As a late-thirty-something man about town who’s been braving the Joburg singles scene for the last four years (oh lord, has it been that long?), I’ve come to notice an intriguing, and sometimes frightening, phenomenon: the dating age game.
I’ve long been aware that some people tend to delve into age groups quite distant from their own when it comes to seeking a mate, but I had always assumed that this tended to be outside the norm, or then simply cases of mid-life crisis or some kind of sordid financial arrangement.
After all, who hasn’t heard (or perhaps even experienced) the scenario of the wealthy older man treating his young lover to all kinds of worldly experiences in exchange for a firm libido? It’s seemed rather unsavoury to me – smacking of all kinds of gay clichÃ©s and stereotypes.
I guess what bugs me the most about age-discordant relationships (and I’m talking differences of around ten years or more) is the idea that there is usually also an imbalance in the partners’ power dynamic.
I’ve often said that I could never be with a man because of his wealth or his status – and nothing would disturb me more than someone wanting to be with me for these very same reasons: I’ve always seen my ideal relationship as one between equals growing through life together. Go on, gag all you like, but there it is…
We all know that the younger boy-older man phenomenon has a long history – in both ancient Europe and in Africa – but that seemed to me to be a result of societies that were unable to define homosexuality as a coupling of equals.
In the heterosexual world, most couples, in my experience, seem to be within five years of each other in age. The most common occurrence of age-discordant relationships in the straight realm appears to be in the case of extra-marital affairs, flings and the ubiquitous mid-life crisis. Or maybe I just watch too much TV.
I’ve tut-tutted my friends for their often nearly pube-less conquests and – like the well trained Virgo that I am – secretly looked down on their apparently dysfunctional age-imbalanced couplings. I’ve questioned why their younger lovers were really with them, and looked for signs of the sugar-daddy syndrome. I’ve wondered if my friends have been seeking affirmation as remaining sexually attractive as they get older, or even what this said about their character.
But, once again, life seems intent on thwarting my preconceptions: Over the last couple of years two things have happed: The first is that men my age seem increasingly uninterested in me – and prefer to be dabbling with youngsters. It appears as though I’m simply too old to be of much significance.
“…he wasn’t there when JR Ewing was shot, or when Hillbrow was a cool place to hang out in…”
Secondly, I myself, against all my best efforts, seem to be consistently attracting a disproportionate amount of younger guys: like flies to shit, like bees to honey, like moths to a flame – you get the picture.
Some might be ecstatic at the idea, but I’ve been pretty horrified at this state of affairs. Sure it’s something fun to joke about, and not too unappealing to the ageing ego, but I’ve just never taken the idea of dating a much younger man seriously.
So after all this, you may be surprised to learn that I’ve finally given in. I confess: I too have been dating a younger man. Exactly how young? Well, let’s put it this way: He’s certainly a grown man, but in the US, he’d only just have been allowed to start drinking alcohol.
Am I ashamed? Do I feel like a hypocrite? Well, to some extent I do. And I still have questions about our long term viability as a couple.
Aren’t our life experiences simply too different for us to be real partners? He wasn’t there when JR Ewing was shot, or when Hillbrow was a cool place to hang out in or even standing in the queue when I voted in the 1994 elections.
Consider this: I came out the closet almost a decade and a half ago, while his family is still coming to grips with his sexuality. And what will my mother say when I introduce him to her?
In my (our?) defence, he’s certainly not with me because of my money (my bank manger will attest to that) and I don’t believe that I’m attracted to him because of his age; rather because he’s just a really great guy.
For now though, I’m taking it as it comes – one day at a time – and slowly trying to deal with my notions about what form or shape relationships should or shouldn’t take. After all, as a gay man shouldn’t I be, more than most, suspicious of slavishly following what has been traditionally accepted as the norm?