Mind The Gap-A cross cultural take on age disparity relationships
by Donovan Reynolds
Mind the Gap
Whenever we first hear the phrase “Mind the Gap “-in your thoughts it conjures images of the London Underground rail service or the New York Rail service. If you are faint hearted it immediately summons up inside of a queasy fear of fatally falling between the narrow and dangerous gaps of the train and platform. A recent narrative in the tabloid press has taken advantage mind the gap metaphor. As a powerful magnet to entice the unsuspecting public into buying magazines and newspapers that continuously pedal salacious gossips about age disparity relationships. The age disparity relationships of Hollywood heart throbs are often laid bare in the media in a venomous and spiteful way and oh! How we all love having a laugh at their expense.
Stories about Demi Moore and her toy boy Ashton Kutcher seen holding hands in public for the first time or old spice Michael Douglas falling asleep at the Oscars on Katherine Zeta-Jones arms set the tabloids alight. When 52 years old pop star Madonna was seen cruising on the beach with 24 year old professional dancer Jesus was a shocking revelation .It had a greater impact in the main street media than when the war broke out in Iraq in 2002. These overpowering headlines rake in millions for media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg who all lick their chops from the profits that spin off from these stories.
Frontline journalist and back room editors relish a Hollywood cougar and old spice relationship flaunted in the public. It comes cheap but attracts a large and cheerful viewership without them having to worry about the risk of paying huge sum of money unscrupulous private eyes to hack for it. Popular culture in the western world is pervasive but incomplete without a steady diet of gossip that we all have become addicted to.
The tabloid press seem to give the misleading assertion that age gap relationships are the preserve of the rich and the famous and that female Cougars and old spice boys are social actors in a sport that is reserved for the wealthy “A lister’s “of Hollywood. Thanks to internet and the proliferation of social media bear, evidence of social networks, bloggers and online dating network that are giving expression to a growing number of ordinary persons involved in age disparity relationships. Their true life testimonies online are far flung from the hyperbole being peddled by the tabloid press in Europe and North America.
There is an over whelming body of evidence and research seems to suggest that age disparity relationships encounter the same health and emotional problems as same sex relationships. The combined literature seem to suggest that there are some serotypes, moral prejudices, misogyny and social stigma associated with age disparity relationships. Equally, there are some very satisfying experiences of age gap disparity relationships that have stood the test of time. Where the age gap relationship falls down is, often as a result of jealousy insecurity and external pressure from close friends and family. There is also compelling evidence that older men are viewed more favourable than older women in age gap relationships.
Although- since the 1980s -there has been an increase of older women dating younger partners and and marrying younger men. The subject which will be explored in more detail in this text as we seek to unpack the intriguing stereotypical world of the “female man eating cougars” on the prowl- in search of “young hormonal male cubs” that they take captive because of the size of their bank balance coupled with their uncontrolled sexual appetite .On the male side of the equation there is the stereotype of the old spice alpha-male “ditching his same age wife unfairly for a younger female partner. These narrow notions of viewing heterosexual relationships discard the idea of diversity of choice between adult male and females as a workable solution.
As we contemplate maturity and the selection of finding our soul mate. We begin the difficult task of finding compatibility with a long term partner. Usually, it is someone who is willing to understand us and care deeply for us because of the right reasons. Some persons find consolation readily in same age relationships while there are others of us who find compatibility with the most unlikely of intimate companions. Pretending that your age is not an issue is a sure-fire way of courting disaster if it is not thought trough properly.
Age gap relationships do not make intimate partnerships impossible. However, it requires both parties to be aware of the possible challenges that lies ahead .It is important for those so inclined to consider carefully the mechanics of how it will work and the difficulty of gaining social acceptance or not from strangers, peers and close family members who might find it difficult to accept this form of relationship.
Paul Carlson a relationship specialist advises that it’s not about the age gap -for him it is about compatibility .Age gap relationships that are successful seem to be those that gel with each other mentally and spiritually they focus on the quality of the relationship and not their age. My own advice that: for the relationship to last- you can’t treat each other like a dirty secret. There has to be mutual respect of each other’s experience or it might turn out to be a mothering or a fathering experience.
Most of the persons that I have interviewed in same sex relationship that are successful and are experiencing longevity- advised that they began with most of the ground rules of normal age relationships but worked at sex and communication at the slower partner level and gradually increased their experience and competence together over time. It is very important and honest from the outset- to admit that age disparity relationships are difficult and complex undertaking and the outcomes are quite difficult to measure. The odds are stacked against them from the very beginning.
Cultural norms about relationships are based universally on two very primary assumptions. First: that age gaps between relationships should be the same or the gap wherever necessary should be a narrow one. Secondly; that usually the man should be the older partner. Both assumptions in my opinion are unfair as this simply not the case as there is a bias of alternative choices between same sex partners and other forms of time scale heterosexual relationship. From this cultural vantage point the odds are stacked against the acceptance of age disparity relationships.
Away from the salacious world of age gap sagas that the tabloid press juxtapose in our minds as orthodox standards are ordinary couples who engage in are gap relationships with mixed results. Paul, a 40 years mature student of Caribbean decent met Ditka a 24 years white female student from Central Europe while studying on different faculties at a University in London. Shortly after the introduced themselves to each other the chemistry between them dovetailed and they began a sexual relationship and moved into a flat together. Initially the age and cultural difference was irrelevant .Ditka adored Paul as his intelligence and maturity reminded her of her dad back home in Central Europe .On holidays they visit each other country of birth and the cultural exchange helped to deepen their understanding of each other.
Paul was very outgoing and relaxed about life while Ditka was an account student who whipped his finances into of shape. Within four years of the relationship cracks started to emerge within the liaison as external pressures from outside interference began to eat away at their cohesiveness. Ditka began complaining of outside interference from his ex-wife and daughter who began telephoning the house. In addition her friends began to encourage her to look to greener same- cultural pastures as they felt that the novelty of old spice Paul who was earning less money than her was wearing thin and that she should jump ship for a younger and wealthier man.
Pauls snoring and his untidy handling of the kitchen sink was annoyingly amplified by Ditka and after a while the regular quarrel took a stressful toll on the relationship. Paul eventually moved out on his own during a shock revelation where Ditka revealed that she was seeing a next man from her cultural background. Within four months of moving apart Ditka realised that she had made the mistake of her life as her new beau of the same age was way too immature for her liking .So she began the walk of shame by apologising to Paul and unashamedly started to hound him desperately to take her back. But Paul by this time was too hurt and humiliated by her careless jaunt to forgive her. He decided unrelentingly to call it quits however cold it might have seemed and moved on. A year later the story took a more sobering and redemptive turn for both of them as Paul found and settled with a female banker ten years his junior from his cultural background .While Ditka found another Old Spice in his forties after convincing herself that same age or younger men was not her cup of tea.
Barry a fifty year old British middle income banker an only child was for most of his adult years and a mama’s boy by unintended consequences because his father a carpenter died when he was 17 years. He therefore spent his adult life caring for his mother who suffered from Lupus a degenerative disease that took over his mom’s life as she was either ill in bed or being shuttled by him to and from the hospital. Caring for his mother deprived him of a good social and intimate life. He had on and off relationships with female his age but they did not stick around long a frustrated by his ailing mother. Unfortunately his mother eventuallydied and shortly after mourning her death he began looking around for a respectable female to cohabit with. Desperate for love He scoured all the places that an intimate companion that could be had but came up empty handed or out of pocket. Most of the honest women whom he met that fit his criteria by age and chemistry had all been taken and those available to him were often on the take or took him for granted.
Eventually Paul was introduced to Sharon a twenty six year old woman in the most unlikely and ill advisable of place to find partner a London night club. First, the relationship on his part was purely sexual but then he developed an affinity for her caring persona. As the relationship deepened he began to introduce her around to his family and trouble started as everybody had an opposing opinion the relationship. His snobbish cousins did not like her as they felt that she was not good enough for him as she grew up on a rough South London Estate and could not be trusted. His work colleagues took cautious exception to her age and decorum. Even his blind uncle had an opinion on the matter. Confused about the dilemma and feeling vulnerable and desperate Barry took and easy but risky option. He resigned his job, sold the house that was willed to him by his mother paid off his debts and left to Thailand to open a restaurant and perhaps to if all options fail he would have made more than enough money purchase a Thai bride. The announcement came as a dagger to Sharon’s heart .Who by then had come to love as Barry feverishly. He was a breath fresh air compared to the abusive men that she had become accustomed to in her past -for her- age was just a number that foolishly stood between them. They agreed to part respectfully but agreed out of courtesy to remain in contact.
After a year and several Thai cocktails later Sharon received an e-mail from Barry that things had gone bad for a British restaurant that he had opened in Bangkok had flopped and he was ripped off by an unscrupulous business partner. He was out of pocket and his immigration status was in trouble. Sharon by then was working as a Support worker managed to send him money by western union and scraped together money from her saving account and with the help of her relatives she managed to purchase a return ticket for him to come home. Three months later she met him at Gatwick Airport where he looked dishevelled as if he was on crack. She took him home to her council flat bought him a new set of clothes and took care of him until he found a Job at Canary Wharf they are now happily married and are the doting parent of a lovely one year old daughter.
Nigerians are passionate about family and sticking to traditional norms which evolve around patriarchy, tribal customs, family and village life affirms approves and validates relationships. Akin 26yrs Yoruba and Funmi 35 years MBA students at a London University. Met and fell in love while studying in London. When they met they found out that apart from having a strong chemistry between them they were both from the same tribe and were from Adoekiti village in South West Nigeria. Their fathers knew each other they were both businessmen and Senators of the Peoples Democratic Party. They were aware that age gap relationships was a no go area but they felt that the friendship between their fathers could cut against the holy grail of tribal customs. On completion of their Post Graduate studies they decided to use a well deserved Nigerian Holiday to seek approval of their family back in the Village to get married Funmi ‘s biological clock was winding down and she felt as if she wanted a child as an expression of their love and commitment together. Their holiday turned sour when Akins dad Kola objected to the relationship and made it known to Funmi’s father Segun in a stroppy and long telephone conversation. The family antagonism towards their relationship and marriage proposition was so intensely loaded with polarisation that they eventually stop seeing each other as the sharp guillotine of cultural norms sliced them apart.
Before looking at some of the data available it is important for me to give the readers of this book an in-depth understanding of what is considered as mind the gap relationships the jargon associated with this discourse the combination of age gaps. What is socially accepted in the western world as a normal and legal age range relationship and what is not legally accepted in general? Case studies involving ordinary persons and celebrities will be explored in addition to the opinion of respected relationship specialist and person’s personal feelings and experiences of age disparity relationship. The overall aim of this chapter is to give an understanding of the experiences of same sex relationship that will set the stage for a better understanding of the complex but exciting issues to emanate from the chapters that precede this one.
In most of the major democracies in the Western World between 16 &18years old is the legal age of having a relationship. In some countries the legal age to marry may range between 18 to 21 years. Any sexual relationship below the legal age of consent is regarded as illegal and may land you in jail and your name added to the infamous sex offenders register with disastrous consequences for your reputation and future aspirations.
On average in Europe and North America most men marry women about 3 years their junior. However a study released in 2003 by the United Kingdom National office for Natural Statistics concluded that a proportion of women in England and Wales marring younger men rose from 15% to 26% between 1963 and 1998. A cross cultural study carried out by Dr Michael Dunn of Cardiff University concluded that cross culturally three is a bias for women choosing older men over younger ones. A study of dating websites by Hilary & Moss seem to contradict this as cougar dating websites in 2010 showed a 34% increase of older women marrying younger men.
Across most cultures and especially in western civilisations historically there has always been a preference of older men as partners by men. Brown University in Rhode Island USA conducted a study in 1986 that confirmed the following: That the social structure of a country determines the age difference between partners more than any other factor: that sexual financial and social difference affects persons in age disparity relationship: That a society with an uneven distribution of wealth between age groups may affect the dynamics of the relationships.
Religion and Science historically has pegged debates to either morality or statistics as platitudes about what is right or wrong without taking into consideration alternative circumstances. In the Age gap relationship debate on a commonsense level it would seem to suggest that persons rights to relationships should be within legally safe boundaries. Two persons in my opinion who are of a legal age limit and having the capacity and maturity to embark upon a relationship should do so without hindrance. However, there compelling exceptions for example it would be extremely unwise for an 18year old woman to marry a man in his eighties although it is legally possible. All the statistics seem to suggest that older people tend to have lower sex drives which are often cited by the brigade opposing age gap relationships. However as the improvements with quality health care globally this argument may become less convincing. Sexual drives are not homogeneous it varies nor is it the sole determinant of an intimate relationships. It seem to me that persons current state of emotional, psychological, physical health is a better bench mark of assessing intimate relationships as age is a simplistic barometer on which to judge a relationship.
So the term age gap relationship in a practical sense refers to sexual relationships between people with a significant difference in age along a lifetime conveyor belt. The wider the age gap the riskier the stakes of success. There are often moral and uncomfortable issues arise about these relationships that are amplified by the media. Attitudes towards age gap relationships vary and depend upon the age gap and how consent is viewed legally and culturally. Social and economic variables impact upon age disparity relationships. The age difference may affect the relationship which usually has more to do with external interference. Persons in Age gap relationships are affected by moralistic prejudice. Older women in relationships with younger men are viewed less favourable than older men with younger partners.