Thea de Gallier | contributor | Saturday, 17 January 2015

Things You Only Know If You've Dated An Older Man

The Debrief: Be prepared for your sugar daddy to be unfamiliar with feminism

Poor old Effie Gray. The 19 year old’s marriage in 1848 to Victorian art critic John Ruskin, who was 12 years her senior, was recently portrayed in a film of the same name, and it’s safe to say she didn’t exactly have a brilliant time being hitched to an older bloke. 

When he wasn’t refusing to consummate their marriage, he was leaving her to wander around Venice on her todd while he busied himself with arty stuff. Age is just a number though, right? Well, maybe if you’re Bradley Cooper and Suki Waterhouse (or Stephen Fry and Elliott Spencer). But my particular pairing at 22 with a bloke 18 years my senior was just an unfortunate reminder that men aren’t fine whiskies – i.e. they don’t get better with age.

1. Beware of middle-aged misogyny

Norman* was born in an era when second-wave feminism was in full swing, but it seemed to have passed him by. We were discussing the love life of a friend, who’d had a few short flings in the past few months, when he declared that she was a ‘slag.’ 

Indignantly, I reminded him that it was her body to do what she wanted with. After all, I’d had many a fling, and a few one-night stands, during my uni days, and I accepted my basic right to shag an attractive man when it took my fancy. Norman decided that I too, must qualify as a slag, and casual sex became argument fodder on many an occasion after that. He couldn’t fathom why I ‘thought like a man’ about sexual freedom – well, excuse me for not having a todger.

2. No money, no problems? Not quite.

While I strived to establish myself as a journalist at the expense of making tons of money, Norman had had the same job for over 20 years and considered his £40k salary ‘average.’ Trying to explain to him that actually liking my job meant more to me than a bulging bank account was like extolling the virtues of Buddhism to Hitler. 

According to Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor with Relate, Norman’s disdain for frivolous finance management isn’t surprising. 'An older man may have a different attitude towards finances, especially if he has children who’ll inherit from him,' she says. Norman did indeed have children from a previous relationship, and he wasn’t wrong to suggest it’s important to consider one’s fiscal future. Rather, it was an indicator of the gulf between our ambitions, and I realised I wasn’t ready to become the ‘proper’ adult he’d already been for the past 20 years.

3. His mates won’t become your mates

Getting a new boyfriend often means instant access to a new social group. Getting a new middle-aged boyfriend means awkward meals out with couples in their forties who discuss mortgages and make jokes about how your other half is a borderline sex offender. Basically, don’t expect to be taken seriously as the younger half of an age-gap couple.

Emily*, 26, has just ended a relationship with a 38-year-old. 'I never felt like I fitted in with his friends; I was embarrassed telling them I was 26,' she says. Denise agrees. 'Attitudes of friends and family can cause problems, especially when they question your relationship,' she explains. 

Both my friends and Norman’s dismissed our pairing as a midlife crisis destined to fail. Socialising separately had its own problems, too – Norman hated the fact that most of my friends are male, as he was of the opinion that opposite-gendered friends couldn’t be trusted not to fuck each other. As Denise says, there are ‘certain areas where an age gap manifests’, and Norman’s staunchly traditional worldview was one of them.

4. Manners maketh the middle-aged man

When Norman wasn’t complaining that I chewed too loudly or telling me off for farting in his presence, he was busy being horrified at the fact that I’d walk to the shop in a unicorn onesie. However, an older partner’s traditional etiquette can sometimes be a positive. Norman was fiercely protective, making midnight trips to pick me up from nights out, and driving me to work when it was raining.

'He’d always hold the door open for me, and make sure I felt looked after,' says Kate*, 22, of her 31-year-old ex. Emily describes her ex-partner as 'generous to a fault, and he always treated me well.' Denise explains that when an older partner has several previous relationships, or even a marriage, behind him, he’ll likely have fixed ideas of how to conduct himself as a partner. 'Older men can be more caring, and this is attractive to some young women,' she says. 

5. He won’t be down with slob-chic

Norman’s behavioural expectations didn’t stop at himself. Boyfriends in my age bracket have told me they still fancy me when I’m lounging around in a tracksuit sans make-up, but Norman would berate me for ‘not making an effort’. He was as offended by a hairy leg as he was by women having casual sex, and as he became less attractive on an intellectual level, he did on a physical level, too. In the end, I was the Ruskin to his Effie – I’d lost all interest in doing the horizontal tango with this old relic of oppressive times gone by. 

Discussing both parties’ expectations at the start of the relationship is, according to Denise, the only way for an age-gap coupling to stand a chance. In other words, find out early on if your wrinkly date is actually a raging misogynist. “It’s dangerous when one person makes an incorrect assumption about the other,” she says. In fairness, Norman and I were both guilty of this. I expected a man who’d grown up in the Seventies, when contraception was made free and Germaine Greer was in her heyday, to be more open-minded. He expected me to embody a bunch of outdated clichés on how women should behave.

So, is any age-gap relationship immune to generational differences? 'As long as each party is open about their expectations,' says Denise. If they include slut-shaming, however, you might want to take a rain check.

*Names have been changed.

Liked this? You might also be interested in: 

Ask An Adult: Can A Relationship With An Older Man Ever Work? 

What It Really Feels Like To Have Sex With An Older Man 

Why, When It Comes To Relationships, We Totally Need To Embrace The Age Gap 

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