What I Told My Family (and Everyone Else) When I Started Dating an Older Man

After eight years together, Fred and I still don’t have an “offi­cial” label for our age gap rela­tion­ship, and to most peo­ple, even our own fam­i­lies, we’re a bit of a mystery.

My 17-year-old and 22-year-old sons have always thought of Fred as mom’s “reg­u­lar” friend who sleeps in mom’s room because the couch is not com­fort­able for his old bones. My sis­ter thinks we’re friends with ben­e­fits. My par­ents think we’re a cou­ple and gra­ciously include him in all fam­ily gath­er­ings. Every­one else in our world just can’t fig­ure it out.

The old duf­fers at the local small-town pub stare and gos­sip and won­der why the two of us hang around each other and can never come up with any ratio­nal answer on their own. There was one time when one old, gig­gling, curi­ous drunk asked if he could honk my boobs, just to see if Fred would get jeal­ous or not. As with any stranger ask­ing me that, no mat­ter who it is, and my level of self-respect, I imme­di­ately said, “No way. You will show respect when you speak to me.” Fred smiled so big.

Another time, a sin­gle man my age named Phil asked if he could ride along on my motor­cy­cle with me for a cou­ple hours. I said, “Sure.” To me, it’s fun to give peo­ple rides and I am totally amused if any man has an inter­est in rid­ing on the back of my motor­cy­cle, because it rarely hap­pens. The only men who ever agreed to ride on the back of my bike were A.J. from my poker league and Fred, because he enjoys trav­el­ing with me and loves brag­ging about hav­ing the best han­dles in town (and he uses them). With­out know­ing what my rela­tion­ship sta­tus was, Phil could obvi­ously sense that it would bother Fred, because he even­tu­ally said, “No, I can’t ride on your motor­cy­cle with you. Fred will be jealous.”

There was yet another time when we were eat­ing lunch and a man named John approached me. He was in his late 50s or so and had a rep­u­ta­tion for being a pool hus­tler. He asked me if my father would mind if I would join him in a game of pool. I quickly replied, “He is not my father.”

John then asked, “Is he your husband?”

I said, “No, I don’t have a hus­band.” Of course, I offered no label.

I enjoyed a game of pool, Fred fin­ished his drink and con­ver­sa­tion with the bar­tender, and then we left to con­tinue our evening. As we were leav­ing, Fred said, “Why did you shoot pool with that guy?”

Because I enjoy play­ing pool,” I responded.

OK, will you shoot pool with me sometime?”

Of course! I didn’t know you liked to shoot pool,” I said.

I don’t,” he laughed. “Just checking.”

Of course Fred feels a sense of jeal­ousy, but he’s mature enough that it cre­ates no inci­dent. He is con­fi­dent in my assertive­ness with other men but he feels inse­cure because of our age dif­fer­ence, too. We don’t appear to be a cou­ple and we don’t have any pro­tec­tive behav­iors that would stop oth­ers from approach­ing us, so we’ve really just had to “fig­ure it out” for our age gap relationship.

If you’re in an age gap rela­tion­ship, the best thing to do is to really know the per­son you’re with and know who you are. It’s also impor­tant to know who you are together so that you can learn the lim­its and the stan­dards for your age gap rela­tion­ship. And know that we are always chang­ing, so you will also always be learning.