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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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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.

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

Guest Post: Discovering Self and Others

Today’s guest post is from GtD reader Carl of Tucson, AZ. I appreciate him sharing part of his story; it highlights how relationships evolve overtime and how that causes us to evolve over time ourselves.

Tom and I are a good twenty-seven years into our time together. Lovers, buddies, partners, friends, housemates, sharers-of-pets, we’ve come a good way along the path together. You know: house, cars, yardwork, repairs, illnesses, triumphs, successes, failures– we’ve weathered them both individually and as a unit. Heck, our house is nearly paid-for!

A few years ago, Fil entered our lives. Thirty-three years old, he offered a newness to our studied habituations. Way different and more easy-going than we, he was filled with jollity, laughter, copious amounts of wine and off-centeredness. Fil lived up to his name, filling gaps Tom and I hadn’t realized were present in our lives as individuals as well as a pair. Fil came and went. I understood. He’d had his own life to sort out; we, ours. Then, out of the blue, a few months ago, Fil re-emerged, re-connected with us. He’d moved, gone to North Carolina, come back, become a caregiver for his grandparents, continued laughing, imbibing, being loving and caring. He’d come over for dinner, a movie, a night of massages and health tips– whatever. I figured it was cupboard love. I was OK with that. Really, I was.

Not knowing “the rules” of the new landscape, Tom and I both held back, resorting to entertainment rather than home-iness. Just what was going on, anyway? Fil would have none of it. True to his nature, he steamrolled good-naturedly passed the bs, landing fully in the moment. Ah, youth!

Now, after a few months of renewal, Tom and I have made a place for standing dates for movies, “Fringe”, good food and laughter, and continued baby-steps to a triadic comfort zone, where three people, two generations, differing ethnicities and family backgrounds and disparate personal histories begin to mix and gel their three personalities– two of whom love and respond to youthful playfulness, and one of whom self-confesses, to our delight, that he likes “grandfatherly types”, which, I hope, means wisdom, patience, stability, longevity– into a more unified sense of what a relationship means: Trust, sharing, a sense of belonging while exploring individuality. Allowing and encouraging the other partner(s) to grow and blossom is the test of whether we, from our differing perspectives, can and will develop our lives into something greater than what the sum of the parts may be. We have entered another point on the continuum of possibilities in human relationships. I look forward to the exploration.

Guest Post: A Poem for Intergenerational Love

On some unearthly plain where souls reside,
two old ones came together light and wise.
They spoke the silent language that souls use.
Their beings merged so that they thought as one.

“Remember that sweet time on sweet earth when
we met to teach each other about love?”
“You were eighteen,” “And you were sixty-two.”
“How did we pull that off?” they thought and laughed.

“Remember when we hiked that buggy path

Aaron and Sam

with bracken on our heads. We looked so dumb”
“Remember the trout lilies and shadbush,
the hemlocks and the mosses and the ferns?”
Each thought how much that precious time was worth,
and with a sigh confessed, “I miss the earth.”

The preceding poem is shared with permission from GtD reader Aaron (27) and his partner Sam (70). Sam wrote this poem on the occasion of their 5th anniversary a few years ago. I’m thankful for such a beautiful tribute to intergenerational love.

Not So Happily Ever After: Relationship Reality Check

Recently I started feeling bad about my relationship with John. We seemed to always be snipping at each other, our goals didn’t seem compatible, and I was finding myself wondering if it was really working. I was feeling like I was at a point in both my career development and in our relationship that I wanted more independence. John on the other hand was expressing the feeling that he needed to depend on me more; he is recognizing that is age is affecting his capacity to do certain things. Together these anxieties started putting a major strain on our relationship.

Eventually it all came out. We had a weekend where we just had to spill the beans; to talk about what our worries, desires, and concerns were. For the first time in a while we started talking about these difficult subjects. It is funny, early on in our relationship we agreed that open communication was optimal, yet we still found ourselves falling into the habit of withholding our feelings.

At one point I decided to look up information about relationship development and found several articles on the stages people go through in relationships. I found this one, 5 Stages of Committed Relationships, particularly enlightening. All relationships start in a romance stage where your partner can do almost no wrong. This is the sort of romance depicted in movies and TV shows. Having been together for more than four and a half years now, John and I have certainly moved past that point. As we looked at the stages it became pretty clear that we had progressed to stage three; the power struggle stage. This is the stage where differences between the individuals become the most exaggerated and difficult to manage. This is also the stage where most couples break up.

Strangely, realizing that we weren’t alone in this sort of tumult in our relationship diffused a lot of the anxiety I was feeling. John and I were both able to acknowledge that there are things in our relationship we are concerned about, but that we value each other and the relationship enough to try to work this out. Now we’re doing better now, but looking at attending some couple’s counseling to take us that extra mile. I’m happy we took the time to step back and reflect on our relationship. How easy it could have been to simply caved to our frustrations and thrown in the towel rather than trying to actually address the problems.

As a postscript; I realize that being a part of a mixed age gay relationship may make this sort of relationship anxiety harder to deal with. I’ve recognized that I find it hard to bring myself to ask friends for relationship advice when it comes to dealing with problems between John and me. I have no sounding board to vent my frustrations or to bounce ideas off of. I worry, because our relationship is unconventional, that friends or family may interpret my frustrations as confirmation that the relationship wasn’t meant to be in the first place. There is a lot of pressure to present our relationship as one of domestic bliss; but that is really an unrealistic fantasy we shouldn’t have to hold ourselves to.