I first met Doug on my 44th birthday, thirty-three years ago. I had recently left my wife and kids and had broken off my relationship with the man with whom I’d had an affair that changed the course of my life.
I had a new job in a new city. I have always been a bit shy about introducing myself to new people, and I knew nothing of the rules of cruising. I had met a few men in a gay fathers’ support group, but I didn’t know any of them enough to ask to meet me for a birthday drink. I knew that a bartender would help me celebrate, but only if I tipped him enough.
Doug, equally shy, sat at the opposite end of the dark gay bar. I had my eye on him, but he seemed more interested in playing a video game than in me.
Tired of the game, he came over and sat by me. “Hi, I’m Doug.”
“Loren. You from here?”
“Nope. Arizona, just helping out a friend who just moved here.”
Well, shit, I thought. But maybe I won’t be lonely tonight.
He agreed to come to my apartment for the night, and we’ve been together nearly every night since.
As we got to know each other, I learned that he was fifteen years younger than me. I said, “That’s quite a big difference in our ages.” I seemed to be searching for clues to suggest this relationship wouldn’t last.
He responded, “I’ve always liked older men.”
“And I have kids.”
“I like kids.”
And I thought, Yes, but will they like you? For this to last, they have to like you.
. . .
A few years back, a man about fifty contacted me after reading my book. He had just come out to his wife as gay and asked for my consultation. Now, he has a new concern. He wrote [edited for clarity]:
In making any decision, we usually imagine the outcome to be much worse than it turns out to be. To try to explain what the world can be like after coming out is like trying to explain colors to a blind person.
I had done exactly the same: I blew the negatives out of proportion and couldn’t picture the possibilities of a good outcome. I was afraid I’d never be anything but lonely.
. . .
If we focus solely on gender, we have an incomplete understanding of human sexuality. We must also include details like physical characteristics, sexual desires, emotional maturity, intelligence, compassion, and a sense of humor.
Except for their age difference, these two men connect with each other in several important ways.
Doug and I were like that, too. We both wanted a long-term, committed relationship. Our politics and values were similar. In our conversations it always seemed as if we met somewhere in the middle of our ages.
The only other possible deal-breaker was he loved flowers and I like dogs. I didn’t want to live without one, and he didn’t want to live with one.
. . .
I don’t know if it was my age cohort, the era in which we lived, or being in the Midwest, but it seemed almost every man I met who was of similar age had previously been married to a woman and had kids. And they loved their kids and were committed fathers. I thought But Doug has never had kids? What kind of parent will he make?
Many men who come out late have strong attachments to their children, and they to them. Of all the people we might injure when we come out, gay fathers worry most about hurting their children.
This correspondents children had accepted his coming out and his divorce. So, what really is bugging them? Since they have not met this young man, they don’t know enough to be disgusted by him.
Now that my correspondent has someone new and vital in his life, several things have changed. My guess is that they resent that this young man has stolen some of their time with their father along with some of his emotional energy.
Every blended family has adjustments, and mine was no different. My daughters put up a bit of a fight, but Doug would not be denied. He is funny, playful, and compassionate, and one helluva cook. What’s not to like? But they had to work out their own relationship with each other. I was not going to be a mediator.
. . .
First of all, I wonder what his wife’s motives are in consulting — not just one but two — psychologists about him. Could she have weaponized the age difference to gain advantage with the children?
It strikes me as somewhat unethical for psychologists to judge this intergenerational relationship without interviewing the ex-husband.
What kind of work have they done with the LGBTQ community? Has his ex-wife accurately reflected their opinions?
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists are just humans with a title. So prejudices creep into our judgments.
But even within the LGBTQ community, people often misunderstand intergenerational relationships.
Doug resented it when someone called him lucky to be “a doctor’s wife,” just as my wife before him had resented the implications. Even though there has always been a disparity in our incomes, I never believed his contribution to our relationship was any less than mine.
But let’s face it: This intergenerational relationship is a bit unusual in the number of years separating them, though not rare in my experience.
Still, a lot of people will see his involvement as “weird,” and many will be suspicious of the motives of both men. Some inaccurately will conflate the older man’s interest in the young man with pedophilia and pederasty.
I must ask, however, would these people feel the same way if this man who wrote to me was with a young woman instead of a young man? Then they might be patting him on the back.
If his ex-wife found an equally young boyfriend, her friends might well say, What a cougar!
People judge same-sex relationships differently than they assess opposite-sex relationships.
In my opinion, if the two people are both of legal age, if they are competent to make an informed decision, and if it harms neither of them, there is no problem with this relationship.
. . .
Anyone who thinks that because of my age, I have some power over Doug, really doesn’t know Doug!
The Me Too movement has raised social consciousness concerning exploitation of the vulnerable — mostly young and primarily women — by powerful and prominent men.
Sometimes, in age-gap relationships, the younger is accused of exploitation of the older person. People who don’t understand intergenerational relationships often see the older man as rescuing some waif.
In the information provided from this correspondent, I don’t see evidence of either of them bleeding or wielding power over the other.
Both entered the relationship freely and are free to leave.
Money is often behind these concerns, but in intergenerational relationships, the younger may have more financial resources than the older. To be sure, sometimes access to wealth or power does drive some of these relationships, creating drama for the media.
Every couple, gay or straight, the same age or different ages, must work out these dynamics in their relationships. In my experience with age-gap gay couples, money if far less often an issue than most assume it is.
Money can dehumanize the one with fewer financial resources if the other insists on carrying all of the economic freight. On the other hand, the one with more considerable resources can feel cheated out of doing things that are more financially accessible to him but not to the other.
Doug and I initially worked it out by always splitting the check based on relative income. As our relationship matured, this issue melted into obscurity
. . .
Once when my husband said, “If I’m still here in the morning, you’ll know I’m still committed.” Thirty-three years later, he’s still here, although neither of us could have predicted it at that time. Our age difference has almost never been an issue. The two biggest issues have been health and retirement.
All relationships end, one way or another. Some young men feel cheated when death ends their relationship prematurely, but one said, “You know going in that’s part of the deal.”
Relationships must be enjoyed at this moment. The future will unfold as it will.
. . .
When my husband and I were dating, I introduced him to my children. One daughter said, “It’s just like having a step-mother.”
We don’t get to choose our parents, but neither do we get to choose our step-parents. That choice belongs to the parent.
Kids don’t want step-parents, and they will resist them. To blend families takes work and commitment. My correspondent has always had a strong relationship with his kids, and I predict that in time, they will respect his choice even though they may never understand it.
Chances are good that both he and his kids picture the worst possible scenario as the outcome. I predict this is another time when he will find that the worst never happens.
He is nowhere near where he was when this whole thing started. He has changed; societal constraints have not.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You.
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