Of Older Men, Younger Women And Vice Versa


November 24, 1991|By ALICE STEINBACH

After carefully sorting through the nominations submitted to me as candidates for Lie-of-the-Month, I am ready to announce a winner. The envelope, please.

First place goes to the recent Esquire magazine survey that asked American men the following question: "In a romantic relationship, how many years younger than you would a woman have to be to make you feel uncomfortable about the age difference?"

The answer? Ten years younger.

That means -- in case you're missing the point -- that a 40-year-old man would feel uncomfortable with a woman under 30; a 50-year-old man with a companion under 40; and that a 60-year-old male would prefer not to date a woman under 50.

Are we laughing yet?

To illustrate my last remark, I offer for your consideration some true stories from the Real World of Women over 40 -- as opposed to those male fantasies from Esquire's Twilight Zone of the Age Differential.

True story No. 1:

Several single women are sitting around, talking about the lack of male companionship. One 50-something woman says: "At my ZTC age I'm much too old for men who are my age. They're looking for a woman in her 30s. But here's the Catch-22. At 50, I'm also too old for men in their 60s and 70s. They're looking for women in their 30s, too."

And she wasn't just talking about the golden oldies -- men like Gene Kelly, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire -- all of whom married decades-younger women. She's talking about your average, over-40 man who's divorced or single or widowed.

True story No. 2:

Divorced woman in her late 40s goes to a high school reunion. There she meets a dozen female classmates who are all divorced and haven't remarried. She also meets eight men from her senior class who are divorced. From their first wives, that is. Second wives are all between 25 and 35.

True story No. 3:

We ask some average, over-40 single men for their thoughts on the subject:

"I go out with younger women because they make me feel young," said one.

"They're more pliable and look up to me more," said another.

"Younger women are sexier," said a third.

Of course, there are always two sides to every story.

Which brings us to the opposite side of the Older Man, Younger Woman pattern of coupling: The Younger Man-Older Woman combination.

You see it everywhere. In the movies, fortyish Susan Sarandon gets young, preppy guy in "White Palace" and young, athletic pitcher in "Bull Durham." In real life, 59-year-old Liz Taylor weds her 39-year-old lover.

In newspapers and magazines you read all about this latest trend of younger men becoming involved with older women.

It just proves, doesn't it, that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Excuse me, but are we laughing yet?

In real life -- as opposed to reel life or celebrity life -- the news of such a trend has been highly exaggerated.

And furthermore, where such a relationship actually exists it is frequently treated with disapproval and sarcasm by both men and women.

True story No. 1:

A woman goes to a dinner party with a man 12 years her junior. At dinner everyone makes a point of telling her how charming her date is. Later she finds out that after she and her escort have left the party, the men say: "Isn't he a bit young for her?" The women say: "When she's 80, he'll only be 68."

That woman was me.

True story No. 2:

Remember how the world went ballistic with sarcastic comments when Liz Taylor announced her engagement to Larry Fortensky? There were endless snide variations on the theme of: What's a young man see in an old broad like that?

Excuse me, but why is Liz the subject of such veiled hostility whereas George Burns -- who must be about 400 years old -- is considered cute when he says that 18-year-old girls are too old for him?

Does anyone doubt that we're dealing with a double standard here? That society judges a 65-year-old woman who dates a man young enough to be her son much more harshly than the man who dates a woman the age of his daughter?

And please, do not write me about the 28-year-old man who's dating your 33-year-old friend. Or the 35-year-old male going out with your 39-year-old cousin.

If you want to write me, I'd like to hear about your friends who are in a relationship in which the man is 35 and the woman 60. Or even 45 and 55.

I'll be waiting for your letters.

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