Older – younger: age differences in dating
Much has been made of how gay men are supposed to be obsessed with youth. It’s true that many of the commercial images used to sell things to our community tend to suggest one standard of male beauty: buffed, hairless, white and young. Not everyone fits this standard. No matter how much time you spend at the gym, the only way to stay young and buffed all your life is to plan on dying young.
For those whose main connection with the gay community is the bar and club scene, it is possible to live in a very age-segregated world. This is understandable — human beings often tend to hang out with people pretty much like ourselves in age or class or interest — but it can distort our perspective. At some bars, a 35 year old man who walked in might be the oldest guy around.
I occasionally hear older men comment on the age discrimination they feel they have experienced in such bars. Talking to them a bit more, it often seems that the “discrimination” involves finding that the younger men in these places aren’t especially eager to cruise or connect with them. Talking further, though, will often reveal that these guys aren’t interested in frequenting places with a more diverse clientele because they are only interested in young guys!
I’d like to suggest a new way of addressing ageism in our community. I think the real ageism is the failure to find someone our own age attractive. There is no particular reason why a younger man should find an older man attractive — although many younger men do prefer guys older than them. But when we hold up a standard that says in effect “Only men younger than me are hot or worthy of my attention,” we are setting ourselves up for a great deal of unhappiness in life.
Younger men tend to hang out with other younger men because they have a good deal in common. Another way of putting it is that they are at a similar stage in life’s development. This is to be expected. Some younger men prefer older, more experienced partners. Some of the most long-lived relationships I know involve men with a 10 or 15 year age difference. These men find a complimentarity in their age divergence. The older man brings experience and wisdom to the relationship, the younger man contributes a different perspective and energy.
When older men seek out younger men exclusively, they may be saying something about themselves — that they cannot find men their own age appealing, for instance, and that they secretly fear they are unattractive to others. These men are in danger of becoming manipulative, embittered and isolated.
Younger men who avoid the company of older men may have problems accepting the fact of their own aging. They risk clinging to a youth that inevitably fades away, usually before we notice it. If we cannot imagine ourselves being interesting and juicy older guys someday, we risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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