I am a 24-year-old lawyer. I like to think that my life is pretty sorted out but nine months ago, I fell deeply in love with a man of 51. This is hugely surprising to me – but it’s the most amazing relationship I could have imagined. He’s sensitive, kind, funny, generous and in my eyes, very good looking. The problem is … the age gap! I wonder what I should think about this. I’m generally a conservative person who doesn’t like to shock public opinion.
Now, for the first time in my life, I’m facing a big decision: whether to go with this beautiful man or to give him up and go down a more traditional path. I should add: I don’t want children ever and nor does he.
Eleanor says: If you’re going to stick with this guy, you’d better brace for some suspicious questions – what’s he doing with someone half his age? Are you confident he’ll still like you when you’re both 20 years older, or by then will another 24-year-old be in order?
If you’re confident that you know the answer to those questions, your answer when other people ask them can be “buzz off”. There are too many other people in the world to let them all into your head. You have to assert your rights as sovereign over your own choices sometime – you do not exist to be the aggregate of everything everyone else has to say.
You’re very clear about how this relationship makes you feel. Your letter overflows with fondness and regard. Think about what it would be like to throw this man away: you’d try to find a relationship without the age gap, but the fact that you broke it off with this man, before you found out whether things soured on their own terms, will mean he gets fixed in your memory in the idealisation of early romance. This relationship will lurk over the shoulder of your next loves, a beautiful ghost waiting to haunt its living heirs. Whenever your eventual partner has a bad day or bores you or is just dusty and familiar, you’ll have the memory of Mr 51 to compare them to. It’s not fair to them if they fail – and most people do fail when we compare them to a promise of happiness thrown away too soon.
Staying might go wrong, of course. You might find that a chief attraction of 24-year-olds is that at that age, we’re too young to know every red flag, so we have to go through a whole phase of identifying the problem before we can break up with it. While we’re learning, a bore or a bully still gets us for a girlfriend. There are good tests for this, though – do your man’s female friends vouch for him; his mother; any ex-partners? Does his adoration feel like it has you in its crosshairs, or is he worshipping the image of himself reflected in your eyes? And do you feel what you feel for him, or is it the relief of being free from boys your age who don’t know how to comfort or touch a woman? I can’t tell you the answers, but your gut and marrow probably know.
What I do know is that the age gap by itself – and the spectre of other people’s disapproval – are not reasons to sideline your happiness. Doubtless you’ll raise the odd eyebrow, but we’re all going in the dirt anyway – who cares? You can prove your critics wrong by living what they’re denying: you are an adult. And adults don’t have to do as they’re told.