I am married to a wonderful man. He’s smart, funny and sexy in a normal, understated kind of way.
He makes my lunches, has seen me through the ups and downs of self-esteem, has celebrated happy moments and has commiserated in not-so-happy ones.
We love reading, listening to music, watching (and arguing about) movies on Netflix, cycling and an endless stream of wonderful things.
We have mutual friends, go on double-dates, and our families love the other person.
So, why would anyone have anything negative to say about my relationship?
Well, it has everything to do with these two words: age difference. My husband and I share a 13-year age difference.
There it is: You raised that eyebrow. Well, let me stop you there.
I’ve always dated older men.
The man I dated closest to my age was three years older than me (my first long-term boyfriend from back in high school), and the man farthest from my age was 25 years my senior.
From what I can tell, I met all of these men through random run-ins and mutual friends.
I didn’t go pickpocketing men to catch a glimpse of their birthdays on their driver's licenses, and the conversations with the people I’ve dated didn’t start off with the question, “You’re at least 10 years younger than [insert famous person here], right?”
Every relationship I’ve had has always happened organically, through some random occurrence. Meeting my husband was no different.
Nothing special had to happen for us to meet. He didn’t set up a Match.com profile and set a filter on “young bitches, please,” and I didn’t sit around retirement homes, hoping to meet a son of someone who was on his way out.
We met at work, just like 10 percent of other married couples.
Despite my comfort with age differences, I am still acutely aware of the things said about me and the people I’ve dated because of the age difference:
“She must be with him for the money.”
“He must be going through a midlife crisis.”
“They can’t possibly love each other. How do they even talk?”
Is it so hard to believe someone X years younger than someone else can be happy? According to today’s society, apparently so.
Society has equated men dating younger women to men who are going through midlife crises, are divorced or just need a temporary change of “scenery.”
It has defined women who date younger men as desperate, lonely or incapable of stable relationships.
It’s so easy for people to judge relationships without actually considering whether there is any basis for their judgments.
I do completely understand where these feelings come from, but often, it’s based on how bad something sounds rather than how a situation really is.
People who meet my husband and I for the first time are completely okay with us, but as soon as age is introduced to the mix, they forget everything they previously knew about who we are.
They don’t remember my husband and I share a number of common interests and life views.
They don’t remember we’ve been together for almost four years and we share a home we built together.
All they focus on is 26 and 40.
Of course, any relationship has its ups and downs, but being the younger person in the relationship comes with a whole set of standards people who are quick to judge just don’t recognize.
Younger partners need to have very honest conversations with themselves and their partners about practical things that come with being with someone older:
“Say we get married. How long do you want to wait until we have kids? Do you even want kids?”
“How are we going to deal with aging at different times?”
“Can you really internalize the fact there are just some things we can’t experience together?”
“How will our families feel about this?”
“Can you handle people judging us?”
I suppose it’s hard to be empathetic to a situation that’s already deemed unfavorable by society’s standards.
It’s easy for people to make mental notes of how much younger someone looks in comparison to the other person.
But, it isn't hard to believe a younger person must be with the older person because of money.
This isn’t to say age difference plays absolutely no part in the dynamic of the relationship. It certainly does, and everyone is different.
My last serious boyfriend (the length of the relationship was a little under three years, and our age difference was 20 years) couldn’t really get over our age difference, regardless of how strong our feelings were for one another and how well we coexisted in each other’s space.
The age difference was like a one-way mirror, and I was on the one being observed for abnormalities.
Granted, I was a completely different person four years ago, but the age gap weighed so heavily on us.
It was practically impossible to overcome those feelings of negativity and have realistic and practical conversations about where the relationship was going.
Often, I was made to feel the playing field wasn’t equal because he had “20 years more experience” than I did.
Instead of building memories together, I always felt — and was made to feel — as if I had to catch up because I was 20 years behind.
The foundation of our relationship was built on the idea that I somehow needed to be taught how to be with an older man.
I was automatically labeled the student and he the teacher.
Instead of being an equal participant in the relationship, I was just supposed to sit back and be steered every which way until I fit into his life.
Ultimately, the relationship had to end, and we had to move on.
It didn’t end because we didn’t love each other enough or because the other person wasn’t willing to make any sacrifices.
It ended because the relationship started with a partner who internalized society’s feelings that being in a relationship with someone that much younger couldn’t work.
You’d think I would learn my lesson and start dating men my own age. I didn’t, and thank God for that.
My relationship with my husband was completely different (obviously, I married him).
While he is more than a decade older than I am, he went into the relationship with an open mind, and that made all the difference.
He spent time with me, got to know me, learned things about me that I didn’t even know and most importantly, he grew with me.
He and I learned that while our relationship may not fit what society deems as appropriate, it didn’t matter.
We were in a partnership with each other, not the rest of the world.
I know I am not the first person to suffer from societal stigmas, and I am also not the last.
But, I know the importance of not letting what is perceived as “right” dictate which path I walk, especially when it's in regard to the relationships in my life.
Learning to choose the right person, regardless of age, sex, race, body type and a number of other things, is hard enough without allowing the majority opinion into the mix.
Ultimately, someone will always have something to say about whatever partner you choose, but choosing someone to love should be a decision that comes from within.