Mixed age relationships can be challenging for both the older and younger partner. It isn’t only what your friends might say. It’s also to do with the meeting of differences – within you, which is to say within your own attitudes to age, as well as between you. Within, if you’re older, one thing you’re doing is engaging with your own youth through the younger man. It can be a turbulent place to revisit, especially in view of the difficulties faced while growing up if you’re gay. If you’re younger, you might find yourself newly aware of youth and relative inexperience – and you might find this makes you self-conscious, suddenly aware of the surface you present to the world. Each partner might find himself torn between the need for equality and the suspicion of a difference in power which comes from knowledge and experience, as well as financially.
For the older: If there were difficulties growing up – well, you grew up; you got over it. You perhaps didn’t quite resolve all the issues, but if that’s the case you’ve probably learned how to shelve them or leave them behind. You went through the dizzy phase, maybe, when everyone loved you, when you were the hot spring chicken (Like, hello, there’s a person inside here?) then you got free.
Now you’re heading back.
Here’s the rub. Through him, if you’re older, you get to enjoy that late-phase adolescence of the last few teen years (we’re talking over 18 here) and the early twenties. What’s wrong with that? Well, one reason you’re enjoying it, pretty much all of it, is because it’s at a remove. It’s a memory, all the sense of being fully charged up, with the world at your (corrected in memory to) sexy feet, without the all-consuming rage/love/misery/hope/fear/joy/despair… Without the mood swings, that is to say, the unmanageable passions. If what you feel now, empathically, with your fit young man, is, say, eighty or ninety percent full on intense, that still gives you a space to retreat to. A part of you is free to spectate. It’s like being in America – when you’re English. And, of course, vice-versa.
All the good bits, none of pain. You’ve worked it out. He probably hasn’t – yet. He really still is there. He is one hundred percent there. Really really. And you must never forget that.
He’ll perhaps say your age doesn’t matter. It does. On some level, even if he isn’t fully aware of this, he’ll expect you – and need you – to act your age, and that’s at the same time that you have to empathise with his. You’re older. You’re in the direction he’s heading. He needs to want to be where he thinks you are.
In part, you’re a mentor. You’re like a teacher, a big brother, a friend and a substitute parent all rolled into one. And you’re also a lover. You’ve got to try to do all that at once. Are you up to all that? It’s tricky. Do-able, sure, but tricky.
For the younger: Let’s not be so crass here as to factor in the older man’s car and his house and his wallet. If you’re being treated, okay, but don’t twink out and lower your status to toy-boy level. (Play ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ a few times and reflect on where sugar daddies take you – if you let them.)
In non-material terms, reflect on what the older man offers you. Psychological security? A lead? An aspiration? A place to grow? Perhaps you feel older than your years and relate more fully to him than to your same-age friends. Whatever the attraction might be, he can help you enjoy your youth. You can share the perspective on his youth that he has when he’s with you. It really does rub off. You’ll feel your youth treasured in a way you might not have experienced before: by an older man who is gay.
But he isn’t your parent. He isn’t your teacher. He is your sexual partner. The information you’ve been given through childhood and earlier adolescence might not directly enable you to deal with that, with a sort-of-partly-mentor with whom you have rocking great sex. You need to do two things: take a leap of faith – it can actually work – then steer through the confusions to make sure it does work.
Two ‘don’t’s. Don’t expect there won’t be any confusions. And when they happen, don’t take it out on him. There are two of you in this situation, collectively responsible for shaping it. Do discuss any issues you feel are there – and expect, and show, understanding. That’ll help you avoid taking out any problems you have in dumb, inarticulate ways: cries for help, and the bitchy thrill of seeing how far you can push it, how much your cute young body lets you get away with.
Age matters. If there’s a difference, the difference is there. In part, it defines your relationship, which can be richly rewarding if you recognise that. But you’ll need to be brave: even if you’ve got it sorted, there’ll be those others’ perceptions to deal with: you are in slightly unorthodox territory.