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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?

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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.

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.

Top Five Anxieties When Entering an Intergenerational Relationship

anxietyFor individuals entering any type of intimate relationship there is going to be some level of anxiety.  One is always concerned if the other party is going to like them.  However, for intergenerational couples these anxieties may come in the form of age or status related concerns.  Often these anxieties can be subliminal, not fully apparent to the individuals involved in the relationship.  By addressing these anxieties consciously, though, an individual can either move beyond them and let the relationship flourish, or identify incompatibilities that are irreconcilable and decide to move on.  Today I present to you five major points of anxiety for gay intergenerational couples.  I hope they serve as a starting point for self reflection for my readership as well as a conversation starter here at GtD.

Perception – Individuals within intergenerational couples are often concerned with the perceptions of others, particularly if they are entering their first age disparate relationship.  As I discussed in many of my early posts here, there are a number of stereotypes surrounding intergenerational couples.  This can lead to a lot of anxiety for those individuals, which can effect how they approach the relationship.  I remember fearing intensely the reactions of family and friends to the news that I had entered a relationship with someone much older than myself not to mention anxieties over the way strangers may treat us as well.  Outside societal pressure can definitely have negative impacts on ones relationship and until I came to the conclusion that I had to make my own decisions, I questioned what future John and I might have.

Opportunism – Both older partners and younger partners my have concerns that they are taken advantage of.  Is the younger partner simply using the older for financial gain?  Is the older with the younger merely for sexual reasons or for status within the gay community.  While the problem of opportunism can be a legitimate concern, and I would never encourage an individual to let themselves be taken advantage of, the charge of opportunism is a serious one and can be quite hurtful if not true.  Fully examine anxieties over opportunism, before acting upon them.

Performance – This is probably an anxiety felt more acutely by older men than younger men.  Incidence of decreased sexual function increases with age.  Some older men fixate on problems they may have with sexual function leading to anxiety about how that will effect the relationship or how the younger man may react.  To a lesser extent younger men may have some anxieties in this area, worried how they may measure up to previous partners in the love making department.

Autonomy – On the other hand anxieties over autonomy are more likely to touch the younger partner.  Older partners in intergenerational relationships are often more established financially and professionally, and may have a leg up in terms of their relationships with friends and family (i.e. how long they have been out and accepted by those groups).  For the younger individual this may pose a challenge to their independence and self authorship.  How do you cultivate a healthy relationship with someone that has already established their identity when you’re still working on yours?  At the same time the older partner may fear hindering their younger partner’s development, concerned they may hold the younger man back.

Rejection – Ultimately the anxiety we all share when we enter a new relationship is the fear of rejection.  The previous anxieties feed the fear of rejection as do other concerns.  The older man may fear that he not in good enough shape.  The younger man may fear that he’s not educated or experienced enough.  And because of these or other anxieties both parties ultimately have anxiety over rejection.  Early on every small argument and disagreement my feel like grounds for rejection.  Fortunately as time goes by, if all these anxieties are confronted and dealt with, that anxiety of rejection begins to fade and a stronger relationship is left in its place.

Brief Weirdness: Observations on Public Perceptions

Earlier today John and I were driving downtown.  While we were stopped at a light I noticed some people, two hetero couples, in the car slightly behind us in the left lane.  They seemed to be staring at our car, or more specifically at us.  At first I thought they might be looking at John’s political bumper sticker, but they really seemed to be looking in our direction.  They were talking and seemingly making  jokes.

To be honest I can’t rationally figure out why they were looking at us.  We were just in the car, it isn’t as though we were together in a store or restaraunt where we are more obvious as a couple.  However I can’t shake the feeling that the people in the car were making fun of us.

Later that evening we had dinner in a restaurant that was populated by mostly thirty-somethings.  John mentioned that he felt really old in there.  At the same time I was thinking, I wish other young people could see in John what I see in him.

Coming Out Intergenerational: a Poll

portalOver the Christmas holiday I returned to the American South to visit my family.  This was the first visit back since I came out to my parents and told them about my relationship with a man more than forty years my senior.  I plan to write a post about my experience of coming out to my parents, but I want to take a little more time to reflect on my most recent visit.

In addition to this visit, John and I recently watched the film Milk.  In it we see Harvey Milk imploring his gay compatriots to come out, that only by being visible will the gay community make any political progress.  In one scene he almost forces one of his campaign aids to call his parents to come out.

Combined, these events have had me thinking about and reflecting on coming out quite a bit lately.  I first started coming out to friends about ten years ago.  The first person I told was a mere acquaintance, a young woman that lived in my freshman dorm.  Over the years I’ve found it easier and easier to come out to people.  But, I remember having a very difficult time coming out to friends from high school that had known me a long time and it took me a long time and a change in personal circumstances to finally come clean with my parents.

For those of us who are attracted to individuals who are significantly older or younger than ourselves, an additional challenge is thrown into the process of coming out.  I had lots of friends to whom I had come out to, but never told them about my attraction to older men.  After I became involved with John, I realized I had to, in a way, come out a second time.  I had the same sort of anxiety telling these friends about my attraction to older men as I did when I first came out.  However, by far I worried most about my parents’ reaction to my intergenerational relationship.

For you, who do you think will be, or was, the most difficult to tell about your attraction to individuals of a much different age? Feel free to leave a comment as well as respond to the poll below.


Relationship Skepticism: The Problem With Pals

My partner and I can be, at times, self conscious of about our relationship, but for the most part we take it all in stride. I have to admit that we have it pretty good. We live in a pretty liberal town. Most of our friends, both gay and straight, are pretty accepting of our relationship. And, though there have been a few highly publicized instances of violence against gay people in our town, we feel fairly safe. Over all we’re in a really good place.

It can be hard though when people close to us seem to have a problem with our relationship. Especially when those problems seem to go away only to pop up again later. I can understand that people might initially have trepidations about our relationship. They wonder what we have in common, whether I’m using him, whether he’s using me, etc.; all those myths I’ve discussed before.

A, now mutual, friend of ours once told me he was shocked when my partner told him that he was beginning to date a 20-something guy. But, after he really saw us together he decided we made sense, that we were a good couple. It seems that most of our friends come to that conclusion after they’ve spent some time with us together. In the abstract such an age disparate relationship seems irrational, but in reality it works great for the two of us.

It can really sting then when someone we know seems to question us being together or doesn’t give our relationship much credit. My partner recently went to a pride event. I couldn’t go because I unfortunately had to work that day, but John went and took a 40-something friend of ours that was visiting from out of town.

While at pride John ran into a friend of his we’ll call Joe. When Joe saw my partner with our guest and not me, he made some remarks as though he were probing to see if I was still around. John asked him directly if he was wondering if we were still together and he admitted that, yes that was what he was wondering. John explained that I was at work.

Later that evening John told me about the encounter, but he didn’t perceive the probing as negatively as I did. It really hurt my pride to think that others might not see our relationship as durable or that I might be so easily replaced. From the first time I met Joe he’s seemed rather skeptical of me. In some ways it is to his credit; I don’t think it is out of malice, rather he likes John and is protective of him. We don’t spend as much time with Joe as some of my partner’s other friends, but over the past couple of months we’ve seen him a few times and he seemed to be warming up to me. I think that’s why his behavior at pride really struck me.

After a little time to reflect on the situation I’ve mellowed out some. It doesn’t bug me as much as it did when John first told me, but it makes me wonder how many others may secretly think my partner and I aren’t good for each other. I’d like to believe that it doesn’t matter what others think. To a certain extent that is true, but when it comes to your friends you hope for them to be supportive and trusting. If they’re not, then where will that friendship lead? For now I’ll just have to double my resolve to win over Joe and we’ll see what happens next.