Marriage and Family — 30 August 2005
Consideration in the May-December marriage

When there is a significant age difference, (ten years or more), between spouses, many questions arise. Society has its parameters of what is acceptable and recommended and what is aberrant. The partners themselves often struggle with their own ideas about the reasons for and the predicted success of their union over time.

The statistical age difference between men and women in the first marriage is 2-3 years. Probably for historical reasons, the man was expected to be older to have had the time to become a better provider for his wife and family.

Since the advent of women entering the workplace and changes in cultural perspectives and family structure, more partners of the same age enter into matrimonial contracts. They meet in school, work, or through friends and are of the same peer group.

At the same time, there are also more marriages between older men and younger women and between older women and younger men.

The classical match between a May-December pair is between a wealthy older man and attractive younger woman. The woman may seek financial comfort and the man may need the status and prestige of being associated with beautiful younger woman.

Another common union between an older man and a younger woman is due to the elevated divorce rate. As the boss experiences his midlife crisis and seeks to rejuvenate his self-view, he is likely to be attracted to a member of his staff who is young and adoring of him.

The workplace provides opportunities for close interactions, on a daily basis, with intensity and familiarity that may breed love. Professional women, who are attracted to competence and power, may be drawn to the older experienced colleague with whom they share career interests. These women may seek a mentor and the men may enjoy developing a promising protégé. Sometimes these connections are compelling enough to consider marriage despite the age difference.

There are also known marriages between highly creative men such as painters, composers, or musicians whose genius requires the constant caring, admiration, and promoting of a younger budding talent.

A newer phenomenon is the matches between older women and younger men. Those who are in this relationship tell us that it is society that is the one with the problem. They are in love and since men are expected to precede women in death, they feel that they are well suited for a long life together. Providing that this is a healthy choice, (not based on the man’s neediness of a mother, for example), the success of these marriages may be comparable to other unions.

People who are considering taking a much younger or older partner as a life mate often question their motivation and the wisdom of their choice.

The older person often struggles with the possibility, as slim as it may seem, of a future abandonment by the younger mate at a time of his or her greatest need. The younger partner often worries about the long-term compatibility of energy, level of activity and spark between them. The issue of becoming a caregiver to an ailing older mate, when one is still young and vital, is often a major consideration for the younger partner.

Perhaps it would be wonderful if one can predict the future status of his/her physical and emotional well-being. Since this is impossible, these couples must resort to optimism and realistic self-assessment.

Optimism helps couples fortify their love and connection and keep it vital throughout their marriage. The realistic self-assessment requires a very honest look at the worst-case scenario and one’s suitability to keep the commitment throughout it.

A younger woman I knew, who chose to marry a man twenty years her senior, put it this way: “I would rather have twenty great years with him than forty or more years with anyone else”. As history evolved, she indeed had twenty wonderful years with her husband and later said she never regretted her choice even during her grief and loneliness pursuant to his demise.
The answers to these partners’ questions cannot be found outside of themselves. No wise consultant can recommend the “best “ choice for any other person. S/he can only assist the wondering partner pose the questions to be answered and search his/her soul, heart and mind for the correct option.

If you are considering marrying a much older or younger partner, please consider the following:

• Ask yourself: “What is my primary motivation for committing to this person?” Be honest, no one is listening.
“Is this reason a durable one?” For example, “If it is financial
security, what if it is reversed?
“What are additional reasons for selecting this mate?” Remember,
love is not enough.
• What are your reservations? Are these yours, or other people’s input? If they are not yours, is there a part of you that shares their fears?
• Imagine the best life you can have with this partner. If it will be short, is it still worthwhile?
• Are you willing to be cared for, or be a caregiver to your mate should s/he need it? Are you temperamentally suited for deferring your needs for your partner’s needs on a long-term basis?
• How would you handle being a young widow/er, or being left by your mate, should the worst occur?
• Though you cannot predict longevity, health and life circumstances, your partner’s attitude toward these is important. Does s/he take good care of her/himself? What is his/her family’s health history? Living parents may help with the projection of your partner’s state as an older person.
• Above all, listen to yourself. Remember that you are the person who best knows what is right for you. Once you are honest with yourself, thorough and realistically positive, you can create the happy life you desire with the partner of your choice, regardless of his/her age.

August 28, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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