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In Praise of Age Gap Relationships

In Praise of Age Gap Relationships

Anne Hathaway’s latest film An idea for youbecame the most watched romantic comedy on Amazon, which made me think that the scenario of a young man and an older woman in Hollywood has changed for the better since then Graduate. While everyone was crazy about it at the time, has there ever been a more bleak relationship movie? We’re supposed to feel sorry for the entitled, overgrown, overthinking spoiled brat of a hero – especially when he becomes the “victim” of the much older Mrs. Robinson – but the fact that the boy is played by 29-year-old Dustin Hoffman and the cougar is played by 35-year-old (and much more attractive) Anne Bancroft only underscores the misogyny of the endeavor.

When I was forty, I was often mistaken for my husband’s mother, which amused rather than irritated me.

Sadly, in real life, such relationships are still considered somewhat bizarre, as exemplified by the criticism this week that the attractive 48-year-old singer-actress Kym Marsh has been receiving for her relationship with 29-year-old Samuel Thomas. They met while playing in 101 Dalmatians: The Musical; surely Cruella de Vil herself would be no more viciously trolled for trying to make a puppies a coat than Miss Marsh was for making a man her son’s age her lover. It’s a cliché, but there’s a lot less fuss about an old guy marrying a young lady; witness the 24-year age gap between (perfectly matched) Boris and Carrie Johnson.

When I met my third husband, Mr. Raven, almost 30 years ago, it was considered unhealthy for two reasons; first, he was my girlfriend’s younger brother, and second, he was 13 years younger than me. Rumors had reached me from helpful friends that our relationship was considered “weird” by people who had never met either of us. But most of my friends were either jaded modern bohemians or much younger than me (my best friend at the time was a teenager I sometimes took to the Groucho Club for lunch in her school uniform), so it wasn’t like I was outraging the suburban school bus crew.

My friends quickly gathered that Daniel seemed a bit more grown-up than I was. I was flighty and excitable; he was grounded and even-tempered. When one of my mates started calling him “Dad”, I picked up the habit too, which led to an amusing incident when I loudly said to a friend outside the Metropole Hotel on a noisy Bank Holiday, “That’s where I took Dad’s virginity!” This was the cue for outraged parents to cover their children’s innocent ears and hurriedly drag them away from this time-travelling pervert.

He was the best stepfather imaginable to my poor son Jack, making time for him when everyone else – including me – had turned away from him because of the mental illness that made him so difficult to be around and ultimately killed him by suicide. In return, I did everything I could to amuse him as death and illness stalked his family. It is not a conventional marriage – we do not live together, we have no mutual friends, and our meetings take place in pubs, bars and restaurants – but I have had two conventional marriages before, and they lasted only half as long as this one combined.

I would never be so foolish as to say that all age-gap marriages are successful, just as I would not say that all same-age marriages are successful; of the 42 percent of marriages that end in divorce, the vast majority are same-age marriages. But I wonder if I would still feel so young if I were married to a man my age. There used to be a belief that women “leave” early – like milk – while men get better and better, like fine wine. I think that myth has been effectively debunked; there is no female equivalent of Victor Meldrew, and although the creators of Grumpy old people invented a female counterpart to keep the franchise going, never had the same cultural resonance or personal appeal. Although Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford are both 64, she seems incomparably younger and more vibrant than he is; Langsford’s friend Ulrika Jonsson was direct but sensible when she wrote, “Eamonn has become a prominent member of the grumpy old man club over the years and is a real grump. Perhaps all his whining just got on Ruth’s nerves. Here she is, wanting to move on with her life, and the old misery of two chicks is dragging her down. She is intelligent, empathetic and full of energy – any man would be lucky to have her.” It is outrageous that a Hollywood studio told Joan Collins that her contract would end at 27, after which she would be past her prime; she then posed for a 12-page Playboy She got married at the age of 50 and married a man 32 years younger than her when she was 70.

I used to be mistaken for my husband’s mother when I was forty, which amused rather than irritated me, but now that he’s 52 and I’m 65 (we were 23 and 36 when we met), that doesn’t happen. We probably didn’t take the best care of ourselves, and with our missing teeth and drunken ways we’re more like a couple of Skid Row buddies than a MILF and a toy boy, as I’m sure we used to be. But as long as we laugh – and we do – the age difference is neither here nor there. I don’t call him Dad anymore, which is probably a sign that I’ve matured a bit – but not much, I hope. I’ve brought him out of his shell a bit, and he’s calmed me down a bit, but nothing too radical. I’m not into that “you complete me” crap – who wants to be with half a person? I was already happy when I met him, but Mr. Raven made me happier, and I hope I did the same for him. Because at the end of the day, being able to ease someone’s problems in life means so much more than some numbers on a page.