Why sometimes it’s really just a number

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Image credit: Maximum Yield

I have a friend who’s fifty-five. She typically dates men in their late thirties. This is because she’s a triathlete with a high sex drive. It’s difficult enough to find men of any age who can keep up with her and by the time most men reach their mid-fifties or above, they are basically prisoners of the sofa. She’s highly intelligent and connects with men who are likewise smart and curious about the world. She doesn’t “target” younger men but she’s had no success in finding compatible men near her own age.

For myself I’ve tended to be in relationships with women significantly younger than me, and for much the same reasons. Even at the advanced age of nearly sixty-one I find there are few people of either gender who can match my enthusiasm for strenuous activities both outdoors and indoors. As I have zero interest in pop culture I find myself attracted to intelligent self-aware polymaths who likewise haven’t much interest in knowing about the latest movie or must-repeat sound-bite but who are fascinated by the potential of evolutionary psychology or who can argue with me about a range of gender issues.

In my long and chequered life I’ve found that compatibility is not a function of the number of years we’ve accrued as our beautiful blue-green planet orbits the sun. I have very little in common with anyone who spends their free time staring at a flickering screen. I’ve more in common with a woman (or man) of ninety who’s traveled widely, thought deeply, and lived fully.

One of my most cherished friends is a woman twenty-eight years my junior who lives in Bucharest. We’ve known each other for nearly a decade and our connection was almost instantaneous. In this particular case the age gap is too great to admit of a romantic relationship because I don’t have enough time left to offer her a sufficient future. We are therefore platonic friends but our minds and our hearts are intimately connected and I trust will remain so for many years to come. We are linked because she’s highly intelligent, sensitive, curious about a wide range of topics, and had (like me) a pretty unpleasant childhood.

The things that connect us are far more important than the things we don’t have in common.

Another of my most precious loves is fourteen years younger than me. We see the world in the same way. We aspire to the same values. We hope for the same things. This matters infinitely more than the fact she has a weakness for 1970s rock bands.

….Though I am trying to cure her of this unfortunate affliction…

Historically rich old men have been accompanied by beautiful young women but today I’d like to imagine that in some parts of the world and in some cases, people are sufficiently advanced to look for intimate connections based on more than the age-old standby traits of wealth, power, beauty, and youth. I’d like to think there are at least some for whom deep compatibility matters far more than simply the age on one’s passport.

For most, I know, quotidian concerns are inevitably paramount, videlicet:

“OMG! He doesn’t know who (insert name of transiently famous ephemeral pop personality/TV show of today) is!!!”

“Oh dear, she’s never heard of (insert name of transiently famous ephemeral pop personality/TV show of yesteryear)!!!”

Show me a relationship predicated on a mutual appreciation of tattoos or soap operas and I’ll show you a doomed relationship.

Show me a relationship founded on deep compatibility about things that really matter, such as concern for the future of this planet, similar ethical perspectives, and a shared sense of humor and I’ll show you a relationship that is mutually rewarding and growth-positive for both parties.

As our species increasingly adopts selective mating whereby people actively choose their partners rather than simply settle for the least-worst person in their immediate locale, I’d like to think that default assumptions about age disparities will (at least among thoughtful people) decline gradually.

My friend in her mid-fifties isn’t a “cougar” but simply an intelligent active woman looking for an equal. I’ve never actively sought out younger women but mutual interests have tended to mean that my relationships have tended to exhibit an age gap.

Of course one can scream “delusional!” or “lack of self-awareness!” or a dozen other criticisms, all of which I’ve considered myself. But the hard fact is that when your idea of fun is hiking twenty-five miles across stunningly beautiful but arduous terrain, your options are limited. Likewise if you think discussing Kant’s version of the moral imperative in terms of what we now know about primate behaviors is interesting, you’ll understand why I have little in common with people who want to talk about the validity of nudity in Game of Thrones.

It would be absurd to deny the natural physical response one has to a younger body; this is hardwired in both women and men. But that doesn’t last. What does last is commonality of interests, a similar way of seeing the world, and a shared sense of how precious our time is and how we ought as much as possible to use that time constructively.

The older I get, the more precious I know such connections to be.

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