The dilemma I’m a 50-year-old male one year into a relationship with a man half my age. We don’t live together as I’m a resident parent to a young child from a former marriage, but we see each other weekly and speak every day. Despite the mutual physical attraction and occasional moments of loving companionship, our relationship is characterised by our struggle to find commonality around our different interests, lifestyles and needs.
Whether it be my railing against his poor choices (such as spending what’s left of his monthly wage on nights out with his friends, leaving me to pay for most things we do), or his insecurity when I fail to contact him when out with my friends (he’s been known to read my phone and park near my home when feeling insecure), with each blistering argument we find ourselves losing the support of family and friends. I’m finding it hard to justify remaining in a relationship that has become progressively unhealthy for us both.
Can a relationship so inured with conflict, along with a mutual mistrust of wider friendships, actually work? We love each other and work hard to discuss our problems, but whatever ground is gained is soon lost. Is it worth fighting (so hard) for?
Mariella replies In short, probably not. So much of what you are struggling with references only the yawning gap between you in terms of lifestyle and what you’ve lived through so far. There are some who find that difference of experience exciting, others frustrating, and I fear you’re in the latter camp.
If you were talking about a heterosexual relationship I’d be far more judgemental about the age difference. Perhaps because gay relationships have for so long existed outside the mainstream, and often been hidden – by necessity – one of the consequences has been that they have often been judged less harshly than those regarded as “conventional” relationships.
When merely being gay was a major outrage, how you chose to live as a homosexual was far less of an issue. If we edit your partner out of your letter and insert “girlfriend’” instead, let’s see how my probably predictable answer would play out? As a separated father, with committed responsibilities to your child you are in a relationship with a girl half your age who is clearly naive, insecure, immature and struggles to understand your lifestyle and her own emotion. Is it too harsh to observe that it’s a relationship choice aspired to and embraced by men far more commonly than women, and one with distinct and obvious disadvantages? The simple answer to your woes would be that she’s way too young for you!
That’s not to say all young people are feckless, but although we each move through the decades full of a sense of our own uniqueness, we are also pack animals in many ways and our behaviour tends to reflect that more often than it diversifies from it when we are young. As we age we learn how to mitigate for our behaviour and life choices. It could be argued that your issues are the price you inevitably have to pay when you date someone who is young enough to be your own child. Is that fair so far?
Sympathy for your dilemma is harder to access because grabbing a lover who’s barely finished their studies while you are two thirds of the way to retirement is a midlife crisis cliché and is treated with circumspection by wider society.
The divide you describe doesn’t look like incompatibility of character, but of experience. There are plenty of 20-somethings who are ready to rule the world and can’t be faulted for their determination, but very few are at the same place in life’s progression as an adult double their years.
So many of the traumas we faced in our teens – insecurity, jealousy, blinkered prejudice, lack of empathy and in the worst cases pure myopia – were because we hadn’t lived long enough to expand our emotional repertoire to override them. You inhabit a different spot on the evolutionary scale to your partner and while he may be charming and sexy and adorable and exciting, he’s also an insecure kid who’s unlikely to instinctively understand your choices in the way someone closer to you in age might.
For some, his virtues would be enough to make up for his shortcomings, but it’s clear that for you this isn’t the case. So you have a choice. You have to be prepared to be patient and wait for him to catch up, and make an extra effort to allay his youthful emotional agonies; or realise that what we chase isn’t necessarily always what we actually want. There’s a reason old guys fawning over youngsters are called sugar daddies and it throws light on what is, for all the reasons I’ve outlined, an unequal union, where often money, power or fame are used to fill the gap. Hampered by such predictable incompatibilities, either you’re going to have to learn to humour your boy, or partner up with a grown-up.
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