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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?

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