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May December Relationship and Remarriage: Can it Work?

older man marriage different generation

by Claire Bush

My husband was 78 when I met him; a recent widower, he had been married 56 years, 4 years longer than I had been alive.

At 52, I had two failed marriages under my belt, and was considering remaining single.  The opportunity to get serious had come up with other men, but somehow, at the last minute, I’d balked. I told myself I wasn’t ready to recommit, couldn’t stand another divorce, wasn’t in love. All of the above were true. However, from the first night that my husband and I went out on a date, I knew we would end up together. A year and a half later we were married. Why? Because, despite our differences, we had a similar orientation to life; our morals were the same. But would that be enough?

Too Large of an Age Difference?

A lot of my friends thought I was crazy; many of his friends agreed. Although it’s not such a big deal in middle age, there are still some real issues – cultural, physical and emotional – to consider with such a large age gap. Now into our second year of marriage, the adjustments continue, but we are together, and hopefully, will stay that way.

A nontraditional relationship means you get to make your own rules. At this stage in my life, with kids grown and gone, I was ready to focus on creative and spiritual goals. Marrying someone who gets the “big picture” and has already been there, done that was important to me. Freedom from the need to buy a bigger house, entertain the boss, fill the calendar with endless social obligations was also appealing. Our days are simple, but meaningful; both of us have our own friends and outside activities, we each pursue our own creative and spiritual goals, and enjoy our family members – with or without each other, however it works best.

Health Issues and Cultural Issues in Marriage

What's the downside of marrying someone from another generation?

  • Health is always an issue; my husband recently underwent surgery, and will be recuperating for several months, at least. He’s not as quick as he used to be, and he’s becoming more forgetful. Hopefully, this is within the normal range of aging.
  • Cultural clashes still exist, too. At times I tire of hearing about the “good old days” back on the farm, stories of World War II, and people and events that were part of his life 20 or 30 years ago or more. I’m sure he is equally puzzled by my interest in most music, modern art and nearly anything to do with technology.

These are issues that any couple could have, of course. It seems to me that many of the day to day things we have going on are just differences in temperament and outlook, and not related directly to age. On the good days, we’re like any other happy couple. On the not-so-great days, it’s easy to blame the age difference for our difficulties. But is an age gap really just a handy scapegoat?

Communication Gaps in May December Marriages?

It’s said that ten years equals a generation. What’s it like to be partners with someone who never heard of Jethro Tull, pet rocks, troll dolls or Tommy – the Musical?

Does a big age gap necessarily mean a communication gap – or can it be bridged, like any other gap, with the right materials?

I am interested in your comments and your ideas about how you deal with the age gap in your relationship or marriage.  Are you in a relationship with a younger man or a man who is a bit older?

A Note From Tina

This article is here because Claire contacted me and suggested a story about age differences and remarriage, and the idea appealed to me.  My husband is only eight years older than I, but Claire and I deal with similar cultural issues within our respective remarriages.  While I have not had to deal with any major health issues because my husband is in good health, my husband and I really do come from different cultures.

  • My husband hates the classic rock music (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd) I grew up with. The only "rock concert" my husband has ever seen is Peter Paul and Mary.
  • My husband spent his entire life working for a major corporation. I was an anti-capitalist, anti-corporate hippie when I was young... so I never would have fit into the corporate-wife mode, which I would have been forced to embrace if I had met my husband earlier when he was working for Johnson & Johnson. Fortunately, my husband was retired when we met.

Because of things like these, my husband doesn't get my jokes or my point of view.  Many Boomers (like me) feel very comfortable being "different," while my too-old-to-be-a-Baby-Boomer husband strives to fit in "with the Joneses."   And, just like Claire's husband, my guy stayed married to his wife until she died (about 38 years of wedded bliss).  Hey, my husband was skeptical about dating any woman who had been divorced... until he saw that almost all of the women on Match.com had been married three or four times.  (Baby Boomers were the cohort that embraced divorce... unfortunately.)

I've looked online to see if there are any studies about age differences in remarriage.  One thing I found was Trophy Wives and Boy Toys: Age Differences in Remarriage by Scott T. Yabiku.  Here are a few quotes from Yabiku's paper:

    • "Differences and similarities in age are especially important because they have been found to be correlated with relationship happiness..."
    • "Remarriage happens at older ages than first marriages, and the previously divorced partner has a smaller pool of age-similar spouses to choose from—many of the potential age-similar partners have already entered into marriage and are now unavailable... In support of this reasoning is the finding that remarriages tend to be less age homogenous than first marriages..."

And, these quotes from the study make sense.  The older you are, the less likely it is that you will find a partner in your own age group.  For example, several women I know who are my age are married to younger men (about 10 years their junior), and I think this trend is common because most men my age are married (or they died in Viet Nam).  In my opinion, it would be a bit weird for a 30-year-old woman to marry a 20-year-old man, but a 60-year-old chick with a 50-year-old guy seems to work fairly well and is quite acceptable to my generation.  Will it be a problem when the women are 80?  Who knows.  What do you think?

Are You in a May / December  (or August / December) Relationship?

If you have a story to share and would like to be interviewed (anonymously or otherwise) for a book being written by Claire, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page, and Claire or I will contact you. (If you don’t want to be interviewed, it is still fine to leave a comment.)

More Articles for Baby Boomer Women:

Wedding Dresses for Older Brides: Women Over 40

Could You Be the Target for a Psycho?

Divorce Over 50: Gray Divorce - The Good & the Bad

Do you have any tricks that have helped you get along with your older or younger husband or partner?  Have you encountered any problems in your age-gap marriage?  Leave a comment on the bottom of the page.

Claire Bush Rabe is a freelance writer based in Phoenix and has authored two books as well as created content for The Arizona Republic and many other print and online publications.

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