Sali Hughes | Contributing Writer | 1,270 day ago

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

The Debrief: Yes, says writer Sali Hughes. As long as you do your due diligence

Illustration by Beth Hoeckel

My first proper relationship (hideous) was with a man 12 years older than me. My second (wonderful – he’s now my best friend) was with a man 11 years older and my current relationship (extremely happy) is with someone a mere eight years my senior. Good or bad, happy or sad, I’ve learned a great deal from all my long-term relationships with older men.

Which is why I feel qualified to say don’t enter a similarly May to December coupling without first considering these important points:

1. Does he love you, or your age?

I believe strongly that you fall for who you fall for, and there’s no legislating for details like hair colour, class or age (provided both parties are over the age of consent, naturally). But if you get wind that your older man is actively turned on by your lower age, then get the hell out. Firstly – and most importantly – it’s gross and he’s probably a nonce. Secondly, you will get older. No one wants a man who thinks you’re past your sell by date at 30, nor do you want to constantly be worrying he’s going to leave you for a teenager. You also need to ask yourself why a grown man is specifically attracted to younger women. He may have arrested emotional development or be pathetically vain. You’re a person, not a trophy.

2. Know your references

A male friend of mine had to end a relationship with his very nice and much younger girlfriend because he found himself constantly explaining things like John Hughes films and Pet Shop Boys. Your older man is surrounded by your cultural references every day, so the onus is on you to look back and learn a few things about his. Because without this sort of cultural recognition, the relationship’s joke count drops significantly. Anecdotes become meaningless, and the older party feels constantly as though he’s showing a foreign exchange student around an alien land. It’s wearying. Besides, people who don’t know about anything pre Mean Girls are massively boring, whoever they plan to sleep with. 

3. Sweat the big stuff

People change, values remain. If you’re in your early 20s and your man is in his 40s, there’s a chance you may not share the same interests for long, so check that the permanent things are compatible now. Basic politics (not necessarily party-specific ones – we’re not 14, FFS) are important. Your comparative priorities regarding family and friends, your views on monogamy, and so on, are mostly age-nonspecific and will probably endure way after he’s decided no nightspot without armchairs is worth going to. 

4. Never try to be Mummy

When dating older men, there is a higher chance of finding yourself in a relationship with someone’s dad. This is sometimes tricky but can be made a whole load easier if you accept from the off that this is Mum’s show, not yours. Kids’ parties (whether they’re turning two or 21) are her domain – don’t go unless she personally invites you. Don’t ever take her kids for any of the following: haircuts, new shoes, a new coat. This stuff is highly personal to mums and strictly off limits. Don’t slag her off to the kids or in front of them, ever. They will a) grass you up. b) hate you forever. Be their cool mate who lets them have ice cream for breakfast and can name every member of Little Mix. (Google is your friend). 

If you know you want kids of your own one day, make sure from the off that he hasn’t retired his semen. Not doing your due diligence can cause huge problems later

5. Accept you’re not the first

Older men had a lot more life before your relationship. They had loads of sex, maybe a threesome, plenty of girlfriends, tons of fun, probably some drugs and possibly even an affair. If you are the jealous or judgemental type then an older man is not for you. If you can’t handle the details, don’t ask. On the bright side, their more extensive sexual experience means they generally have a pretty finessed technique, from which you stand to gain. 

6. Is he done growing?

Going out with someone older can sometimes mean he’s already done all the things you plan to do in the future, and has no plans to revisit them. If you want to travel and he’s had his fill, consider how you’ll make that work. Ditto marriage, living in a city, having babies. If you know you want kids of your own one day, make sure from the off that he hasn’t retired his semen. Not doing your due diligence can cause huge problems later.

7. Don’t put any stock in your age

I know from experience that other people can be so quick to judge your relationship with an older man that it’s easy to lose sight of what each of you brings. None of my older boyfriends have ‘worn the trousers’ and, in some cases, I’ve been keener to settle down than him. You don’t need to adopt archetypal roles and you must try not to view yourself as ‘the young one’ in the relationship. You are equals. You both deserve to be treated well by the other. Because one day you won’t be young and the healthy template needs to already be in place.

Follow Sali on Twitter @salihughes

Tags: Ask An Adult