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Older Women, Younger Men

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The saleswoman behind the counter is happy to help a certain woman with a purse exchange. The clerk glances at the man standing next to the woman and says, with a smile, “How nice that your son goes shopping with you.“

Only it isn’t the woman’s son. It’s her boyfriend -16 years her junior. This happened nearly 10 years ago. This month, my boyfriend and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary.

Fifty-one-year-old Debbie Hopkins can relate to the little incidents that create the impression these relationships are socially unacceptable-or at least oddball. She’s been with her 33-year-old husband, Tyler, for a dozen years now, married for six and living in Jamul. “Sometimes we do get a reaction when we’re out,“ she says. “I think it’s because it’s still not as accepted as it is when men are married to younger women.“

At 45, freelance journalist Jill Underwood is six months into a relationship with 37-year-old radio personality Chris Boyer of KGB 101.5. “We’d been friends for a year and a half, and I thought he kind of liked me, but one night it just happened and I thought, 'Oh my God, I think I really like this guy,'“ she says. So far, they have no plans to marry-she’s still learning the ropes of this younger man-older woman deal.

That some see these relationships as unusual is evident when the media fall over themselves to publish pictures of the latest high-profile couple: 40-year-old actress Demi Moore and heartthrob Ashton Kutcher, 25. The headlines produce what they always do: a lot of sniggering talk and gee-golly about what these two possibly could have in common beyond being great-looking celebrities.

Sigh. The same thing most likely produced lots of royal court gossip when Catherine the Great took up with a series of progressively younger lovers, by whom she had several children.

But as today’s rich and famous women have had love affairs and marriages with men 10 or more years younger-Joan Collins and her current husband are nearly 30 years apart-the rest of us have become more comfortable with the idea that older women and younger men can make as much sense together as the ubiquitous older man/younger woman couplings. (Well, maybe we had a few odd thoughts about then-29-year-old Anna Nicole Smith’s former marriage to an 89-year-old sugar daddy...)

“The research is that as many as a third of women in their 50s and up are dating younger men,“ says San Diego family therapist Karen Gless. Her own evidence is that she is seeing more such couples in her Mesa Vista practice-men in their 30s in long-term relationships with women 10 or more years older.What strikes her, and others, is how often the men pursue the women.

“The younger men I [counsel] tend to be more mature than others their age, seem to have their lives together and know what they want,“ says Gless. “They also feel that the older woman is more intelligent, more interesting than girls who are younger and giggle a lot.“

Debbie Hopkins was 39 when she met 21-year-old Tyler. He’d dated her daughter. When her daughter went back East to school, Hopkins and Debbie struck up a friendship that turned into something more over time.

“It was just her persona, I guess,“ he says. “She was good to look at as well, but we shared a lot of the same views on life, oddly enough. We were friends for years, just hanging out, going to shows, traveling a little, and it just led to what it is today. She was just amazing to me, and still is.“

The attraction young men sometimes have for older mates is explored in the book Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance by Susan Winter and Felicia Brings.

Winter, who is 48, admits she wrote the book because of her own experiences with two younger men and her desire to prove the validity of these relationships. She says the men were great, but the people in the small town where she lived in were not.

“I was ostracized, called a cradle-robber, a prostitute, you name it,“she says, now back in Manhattan and still dating younger men. “Older women today are in better shape, are on their own, have good jobs and have no reason not to be attracted to younger men if the men are attracted to them.“

Winter interviewed 200 women for her book, and was continually frustrated because not one of them wanted their real names used. Family therapist Gless says the hesitancy to go public is one indication that, as accepting as society may be, there remains some risk in pointing out a wide age difference.

Most women involved with younger men told Winter they were surprised these younger guys were interested in them in the first place. Count Hopkins in on that one: “Tyler had no reservations. I had reservations that I was so old and that maybe he didn’t know what he was getting into.“

That was true for me, too. When a 24-year-old man is asking out a 40-year-old woman, it can be pretty weird. But Roel Robles was no kid when I met him in 1989. Mature beyond his years in all the things that matter, he's smart, funny, sensitive and was creating a life and career on his own terms-which he decided included me. I decided, after a time, that my future included him. (Besides, he insists on doing his own laundry, loves to cook and is fanatical about personally vacuuming the house before guests arrive. His mother did a great job.)

At first, both our families thought our relationship was pretty strange. You have to picture my meeting his mother, just nine years older than me. I was with KNSD-TV, and dressed in full news anchor regalia-including makeup-and being introduced to a very nice woman in town to see her son in his little one-bedroom apartment in Linda Vista. When I walk in the room, it’s as though I take up all the space. She stares at me, then at him and then back at me. Strained pleasantness ensues.
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