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Daily Beast Article Highlights Double Standard in Coverage of Age Different Relationships

Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of the British actor and writer Stephen Fry. From his old sketch comedy show with Hugh Laurie, to his TV travelogue of America, to his thoughtful web presence Mr. Fry brings intelligence and humor to the all of his projects. Though I’ve known Fry was gay I didn’t know much about his personal life. This week he and his partner Elliott Spencer announced their engagement. With Spencer being 30 year’s Fry’s junior a fury of speculation and insinuation flared up among the media and on social networks. Of course, for those of us who’ve been in age different relationships this is not surprising, but it certainly is disheartening. I empathize with both men for what amounts to public harassment.

Interestingly, on Friday the Daily Beast posted a wonderful commentary by Samantha Allen about the double standard in the way May to December relationships are covered in the media and in the general consciousness entitled Freaking Out about Age Gaps in Gay Relationships is Homophobic. It is well argued reflection on and refutation of the tropes and stereotypes found in discussion of gay men in age different relationships. I recommend you take a look.

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Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 3

Today we have the third part in a guest commentary by Robert Riley. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his significant other, it asks those parents to examine not only the fears they have but also the potential good of their son having an older partner. At the following links you can find part one and part two.

So, now you’ve had a little time to get used to the idea… There are two possible ways you can attempt to deal with this. Three if you count “ignoring” it. I’m going to assume that doing nothing is not an option. Pretending that you’re okay with this when you’re not is equivalent to pretending that the six hundred pound gorilla in the corner is a Barbie doll. You’ve got two choices, act on your opinion and demonstrate your surprise and displeasure or take a second and think what would happen if you had an open mind? You’re here, so I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe you’ve decided to have an open mind, perhaps for only a bit, but that bit might be all that’s needed for you to break through the wall you’re operating behind and see something special.

Let’s start with a couple of givens… Nobody is going to question that your son is less mature than someone who is thirty years older than he is. You’re going to interpret this as he’s likely to be taken advantage of, and he might well be, but why? What ‘qualifications’ does your son’s friend bring to the table? Is he a bartender at a gay club that caters to young guys that want to meet older guys? Is he a porn producer? Maybe he works in human services, could be a therapist or something? Maybe he’s been doing things that help people for his entire adult life? Maybe he’s as surprised as you are at this development? He might have been a social worker who’s been in the business of defending or supporting people for thirty years? Does this kind of thing have an impact on your thinking? Perhaps it should. What does your son have to offer someone who is established and has roots in the community? Perhaps this relationship is about companionship, love, trust, caring and things like that? Now that’s a novel idea! What would happen if the man your son is involved with was actually a decent, considerate and caring person that wants to have a real relationship with your son rather than take advantage or abuse him? How do you tell the difference?

In today’s “day and age” it’s expected that one’s partner is going to be “scrutinized” by family and friends. It’s likely that he’s expecting it. Is your son’s friend supportive of your son’s life and choices? Does he endorse your son spending time with friends and family? What would happen then? You have to wonder huh?? What if that mindset that you’re so prepared to operate in catches you by surprise? Could it be possible that despite all of those reasons that society has for damning their relationship they’re just two guys who care about each other? Maybe there’s a possibility that the old guy and the young guy have negotiated a way to be equals in a very different kind of relationship than you were expecting, than they were expecting? There’s only one way to find out. What would happen if you were to embrace your son’s choices here? If it all comes apart six months later your son would be heartbroken most likely, but isn’t that true of any romantic relationship that he might enter into? What’s the likelihood that your son would have a relationship with someone his own age that it would end and both of them could get hurt? What might transpire if one of them had a healthy amount of life experience to draw upon and could carry that sort of foundation into the relationship? This is could give your son a rock to stand on, couldn’t it? This could very easily provide the stability and solid ground your son needs to be able to learn how to be a partner in a relationship. What would happen if your son didn’t have to endure the trial and error with relationships that you did? Maybe he might discover the blessing of getting it right the first time? So the question may be for your son or his friend, but you.. What are you going to do from here

I’m pleased that you’ve had a mind open enough to read this, lots of parents would have simply shut down, operated from a place of pure protection and told their son that they must not see him again, threatening to take car keys, eviction, etc. I know because that’s some of the things that would go through my mind, you see… I’m a parent too! I find it easy to put myself in your place and wonder: What the hell is going on here? If on closer inspection I would discover that these two people appear to truly care about each other and I was satisfied that there’s no abuse going on what could I say then?

Dating Again #2: Mr. Too Attached

Though I’m now seeing someone exclusively I thought I’d continue my series of posts on my dating experiences after my split with John. I started the series late last year with a post on Mr. Rebound. Today’s post is about the second major figure in my post-John dating life.

I had entered my experience with Mr. Rebound knowing that I wasn’t looking to date anyone seriously. A few months later though when I met Mr. Too Attached I was starting to feel that, in seeing someone, I could start considering something more serious. I wasn’t looking for a relationship but I was going to let myself be open to the possibility.

Like Mr. Rebound I met Mr. Too Attached through an online dating site. We traded some messages and decided to meet for a coffee date. My initial encounters with Mr. Too Attached went really well. He seemed really good on paper. In his early sixties he was handsome, educated, in a creative profession. He had also recently moved to the city and so we had a shared experience of feeling like we were starting over. I definitely saw dating potential in this man.

We soon had a second date, dinner out and after which he invited me to his place. It started innocently enough, but again it ended by getting far more physical than I should have allowed. I clearly didn’t heed my own warning after my experience with Mr. Rebound. However, this time it backfired not because of misplaced interest. Rather, it complicated the process of dating by creating a sense of seriousness or intimacy early on, making it more challenging to end the relationship when I realized he really wasn’t right for me.

In total we probably saw each other seven or eight times. At first it was all great, I enjoyed the time we spent together and learning about what he did and his personal history. Sadly, the interesting conversations wore thin pretty quickly and Mr. Too Attached was in constant contact. Soon everyday he was e-mailing and/or calling me without really saying much.  All conversations seemed to devolve into dry commentaries about our work day. I was still having an enjoyable enough time when we’d go out together, but I just didn’t feel the click.

clingySadly Mr. Too Attached was moving in the opposite direction. As I was beginning to feel “this guy would make a fine friend, but not a partner” he was starting feel that I was the one. Eventually, during one of our frequent phone conversations I had to tell him “look, I’m beginning to recognize that I’m not matching the level of intensity you’re feeling toward me.” Immediately afterward he was quite upset but then came back saying he wanted to see if we could still work, he promised that he’d mellow out and we’d just see how things developed naturally. I was willing to give this a try, I still saw some potential and didn’t want to pass up an opportunity. Unfortunately, Mr. Too Attached was just that.

I can’t quite figure out why Mr. Too Attached was so enthusiastic about me. I don’t have such an inflated view of myself to think it’s my devilish good looks and irresistibly charming personality. Perhaps, it was his own lack of a social circle in this new city. Maybe he was in love with the idea of being in-love. I don’t know, but I found, despite what romantic comedies seem to portray, being hotly pursued when the feeling isn’t mutual can be a huge turn-off.

A Man Twice His Age

People often use the phrase “a man twice his age” when talking about intergenerational dating. Frequently this phrase is used in a hyperbolic fashion to highlight the age difference between two men. Today’s post is going to explore two expressions of that phrase as they apply to my life lately, in both instances I am literally talking about age differences where the double of one equals the other.

Not long ago I woke up early one morning with the realization that in a few short months I will be twice the age I was when I met the first man I fell in love with. This is a professor I had as an undergrad and I’ve written about my experience of him before. In this realization, I also recognized that this man will be turning 80 years old this year. Since I started experiencing sexual attraction, it has always been to older men, particularly those in their fifties and sixties. At the time that I met the professor he was in his mid-sixties.

As I think back to that time in which we first met, I have to consider what it would have been like to partner with someone so much older than myself and what this passage of time, my doubling of age, would bring. While I still find this man handsome and hold a feeling of love inside for me it is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to be partnered with someone in their eighties. Not so much because there is something inherently negative about men of that age, but simply for the drastically differing realities of experience in these different times of our lives. I am now in my mid-thirties finally feeling like I’m gaining traction in my professional life and working to advance that. He is now well beyond the beginnings of retirement and while still exceptionally vibrant and thoughtful, much of his thoughts turn toward issues of the end of life.

Late last fall I began dating someone new, I’ll call him Don. Like the professor when we first met, Don is in his mid-sixties. He really is twice my age. Since the fall things have been moving in a good way in terms of a relationship. Since my split with John I have been a bit gun shy around moving into a relationship and so have been taking things slower. But, it is irrefutable that we have a strong connection. We now spend most of our free time together, collaborate on projects, and in many ways feed on each other creatively.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for us. When I first met John I took the “love conquers all” approach, that despite the differences we might have or the troubles we might have we’d face them together. In encountering a true relationship a second time around I’m not as idealistic. Though I’m enthralled by Don, I can’t take for granted that everything will work out for the best. Perhaps this line of thinking is a curse, doomed to sabotage a relationship before it starts. Perhaps it is a blessing, helping us to navigate the perils before we reach them.

Dating Again #1: Mr. Rebound

When I met John I had been in the dating world only for a short time. After our relationship ended I found myself back in the dating pool. Since, I have found it a bit daunting to try dating again. I certainly know a lot more now than when I first really started dating older men six years ago, but I’m finding that I’m encountering more unusual and challenging experiences than I expected. This is the first post of a series reflecting on my experiences now that I’m dating again.

Shortly after the split I started frequenting one of the more popular intergenerational gay dating sites. Having just come out of a relationship I wasn’t looking for anything serious and even if I were I wouldn’t know what I was looking for. I just wanted to get out, try dating again, and hopefully have some fun times. On this website I started trading a few messages with the man I’m going to call Mr. Rebound.

Mr. Rebound was friendly, thoughtful, and a little bit shy. My own introverted nature led to some of the problems I had with John and it was refreshing to encounter someone that seemed to understand that part of my personality. After a couple of weeks of correspondences and chatting we agreed to meet for coffee one afternoon. The first meeting was rather uneventful. Mr. Rebound was unassuming and easy to be around. We sipped coffee and had rather general conversation. At that first meeting I found him attractive and was excited at the prospect of potentially being with him.

Mr. Rebound and I continued to have our online conversations, and early on he was well aware that I had just come out of a relationship. We commiserated together at how much of the world just doesn’t get the way introverts like us operate. A week or two after the first coffee date we met again for dinner.

To be honest, I don’t remember the dinner much. Afterwards he invited me to his place. We chatted more, listened to music, sat on his couch together and eventually began to make out. Mr. Rebound respected, or at least tried to respect, the fact that we really hadn’t known each other long and that I was fresh out of a relationship. I kept the momentum going however and we ended up in his bed. Again, he tried to slow things down but I thought I was ready to go for it. I threw caution to the wind and we ended up hot, sweaty, naked, and sticky.

I don’t think it was too long after that that I realized that I had made a mistake. I continued to see Mr. Rebound but we didn’t have sex again. It wasn’t that there was anything particularly wrong with him. But, while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was trying to fulfill competing desires with my relationship with Mr. Rebound. On one hand I wanted a friend to talk to, to decompress with, and to get thing off of my chest that had built up as my relationship with John fell apart. I hadn’t felt comfortable doing that with any of my existing friends. On the other hand, I wanted to fulfill sexual desires that weren’t being met. I discovered those two roles shouldn’t be fulfilled by one person, especially not during the emotionally stressful period I was experiencing at the time.

With Mr. Rebound I realized I wanted a friend more than I wanted a lover. Eventually, I was able to tell him this and to my surprise he wasn’t angry nor did he simply disappear after I made it clear I no longer wished to have a romantic relationship with him. We have continued to be friends, and though not terribly close we see each other fairly frequently to have walks, chats, coffee, etc.

Since then I think I’m still trying to learn lessons from this first post-John relationship. First, one must make a distinction between those they really wish to date and those they simply want something physical with. I should have learned that when dating someone that I may want to have a meaningful relationship with that I need to take it slow on the sexual front. I’m not sure I have fully learned that lesson, but that’s a story for a future blog post. By meaningful relationship I mean either long-term dating or simply friendship. To move quickly into sex complicates the getting to know you process and if you do determine you just want to be friends the sex could be deadly to the future of the friendship. I feel that I was pretty lucky to come away with a new friend in Mr. Rebound.

Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 2

Today we have a second installment of Robert Riley’s open letter to the parents of his new significant other. You can read the first installment here.

Seeing my own words in print elsewhere besides my coffee table is gratifying and I appreciate you, the gentle reader… I’ll continue if it pleases you.

 

If your son is anything like Rodney, and his relationship with someone older continues as I am certainly hoping that ours will, at some point you will have a conversation and parts of it are going to sound like this:

“But that’s a whole generation”, “He’s old enough to be…”, “Are you crazy?”, or “Son are you sure you want this?” There’s a few bazillion other things you might say as well, some couched in your own prejudice, assuming human nature is as much a part of your makeup as it is anyone else. Then you’re going to “repair” to your own thoughts, perhaps thinking that if you object you’re going to drive him in a direction you’d prefer he not go. It’s okay to not want your son to be in a relationship with some guy who is twenty five years his senior. You’ve got a right to your feelings. I’d suggest that you really take a bit and experience them. You’re going to think things that will range from “What kind of pervert…?” when you imagine my face to “Well, it’s his life; he needs to make his own mistakes” when thinking about your son. Being frustrated and fearful that your son is making a terrible mistake is part of being a parent, and you’re probably already used to it. The difference is this may be an area in which your input is not going to be so quickly wanted or heeded, you’d better get used that too. Somewhere along the line in this process you’re going to get curious, so go ahead and get that other crap out of the way. After all you’re concerned and rightly so, on a couple of points at least: You don’t want your son hurt, he’s your child – of course you don’t. You don’t want to see him taken advantage of or in a situation where he is operating at a disadvantage. You see the difference in years as something to be worried about. You could easily be thinking that he’s being taken advantage of or just being used sexually. As much as it pains me to say, you could be right, there are some real bad people out there and it’s entirely possible that your son might have stumbled on to one of them. Try to equip your son with the knowledge of what the “red flags” look like and be careful that you don’t over do it.

In the midst of all of the negative you might be thinking (and forgive me if I’m terribly wrong about you) I would like to raise a point here. Have you considered that there might be some advantages too, or are you just stuck on what’s wrong? (That part of me that wants to be supportive is battling with that part that wants you to remind you {loudly and with maximum prejudice} that “no” isn’t the only answer to a question) Parents are used to saying “no” aren’t they? Speaking from my own experience, our kids present us with lots of situations in which we need to “parent”, we establish rules, guidelines and expectations in the hope that they’ll follow all of these instructions and somehow ferret out the right path. We want them to take advantage of our mistakes because we recognize how much pain our errors have caused us and we don’t want them to have to endure what we have endured. When our kids stray from the rules we say “no”, when they’re not following the guidelines we say “do it like this” and when something goes wrong we explain the expectations we had for them… am I correct? Then if that still doesn’t get the point across we follow that up with discipline or worse, punishment. I’m hoping that you don’t go down the punishing path… (oh yes, you can still punish him despite the fact that he’s reached the age of majority) You can isolate him, let him feel that you’re angry because of his choices. I’d like to take moment or two and remind you of something…. Something that gay people over the age of 30 (and a great many younger too) have come to know. Young people that happen to be Gay spend a lot of time being punished, many of them do it to themselves, they really don’t need you to help them to more punishment. Rodney is doing it to himself but I think he’s gaining ground on this. At one point he had convinced himself that you’re going to be so completely disapproving that he’s keeping his seeing someone a complete secret. My guess is that he’s terrified about telling you about this person he’s been seeing once or twice a week.

I don’t want to scare you but this needs to be said because it’s epidemic.

The greatest cause of death among people who are under 25 and identify as GLBT of any variety is Suicide, driven by both real and imagined non acceptance of people they love. Please don’t add to the burden your son already feels, allow him to be who he is without editorial comments, kindly, carefully express your concern but for the time being at least, for his sake keep your judgmental perspective to yourself! If I’m wrong and you are a supportive and affirming parent, don’t pass up the chance to tell him you love him more than life itself, you’ll have my unending gratitude as well as everybody’s from under the rainbow.

 At some point in the last couple of years you might have thought: “We’ve spent all this time and energy trying to teach him how to get from “A” to “B” and then he throws a curve ball” I can almost hear it in the wind. “Mom, Dad… we need to talk” “What’s wrong honey?” His Mother says with a hint of alarm, his Dad sits, quietly. They both look at him as he fidgets a bit. “I have something to tell you”. His pronounced adams apple bobs gently and then he says: “I’m gay”. His Dad exhales sharply, and says “Oh, is that all. I thought you were, um… I mean I thought somebody was pregnant”. His Mother looks at her husband… mouth open wide, “is that all, Tom what’s got into you?” A year later, you’ve still not really dealt with the “Gay” thing and you discover, quite by accident that your son of 20 is in a relationship with someone as old as his Father and you have no idea what to do. Let me make it easy on you: Sit down, relax, let me help you here a little.

Guest Post: Rodney and Me

Today’s guest post comes from a GtD reader. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his new significant other, it addresses the concerns of outsiders looking in at a may-to-december relationship.

I’d bet you’re here for a reason… there was a reason for me too. When I discovered this site I had only had a need of it for just a few days… I was rapidly becoming emotionally involved with someone in excess of twenty five years my junior. Not only is he significantly younger, he’s significantly young. This is of course going to trouble a great many people, being a responsible and moral person I’m one of them, the first I expect. This collection of people may have just recently grown by a few, could be you and your spouse – Rodney’s parents, are a bit troubled too.

I’m glad you’re here; I hope you can find the answers you’re looking for. Please know that this site is about supporting people who are in, could be in or are otherwise somehow related to someone in an intergenerational gay relationship. It’s a fair assumption that you might feel the need for some support, if nothing else you’re concerned for your son or other family member, probably worried that he is being taken advantage of. As we might have someone in common that we care about I’d like to offer you some support. You’re possibly wondering why I’m here offering this to you; I’m thinking that its possible that you’re seeing me as the “enemy”. While I’m certain that you are mistaken on this count, nothing will change that impression if I am not willing to step forward and extend my hand, taking ownership for my part in this situation.

I’d like to offer up a few things for you to consider. First, you’re probably not here by accident. Your Son or another family member gave you a link to this website on purpose or you were looking for information on your adult child’s intergenerational relationship. Somebody has something that they’re trying to tell you. It’s in the spirit of openness and consideration for your feelings that you’ve been sent here, if you arrived by accident you’re curious because of someone you know. Please keep that in mind and if you are upset, scared, worried or otherwise feel that your family member is being victimized take a moment to relax and have faith in your son, while I bring you up to speed on a couple of things. While I can’t speak for everyone in this situation, I can present my feelings to you and offer you the possibility that I may not be the only older half of an intergenerational gay relationship that is willing to be open and forward. It’s not easy as I’m thinking that you may see me as an enemy, though I am far from it. I believe in Rodney, truly want the best for him and am willing to open myself up to scrutiny.

When I discovered my attraction for (and we are going to call him Rodney) Rodney I was more than surprised that things might take this kind of turn. We had communicated online a month before we met, most of that was about when are we going to get together, my schedule, his schedule etc. Once we finally got together, had opportunity to spend some time together we found that like other people we just enjoyed being together. It did not take long for me to realize that this young man was not cut from the same cloth as others his age. He has a deep sense of compassion with still waters running very strong and deep, nor given to childish pursuits. One would quickly call him an old soul without hesitation. I will confess that by the end of our first date I had long forgotten his age as he seemed much older. Our third date was a disaster, but as parents you could not have been happier with his bravery and willingness to deal with a crisis.

We had arranged nearly a week ahead of time to have brunch on New Year’s Day. I expected that we would eat and then catch a movie; my absent mindedness would change our plans. While cooking I had turned on the wrong burner on the stove and there was a frying pan handle over the burner, when I noticed this I corrected the situation and put some oil in the pan and then was distracted. It didn’t take long before the pan had gotten too hot and was smoking. I reached out to move the pan without thinking and burned the inside of my fingers on the frying pan handle, dropping the frying pan on the stove, the oil splashed out burning the outside of three of my fingers. Standing next to the sink I immediately went for cold water but that wasn’t enough. I was rapidly going into shock and were it not for Rod I might’ve have collapsed or worse. Most people would have politely excused themselves and ran out as quickly as possible, but not your son. It didn’t enter into his mind, not for an instant. He just saw that I needed someone to help then ran out and got snow to cool the water even more, then helped me make it to the couch and eventually the bathroom. An hour later after I was no longer in shock he drove me to the hospital, staying with me until the emergency room people were done with me. Afterward that evening we had dinner and came back to the scene of the injury for a movie.

I’d like you to know that whatever you taught Rodney, it was all worth it. You look at him and see your barely adult (chronologically) son, of course. It is clear to anyone that while Rodney may be young when it comes to the calendar, he handles himself and crises like an old pro. He was there for me when I needed help and possesses a maturity well beyond his years. I look forward to being there for him should it be necessary at any time in the future.

Best Regards,

Robert Riley