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I never intended to date men at all, let alone older men – for most of my early twenties, I was head-over-heels for a woman. She and I had just parted ways when I vowed to stop dating for at least a year, and to try to clean up the hot mess that was my 26-year-old self at the time. In an unguarded moment, I began flirting with James, the teacher of the community acting class I was taking. It’s easy to flirt with men when you want nothing in return. The sparks that flew caught me completely by surprise.
My relationship with James was essentially a one-night stand that lasted nearly two years. To his credit, he warned me from the beginning that I wasn’t what he was looking for in terms of a life partner: our 30-year age difference was too much for him to get over. He was never willing to meet my friends or family, and never willing to make any kind of commitment, but I do know that the love we shared was real, if deeply imperfect (for a Hollywood version of our relationship, watch the film Elegy, and reimagine Penelope Cruz as a white, tattooed, would-be lesbian). How do you know when love is real? You just do.
After James and I broke up, I swore I'd finally settle down and find a nice young man my own age. Maybe 10 years older, at the most. As it turned out, fate had something different in mind. I’m now engaged to a wonderful man who is 18 years older than me, and in so many ways, he is younger at heart than I am — it’s a May-December relationship that feels like a gentle Vermont summer. Some things I have learned along the way about love:
1. Age doesn’t matter, but emotional maturity does.
Emotional maturity is different from professional maturity. Professional maturity looks like degrees, accomplishments, and possessions. Emotional maturity looks like empathy, vulnerability, and open communication. They don't always go together.
2. Shared perspective on life and aging is essential.
In his late 50s, James believed he had only a few years left. His sense of being in the dénouement of his life made things achingly poignant, all the time, and made it impossible to dream about a shared future. My 48-year-old fiancé has a more hopeful and generous outlook on life than anyone I’ve ever met. He is planning to run marathons into his 90s, and given his genes and motivation, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen.
3. Every relationship is the right relationship, for as long as it lasts.
I truly believe that every relationship is a divine assignment. Your friends and family may not understand this, especially if the relationship looks nontraditional on the outside, but each person who crosses your path is an important teacher. The spiritual value of learning the lessons that are presented to you is immense. If you follow your inner wisdom, you’ll always be in the right place.
4. Open communication is key.
This is true of every relationship, but in a May-December relationship, it’s especially important to be able to talk about things that your peers may not have to deal with for several decades. Like fears of dying. Like Viagra. Like colonoscopies and blood pressure medication. If you can’t talk about these things together, there’s little chance of the relationship lasting.
5. Every moment counts.
The greatest gift – and greatest challenge – of dating an older man is that you’ll always be aware that time is precious. A giant lump forms in my throat every time I think about the possibility of losing my fiance decades sooner than I want to, but nothing in life is certain. I’m infinitely grateful for the constant reminder to be here now: love is so much richer when you take nothing for granted.