Disapproving relatives are disastrous. "My parents are not too happy," says David, a 30-year-old physical therapist who has stood by his 38-year-old girlfriend even during her messy divorce. "My mom was like, 'This is just a phase, right?' She wants grandchildren," he says with a sigh. "I have a brother, but he's gay." (Ben had a different problem with Suzanne: His father was attracted to her.)
But the terminal crises are often about having children. Sometimes it's the younger man who wants the child, not the woman (especially if she already has children). More often, it's the woman who is pushing for it. "She wanted a kid desperately," says Ben, who wasn't yet ready for fatherhood. The issue is what ultimately broke them up. "She thought she was pregnant twice," he recalls. "You could see the sadness."
Despite the pitfalls, there is an upside to the downside. As Susan Winter attests, an older woman may be less likely to be dumped by her younger man as she ages. "With a guy who marries a young woman for her looks, you have a greater likelihood of being traded in, because that's what he bought you for," she says. "It's the Marla Maples story." Often, she says, if you're lucky you'll discover a deeper sense of commitment in a younger lover.
After she and Paul broke up, Justine, a year closer to 50, resolved to swear off younger men entirely. She decided it wasn't the right way to go for her. But it hasn't been so easy. Recently, she was out with a gay friend -- at a gay bar -- when Antonio, visiting from Italy, introduced himself. (Her friend's gaydar helped confirm he was straight.) He asked her to dance and then to dinner at BondSt the next night.
"When we sat down, he said he'd never had Japanese food before. So I said, 'Wait a minute.' I took the candle from the table and brought it up to his face. He didn't even have laugh lines! I said, 'Antonio, what do you do in Italy?' He said he's studying for the bar. He lives with his mother. He is 27!"
She had one more question. "How old do you think I am?"
"You are 35," he said.
"You are so good at this," Justine answered, smiling. "You could be a fortune teller."
Some names have been changed.
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