Opening up one of my magazines yesterday, I flipped through to the advice section and began to scan the questions to see what issues the columnist was tackling this month. I was immediately drawn to a question from one reader about her dad’s new girlfriend, a woman much younger than her father and only two years older than herself. I read it, noted that the columnist gave good advice, and I moved on.
But I did have a thought, one I often have when I see this similar story line in a movie or television show: I’m that girl. It’s a passing thought because I seldom think about my situation in those terms, but it does strike me that this plotline rarely looks at things from the perspective of the young girlfriend. Most of the time, this situation — a much older man with a much younger woman — is presented as a comic response to some guy’s midlife crisis. It’s told from the viewpoint of the jilted first wife who watches her ex make a fool out of himself with a young, blonde, money-hungry tart or from the children from the first marriage, forced to call a woman only slightly older than themselves “stepmom.”
Few media portrayals, save Modern Family perhaps, show this type of relationship in a positive light. And understandably, I suppose. It’s not particularly common for a much older man to marry a much younger woman, unless they’re a celebrity, and the divorce rate for this group is high. More often than not, the differences between younger women and older men are too vast for the relationships to survive.
I know this because I am in such a relationship. When I started dating my husband, I was 28 and he was 48. He was divorced with an ex-wife his same age and 18- and 16-year-old sons. We were the quintessential “May–December” couple in many ways, but not in others. We live in Pittsburgh, not LA or New York City. My husband is a public-school teacher, not a wealthy CEO or doctor, but he’s handsome and looks much younger than his age. I’m blonde, but not 5’10″ and 115 pounds. We married two years after we started dating, and since then, we’ve had two little boys of our own. Today, we are a unique, blended family of the two of us and four sons — ages 26, 24, 4 and 2.
I didn’t plan on pursuing this kind of relationship when I was in my 20s. I wasn’t a gold-digger out looking for an easy marriage and quick buck. At 15 years old, I did not imagine my future husband was presently married and raising children of his own. But I fell in love with a man much older than me, and I couldn’t not be with him. He was willing to have children again, and I was willing to take on the risks of having children with someone already in their 50s.
I’ve learned a few lessons from my experiences in this “modern family.” This may not have been the family I envisioned for myself, but I let love guide me. I left a bad relationship and fell in love with a man who is an amazing partner and father. We made it look like we wanted it to. We didn’t let the judgments of others get in the way. We realized we were different than common portrayals of May–December relationships, and we didn’t have to live up to any stereotype. We laugh when we meet people who take such an interest in our age difference. It may be strange to them (especially in suburban Pittsburgh), but it’s something we hardly think about on a daily basis.
I learned a lot about acceptance as well. Bob’s sons, only eight and ten years younger than me, accepted me and then our children. They were open-minded, and when they had concerns, they worked through them instead of cutting us out of their lives.
I, in turn, took time to build relationships with them, to get to know them, to ask questions, and I made a conscious effort not to attempt to be their mother. They were the best men at our wedding and hugged us and congratulated us when we told them we were expecting our first child together. Today, they are amazing big brothers who are adored by my sons.
Bob’s mother, an 80-year-old devout Catholic who struggled deeply with her son’s divorce, participated in our wedding and cried when we showed her our son’s first sonogram picture. The grace and acceptance with which our families approached our decisions allowed our wedding and the birth of our babies to be truly joyous occasions with little drama or conflict.
Today, when I see others making unconventional decisions about their lives and children, decisions that come from a place of love but might be different than those I would make, I try to be open-minded and extend the same courtesy I have expected from others. After all, you never really know what something looks like behind closed doors. Judging someone’s relationship according to stereotypes and assumptions only leads to hurt and pain and division and rarely causes anyone to change their path.
Sometimes, unexpected turns in life present themselves, and what you make of them can make all of the difference. This man and the life I have now were not part of my original plan, and probably not the plan my parents had or Bob’s boys had for their future. But today, it seems like it was destined to happen all along.
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