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What’s in a Number?: Getting Specific in May to December Relationships

Since John and I have been together I have generally been hesitant to specify our precise age difference when discussing our relationship with others.  Now, I have no reservations about how our age difference may affect our relationship, but I have little confidence that others would feel the same way.  There are a few exceptions; my best friend and my brother know exactly how old John is.  But, in general I think people have preconceptions about people based on their age.  Being in one’s 50s means something different than being in one’s 60s which means something different than being in one’s 70s.  I have always wanted my family and friends to judge John and my relationship with him on their own merits.  So, I have seen avoiding specifics as a means to prevent snap judgments.  I would hate for them to dismiss him or our relationship based on some preconception of what a septuagenarian is like.

However, recent events have caused me to reconsider this strategy.  Last week a co-worker and I started discussing relationships.  He is currently having his own anxieties about finding a good relationship and so started asking about how John and I met.  At one point he asked, “what is the age difference, if you don’t mind me asking?”  I replied that I didn’t usually like to elaborate on it and he dismissed the question.  After I got home that evening I told John about the conversation.  He was disappointed I had side-stepped the age question.  Though he has met all my coworkers and they all know who he is, he felt like I was hiding him.

Perhaps John is right, I am hiding an important aspect of our lives and I’m too concerned with what people think.  Instead of taking the negative view, assuming that people will cling to ageism, I should see our relationship as an opportunity to inform people.  Really I have already embraced that notion, that is why I started this blog.  But, maybe it is time to take the next step, to be more open with others about the age difference in our relationship.  If nothing else, answering people’s questions about our age difference avoids a misinterpretation I hadn’t considered until recently; suppose others see my hesitance as a sign of guilt or shame?  This is an interpretation that undermines my reasoning behind being vague in the first place; if they perceive that I see something wrong with the relationship then they’ll be more likely to hold to their old prejudices.

John asked me to go back and answer my co-worker’s question.  The next time I saw him I spoke with him about my anxieties about how others might perceive John and I and then I told him exactly what the difference was in our ages.  He seemed a little shocked, but was kind and empathetic to my concerns over other people’s judgments.  He ended up being the first person at work to learn exactly how old my partner is.

What do you think?  How important is it for people in age disparate relationships to quantify their age difference to others?


Friends and Lover: In the Eye of the Beholder

Recently John and I have been discussing my social life.  Though I love John and his friends, I have to admit that sometimes I feel a little lonely; that in the past year I haven’t really had a lot of friends of my own.  Of course this isn’t directly a result of John per se.

I moved out West to pursue graduate study and while in my program I made quite a few good friends and had lots of people to socialize with.  But, with the end of the program most of those people went their own way.  With one exception I rarely see or talk to those people that were in my program.  Since meeting John I’ve gotten to know his friends and we spend a lot of time with them, and it is good but sometimes I still feel as though something is lacking.  John has expressed his own worries that since we started living together, perhaps our relationship scares away potential new friends my own age.

To a certain extent I admit that there is probably some validity to these worries.  While I’m on good terms with my co-workers they seldom go out of their way to socialize with me.  But is this hesitance on their part due to homophobia, prejudice about inter-generational relationships, or a more nuanced problem caused by this generation gap?  I can’t say for sure, but a couple of occasions where John and I have gotten together with my co-workers makes me contemplate the latter.

One occasion happened last fall.  At a company event I started telling one of my co-workers and his girlfriend about my partner.  They both seemed pretty interested and later told me they’d like to meet him.  I had also been telling them about a restaurant near our house that John and I really liked so I suggested we meet there for dinner one night.  The dinner was alright, the couple didn’t seem to flinch at the age difference, but conversation was hard to keep flowing.  I came to realized that popular culture is often the subject of conversation for people my age.  It is a common experience easy for most of us to get into and I admit that I enjoy having conversations on that level it times.  However when it came to being there with my partner the group was lopsided and it was easy for John to become left out.  While John and I have found plenty of things we have in common it is sometimes difficult to get those interests to connect with others my age.

On a more recent occasion I found that the opposite sort of situation occured.  After work one night I was planing to meet John and a middle aged gay couple we know for drinks.  One of the guys I work with is pretty gay friendly and I knew he didn’t have anything to do that night so I invited him to come along.  My co-worker is very personable and got along well with our friends, but again like with John in the first story, I felt like he got left out of the conversation some.  We talked politics and films, and while my co-worker put in his two cents on occasion, there were times when he just went quiet.

In general it seems that my co-workers have nothing against my relationship; they seem to genuinely greet John with enthusiasm when they see him.  However I don’t think they really know what to make of us together, how to interact.  Admittedly we do pose an interesting problem when it comes to conversation, how do we find topics that are accessible or interesting to everyone.  Perhaps we need to try harder to strike a balance in ages when we socialize as a group.  On the other hand maybe I should socialize more on my own; I think John and I are at that point in our relationship where we no longer have to be together all the time.

What do you think?  How should I approach the subject of socializing with others my age?  Has anyone else experienced similar problems in their relationships?