How to Pick a Lover

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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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