Aspen Colorado is a playground for many billionaires and celebrities. Also, the surrounding towns are full of “young for their age” fit and attractive mountain men. And so, as a therapist in the area, I have counseled a large number of heterosexual couples with a significant age gap between them. There are always exceptions to any rule, but a clear pattern has emerged over my many years in practice that has truly surprised me.
I am not proud to say that years ago I had a strong stereotype in my mind. It was that a younger woman who married an older man would always be a gold digger. She never worked and never wanted to. The man would be a sexist who only valued her for her youthful perfection and expected nothing else from the relationship but for her to look good on his arm. That is true about 10% of the time, but I was so wrong about the other 90%!
Imagine you are a man in your 40’s or 50’s who has gone through an awful divorce. Your ego has been raked over the coals. Every flaw you have has been shouted at you. Now, imagine you are a woman in your 20’s or even early 30’s. The guys you date have roommates. They have no gas money. They are generally stoned, aimless and only looking for fun. Now imagine this young woman meets this older man.
What happens next is magical. This man finds a woman who appreciates everything about him. He is so smart. He is so put together. He has matching socks and credit cards. She can’t believe how romantic he is. He makes dates and shows up on time. He makes reservations. His car is clean. He can hold an intelligent conversation. He is actually getting to know her and not pawing at her all the time. He is the greatest man she has ever dated by far. He feels like he really is the greatest man too because she adores him. They fall in love and get married.
Flash forward to her 30’s and that first phone call I receive from him. He is typically desperate and confused. When I begin counseling a couple, my typical structure is to have one individual session with each member. This allows the man and the woman to speak freely and inform me of what they see as the issues in private. Then the three of us meet together from there.
In the older man’s private session, he usually explains to me that everything had been so perfect. He would do anything for her. He hasn’t changed and cannot understand why she is so unhappy with him. He adores her. Then he says the worst thing someone coming into couples counseling can say. “I just want everything to be back the way it was in the beginning.”
Then I meet with the younger woman. Now she has come to the disappointing realization that he was not Superman. He was just an older man. When you are young anyone older should be able to impress you. They typically are more responsible and confident and knowledgeable. They ask you deep questions. They are not just after one thing.
Once the younger woman and her peers grow older too, she begins seeing her older husband as ordinary, maybe even as just old. He is definitely not as fun and hip as her guy friends or her friends’ same-aged husbands. Then I hear phrases from her such as, “He tricked me”, “He’s not who I thought he was”, “He took advantage of me”, “I was too young for him.” She is bitter and resentful. She feels conned. Meanwhile, he has no idea what went wrong. Honestly, I always feel sad for both of them.
Then there is sex. Women do typically gain a significantly stronger sex drive in their late 30’s to late 40’s. Men, however, typically experience a steady decline. This does not help matters at all.
So, the stereotype in my mind was very wrong. I find that both the younger woman and the older man had good intentions going in. However, they do almost always hit this critical stage when the veil has dropped and reality sets in. It’s rarely him who leaves her for a younger woman. It’s more often her who leaves him for a younger man.
I always advise people to date and marry within ten years in age; beginning no sooner than 25 to 35. As great as it is to have a young partner show you new things, and an older partner teach you new things, there is no substitute for a partner who is your peer.
No one can ever go back to the beginning of any relationship. It will never be, “…the way it was back in the beginning.” All relationships evolve and grow. Even though people realize they misperceived what their futures would look like, that doesn’t mean they should throw in the towel.
Many May/December romances do work out. They are just never as easy as they seemed in the beginning. These couples should go to counseling. They must learn to let each other change. They need to appreciate, respect and accept each other as they are at present. All relationships have challenges. In my experience this is the unique challenge of an older man and a younger woman as time goes by, simply put, they both get older.