The reality of an age gap relationship: life with my husband who is 35 years older

A black and white photo of a tree trunk on which someone has written 'love never dies'. This photo accompanies an article about relationships with large age gaps.

This essay about being in a relationship with a large gap was originally published in the Family section of The Guardian on Saturday May 21st 2011. A shorter version also appeared on Offbeat Mama in February 2011.

As a result of writing about our age gap marriage I get emails almost every week from other people around the world who are looking for advice on their own situation. I’ve written about this experience as an accidental Dear Abby in a piece for the Washington Post

My husband is a beat poet, a professional fundraiser, and the proudest father I’ve ever known. He also happens to be 35 years older than me, and 60 years older than our son. Somewhat ironically, his name is Young.

Believe me, if you had asked me five years ago who I imagined marrying and starting a family with, a man old enough to be my own father would not have been top of the list. And if a friend had confided to me that they were considering entering a relationship with such a significant age difference, I would have done my gentle best to discourage them. But here we are, coming up to our fourth wedding anniversary, and still recovering from our son’s second birthday party. Love is a wonderful and surprising thing, and as we tell people who ask how we met, we just kinda bumped and stuck.

To those on the outside, there are many disadvantages to our unconventional relationship. The mistake people make is thinking that we haven’t given consideration to those ourselves. Of course we’ve thought about the future, of course we know that things won’t always be as easy and fun as they are now, and of course we realise that we look a little odd when we go out… We dated for six months before moving in together, and several nights a week we would linger over dinner, drinking wine, talking about all the reasons we shouldn’t commit to each other. It is a standing joke between us that, due to those six months, there is no good restaurant in Edinburgh that I haven’t cried in.

I think it says something that we now count the owners and staff of some of those restaurants as our closest friends. I can only imagine what they thought at the time, seeing the twenty-something girl in a denim mini-skirt coming in regularly for intimate dinners with the grey-haired, suited man carrying a briefcase. They saw my tears, our first, nervous kisses, and the intense, emotional conversations that lasted long into the night. They were all professional enough to keep their thoughts to themselves… but something about watching us fall in love right in front of them, and watching our relationship develop, led to many of them becoming our biggest supporters. Other diners who asked about us, or whispered among themselves about ‘the strange couple in the corner’ were swiftly rebuked, and reminded that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and yes, even all ages.

It is tough, when you are giddily falling in love, to stand back and really examine your relationship with objective eyes, but we knew we had to. If we were serious about making things work in the longer term we had to persuade our family and friends that this was the real deal, and we couldn’t do that without believing it ourselves. Before long, all that talking paid off, and because we became completely confident in the strong foundations of our relationship, others did too. To anyone who sees us together, it is very obvious how deeply we are in love.

Unlikely as it seems, there are advantages to a relationship with a large age difference too. Knowing that we will never celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary means that we don’t have time to waste. We make the most of every single day, and refuse to get caught up in the petty arguments that consume many couples. Young lives up to his name, and has more energy and drive than most people you’d meet – he often jokes that my maturity and his immaturity mean that we meet somewhere in the middle and we’re actually just like a regular couple in their forties. I’m not sure that’s quite accurate, but it’s true that we are a good balance in terms of our personalities, and we bring out the best in each other.

Once we had both fully committed to the relationship, we decided we might as well really go for it, and pack as much into our lives together as possible. Almost exactly year after we started dating, Young whisked me off to Paris for a long weekend. We spent a lovely, sunny Friday afternoon shopping in La Place Vendome for an engagement ring… and then on leaving the shop with the chosen one, (small but excitingly sparkly) we both had a weak-kneed, what-have-we-done moment and had to collapse into the nearest café for a bottle of red wine and a large plate of pig knuckles. In that sense, the emotional ups and downs of our relationship are much like those of any other couple. It wasn’t a fear that we were doing the wrong thing by committing to each other, it was a fear that we were doing something crazy by committing at all. We were both very strong, independent people with interesting things going on in our lives. When Young had met my mother for the first time, less than a year earlier, he had told her that we were having fun but there would be ‘no cottage, no marriage, and certainly no babies…’ It felt like we had come a very long way, very quickly.

However, the post-engagement anxiety was short-lived, and seven months later friends and family surrounded us for our wedding day. Clichés exist for a reason, and it was genuinely the happiest day of my life. My father gave a moving speech, noting that even before I’d told him about Young he knew there was someone special in my life because every time we spoke on the phone I had ‘bubbles in my voice’. I was surprised on the day to realise that I had no nerves, just a calm feeling that this was absolutely the right thing to be doing. When Young started to say his vows, we locked eyes, and the only way I got through mine without wobbling was by continuing to hold his gaze. We had only changed the chaplain’s suggested wording in one way – instead of saying ‘until death do us part’ we said ‘for as long as we both shall live’.  We were determined that our marriage should reflect our general attitude towards life, and we wanted to emphasise the positives wherever possible.

Our son Tom arrived around eighteen months later, and having a child has made our ‘live for the moment’ philosophy even more pertinent. I’ll say it so you don’t have to – my husband is probably going to die while our son is still pretty young. Although knowing him as I do, I wouldn’t actually put money on that… his current stance is that he would be happy if he lived to 95, which is another 33 years. I’m holding out for 100. I had coffee with a friend the other week and she said, only half-joking, “We all know that Young is secretly immortal, right?”

Again, we knew that having a child was an enormous decision, and we talked about it endlessly, making sure that we were doing it for the right reasons and not purely selfish ones. We knew that we could provide a safe, happy and loving home for a baby, but how would we work things out financially in the future, given what different stages we were at in our careers? How would our child cope if his Daddy’s health declined? How would I manage if I ended up being a carer for both my child and husband? What if he or she were bullied at school because their Dad looked like their Grandpa?

There were so many questions that we couldn’t give definitive answers to, but we did talk in depth about different scenarios and how we thought we would manage them. In the end, as with so many things, we had to just trust our instincts.

We really believe that there are no guarantees, whatever your age. We know very well that couples the same age, who look like a perfect match on paper, can’t always make things work when they expand their family. Neither Young nor I had a particularly straightforward childhood and, perhaps because of that, we are convinced that having an awesome father around, even for a short while, is vastly preferable to having an uninvolved or uncaring father around for life.

And he really is an awesome father. To have your first child at sixty is no small thing, but to throw yourself into the job with as much energy and enthusiasm and excitement as Young has done is quite incredible. Despite the many demands of his working life, he is never too busy to read a book with Tom, or get down on the floor and wrestle with him. The highlight of the day for both of them is bath-time, which Young has always done. Whatever kind of day they’ve had, some quality time together with a plastic shape-sorting whale and a bottle of no-tears shampoo seems to make it all feel a whole lot better.

My two boys love each other so dearly, and when I was struggling in the early days of motherhood, it was seeing their love for each other that helped me come to terms with our new life. Not only was Young right beside me for every 2am feed and 5am nappy change, my physical and mental recovery from a difficult birth was only made bearable by the glimpses I caught of him pacing the room with Tom, whispering his love and singing lullabies.

Tom has just turned two, and it has been an immense pleasure to watch their relationship develop. Young remains as involved as he was in the first weeks, with every aspect of our son’s care. Aside from the practicalities though, they have an incredible bond. The memories of sitting on a doughnut cushion for six weeks, falling apart with postpartum depression, are fast being pushed to the back of my mind and being replaced with many happy new snapshots. I never tire of seeing Tom perched on his Daddy’s shoulders, giggling away at some shared joke.

Some things will never change, and we accept that. We still do get some odd looks when we go out, and Young has been mistaken for Tom’s Grandpa on a couple of occasions. I am sure there are still those who think our relationship is wrong. But what could be wrong about two people in love, happily married, bringing up their son? When it comes to building a family, we feel that age really is nothing more than a number.

61 responses

  1. Great article and a lovely picture too!

    My partner is ‘only’ 13 years older than me and in the early days there was always a suspicion from others that I would “find someone my own age” but no-one ever suggested that he would run of with someone his own age!

    It’s really never been an issue for us and the benefits to our children of having parents whose experiences span the generations are huge. I quite like it!

    I wish you and Young many happy years together.

  2. Thats a beautiful love story and may your happiness lasts for a very long time!
    Juts found you via britmums blog hop and I really like your blog, very nice to meet you here 🙂

  3. A really inspiring post. My husband is 20 years older than me and I also get the comments. Some people have even assumed he’s my dad! If you can make the most of your lives together, you will be all the more richer for it. Enjoy your time.

    CJ xx

  4. What a great read Ruth. It’s lovely to share your thoughts and family with us. I wish you and Young all the best and I’m so glad your all so happy:)

  5. Thank you all so much for the lovely comments – we really appreciate them. We were a bit nervous about the response we were going to get to the article, but it has been overwhelmingly positive! I’m sure not everyone is as kind and supportive as you all are, but at least those people are having the decency not to share their thoughts with me 🙂

  6. A lovely article that makes you really think, I am sure people do judge you but I certainly will be thinking twice if I see couples that break the conventional norm. Love is love at the end of the day and you certainly sound like you have it!

    I wish you many more years of happiness together

  7. Hii.. Is really a touching story and so a like with me..

    My fiance is 44 years older than me.. first i was not aware because we knew us by online..after some moments the truth revealed it self.. first as you said Ruth.. never we imagine our self will marrying people that so have so much gap of age difference but true is love never choose where to land it’s arrow..

    having almost 2 months time holidays as we stayed at 2 difference continent assured me he is the one and the truth he look much younger than his age.. no one ever guess him already move to 70

    this year i’m 28, it is not a normal things for people as u said to find a couple like what i have now.. but i do love him and we can always master all things together.. reading ur story is really support me to keep this move on..

    is fate let both of us met and i want to be at his side as long as possible.. he always said i never feel me old and age is nothing than number.. about dead and live is already written over the fate.. young people also may died when it’s come.. things back is to us.. and yess is so true..

    Thank you for sharing this and i really have much more brave to face everything that might will heading towards us…

    Thanks again for this great love story

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  9. Hi,
    I read your piece in the Guardian and it did make me question how often we all jump to conclusions based on appearances rather than any in depth knowledge of situations – and it’s great that you have the support of your own family. It’s obvious that you have considered all the challenges involved, perhaps the greatest are more to do with a child having an older parent – rather than the age difference between the two of you. As you say that has not been an obstacle to the two of you and it is not the business of other people. And there are many children out there with older fathers. Good luck to all three of you. NNHM

    • Thanks very much for your kind words – I agree that we are really lucky to have supportive families – since the article was published I’ve heard a few stories of people who were in a similar relationship but had a huge amount of disapproval from their families, and were pretty much forced to choose between the two. I can’t imagine how much harder that must make things.

  10. I am in the same situation, My partner is 35 years older than me and we are madly in love. We are still in the stage of discussing the ins and outs of our relationship. We are in the process of telling people, and my family seem to be happy as long as I am happy. I was in a relationship with a man my age who did not support me, so to have someone who support and loves me is wonderful. Love is not something we plan. We have entered each others lives and shook it inside out and upside down. I admire he’s maturinty and the intellectual conversations we have. We are each others best friend 🙂

    I found your story to be inspirational and very helpful for our relationship.

    thanks 🙂

    • Love is definitely not something you can plan 🙂 Congratulations on finding someone who makes you so happy… I hope all your discussions lead to a good decision for you both. Thanks so much for taking the time to come and read and comment – hope the two of you have many fabulous years ahead xx

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  12. Oh I remember reading this in the guardian at the time. I love the family section its my favourite part. It was such an interesting article and route completely right tjat age doesn’t matter.

    • Ahh, thanks Rebecca, that’s very sweet of you. I love the Family section too – so many interesting stories. I was quite glad they didn’t leave it open for comments on the Guardian website though, probably would have had more nutters leaving abusive comments on there! I’ve got another wee story about us being published in a glossy women’s mag early next year, and then it’s time to find something else to write about I think!

  13. I wish you all the best. My husband was 30 years older than me, but unfortunately the toll of children did not sit well with him, so we divorced eventually. He certainly was not as supportive as yours, which would have made a difference, but we did have the same ‘he’s a teenager and she’s mature’ sort of relationship which meant we met in the middle. It was fun for a while. I hope you guys last forever!

  14. What a lovely inspiring story !!!!!!! Lovely photo too. Hope the move is working out and you are settling into your new surroundings. At the end of the day you have found the real deal with each other so age difference flies out the window. Good for both!

  15. Your story made me cry. It is such a wonderful and open account of your love for each other. When my husband gets home, I am going to give him a big cuddle. You’re right – it’s too easy to get bogged down by little unimportant things when we should all be making the most of those we love.

  16. I love this post so much and thank you for putting up an ‘old one’ on Love New Blogs this week.It’s good to read a great post that I would have otherwise probably have missed.
    Like you say ‘happiest day of your life’ is a bit of a cliché but clichés exist for a reason…much like ‘age is as state of mind’.
    It’s wonderful that you have found a soul-mate who has turned into such an attentive father, whatever his age xxx

  17. 23 years difference and together more than 25 years. However … as my husband ages …. the difference grows. Health issues make for difficult times and as young as a person seems and looks … the body does wear. I hope it always remains a happy relationship for you both 🙂

  18. Thank you so much for this heartfelt article. Being in an age-disparate relationship is often lonely and difficult, merely because it is so easy to feel ostracized and judged; for this reason it is so nice to hear others with similar stories and have the reminder that we are not alone. My fiance and I have 30 years between us. We have been together almost four years now and still my family has not accepted even meeting him. His family, on the other hand, have been more kind to me than I could have ever wished. You have a lovely family and I wish you all the best!

  19. My husband is 19 years older than me. I’m 29 and he is 48. He has two grown boys – his oldest is in the Air Force; his youngest is a junior in college. My daughter is still a toddler – just 2 1/2 years old. My husband is absolutely wonderful with her. Every day with him is better than the rest! Oh, and he has two grandchildren! We love our beautifully blended family!

  20. Thank u for such a story and such comments.. I was in a bad situation thinking about the 18years difference between my fiance and me..I was too much worrying because our engagement is soon and suddenly all the tension and dark thoughts arrived!!! my fiance is a geat man in his 42 years now..he loves me as no body would ever do on planet!!! But as one of the comments said, my parents weren’t supportive especially at jmom was trying her best to change my mind because of age difference plus he is from different (very nearby country) and I know that my relatives will not like the idea of this age difference either but I dont really care..bcs I will have zero benefit by choosing some one else I dont love just to live more years with!!!!! You really inspire me by this writing..god bless u all the r my angels today and for the coming years…

  21. There is a new cleaner started at my firm a few weeks ago who i had an immediate attraction to. Basically i hate the days when she isnt working. She is so easy to talk to and i count the days till she is in work again (1 day a week) I’ve been wondering if i should tell her how i feel but thought i shouldn’t as i am 44 and she is 23, but after reading this story i might just take the chance. Life is too short to live with what ifs…..isn’t it. Any advice would be greatful. Martin

  22. my honey is 19yrs older than i am. we’re different races and different cultures. i was married previously but i was never in love with my ex husband; we just ‘settled’. so not loving the person in a particular way then having issues in the marriage, made it unbearable. while going through my divorce i basically “shy crept” this guy for months in a mutual lunch spot. i said to myself god, if i had the courage to talk to this guy. then one day i did. turns out he was shy, too. We then ran from each other for about 2 weeks.

    When he held my hand and looked into my eyes…i immediately went into fight and flight mode. I ran into my car and said ‘ gotta run, late for class.’ I sat in my car and thought what was THAT?! A sudden rush up my spine, legs buckling, voice breaking?. After that, we didn’t see each other for a month and my friend openly said “either you make a move or forget this guy. both of you are ridiculous now.” I made a clear cut move and told him if you’re on the same page just show up to our spot. 1 week later I saw his truck pull up in the parking lot of the deli.

    Then after that wore off, the reality of the situation set in, the age difference, the racial difference, both in previous marriages, and how THAT would be accepted in a conservative town, or in general. So far, so good. We are moving forward. However, we are aware the biggest challenges we will face is older in life. When I’m 55 and he is 74…let’s be honest.

  23. Thank you for this article. I am 32 and the love of my life is 64. The first time we met, I knew that it was more than a fleeting thing. There was an agreement made; seemingly in our eyes. I knew I was his. And that he was the man I had been waiting for. He is confident, has a great sense of humor. We connect on an intense level. I have wanted to read more about a situation like ours. I have found nothing but Negative. But, I see so much love and hope in your writing. I want to ‘Live’ with this man as long as we are able. We are all about living. Positives. In every negative, my love finds 3 positives. I don’t feel afraid. This is something that feels like it was intended to be. I have learned to pick my battles; as you mentioned there are none of the petty disagreements that other couples have. There is no drama here. I am thrilled for everyday that we have. I count myself lucky. I can be myself, he knows who he is. At this time, he does not want a baby. Other than that, we are intune with eachother on a higher level. I love this man with my whole heart. I feel alive inside when we are together. There are no insecurities. Thank you for taking time to write about this. I wanted to see if anyone saw this, the way my heart sees it. When two people love eachother, and decide to cannonball into living..we tried to fight it. Reason it away. But at one point, we held hands, closed our eyes and jumped in. I am so happy.

  24. Hi I have also been looking for some one in a simular relationship as me and never thought it possible! My husband is 43 years my senior I`m in my twenties now, we have been in a strong loving relationship for 10 years we have a son of 2 y 9m, and like you we also had alot of questions, my husband is so loving and enduring father to our son some days I cant keep up with them(they make such a great team),we will be working on the next one soon,and I know people cant begin imagine why but we really LOVE each other and the other important thing is we are still INLOVE with eachother. Alot of people will be negetive about your relationship, but your love for eachother is stronger. My best wishes,and Years of happiness to you3.

  25. This is a great post. I’m in the same situation and I wasn’t sure if our relationship was right (some friends kept reminding me of what it could be like when he gets older). Your post really encouraged me to see our relationship as a whole thing. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  26. He’s 23 years older than me. We’ve been together for 4 years and have recently moved in together. It was hard to get my family to accept it, and his’ still doesn’t know. Well, they know, they just pretend not to.
    We’ll have to start making some ‘social appeareances’ soon and that makes me so anxious. It was great stumbling upon this post, thank you so much. It helps a lot.
    I really don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t understand the real reasons for all of this. I just like him. I like him most than anything else in the world. I like to be around him. He takes so much care of me. He is so nice and loving in every way. And my heart swells when I look at him. I seize every second I can spend with him. I call him by the phone just to listen to his voice. I hug him tight at night, I have this deep need to be completely his. That’s all I know.

  27. What a beautiful story! My fiancé is 28 years older and we’ve been together for over ten years. We’re both professionals and get along perfectly – our quirks align beautifully! I love every minute we’re together, whether we’re traveling, at the theatre, or just hanging out at home. I wish you the best. Thank you for sharing your story.

  28. Pingback: Life with my husband… who is 35 years older | Love All Blogs

  29. I know just how you feel. I am 20 and madly in love with a man 38 years my senior. We always have such a lovely time together, whether it be on holiday or just cuddling up on the sofa in front the telly. I wish my story could turn out the same as yours but he is adamant he can’t let himself fall in love for fear of getting hurt. Was this a problem for you? If so how did you convince him that you’d never hurt him?

  30. My husband and soul mate is 29 years older than I. We have been happily married for over 7 years and have two beautiful boys. We have the type of love and relationship everyone else only dreams of. Even strangers can see how in love we are. We are the best of friends and the best of lovers. I would never imagine myself with anyone else. We are one in a billion. I just turned 30 and my husband just turned 60 last week. All along I always told myself that I would rather love like this and to lose it, knowing that I have something that others never know they are missing. But recently I have been overwhelmed with feelings that my love with him is so deep and grand that I will never be happy with anyone else. No one will ever measure up to the love I have with him. It is inevitable. He will die, and I will live the rest of my life lonely only longing for him to return to me. I do spend every waking second with him and truly cherish every moment of my life with him. But now overwhelmed with these feelings, I find myself crying daily thinking of what my life without him will be like. I will still have decades to live without him. And the pain of losing him, or even thinking about it, will be something I don’t know if I can get over. Now, even knowing how special and unique we are, I find myself wondering if we made the right decision to be together. In the beginning, we never knew how much our relationship would grow. And thinking of how hard and terrible my life will be without him and how much i will hurt knowing i will live so many years alone, I don’t know if I really do agree with the statement, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

    • Hi hun I’m in a similar position, can you send me an email so we can chat as feel the exact same and it’s killing me! x

  31. My fiancé is 53 and I am 30. I have 2 children from a previous marriage. He has never been married or had children. When my ex husband passed away I felt I would never remarry or have children again. That all changed this passed Christmas when 6 years of living with each other turned into “will you marry me?” He loves both my children and treats them like a father would treat his own. I never felt so blessed to have such a wonderful man in my life that supports and cares about me and both children. The thought of having kids always teased us but we never considered it until a month after being engaged. I am 6 months pregnant with a little girl now and he is beyond excited. My children are excited about having a sister. I guess I was just nervous about how his life will change being a actual father himself. This story let me know that true love is beautiful and precious to watch grow. Watching my children hurt from losing their father is something I never want to repeat again. I love him so much and am so honored to bear him a child and call him my husband. I want my daughter to love and experience her dad. Thank you for writing this story so I have a lot more to look forward to in the future. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. Thank you so much

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  33. My husband & I have a 14 year age difference. When we first started dating, I think it was more noticeable, but most people do not realize our age difference unless we tell them now. I liked hearing your perspective.

  34. Hi could you possibly talk to me about this as I really need to talk to someone who is in the exact same boat as me. So inspiring by the way x

  35. Hi!
    I just read your post after finding myself in a similar situation. The man I love is 45 years my senior, but we are completely and absolutely in love. I know that it is real. I have never been sure of anything more in my life. Both of us have never connected as deeply with another human being before, and we seemed to ‘click’ immediately upon first meeting over a year ago. In fact, we refer to each other as the other’s half.

    We are in the phase of ‘talking things over’ and trying to figure what we’re going to do with our love, and it’s been very, very hard.
    I cry so often now. I am in Med school, yet I can hardly study because my mind is not here, it is somewhere with him, trying to solve all our problems. This adds to the stress of our situation, in addition to the stress that comes along with my heavy studies.
    I feel like I live in fear. Fear of losing him, of not being with him, of how my parents are going to take this…..

    Can we please talk?
    I feel like I need help from someone who understands.

    I sought the help of a much older friend; she is even older than my mother, but advised me against it (you can accurately guess why).
    Thing is, I cannot imagine being with anyone else. I don’t want to be with anyone else.
    He is the one for me.

    • there are so many different opinions to give, advice no one is qualified to give, and even experience with similar situations are no match for what you feel is right for you. There isn’t a soul on this planet who can tell you how you should live, you truly have to follow your own heart. What mihght be right for one person might be the perfect choice for you. As you grow and mature and fully expand as an adult you will learn that inner peace only comes from doing what you feel and know to be right. If you go against your own inner voice you will most assuredly live through turmoil. So although i am one of the ones that would advise against this (even though I still madly love my one soul mate) not because love is hard at times, but because the side effects and after effects are much more complicated than you could ever imagine they will become. but I cannot give advice because i am not you….

      • But Pamela, I feel like I cannot be without him.
        I don’t know what to do!

        My mind tells me that this will be so complicated while my heart screams “please!”

        He is the same.
        We are both losing our minds.

        I need help, I do.

  36. Thank you for having the courage and strength to share this so gracefully and openly.such a beautiful love story.the truth is when it comes to love and chemistry age isn’t a factor.people can really fall in love purely despite age difference.

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