

Arlene Heyman, welcome to FRESH AIR. I’m going to ask you to start with a reading, and this is from one of the stories in your book. And there’s a couple who are on a cruise. They’ve each been married before. They each have children and grandchildren through previous marriages. They haven’t had any children together. And they haven’t had any sex since the cruise started. Would you do the reading?

ARLENE HEYMAN: Certainly. (Reading) They have not made love since they started the cruise a week ago and she was too rushed and tense the week before getting ready. Not that frequency matters, so long as they care about each other, and making love helps them care about each other. Although, since they started having to schedule it in, it has become a little like brushing and flossing – something almost hygienic, good for you.

Yet, there is passion in it, too. It erupts right out of the schedule. You do it with regularity to show you are a human being, that you are alive and civilized and can still become ecstatic. You can still do it. You still want to do it. And it is, after all, a sign of love. And the repetition of it, the making of it into a weekly habit, like phoning their children and speaking to the grandchildren, the lovemaking grafts them to one another, comingles them, despite their having no children together. And besides, after 10 years of doing it, it is a reliable pleasure.

Eleven years – it is not as though they met yesterday and are trying to figure out will this work? He is a permanent part of her, of her life. But it is the daily familiarity with her husband’s body she is missing, the handling of his old, knobby flesh. Aged flesh is so fertile, grows excrescences, papules, papillomas, skin tags, moles that have to be checked yearly.

Yet, the hair thins out, underarm and pubic, as if the soil had changed to one that no longer supports that verdant shrubbery but instead nourishes an astonishing variety of wild mushrooms. Beautiful, if you have an eye.

GROSS: How old are these characters, Arlene?

HEYMAN: I think the woman may be 65 and the man 70. Well, one could be 70 and one 75 – I think 65 and 70.

GROSS: Why did you want to write about what sex is like, what naked bodies are like when you’ve gotten older?

HEYMAN: Why not? That’s part of life. If you’re lucky you get older and then you have sex with old bodies, stuff that’s terribly interesting. People don’t write about that much. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I want to see everything there is to see and I’m 74, so I want to see.

GROSS: Do you think more older men have written about sex than older women? And I think a lot of those books by older male novelists, the person who they are in love with is often a younger woman, so they’re often describing sex with a much younger and beautiful woman.

HEYMAN: Old men – I think it is true that some writers – male writers – have written old women off. Their loss. You have a person in front of you that has a whole life. And to me that’s very interesting. So yeah, there’s a whole landscape of male writers who want women 30 years younger, but I don’t think that’s what the average man wants. He wants a companion, someone who knows things that he knows, who’s lived through things he’s lived through.

And if you love someone, you don’t just cut that off when a person hits 40. What are you then? So I think it’s – comes some kind of aberration. I think maybe – I don’t like to psychoanalyze writers if I don’t know them…

GROSS: That’s right, if you’re not their – if they’re not your patient (laughter).

HEYMAN: If they’re not my patient I can’t – but maybe it’s some sense that as people become their mother’s age and old women are their mother’s age they become even more taboo. Maybe only a young woman will distract them from thinking about their mothers.

It’s a problem in marriages. Sometimes people are very active sexually before marriage. Then they get married and immediately the interest dies out because it’s as if you’ve become your parents, and that’s a kind of taboo situation. So there may be that some of these old male writers have a taboo against being with a woman their own age. Then they’re the couple.

When they were little boys, they wanted to get into that couple and separate that – be part of it, not be left out. But it’s also frightening and forbidden to be part of that couple. And maybe I’m just trying to imagine why would a 70-year-old man want a 40-year-old woman – a 30-year-old woman – and eliminate – a 70-year-old woman is a horror. A naked – 70-year-old woman naked is a horror. That’s weird.

GROSS: I’m thinking you’re a Freudian analyst?

HEYMAN: Yes. How could you tell?


GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Arlene Heyman, and her new collection of short stories is called “Scary Old Sex.” One of your stories is dedicated to the late writer Bernard Malamud and the story is drawn from a real-life experience that you had. You were lovers with him for, I think, two years while he was married. He had two children. And then the affair ended, but your friendship continued till his death in – was it 1986, 1984?

HEYMAN: I think it was ’86. But I’m not 100 percent sure.

GROSS: He died in his early 70s. I’d like you to do a brief reading from that story. And in the story, the female character, Leda, is a 19-year-old undergraduate art student. And Murray, who is a very successful painter in his late 40s – Murray is married to a woman named Sigrid. They have a couple of children together, and Leda and Murray are having an affair.

HEYMAN: (Reading) How a man, who never changed a stroke of his painting to please anyone, managed to live a double life she didn’t know. He seldom spoke about his wife, to protect her – which her? She believed he rarely slept with Sigrid. Once he let slip that she complained about his bad breath. Leda sniffed prodigiously but detected nothing. Although Leda imagines Sigrid accepted him dutifully when he dutifully offered himself.

Unasked, Murray told Leda twice that he would never leave his wife. Her mother had died when she was 4 and Murray did not think she could survive another abandonment. Hey, my father died when I was 12, she thought to say – but didn’t. She wasn’t sure why. He also told her that in the 28 years since he’d met Sigrid, he’d never loved anyone as much as he loved Leda.

What Murray did not tell Leda, although she had half-intuited it, was that he was afraid of her, of her dissatisfactions with herself, of her inability to organize herself, commit herself to her work in the thoroughgoing way. He feared that he might somehow be undone if he married her – his ability to concentrate destroyed. She was hurt that he didn’t ask her, although she half-believed she had never really thought about marrying him herself. He was 51 now and had liver spots on his hands and was growing ever more orderly.

Was she a groupie? Yes. But truth was he was the best company she’d ever known. Going to a gallery with him was like seeing with five eyes – her two, and his three. He was the background music of her life and the foreground music, although she knew she should be her own foreground music.

GROSS: That’s my guest Arlene Heyman reading from her collection of stories “Scary Old Sex.” So I’d like to talk with you a little bit about your relationship with Bernard Malamud, who was of course famous for writing books like “The Assistant,” “The Natural,” “The Fixer.” You were how old when you had an affair with him?

HEYMAN: Nineteen – until 21.

GROSS: So in the story that you just read from, the character Leda becomes the painter’s muse. He paints her nude. She’s an inspiration to him, you know, in his artwork and of course in his life and in bed (laughter). Were you Malamud’s muse in any way? Was he your mentor?

HEYMAN: He was a mentor – probably my main mentor. The Leda character is painting, too. She’s an aspiring artist. I was writing all the time. I was writing at 19. In fact, I – since I knew you were going to ask me about him – I brought in some stories of mine that I’d written in 1961 – so I was 19 – with his comments all over them. So my writing was a very important part of our relationship, as certainly his writing was. And that’s an important part of this young woman in this story, that that’s what she aspires to do.

As for being his muse – a book that he wrote after our erotic relationship was finished – but we went on being friends, you’re right, until he died – was “Dubin’s Lives.” I’m not sure what date that was written, but it probably was at least 15 years after our affair was over. And in that book, there’s a biographer and he’s married and he has an affair with a young woman. And I am the model, it seems to me, for that character.

In fact, he had me send him his letters to me. I’d kept all his letters to me. He’d kept my letters to him. And he was looking them over while writing that book. Also, he was reading me sections of it as he would write it. He would – we’d be on the phone, or I’d go by his apartment and he’d read me parts of it. It’s a beautiful book.

GROSS: My guest is Arlene Heyman, author of the new collection of short stories, “Scary Old Sex.” We’ll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guest is psychiatrist and writer Arlene Heyman. She’s written a new collection of short stories called “Scary Old Sex.” One of the stories is dedicated to the late writer Bernard Malamud. When he left off, we were talking about the affair she had with him when she was one of his students at Bennington College. He was then a middle-aged married man with two children.

When we left off, we were talking about Malamud’s novel, “Dubin’s Lives,” which has a character modeled on Heyman. In the book, the main character is a biographer. And the biographer, in talking to the young woman in the book – the young woman who’s his lover – says, (reading) what stays with me most from the biography as I write is that life is forever fleeting, our fates juggled heart-breakingly by events we can’t foresee or control, and we are always pitifully vulnerable to what happens next. Therefore, what the poets say about seizing the day, dear Fanny, is incredibly true. If you don’t live your life to the hilt or haven’t for whatever reason, you will regret it, especially as you grow older, every day that follows.

And then they kiss. I think it’s for the first time that they kiss after that. And I read that, and I thought, yeah you’re going to regret the things that you didn’t do, and you’re going to regret some of the things that you did do. And this might be one of those things that you regret. I mean, you know, having an affair when you’re married and you have two children – that’s something you really might live to regret. And so I’m wondering how the idea of regret entered, if at all, in your life in terms of your relationship with him.

HEYMAN: Well, I wondered at some point whether I should’ve pushed him – I don’t think it would’ve taken a huge push, but maybe it would’ve, I don’t know – to leave his wife and marry me. I didn’t want to do that. And I think that I got the best out of him. I mean, to know a man like that for 27 years, 29 years, whatever – a person of his cultivatedness – I mean, he saw so much everywhere he went – that’s a real privilege.

And I could, at the same time, be with other men and be in love with other men. And I married, and I had two marriages. I think only once in a fleeting while I thought, well, what would that have been like? But that is – I don’t have too many regrets about my relationship with him, actually.

GROSS: So something you didn’t mention in terms of regret is feelings of guilt – regretting that you hurt maybe his wife or his children’s feelings – that they were upset.

HEYMAN: I think that around 19, 20, 21, you don’t know so much about what you’re doing. I don’t think that my guilt quotient was up very high. To me, it was exciting, thrilling, and I wanted it. And I honestly did not think too much about what the impact would be on his wife and his children. That change later – that is, when we became friends and the friendship went on a long time.

I was called, after he died, by Philip Davis who wrote this wonderful biography of Bern. He called me to speak to him about Bern. And I didn’t answer his call. He called me several times. Finally, I called Ann, Bern’s wife, and I said, look, what do you want me to do? Because I hadn’t told anybody. I mean, I did respect their privacy. So I was aware that this was not a thing to be touted.

GROSS: But she knew about it.

HEYMAN: She knew because at some point – and I don’t understand why – at some point 15 or 20 years later, when we were no longer having an affair, for some reason he told her. I don’t know why. At any rate, when I called her up – and I remember – she said, how old are you now? And I think I was 65. She said, I can’t imagine you being 65. So I said, Ann, what do you want me to do? This biographer, Philip Davis, has called me several times. Do you want me to talk to him or not? And she said to me, I gave him your name. And then she said, it was a very long time ago; just tell it as it was. And then she said something contradictory, which was use your good discretion.

So I got those contradictory signs which I think are natural. One feels at least two ways about so many things. But once I knew she had given him my name, then I felt free to speak about it. So I suppose on the issue of guilt, it probably might’ve been a small element there, but I didn’t marry him. That would’ve been to destroy a family. I don’t know that I thought it in so many words, but I wasn’t willing to push to go there.

GROSS: So what would you consider some of the ups and downs of having an affair with with an older man who is a brilliant writer when you’re a young, aspiring writer? I mean, in your story based on your relationship with my Malamud, the character, the young woman, is so enamored of him and so, kind of, you know, trying to hold onto everything that he says that when she’s at dinner with him and his friends, she sneaks off to the bathroom so she could write down things that he said so that she’ll remember it.

And so I could see how that kind of relationship would help you grow as a writer and help you learn things that you didn’t know. I could also see how it could be a little stultifying to be in a relationship with somebody who you are not his equal. You’re not his age. You haven’t had his experience. And you have not developed, you know, his kind of literary talent. You know, and few people ever do, but still, at, you know, 19 or 23, like, you don’t know what you’re going to become.

HEYMAN: I am not Leda.

GROSS: Right.

HEYMAN: Leda is a creation. I never ran into the bathroom to write down what Bern said. Also, she is besotted. And she reveres him. I did not have that kind of relationship with him. I went to Bennington. Bern, who came when I was a junior, was – he treated me as a complete equal. And what happens is, if you’re treated as an equal, then you can learn a lot more. As an example of the equality between us – I think maybe I was in my 30s, and he had given me a few pages of something that he was writing to read.

He would call me at least once a week, and he would read what he had written. And this time I had it in print. So when I came over to his house, I had some critical comments to make. And I made them. And he got quite angry. And he took the paper from me with my notes, and he ripped it up into pieces. I thought, OK. Then he called me the next day, and he said he’d taken the pieces, he’d gotten Scotch tape, he’d taped them all together, and he’d made some of those changes.

GROSS: My guest is Arlene Heyman. Her new collection of short stories is called “Scary Old Sex.” After a short break, I’ll talk more with Heyman, Maureen Corrigan will review two historical suspense novels, and Kevin Whitehead will review the new album by Henry Threadgill, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music this week. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with psychiatrist, psychotherapist and writer Arlene Heyman. She’s been writing all of her life, but now at the age of 74 she’s just published her first book, a collection of short stories called “Scary Old Sex.”

One of the stories is dedicated to the late writer Bernard Malamud. When she was his student at Bennington College in the early 1960s, they had an affair. He was middle-aged and married with two children. The affair lasted a couple of years. Their friendship lasted until his death.

So you mentioned that you brought with you some short stories you’ve written when you were still a student. And those stories have notes that Bernard Malamud wrote on them ’cause he was one of your teachers. So would you read some of those notes for us?

HEYMAN: OK. I’ll read one. This was on the front of – we had to write stories every two weeks, so you can imagine – and then you had other courses to do – how thickened they were. But this is a note on one story that I wrote in October 1961. It’s called “The Weaning” – weaning – W-E-A-N-I-N-G. So he wrote on the front (reading) the story becomes effective when the man starts crying and is even moving in the end. As story it is, despite its emotional strength, somewhat underdone. She is not developed enough. Somehow there has to be more variety to her sameness. And he is dangerously close to the oddball. Only when he weeps – and this should come more slowly – he must be developed further. Only when he weeps does he become human. Strong writing – work for finer expression – somehow a bit of poetry.

GROSS: Interesting. So what did you focus on when you read that comment? Did you focus on what you’d done right or what you’d done wrong?

HEYMAN: I read the story again this morning ’cause I had a free hour. So I read that again and I thought he’s right in what he said, that he spotted an emotional strength that was there. But some of the characters were underdeveloped. And I think, well, with two weeks to work on them and 19 years old they would be. So I appreciated that he was respectful of me enough to say what was the matter and to say how to fix that and also to see the strengths of it. That’s what one wants.

And I was going to say something else, that I came upon a – I looked through some of the letters that I wrote to him last night. And there was one letter from the 11 of August 1972. So then I’m already in my 30s and I’m still writing, going to medical school – whatever I’m doing, I’m writing. And I wrote him the following two paragraphs (reading) Dear Bern, I just came across a note from you that moved me very much. It was attached to a short story of mine and after a few critical paragraphs you wrote, quote, “I don’t care how many stories come out badly or partly badly. I have faith in you as a writer,” end quote.

GROSS: Can I ask how the affair ended?

HEYMAN: We were in Italy together. I had a Fulbright and we were in Genoa together and I believe we were in Milan also. And I think that he felt I was interested in younger men. I – there was nothing that happened between me and anyone, but I was a flirtatious young woman. And so I can’t remember any – what the specifics – there were no specifics. But he had the sense that I wasn’t deeply committed to him in a passionate way, in the way of being lovers. And he decided to leave. And it was sad, but he had picked up something that was not untrue.

And I went on to Venice by myself and then I went to Spain and spent the year in Spain. And he wrote me a letter saying that he – I think he said I shan’t be writing for a while. If you need me, write me, and I will always help you. And he signed it Bern. I don’t have that by heart, but that’s pretty much what it was. And I did try to keep in touch with him and we were back in some kind of touch within a year of that break up in Italy.

GROSS: So you’re a writer and you’re also a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. So as a writer of fiction, I think it’s part of your job to observe things and describe things in a way that other people might be uncomfortable, you know, acknowledging, you know, to say the things that other people wouldn’t say, to describe those things that other people try to pretend don’t really exist. That’s part of a fiction writer’s job I think.

And as a psychoanalyst, you’re hearing people’s secrets all the time. They’re confiding in you the things they won’t tell their best friend or their spouse or their lover or their child or their parent. So do you see those two things as being united in some way – your work as a fiction writer, in your work as a therapist just on the level that you try to get to of, like, truth?

HEYMAN: Yes. There is a level of truth that I try to get to, though I try to get to it very differently in the two media. In one, you’re accreting a character. In the other, you’re trying to thin down what you’re hearing so that you can say something useful, you can understand the connection of a symptom to the whole history of a person. But truth – truth is very important in both, you’re right.

GROSS: One of those stories in your collection, a story called “Dancing,” is about a couple where it takes place at about the time of 9/11. And its about a married couple. The husband is in the hospital on 9/11 being treated for leukemia, getting kind of high-dose chemo. And without giving too much away here, when he’s dying at the end of the story, like, she can’t believe that there isn’t an intervention left, you know? There’s no more transfusions. There’s nothing – this is going to be the end. There’s nothing that can be done.

I know your first husband died of leukemia. And if you don’t mind my asking, was there that moment when you realized this is really the no There’s more interventions.

HEYMAN: Yes and no. I think even after he died, I still thought there should have been an intervention. Princess Diana died three days after my husband died, my first husband. So that was ’97. And it – they didn’t save her. She died. And I remember having a thought, well, if Princess Diana can’t be saved then maybe Shepard – maybe he couldn’t be saved either. So I think that idea of an intervention, that possible intervention, it goes on, even after the person’s dead. There should’ve been something. This can’t be true. It’s so contrary to what I wish that it just can’t be true. And he was a physician, and why can’t he take care of himself? You know, he should be able to avoid death. So it takes a long time to appreciate that someone has really died.

GROSS: You remarried about 10 years later. There’s one of the characters in your story who goes through this period in the story where she’s comparing her second husband to her first. Is that something that you try not to do or is that something that one just naturally does whether you want to or not?

HEYMAN: At times one does but it – what are you doing with comparing? You see, what is that woman doing in that story? She’s diminishing her current pleasure with her husband by seeing all his flaws writ large. And she remembers the first husband in a very idealized way. And she realizes that at a certain point in the story. And she says that she sees this husband as if he were a Lucian Freud painting.

She sees that husband and that marriage as if it was by Fragonard, a very romantic painter. And then she starts remembering what things were really like with that first husband, and she remembers things she doesn’t like to remember. She attacked him, too. And it’s a complex story in which with the ending – I don’t want to give that away – but it’s a shocker.

But the idea of diminishing what’s in front of you and what you can have and always looking towards something you couldn’t have, that kind of regret, there’s always a better one in the past – dead, inaccessible – you know, that’s something that we all have to cope with.

And as a Freudian, would probably go back to – the first people you love are totally inaccessible, or they should be. For a little girl, the father; little boy, the mother. And so there is some – always idea that the – the fish that got away. And that can make life barren if you give into that too much.

GROSS: So you’ve published your first book at the age of 72.

HEYMAN: Seventy-four.

GROSS: Seventy-four.

HEYMAN: I just turned 74 a month ago.

GROSS: OK, so what is this doing to your self-image and to the image that you present of yourself to the world? A lot of people fancy themselves writers and actors, whether they’ve had any professional success at that or not. A lot of people profess to have novels in their drawers. You had three novels (laughter) tucked away.

But now you actually have a book and the book is being very positively reviewed. So when you say you’re a writer now, you have a book you can present, you have good reviews to back that up, so how is that changing how you see yourself and how you think other people see you?

HEYMAN: More solid I think. I mean, I’ve always had a sense of solidity, but this is kind of enlarging. When people you don’t know are writing in first-rate publications that this is all good, it’s like, yeah, I always thought that. I did thought that and I hoped that (laughter). And I’m very glad. You know, I got a lot of rejections on this book – a lot of them.

In fact, one of the most recent rejections, at the same time as it got accepted in England by three publishers, a fellow in this country wrote she has a disgusting view of the human body. That title is awful. So I was looking at that and I thought, no, no, no, you’re wrong.

So it gives one a sense that, yeah, people will have all kinds of feelings about it, but there are other people who will love it. And that’s, you know, you just need a few people. My father used to say you only need one. With writing you need more than one. And you get them – it’s very gratifying. It’s thrilling. I love it.

GROSS: Well, congratulations on the publication of your book. Arlene Heyman, thank you so much for talking with us.

HEYMAN: It’s been a joy.

GROSS: Arlene Heyman is the author of a new collection of short stories, “Scary Old Sex.” After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review two historical suspense novels. This is FRESH AIR.

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Sultry MILF Erotica: Five Explicit Older Woman Younger Man Sex Stories

This collection is filled with sexy MILFs. Whether you’re into older women with younger men or just into the real sexiness experience brings, this collection of five explicit MILF erotica stories is definitely going to please. You can have it on your device in just seconds!

Warning: This audiobook contains very explicit descriptions of sexual activity and includes revenge MILF sex, MILF sex with a young bartender, MILF sex at work, older woman and younger man sex, wedding night sex, MILF sex with the repair guy, and more. Only mature adults who won’t find that offensive should listen to this collection.

The stories include:

Teaching My Hubby a Lesson: Revenge MILF Sex on a Cuckolding Husband by Roxy Rhodes Paul and I hadn’t been happy for a while. I knew that losing his job had been hard on him, but that was no reason for him to be neglectful – even scornful of me! – in every possible way. He contributed less and less, but I guess what hurt me most was how he neglected my body. I chalked it up to depression until I found out what he’d been doing with girls on the internet when I was away at work, keeping our family afloat. But it wasn’t until I laid my eyes on Riley, our 23- year-old gardener, that I realized how I would get my revenge. Paul was about to get a front row seat to just exactly what he’d been depriving me of!

The Re-Inventor: MILF Sex with a Young Bartender by April Fisher I was alone. My husband had left me for some younger, more attractive lady, and my kids were at college a few hours away. I decided that drinking my problems away would be the solution, but it turned out, that was only a path to my real solution. My real savior came in the form of a young bartender still in college. I was still alone, but he showed me that it was possible to be happy.

Nikki’s Beach Bum: Hot MILF Sex at Work by Joni Blake All my life I held to many dreams but one that almost always made the top of the list was to spend time at the beach. No matter what I did, what kind of money I made, where the rest of my family lived or whatever else, I wanted to live and work on the beach. The job I wound up with, while technically a job on the beach, was more corporate than I ever wanted. Still, I tried to find hot moments to enjoy along the way in every work week. When a new guy was hired to assist me who was twice the beach bum I ever was, I found out that enjoying a hot moment at the beach was about to get easier.

Why We’re Still Worried About Age Gap Relationships

When actress and singer Katharine McPhee announced her engagement to boyfriend David Foster in July, some fans and media outlets were shocked. With Foster turning 69 this year, he’s twice his wife’s age. McPhee had a simple initial response for her haters: “And what about it?”

McPhee and Foster are certainly not the first couple, in the public eye or otherwise, to disregard the age gap “rules” of relationships. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds (11 years’ difference), Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo (nine years) and Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor (32 years) are just three more of the many couples proving they can happily exist without giving into societal standards of “appropriate” age ranges.

So why do age differences still take us aback? So long as everyone’s an adult, why does age matter in a consensual and loving relationship?

What we see at first

According to recent research from Oakland University, the No. 1 issue that outsiders take with age gap relationships, sometimes known as May-December relationships, is a feeling of exploitation. It’s hard for people to imagine an age gap relationship existing without a conditional reason, like money, sex or lifestyle.

It’s hard for people to imagine an age gap relationship existing without a conditional reason, like money, sex or lifestyle.

When a relationship is stereotyped as something other than loving and caring, it’s easy to judge and speculate. The research suggests that younger people are often more critical of these relationships, despite what changes in society and thought would have us believe. This is likely because younger folks are more wrapped up in reputation, and feel that they have more to lose when they’re judged by others.

Onlookers also get uncomfortable when they compare age gap relationships to parent-child relationships, which happens a lot, Josh Hetherington, a family and relationship therapist serving the Chicagoland area.

“The work has to happen there to help feel connected to this new person, making sure people get beyond the sense of how it looks on paper and getting personal with it,” he said.

Making age gap relationships work

Even though people in age gap relationships face these stereotypes, many of them ignore the judgements. They know what their relationships have actually been founded on, and they believe the connection is worth defending and nurturing.

More people are open to age gap relationships for themselves than you may think. According to one study, most men and women prefer to date someone close to their own age but are open to someone 10 to 15 years their junior or senior. Eight percent of married couples have an age difference of 10 years or more.

Doris Bogg’s husband, Bruce, is 18 years her senior. For the Chicago couple and both their families, the difference in their ages was never a problem or a worry.

“We’ve been married for 28 years,” she said. “What does that say? Age was never an issue because he didn’t act his age. It never bothered me. If you’re mature, you can deal.”

How we change the conversation

It’s clear that while age gap relationships remain controversial, they continue to happen and successfully.

We can’t accurately judge celebrity relationships, or use our opinions about people we don’t know to form opinions about the people we interact with everyday. Plenty of age gap relationships have publicly failed, but, it goes without saying, so have many same-age relationships.

Hetherington believes that age gap relationships can be successful as long as the partners in question respect each other’s journeys.

“What I see the most is that the younger person will face a challenge that the older person has already faced and overcome, and they will struggle to empathize with that person,” Hetherington said.

The key is maintaining compassion and remaining open to experiences.

“There has to be an openness to the idea that everyone is adult,” he said. “You have to try to understand that instead of getting stuck at the place where you see yourself in someone and your own experience.”

If you know someone in an age gap relationship or are considering one yourself, it’s important to think about the foundation of the relationship, understand what questions you and others might have and why (about children, lifestyle and equality in the relationship, for example) and process from there with an open mind.

By Natalie Maggiore

Natalie Maggiore is a journalist and teacher living in Chicago, whose passions include aggressive hockey watching, a quality bowl of queso and learning about the infinite void that is outer space. Her writing mainly pertains to pop culture and entertainment, but she enjoys creating content pertaining to mental health, social service, human interests and nature. Follow her on Twitter @nataliem31 and Instagram @natmag31.

Bloggers and busybodies are divided over whether or not the age difference between actress Jennifer Lawrence, 24, and musician Chris Martin, 37, automatically renders their relationship inappropriate. Daily Mail “relationship expert” Tracey Cox condones it, saying their common ground should count for more than their 13-year age gap; other commenters, meanwhile, condemn Martin as “creepy” and Lawrence as “lame.”

If you subscribe to the “rule of seven,” the question of where the boundaries of a socially acceptable relationship lie aren’t a matter of opinion—they’re clearly defined. According to the rule, the age of the younger partner (regardless of gender) should be no less than seven more than half the older partner’s age. Martin, then, shouldn’t date anyone younger than 26 and a half; Lawrence shouldn’t go above 34.

The rule is widely cited, but its origins are hard to pin down. In its earlier incarnations, it seemed to be a prescription for an ideal age difference rather than the limit of what’s okay. In The Moon Is Blue, a 1953 film adaptation of the 1951 play by Frederick Hugh Herbert, Maggie McNamara—playing 22-year-old Patty O’Neill—asks her 30-year-old suitor, “Haven’t you ever heard that the girls is supposed to be half the man’s age, plus seven?”

The rule also appears in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In the 1950s, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad “taught that a wife’s ideal age was half the man’s age plus seven”; this age gap should make up for women’s maturing more quickly than men, as well as ensure that the husband was sufficiently authoritative over his wife. When Malcolm X met his future wife Betty Sanders, he interpreted the fact that their ages fit the rule of seven as a sign that they were destined for each other. Muhammad might not have been the most reliable relationship counselor, though; he was also concerned about height disparity: “a tall man married to a too short woman, or vice versa … looked odd, not matched,” he preached.

28 women answer the question: ‘What age difference in a relationship is acceptable for you?’

I have been running a blog on Instagram with dating tips for women since September 2018 and there is a really good vibe about relationships with foreign men, with many positive, encouraging stories from our successful couples.

Some pairs who haven’t sent us their stories to be published on EM’s successful couples list contacted me privately and told about their marriages, which is extremely encouraging. I know that many happy couples prefer to simply be private about their finding love, but I had a surprisingly high number of contacts via Instagram from our former female clients with messages of gratitude, sharing photos of their kids and families. It’s amazing!

Last week I asked ladies to give their opinions on the subject of age difference in a couple and got some interesting responses. Then I ran a survey that was answered by over 200 women in real time. Let’s find out the results!

‘What age difference with a partner is acceptable for you?’

Here are the results of the survey and comments from women, how they view the issue of age gaps in relationships.

My blog for women is in Russian. So, the ladies who provided answers are Russian-speaking: from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other countries of the former USSR.

Note: Some texts have been edited for clarity and brevity purposes.

Is age an important factor in a relationship? Let’s find out what women think.

28women give opinions about age difference in a marriage

As always, opinions differ, but the majority of ladies seem to agree than the age difference up to 10 years is acceptable. Some ladies would prefer a more mature husband, while others think a male of the same age would be the best option.

1. Up to 10 years

The age difference between my husband and me is 5 years and everything is perfect! But even if it was 10, then I don’t think anything would be different!!!

2. Plus minus 5 years

For me the norm is 5 years maximum in any side. It’s more interesting with guys of the same age. I don’t understand the women seeking a partner 10 years older or more. They probably wish to replace the father or live fully catered for. And what is going to happen in the future, when he is old and you are still young? There are of course exceptions among men like Mike O’Hern who are doing sport and look amazing up the very advanced age. But there are not many guys like this.

3. Our age gap with my fiancé is 14 years

My fiancé and I have the gap of 14 years and I feel very comfortable. It can be fun with guys of the same age, but most often foreign men aged 35-40 wish to find a woman to have a child together. I already have two kids and don’t want to go through the nappy quest again. With my fiancé we have full harmony, he doesn’t have his own kids, but he really likes my children, especially the younger girl (I suppose his has the fatherly instinct). Actually, he wasn’t looking for someone younger. From one hand, he seems to be proud that I am younger, but from the other hand, he is a bit embarrassed, and even told his mother I was older, and she still was concerned about the age difference.

4. I think even 10 years is too much

I used to think that 10 years was normal. But now I understand that for me even such a gap is too much. Although all the men are sporty and look great, the ones I am dating. I can say that I am writing a lot and have great photos. Men 10+ years older are ready to marry me tomorrow. I could get married many times. But I don’t want to be with a person that I don’t love. I simply haven’t met my man as yet. I think if I meet him I wouldn’t be worried about many things that matter for me now, including his age. Wish me luck! I really want to meet him!

5. You are either a man or not

It doesn’t matter how old you are. You are either a man or not.

6. 10-year gap is OK

I used to think that 3 years with the male older. Although at the same time I groundlessly thought that 5 years would be optimum, but maximum. Now I am OK with a gap or 10 years or more. The looks, level of activity and interests should match. With a guy so much younger it would not be interesting and a bit scary to think what is going to happen in the relationship in 10 years.

7. My husband is 12 years older

My husband is Russian and he is 12 years older. I am very happy about it. We have 2 kids and don’t feel age difference. Before my husband I had relationships with males of the same age and 5 years older, but it wasn’t the same.

8. My future American husband is 15 years older

My future husband is 15 years older, he is American, considering the fact that he goes to gym nearly every day and looks after himself well, in general he is handsome in all regards, so I don’t feel any age difference. Vice versa, his life experience allows him to value all we have together and behave more wisely. And also match my intellectual level (not only in IQ but deep levels of understanding of the life and the world). I think that males under 40, of course, could be good, but I am feeling bored with them and can easily predict all his other actions 10 steps ahead. Or another variant, some guys under 40 still want to have fun and don’t really desire to settle down genuinely. But this also depends on the looks, if the man looks like your dad and a grandfather for your child, then I think the woman will feel discomfort. Guys of the same age can look very different, the most important that the couple has compatibility in all important areas. Not only the mental connection, but also the sexual attraction to each other. If all this is present, then it’s not important how young is the man and the woman in the couple.

9. 10 years gap maximum

In my youth I was attracted to males who were more senior than myself, was in a relationship with a man who was 9 years older for a long time. Eventually married a guy my age. Now I am planning to divorce. In the future I think the gap should be no more than 10 years, common interests, health, joint activities — all these things are very important for a relationship of a partnership on an equal basis.

10. I like different men: 10 years younger and 10 years older

I like different men. 10 years older as well as 10 years younger. There are some very interesting young guys, and there are empty and infantile at 50. But for a relationship over 40 I wouldn’t, possibly. Maybe foreigners are different, I have no experience. In Russia I was dating a guy twice my age and had an admirer who was 20 years more senior. A different mentality. USSR ))

11. I prefer men who are 15+ years older

I am not married. I am attracted to men 15+ years more senior. I was always bored with guys my age.

12. 5 years younger to 10 years older

I am not married. Guys up to 10 years younger are interested in me. An acceptable age difference is up to 5 years if he is younger, and if he is older, then 10 years.

13. My husband is 10 months older and it’s comfortable

I am married, 32 years old. My husband is 10 months more senior. It’s quite comfortable, mutual understanding, lots of common interests.

14. My husband is 18 years older

My husband and I have the age gap of 18 years. We met on Elenasmodels. I got married with 3 kids. I will tell my story soon.

15. I am talking to a guy 13 years more senior and it’s great

I am now communicating with a guy 13 years older on your website. It’s the first time I am communicating with a male with whom it’s so easy and fun.

16. I am engaged to a guy my age, although I was seeking a mature man

For me the age difference up to 15 years was acceptable (although I was married to a man 17 years older). Guys my age were never attractive for me, until on EM I was contacted by a guy my age, 2 months older. He is my fiancé now, the person I love. So, now for me a guy my age is acceptable. I am 38.

17. My partner is 12 years older

The difference with my partner now is 12 years (he is more senior), and the previous relationship was with a man 9 years older.

18. Not more than 10 years

The difference should be no more than 10 years. Although one famous couple has the difference 27 years and have 2 kids, she is 30. If a woman is much more mature than the man, 5 years and more, it’s a risky zone. But if a man 55+ is seeking a woman under 30, he has problems with the self-esteem and his head… an old fart. Sorry.

19. Any age difference is OK

For me any age difference is acceptable. Because even at 50 one could be an idiot, and at 20 could be a mature person. I am already married, my husband is 2.5 years more senior than myself.

20. I wanted a man 10-15 years older

I am 31, started dating at 27. I wanted a man 10-15 years more senior, because they are calmer, wiser in general, but at 40-45 still ready to become a father. Eventually met an amazing 45-year-old guy on EM. He came to visit me, I liked him, my family liked him. On the last day he told me he was 58. No one had any hint of it, and I am a cosmetologist, by the way. I was really upset he lied to me, but at the end everything got sorted out and we are together. I am very content and happy. Although it’s not the first man I am with who is 28 years older, but if to put his Russian “counterpart” next to him, he would look like a grandfather, and my husband is a hunk.

21. My ex-husband was 8 years younger

My ex-husband was 8 years younger than me, but there was no visual difference. Just one thing that I really was feeling, the difference in life values and experiences, this is hard to hide. Sadly.

22. 12 years maximum

The age difference should be 12 years maximum, the man older.

23. 7-15 years

I want a man minimum 7 years older and up to 15 years difference is OK. The man must be older.

24. 12-15 years difference seems OK to me

It happened that I registered on the site at the age of 20, and I didn’t write to men myself. I had men 32-35 writing to me. I considered them “uncles”. Somehow I got more mature with them and my views on life changed. Now I don’t want to communicate with guys who were born the same year as myself, I don’t understand them and consider them silly. I understand that if I want to create a family, then the “uncles” are ready for it.

25. Plus/minus 10 years

I believe that the acceptable age difference + – 10 years.

26. My views changed with age

My views changed… During the student years I was attracted only the guys my age. Now the most important thing is that the man is a Man. It’s not important how old he is.

27. Maybe 5-10 years older

I like men “+ – my age”. My ex-husband was 1 year younger and it’s super when you are on the same wavelength! But now I think that the husband needs to be a bit older… Maybe 5-10 years older.

28. Maximum 15 years gap

I don’t think much about the age difference. But for myself I see the maximum difference at 15 years. Ideally up to 10. I like different men on the site: my age and older. I didn’t come across younger ones. I just want to add that the majority of foreign men are looking for an adequate age gap and 10 years difference they consider sizable. At the same time, Russian men absolutely seriously call 30-year-old women “old” (some of the Russian guys think that a woman of 25 is “old”), even if he is near 50. I was put off by it when I was already 23 and I thought that 30 is far away.

Survey results

Over 200 women gave answers in an online poll I ran on 4 June 2019 on Instagram among my subscribers — Russian-speaking ladies who are looking for a partner abroad. The results are presented below.

So, here you have it!

As you can see, women’s views on the matter of age difference in a couple are pretty diverse.

  • As I usually suggest, the gap up to 10 years is acceptable for the majority of ladies.
  • Nearly half of women feel up to 15-year gap is OK.
  • 58% of women are open to dating a younger guy.
  • There are also ladies who wish a man to be substantially more mature than herself.
  • Several responses indicate that a lady would consider a guy of any maturity, given he is in a good physical and mental shape.

Besides, quite a few stories that ladies shared about finding love demonstrate that once they find a person who is on the same wavelength, their preconceptions about acceptable gap in age change, because of the way they feel with the new partner.

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Also, there are physical realities. “When you’re dating a young hot person, you’re suddenly like fuck—I have to go to the gym,” Chelsea said. But her biggest anxiety is longevity. “I definitely have anxieties about my younger girlfriend outgrowing this relationship, because that’s a risk when you have an age gap.”

It’s not surprising that dating a young person might highlight your insecurities about aging. Personally, the times I’ve dated guys six or so years younger than me, I worried at points that I was checking some “older woman” box for them. A novelty fuck, if you will. While it was an ego boner to be desired by someone with eerily smooth skin who wanted to fuck nine times a day, it also shined a light on my own stupid, petty insecurities. Like the time I stalked one Younger Guy’s Instagram, obsessing over whether the girls in his photos looked younger than me. It was très tragique, but I couldn’t help myself.

But if you can get over your insecurities, I think there’s something to be gained from dating people of different ages—even if the relationships don’t last “forever.” When you’re the younger person in the couple, you get to soak up all your partner’s earned wisdom about life and sex, and it’s nice to feel cared for in that way. And then maybe, eventually, you’ll be able to pay it forward and be the teacher, which is a dynamic that feels simultaneously perverse and generous (a good combo). Like for example, it’s been kinda thrilling to be able to say, “Oh, you’ve never had a girl finger your butt before? I would love to be the person who introduces that to you, anxiety-free!” It’s like you get to be the host to the sexual party (which is really the only version of hosting that I don’t hate).

But, as the memes say: With power comes responsibility. Chelsea told me, “I’m a firm believer in what Dan Savage refers to as The Campsite Rule: If you’re an older person dating someone in their late teens or 20s, and that relationship ends, you need to leave them in better shape than you found them in. There’s an inherent power imbalance when dating a young person, so it’s crucial that you refrain from fucking up their life and leaving them feeling disillusioned about relationships.” Or, even better, you leave them with all the tools in your sexual toolbox, plus an info packet on mutual funds.

It’s easy to default to thinking that asymmetries in a relationship are bad. But imbalances are inevitable—whether it be age, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, success, family, mental health, IG followers, et cetera. But people bring different things to the romantic table. In the end, making it work will come down whether you actually like each other, not whether you both lost your virginities listening to the same riot grrrl band in the ’90s.

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My husband is a beat poet, a professional fundraiser, and a proud father. He also happens to be 35 years older than me and 60 years older than our son. Somewhat ironically, his first name is Young.

If you had asked me five years ago who I imagined marrying and starting a family with, a man old enough to be my father would not have been top of the list. If a friend had confided that she – or he – was considering a relationship with such a significant age difference, I would have done my gentle best to discourage them. But here we are, coming up to our fourth wedding anniversary and still recovering from our son’s second birthday party. Love is a wonderful and surprising thing and, as we tell people who ask how we met, we just kind of bumped and stuck.

To those on the outside, there are many disadvantages to our relationship. The mistake people make is thinking that we haven’t given consideration to these ourselves. Of course we’ve thought about the future, of course we know things won’t always be as easy and fun as they are now, and of course we realise that we look a little odd when we go out. We dated for six months before moving in together and several nights a week we would linger over dinner, drinking wine, talking about all the reasons we shouldn’t commit to each other. It is a standing joke between us that because of those six months there is no good restaurant in Edinburgh I haven’t cried in.

I can only imagine what they thought at the time, seeing a twentysomething girl in a denim mini-skirt coming in regularly for intimate dinners with a grey-haired suited man carrying a briefcase. They saw my tears, our first, nervous kisses and the intense, emotional conversations that lasted long into the night.

It is tough, when you are giddily falling in love, to stand back and really examine your relationship with objective eyes, but we knew we had to. If we were serious about making things work in the longer term, we had to persuade our family and friends that this was the real deal and we couldn’t do that without believing it ourselves. Before long, all that talking paid off and because we became completely confident in the strong foundations of our relationship, others did too. To anyone who sees us together, it is very obvious how deeply in love we are.

Unlikely as it seems, there are advantages to a relationship with a big age difference too. Knowing we will never celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary means that we don’t have time to waste. We make the most of every day and refuse to get caught up in the petty arguments that consume many couples. Young lives up to his name and has more energy and drive than most people – he often jokes that my maturity and his immaturity mean we meet somewhere in the middle and are just like an ordinary couple in their 40s. I’m not sure that’s quite accurate, we are a good balance in terms of our personalities and bring out the best in each other.

Once we were both fully committed to the relationship, we decided we might as well really go for it and pack as much into our lives together as possible. Almost exactly a year after we started dating, Young whisked me off to Paris for a long weekend. We spent a lovely, sunny Friday afternoon shopping in the Place Vendôme for an engagement ring; after leaving the shop with the chosen one (small but excitingly sparkly) we both had a weak-kneed, what-have-we-done? moment and had to collapse into the nearest cafe. In that sense, the emotional ups and downs of our relationship are much like those of any other couple.

We were both very strong, independent people with interesting things going on in our lives. When Young met my mother for the first time, less than a year earlier, he told her we were having fun but that there would be “no cottage, no marriage, and certainly no babies”. It felt as if we had come a very long way, very quickly.

Our post-engagement anxiety was short-lived and seven months later, friends and family surrounded us for our wedding day. It really was the happiest day of my life. My father, who is relieved to be older than my husband, if only by six months, gave a moving speech, noting that even before I’d told him about Young he knew there was someone special in my life because every time we spoke on the phone I had “bubbles in my voice”. I was surprised on the day to realise that I had no nerves, just a calm feeling that this was absolutely the right thing.

When Young began his vows, we locked eyes and the only way I got through mine without wobbling was by holding his gaze. We had only changed the chaplain’s suggested wording in one way – instead of “Until death do us part” we said “For as long as we both shall live”. We were determined that our marriage should reflect our general attitude towards life, and we wanted to emphasise the positives.

Our son, Tom, arrived around 18 months later and having a child has made our “live for the moment” philosophy even more pertinent. I’ll say it so you don’t have to – my husband is probably going to die while our son is still pretty young. Although knowing him as I do, I wouldn’t put money on that. His current stance is that he would be happy if he lived to 95, which is another 33 years. I’m holding out for 100.

Again, we knew that having a child was an enormous decision, and we talked about it endlessly, making sure that we were doing it for the right reasons and not purely selfish ones. We knew we could provide a safe, happy and loving home for a baby, but how would we work things out financially in the future, given the different stages we were at in our careers? How would our child cope if his daddy’s health declined? How would I manage if I ended up being a carer for my child and husband? What if he or she were bullied at school because dad looked like grandpa?

There were many questions we couldn’t answer definitively, but in the end we had to trust our instincts.

There are no guarantees, whatever your age. We know very well that couples the same age, who look like a perfect match on paper, can’t always make things work when they have children. Neither Young nor I had a particularly straightforward childhood and, perhaps because of that, we are convinced that having an awesome father around, even for a short while, is vastly preferable to having an uninvolved or uncaring father around for life.

My two boys love each other so dearly and when I was struggling in the early days of motherhood, it was seeing their love for each other that helped me come to terms with our new life. Not only was Young right beside me for every 2am feed and 5am nappy change, my physical and mental recovery from a difficult birth was only made bearable by the glimpses I caught of him pacing the room with Tom, whispering his love and singing lullabies.

Tom has just turned two, and it has been an immense pleasure to watch their relationship develop. Young remains as involved as he was in the first weeks, with every aspect of our son’s care. Aside from the practicalities, though, they have an incredible bond.

Some things will never change, and we accept that. We still get odd looks when we go out. I am sure there are still those who think our relationship is wrong. But what could be wrong about two people in love, happily married and bringing up their son?

17 year age gap

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