May-December romance rules: How to handle age differences

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When tennis great Monica Seles, 41, and billionaire Tom Golisano, 73, recently announced their engagement, they became the latest high-profile May-December romance.

May-December relationships have at least an 11-year age span between the parties. The vast majority of May-December marriages take place between older men and younger women. According to the most recent U.S. census, 7.4 percent of husbands are 10 or more years older than their wives.

But that trend is starting to change. A 2003 AARP report, “Lifestyles, Dating and Romance,” found that 8 percent of women older than 39 were dating men at least 10 years younger.

Hollywood has long been a breeding ground for May-December romances. Charlie Chaplin famously wed Oona O’Neill when she was 18 and he was 54. Warren Beatty is 21 years older than his wife, Annette Bening. Harrison Ford, 70, is married to Calista Flockhart, 48. Clint Eastwood is 82; wife Dina Ruiz-Eastwood is 35 years younger (they’re getting a divorce).

Demi Moore created a sensation when she married Ashton Kutcher, who was 16 years her junior (they’re now divorced). Ellen DeGeneres is 15 years older than her wife, Portia de Rossi.

Why choose a partner from a vastly different age group? Research conducted at University of Gothenburg and Oxford University and published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that women wanted older men because of their solid financial resources and high social status. Men have always sought younger female partners.

The study also found that the majority of women older than 60 were looking for younger men.

While many May-December couples report they’ve found the love of their life, they’re likely to encounter certain challenges. They may grapple with an imbalance of power. When one party has more life experience, money and prestige, he or she may exert more authority over the other.

Partners age at different rates. No matter how youthful the older person feels or acts, the calendar inevitably catches up. The younger member is apt to spend a large portion of the relationship caring for an elderly spouse.

They’ll celebrate fewer anniversaries than couples who are closer in age. The odds are also greater that one partner will be widowed while relatively young.

Wide age discrepancies mean couples have less in common. They were raised in separate eras, grew up listening to different music and developed disparate morals or viewpoints.

Family members might express concern, especially if the elder partner’s offspring are older than the new spouse. Sparks really fly if loved ones think the new spouse will get their share of the inheritance.

These issues are more apparent the larger the age gap in the relationship.

Of course, all couples face challenges, regardless of their age span. Still, it’s wise to embark on May-December paths with eyes wide open, ready to face the joys and pitfalls along the way.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH AGE DIFFERENCES

Communicate about challenges. Listen carefully to your partner’s concerns. Value each other’s input. Seek mutually acceptable solutions.

Blend families sensitively. Spend time developing a relationship with each other’s children. Never criticize your partner’s parenting.

Visit an attorney. Write a prenuptial agreement if there are children and extensive assets. Determine an order of inheritance for your offspring.

Don’t blame all your problems on the age difference. Every couple has issues. Treat yourselves as the unique partnership that you are.

Accept and address physical changes. One of you will age before the other. Respond to changing needs as they arise.

Develop a catchy response when people comment on your age difference. A light-hearted “I robbed the cradle and hit the jackpot. I’m one lucky guy!” puts everyone at ease.

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