The Reality Of Having A Boyfriend Who's 20 Years Older Than You
The Debrief: How do you find common ground with someone when he graduated 20 years ago and I’ve been alumni for only two?
I'm 24, and my boyfriend is 43. We’ve been together for just under one year. He’s 369 days younger than my Mum, and has teenage children. Despite the maths, and the fact he thinks Kim Kardashian is married to Jay Z, it’s a solid, respectful relationship devoid of weird power dynamics.
To begin with, I was wary. I was vaguely suspicious of a forty-something attracted to a twenty-something with student loans instead of a sorted older woman at her sexual peak. Then a few realisations fell into place: firstly, nobody is sorted. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that. Secondly, it was hardly surprising that I connected with somebody much older – Kevin McCloud was one of my teenage-crushes. If anyone should have been worried about age-fetishes, it was him, not me.
Still, I had questions about whether an age-gap, between two people at such different stages in life was a feasible endeavour. I did what any millennial does – I took my niggling questions to Google. Few search results gave me the story I wanted to hear. I wanted a tale reflecting my own situation. Of somebody in their twenties in a relationship with somebody older, which didn’t involve sugar daddies, psychological abuse or nostalgia from couples now in their fifties and seventies. I reached the point when the only viable comparison I could find was Carrie and Big. And I don’t care which side of the Big fence you sit on, Carrie and Big had a fucked-up power dynamic.
In an attempt to redress the balance of real-life May-September stories I couldn’t find, I’m telling mine. In short: I stopped worrying and continued to fancy back this person who desired the unfiltered version of myself. I found my answers to those questions like, ‘If he graduated 20 years ago and I’ve been alumni for only two, how will we find common ground?’
It works because we both want the same things: satisfaction from work, plenty of good food, a passion that fuels us, travel, and to sleep and spend time with somebody who embraces rather than rejects the excitement of getting closer. I tolerate his love of ’80s bands like Deacon Blue (Who? Exactly) and in most ways, we meet emotionally in the middle.
My previous romantic involvements were with men who zoned out when I talked to them, or told me their life stories, but never asked about mine. Being with somebody older, who’s been through it all before, and is tired of game-playing is utterly refreshing. His philosophy is if you like somebody, why wouldn’t you admit to wanting to spend time with them? It is the antithesis of ‘chill’ and the tendency of people in their twenties to fear labels.
Friends ask if we trip over clashing cultural references? Occasionally, like when he quotes Taylor Swift (1989 is one of his favourite albums ‘because of the production values’) and I do not follow. We’ve discovered overlapping cultural references from my childhood because he had direct involvement with them. Like the time he had dinner with Hear’say, or when he produced Late Night Love, a call-in radio show I used to fall asleep listening to aged 14.
More revealing of our gap is his ability to provide practical solutions to the problems I cannot solve. It’s helpful when somebody knows how to hang shelves without tearing down walls. But these offers of help often clash with my personal conflicts as a feminist desiring autonomy through self-taught skills, who also happens to lose interest two pages into an instructions manual. The fact he has more practical skills than I do, based on more years of experience, sometimes highlights the gaps in my knowledge and my need to discover things for myself.
We’ve encountered a few raised eyebrows, but that was from a German border control agent who insisted on calling me his sister, rather than say, my parents. They’re cool with it because they can see I’m happy. He has has encountered a few ‘you lucky bastard’ type comments from other men, which makes us cringe for the sake of ‘poor bastards’ who think that way.
Before we got together I hadn’t really enjoyed sex, and my experiences never did justice to how I felt about my own sexuality. I was mostly under-stimulated and physically uncomfortable. Being with somebody older has affirmed a few things; you don’t need to perform. (Though, if you want to, that’s cool, too.) That sex is an on-going consensual conversation rather than an act you’re obligated to continue if you decide you’re not in the mood halfway through. I’ve learnt to pay more attention to what my body tells me and to honour my own pleasure.
We continue to navigate our way through differences in circumstances. Like the fact he lives 170 miles away and has children I am yet to meet. Things work, and when they don’t we talk about it. We split restaurant bills according to what we earn respectively. He stays in the house I share with my best friend and the dynamic doesn’t feel any less strange than if I was bringing a twenty-something in.
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Artwork: Eugenia Loli
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