By Hayley Doyle
When it comes to love and relationships, I have a simple theory. If you’re happy and you’re not hurting anybody, go for it. Yet, there is always trouble brewing for those who wish to enter into coupledom with somebody who isn’t roughly around their age. The thing is, the so-called trouble doesn’t ever seem to exist between the two people concerned. It’s everybody else who has a problem with it. Why so? If it’s not affecting you, why create - unnecessary - negative energy?
Madonna is the latest celebrity to face an attack. The 64-year-old recently posted a photo of herself with her new boyfriend, Josh Popper, 35 years her junior. Her previous relationship was with a model, Andrew Darnell, who happened to be 41 years her junior. An article in the Daily Mail showing images of Madonna and Josh together purposefully provoked its readers to kick up a fuss, with comments oozing hate, like, ‘This geriatric entity needs to rest her dry goods before she breaks her knees doing who knows what,’ and ‘They're both sick, both need help. She's pitiful, he's pathetic.’ But Madonna isn’t forcing these younger men to date her, is she? They have their own mind, and their own choices, right? If they’re both single and find a connection with each other, why be disgusted? Isn’t it worse to have two people of a similar age who don’t connect? One reader - a self-confessed fan of Madonna’s earlier work - even wrote in the comments, ‘Honestly had hoped she'd mature with age but I've lost hope.’ This is ridiculous! Lost hope about what? How does Madonna’s choice of a partner have any consequence on your life?!
More than 20 years ago, the media went insane around the coupling of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. They both share a birthday, exactly 25 years apart, and back when they married in 2000, Catherine was called a gold-digger and received death threats. The couple are still married and share two grown-up children, although they shouldn’t have to prove themselves to anybody. You only have to Google celebrity age gaps and you’ll find endless examples of long-lasting love that has no doubt been scrutinised purely due to how old each person is. Some couples are a mere seven years apart, and in the case of the woman being older, this can be frowned upon in the tabloids. But stars like Portia de Rossi and Aaron Taylor-Johnson went against the Hollywood grain with their interest in older women. And for what it’s worth, these celebrities also happen to have some of the most rock-solid marriages and relationships in entertainment. In 1998 26% of brides in the UK were older than their grooms, and by 2011, this statistic had almost doubled.
It all comes down to the stiff judgement of yesteryear, something many still cannot shift. While we can appreciate how far the world has come, and how we have advanced in being open-minded and encouraging people to express themselves, there is still a one-size-fits-all attitude to those who tend to do something out of the ordinary. Rather than assume people are actually just happy together, people - from close friends and family to absolute strangers - worry that there is a power imbalance and that the relationship must be transactional, assuming one party is seeking to elevate their social status or wealth. The vocabulary that aids this judgement speaks for itself; an older man must be a ‘sugar daddy’, a younger woman a ‘gold-digger’ or a victim of ‘daddy issues’. Women with younger partners are labelled as a ‘cougar’ and even the term ‘toyboy’ has been switched to ‘boy-toy’, which somehow accentuates the idea of the relationship being perverted.
Much of this judgement might stem from traditional ways of raising a family. Dr Elena Touring, the co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic in London, says, “In many cultures, it is not considered acceptable to fall in love with someone who is much older or younger than you. From an evolutionary perspective, the drive to have a family can have an impact on who we choose to have a relationship with – both from a biological perspective but also in the sense of both parents being alive to raise the child.” But nobody can predict how we meet our end. Sickness and accidents sadly occur. Why shy away from love because you won’t age together at the exact same time? In the case of Madonna, who already has six children and is no longer of child-bearing age, there is a concern for her younger man. What if he wants to become a father? Well, isn’t that for him to consider? For him to worry about if he’s even going to worry about it?
Experts think that a large age gap can also be met with much disappointment. The couple forgets to picture the future they’re creating for themselves. Chloe Carmichael, psychologist and author of Dr Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating says that sometimes people get caught up with what works right now, “If you have a 35-year-old woman who is dating a 65-year-old man who is very youthful, very active, and maybe he's also successful, and it all just seems great, he seems he doesn't have any major physical differences, and you might overlook it. But when you think about it, what about when you're 60 and he's 80?”
Much criticism comes from a lack of understanding, too. People are baffled as to how a couple can connect if they’re decades apart in age. What do they talk about? How do they share humour? Taste? But isn’t this down to just being different? And don’t they say, opposites attract? Therapist Jean G. Fitzpatrick LP says that for any couple, but especially one with a significant difference between partners like a big age gap, accepting their difference and finding constructive ways to talk about that difference is the key to a fulfilling relationship. “How do you handle being at different career stages? How do you deal with having friend groups of different ages and different interests? How do you cope with differently ageing bodies?” she asks. In her opinion, contrary to what most people believe, being “different” doesn't mean you should end the relationship. Isn’t variety the spice of life?
Surely every couple is a case-by-case situation. And women who have invested in relationships with younger men claim it’s liberating, empowering, confidence-boosting and a lot of fun. They even brag about their lover being far better in bed than their older counterparts. So let live and let love! Don’t question it or spread hate. What are you hoping for? The relationship to meet a miserable end so you can gloat and say, I told you so?! If it doesn’t concern you, wish the happy couple well and move on.