May-December Relationships: Is It Love or Infatuation?

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

May-December relationship: the term is assigned to a relationship where one person is considerably older than the other. It is generally acceptable if the age difference is ten years or less; but where the difference is more than ten years, such relationships are considered May-December nest: the younger person being in the “spring” of his or her life (i.e., May), while the older half is in his or her “winter” (i.e., December). Other terms for such relationships are robbing the cradle; age-discrepant unions; grave robbing; age gap relationships; and tadpoling. Until recent times, more so within the African setting, such liaisons were very common across all social, economic and social class. Today however, such relationships are mostly found in the rural areas.

In the United States, May-December relationships are not that common. Nevertheless, such liaisons are more prevalent in the rural and agricultural states. Some well-known relationships (older men) include Tony Randal and Heather Harland (50 years); Chuck Norris and Gena O’Kelley (28 years); Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (21 years); Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones (25 years); Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn (35 years); and Dennis Kucinich and Elizabeth Jane Harper (31 years). And then there is Larry King and Shawn Southwick (26 years). On the other spectrum are older women, younger men: Francesa Annis and Ralph Fiennes (19 years); Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Levine (18 years); Jerry Seinfeld and Jessica (18 years); Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (27 years); and Geena Davis and Reza Jarrahy (15 years).

Generally speaking, modern society is still not comfortable with older women-younger men relationships. The preference is still older men-younger women. A few years ago Kenyans were shocked when Wambui Otieno-Mbugua, at 67, married Peter Mbugua, a man 42 years her junior. If the ages were reversed, very few people would have wagged their tongues. Society, as it turned out, is still comfortable with such double-standard. Even so, society is getting used to the idea of “much older women” and “much younger men.” Not too long ago, I was going through some dating sites where older women advertised specifically for younger men. One lady in particular (at 55) was adamant she would not entertain responses from men older than 30. Whoa, 30 is now “old”?

For several years now, romanticists and poets have been telling us that love is boundless and timeless. Today, older partners are telling us and behaving as though age is boundless and timeless. Well, it could be so. Love is of the mind, and so is age. There are empirical data showing that some old people actually feel and behave young and vibrant, while some young people feel and act old and sluggish, as if on their way to the grave.

Realistically however, sooner or later, age and the aging process will sneak up on us all. In most cases — especially with the men — with age come different varieties of illnesses, for instance, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, shortness of breath and energy, weak knees and weak back and weak muscles. For some people, some of these start showing up just before their 60th birthday; after that, it is a downward slope. Some men are lucky: they go on and on and on without much problem until they waltz into their graves. But what if it happens at 60 or earlier and you have a wife who is 15 to 25 years younger? Sex becomes a point of contention. Will a 60 year old man be able to keep up with a 30-40 year old woman — an age where most of them are just nearing their sexual peak? Well, a relatively healthy man may find succor in Cialis, Viagra, Levitra, or several African concoctions.

Aside from health difficulties, there are the issues surrounding children borne out of such association: what happens if a 20-30 year old woman bore children for a 50-65 year old man? Physically, the man may not be able to keep up with the children. Financially, he may not be buoyant and secured enough to provide for his wife and kids in later years. When he dies or become infirm, will there be enough money for the children’s university education, enough money for down payment on a house, and will there be a sizeable inheritance? At the simplest level, will the aging husband be able to spend quality and memorable time with his 8-18 year old children? The woman will find a way to meet her intimate needs, but what about the kids?

But long before age catches up, what about issues relating to generational gap? How does one bridge such gulf? In traditional and agrarian societies, such cleavages may not mean much; but in western and westernizing societies, the differences may be as conspicuous as night and day. At any rate, the speed at which a couple overcomes these differences may depend on individual level of education, disposition, exposure, and worldview. It may also depend on their individual and collective sense of self, and on their objective for entering into such partnership.

Some men deliberately go in search of much younger women; they purposely seek May-December relationships. The same is also true of some women. But what if “it just happened”? Love sometimes happen, just as life sometimes happen unplanned: you look across the room, make eye contact, smile, and that’s it! You observe her walk across the hill, observe her in the information lab, observe her at Starbucks…boom, she inhabits your soul! Crazy things do happen. Love is one of those crazy things that can sometimes happen when you least expect it. But then you wonder: is this love or is this infatuation? Is this love, or is it unadulterated lust, some kind of fiery animal desire? May be all you wanted was to get into her pants and do the wild-nasty-crazy-heatpumping-dance.

As an old or aging man, if all you wanted is sexual pleasure, then be upfront about it. There are things about young maidens that drive a man wild and crazy. Their young minds and young bodies and young souls can and do drive men to the brink of sanity. Heck, they possess your mind and possess your every waking moments. In such moments, it is difficult to differentiate between love and lust and infatuation. You even get to show her off to your buddies, and to your exes. The good thing here is that whatever a man can do, a woman can also do.

Assuming it is love then you must be careful not to take or play a fatherly role. She is not looking for a daddy. In you she found a lover, a husband, a partner. Something else; you cannot be overly jealous or overly suspicious when she wants to go play with her age-mates. She just may need the time to catch the wind. If you are the older woman with the younger man, you too must not play or take the role of his mother. But hey, as with most men, you cannot bank, and must not bank on the fact they he will not fornicate or commit adultery. Because he is a guy, he may not hear you speak half of the time; he may not remember your birthday or remember some special occasions; he may even develop wondering eyes; he may even sit on his butts, expecting you to serve him just as his mama use to do.

Whether you are a man or a woman, in this kind of relationship, you must be prepared for uncomfortable questions from people who don’t know you, i.e. “is she your daughter?” or “Is he your son?” And if your lover or wife is too young, he/she may become other people’s object of desire and fantasy. As the older woman, there are other things you must be prepared for, one being that men may suffer ill-health like erectile dysfunction, but as a woman, nature may come at your body faster than you can imagine. At forty-five or thereabout, when your body starts going south, will he find you ravishing and entrancing? Will he prefer to have the lights out, or engage in intimacy only during the dark hours, or under the sheets? Love is a funny thing. And so is infatuation and sweltering lust.

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michelle March 22, 2010 - 8:02 am

It’s love. These people engaging in a May December relationship are mature enough to know what they are doing.

babs July 25, 2009 - 4:55 pm

i believe you…. i am interested ooo.. incase you find one for me

Rosie December 10, 2007 - 3:33 pm

Cougarism is in. Cougars rule!

(Cougar – mountain lion, also older women dating younger men)

dynmma December 9, 2007 - 10:33 pm

Well-written and true too.

Reply December 6, 2007 - 5:33 am

Bros Sabella, you sure sounded quite frank in this write-up…not one of those seemingly controversial stuff you like to!


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