Are You Cursed with an Attraction to Someone Much Older?
For some gay men, the choice is between an older man or no man at all.
When I met my husband, he was 29-years old. I was forty-four.
I said to him, “There’s fifteen years difference in our ages. Do you think this can work?”
He responded, “I’ve always liked older men.”
We rarely discussed it again.
Tom has survived the curse. Twice. Tom is a gay man whose only sexual attraction is to men significantly older than he is.
He lost his first partner, who was twenty-eight years his senior, through Lou Gehrig’s disease's slowly deteriorating consequences. They had been together for thirteen years.
After recovering from his grief, he found love again with a man eighteen years older. But he endured another tragic loss when his second partner died of pancreatic cancer after spending seventeen years together.
Still a relatively young man, Tom might reasonably wonder whether or not to take a chance on loving an older man again.
For some gay men, the choice is between an older man or no man at all.
Age-discrepant couples are more common than most people realize. But it is rarely talked about and rarely researched.
Tom and his friends — all of whom had lost older life partners — have labeled their persistent sexual attraction, “the curse of an attraction to older men.”
Some common characteristics
I began to study age-discrepant, same-sex couples while researching my book. Tom and I originated our correspondence after he and his friends had been discussing age as a factor in sexual orientation and attraction.
Tom, and his friends who like older men, reached a consensus:
- These younger men prefer older men with endomorphic bodies (belly fat, strong bones, and sturdy thighs).
- Younger men have more interest in sports than their partners and their gay contemporaries who are attracted to men their own age.
- The younger men tend to be more traditionally masculine than their gay contemporaries who are attracted to men their own age.
While these observations are purely anecdotal and subjective, the comments resonated with comments I’ve often heard from others.
I would add another:
4. The younger man has a need to please.
Now, all of this is not scientific. No research has been done to support these hypotheses. In fact, topics like this rarely are researched. But correlations sometimes lead to hypotheses that can be tested.
And there is always this caveat: Correlations do not prove causation.
Men with rounded corners
A young man once said to me, “I like men with rounded corners; they have all of their corners worn off.”
As an older man with round corners, I love this metaphor. It strikes me as being true, both literally and metaphorically. I lost my sharp corners and edges years ago.
Another younger man commented, “I like a man with a bit of a belly, so I have somewhere to lay my head.” It suggested to me a parallel with the fascination many heterosexual men have for women’s breasts.
The younger men I have interviewed seem drawn to men freed from the tyranny of testosterone. They emphasize touch and cuddling much more than a race to orgasm—they like sex in slow time.
These younger men express a greater attraction to maturity, wisdom, stability, commitment, and experience. A muscular, gym-fit body doesn’t even make the top ten list of things they want in a partner.
A misunderstood attraction
Tom went on to say that these relationships are often misunderstood.
Some of their greatest challenges come from others in the LGBTQ community.
Tom wrote, “I struggle more to explain to my gay friends than I do to my straight friends why I am attracted only to older gay men.”
It’s difficult to explain this attraction when you don’t understand it yourself.
Many men look for an explanation for their attraction in their relationships with their fathers. But there is a lack of consistency in those theories. Some want to be like the father they loved and admired; others want to be anything but like a father they despised.
Age disparity in gay couples
What defines age disparity in a relationship? An old rule of thumb of unknown origins prescribes, “Never date anyone less than half your age plus seven.”
No one has collected reliable statistics, but age disparity may occur more frequently in gay relationships than heterosexual ones. Society levels more shrill criticism at same-sex, age-discrepant couples than heterosexual ones.
The age of one’s sexual partner may be as stable an element of sexual orientation as gender.
Many people consider the subject repugnant, their thoughts bleeding into thoughts about incest, pedophilia, and pederasty.
No connection exists between age-discrepant couples and incest, pedophilia, and pederasty.
A worn-out explanation
Initially, I was unconvinced these relationships were serious. I held stereotypical views: an older gay man who was looking for a trophy-mate. He has the money to take care of his boy toy. And a younger man who is looking for a sugar daddy.
I now recognize this as a hackneyed idea. It infuriates men in age-gap, gay relationships.
These younger men particularly resent the criticism that they’re looking for someone to take care of them. Many are quite independent, and their financial security exceeds that of the older men.
When I realized that I am in an age-discrepant relationship, I was gobsmacked. After 33 years together, our age difference has rarely been a consideration. We just never think about it or discuss it.
Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, a book by writer and photographer Bill Hayes, positively depicts intergenerational couples. This moving memoir is about how Hayes fell in love with a much older, closeted man. He and neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks were nearly forty years apart in age.
Hayes describes the mutual love they felt for each other, and the tenderness and commitment they felt for each other as Sacks was dying of cancer.
In any relationship, life circumstances can hurtle one into the role of caregiver. The younger man faces higher risks of this heartbreak, but as one younger man said, “You know going in that’s part of the deal.”
What a man wants
The sexual attraction is determined by a combination of factors that are beyond our control. What we want is programmed into our nature.
“A man can do what he wants but not want what he wants.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher
Perhaps the attraction between younger and older men is imprinted during a developmental window. But if so, it is programmed onto a character structure that was most likely set by nature.
Everyone does not accept the view that this is registered in us. Yet enough philosophers and scientists agree that it is no longer just a fringe view.
Male eroticism is concrete. Perhaps, then, it is inborn. Young gay men’s attraction to older men may be innate, too.
So, if you find yourself feeling sexually aroused by that grandpa across the room, you’re not unique. You may feel further marginalized in a group that is already socially marginalized, but you’re not screwed up or confused.
Walk across the room, and ask the old man if you can buy him a drink. Tell him how hot you think he is, and that you’d like to make slow love to him.
Some things are valid, even when we don’t understand them.
Age as a Factor in Sexual Orientation and Attraction
A new study considers people who consistently prefer an older sexual partner.