How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘age differences in relationships’

Picking a Lover: The Trouble with Younger Men

Youth is that period when a young boy knows everything except how to make a living.
—Carey Williams

The problem with the young lover, of course, is that he talks; and when he talks, the naiveté which produces enthusiasm is less appealing. He simply does not know as much of the world as he will later, and so his conversation is more limited. For many young men, their range of interest is not very broad. His world revolves around sex, sports of many kinds, probably fast cars or motorcycles, beer and booze, and many kinds of recreational drugs. His palate is not very developed; so he will, perhaps, be as happy with beer and a burger as with beef Wellington—not a very varied menu, but at least he’s easy to cook for. If you let him choose the wine, it will likely be sweeter than you prefer. Instead of having a more acquired taste for good cognac straight, he will prefer a cold beer. In many ways, young men are simply simpler. They are more direct, less devious, with less guile.

And then there is the issue of money. The young man is, in most instances, relatively poor. Certainly, he is poor in relation to what he will have later on in life. He is just getting started and so is restricted in what he can afford and how he can live. Given that women, in general, make less than do men, that may mean that you make about the same amount. However, many women are still used to men who make more and who pick up more than their share of the tabs. With a young lover, unless he has a very rich daddy, you must be prepared at the very least to pick up half the expenses. Often, like the older man with a young woman, you are implicitly expected to provide some subsidy. That is not just woman to man; that is also the expectation of youth to age.

In most cultures, women have not been taught to pay their own way, much less to pay for others. But if you have a younger lover, then you must not only pick up tabs but must do so unobtrusively, graciously, and without resentment. This is easier in the abstract than it is the first time you realize that what seem like ordinary sneakers are in fact special track shoes that cost $250 and are absolutely essential for jogging. The young lover, like the young girl, expects to receive gifts, to have loans cosigned, and to borrow your car. It is not a con job, nor is it exploitation. It is simply the sharing of resources, which is what couples do. Only for a change, you are likely to be the one with more resources.

There is an absolute rule here which is worth emphasizing. If you are not willing to pick up tabs, don’t pick up young men. It goes with the territory, and so it should.


Cougar (Photo credit: Gamma Man)

When you pick a lover, how long do you want to keep him? For weeks and months certainly, but how about for years? Young men are restless types as are young women and fickle as well. Not having yet developed definite tastes, they are eager to sample a range of new experiences, which will include quite likely other women as well as other terrains. They need to move. They graduate from college—finally. They develop an unquenchable passion to see Egypt by means of a camel caravan. They want to try to make records or movies or to surf in California.

You don’t try to tie down the young lover, and you don’t follow him in his wanderlust unless you just happen to be going to Egypt or Los Angeles anyway. And you don’t whine when you are left behind, pursuing your own life as you were before you met him. You say, “Godspeed and good luck. Send me a postcard.” And you drive him to the airport and lend him your carry-on bag and yet another fifty dollars.

Sometimes, he comes back; but usually, he does not, at least not as a lover. If it has been a good relationship between the two of you, he may well come back as a friend, as if you were an aunt, and proudly introduce you to his new girlfriend. She’ll probably be a pretty little thing, fluffy and very young. You give them tea and crumpets—or more likely beer and peanuts—and send them on their way. Eventually, you may have to spring for a wedding present as well.

The younger lover is likely to be a bird of passage, and such birds can be of considerable appeal. But do not confuse them with the lovebird who mates for life.

Picking a Lover: In Praise of Older Men

A man is young if a lady can make him happy or unhappy. He enters middle age when a lady can make him happy, but can no longer make him unhappy. He is old and gone if a lady can make him neither happy or unhappy.
—Morris Rosenthal, at age seventy-five

There is a strong norm in our society, as indeed in most societies, that in any particular couple, the man should be older than the woman. Usually, the age gap is slight, with an average difference in married couples of only two or three years. Sometimes, there is a more substantial difference.

How great a gap in years does it take to make a significant social or psychological difference for a couple? The answer depends in part on the age of the partners involved. If they are quite young, then a difference of only ten years can seem like quite a bit. Consider, for example, a woman of eighteen who is just barely an adult and a man of twenty-eight who has been a man for some time. Later on, ten years is not very much. If that woman is in her late twenties or older, the age gap would need to be closer to a generation to be viewed as a difference. How many years it takes to make a generation is not clear, but usually, fifteen years would represent a significant difference and twenty years even more so.

In only about 10 percent of marriages is the husband ten or more years older than his wife. And only about 3 percent involves a husband fifteen or more years older. If we consider all couples, however, rather than only married couples, the proportion is doubtlessly much higher. There may be many men who would like to have a mistress much younger than themselves without necessarily wanting to marry her.

From the other perspective, having a lover much older than you are may be acceptable, whereas having a much older husband may not be. There is a certain truth to the folk saying that the man who marries a much younger bride is like a man who buys a book for someone else to read.

In addition, there is the very real problem of differential life expectancy. Women tend to live six or seven years longer than men, so even if a couple is of the same age, the woman is more likely to be left a widow than he is to be left a widower. Women who are not especially drawn to the idea of marriage and the “wife” role may still concede that it would, perhaps, be nice in the future to have someone to grow old with and to provide companionship in old age. This is one comfort of marriage the older man is almost certain not to provide. Marriage to a man twenty, fifteen, or even ten years your senior amounts to voluntary widowhood or years of caregiving at a time when you have already reared your children and you want to relax and enjoy life a little.

In the short range, however, such a man may be a satisfying, if unorthodox, choice for a lover.

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