Neighbor: “I saw your father walking your dog.”
Me: “That wasn’t my father. That was my boyfriend.”
So goes a typical day in the life of a gerontophile. I’m not upset when people mistake my boyfriend for my father. In fact, my boyfriend and my father do share the same name and ethnicity, and while my boyfriend is 11 years younger than my father, he is 56 years old, the same age as my mother.
No, it’s not this type of honest mistake that bothers me. It’s the assumptions that come with our age difference that bother me. My boyfriend refers to the age difference as our dischronicity, which is a combination of the Greek chronos, meaning time (from Chronos, the god of time), and the Latin dis, meaning apart. Saying that your relationship is dischronic or “apart in time” lends it a poetry that relationships with wide age differences are rarely given. But it’s an appropriate term for my relationship because part of what makes it so appealing to me is the delicious strangeness of it, the taboo of it. There’s an eroticism to the violation of norms, a separate, tangible eroticism unrelated to my own gerontophilia.
And my recognition of this eroticism leads to another level of problems. This actually wouldn’t be so much of a problem except that people I barely know question me about my choice of boyfriend. They want a reassuring answer as to why my boyfriend is 24 years older than I am; they want me to fit into the standard narrative of the gold-digging younger woman. They want to make sense of the abnormal. I disappoint them when I say that I’m just attracted to older men. Even though I am careful never to mention the inherent eroticism of dischronicity, I still get a side-eye because they want to see an ulterior motive driving us together. They find it difficult to believe that our relationship could be based, like many relationships, on sexual attraction and love. (Gerontophiles! They’re just like us!)
Sometimes they press me further, “Why couldn’t you be with a man who’s in his 40s? Someone who’s only a decade older?” When what they really mean is, “Why do you insist on making me uncomfortable with your unconventional relationship? Why can’t you follow the unwritten rules of our society and date someone who isn’t old enough to be your father?” When it goes this far it’s then that I feel that I have a moral duty to make the interrogator uncomfortable, to make them question their own biases. So I rhapsodize about the beauty of wrinkles and male-pattern baldness, and explain how unattractive I find the bland, healthy, all-American, look, and suddenly I’m getting horrified looks as if I had said that I’m in love with a toddler.
The only thing less socially acceptable than being in a dischronic relationship is being in one that doesn’t ascribe to the rules of the dischronic paradigm, which dictates that the younger woman is in it for the money, and the older man is in it for the sex. Why can’t the younger woman be in it for the sex too?
This questioning may not seem odd on the surface, but the social contract usually forbids the judgmental interrogation of an acquaintance’s choice of sexual partner. For example, how often do you hear people asking, “Why are you dating an obese man? Have you always been attracted to fat guys? What do your parents think?”
People see nothing wrong with questioning my relationship, whereas my boyfriend’s interest in a younger woman is taken as a given. Of course an older man would want a younger girlfriend, people assume. They also presume that he must be a superficial man who parades me around in his mid-life-crisis red Miata, a lecherous older man who only dates younger women, neither of which is the case. I’m the first significantly younger woman he’s dated, and you’re only as lecherous as your partner. And when you’re partner’s a dildographer, you come out looking like a prude, even if you’re Ron Jeremy.
What is it about dischronic relationships that make people so squeamish? Celebrities have these types of relationships all the time, but the women are assumed to be gold-diggers, so these relationships aren’t as taboo. My relationship makes people uncomfortable because it disrupts strongly held notions of sexuality: that only the youthful are sexually attractive, that women only date older men for the money, that older men treat their younger partners as trophy wives.
Being biased against sexual minorities is no longer as fashionable as it once was. But biases remain, and one of these that’s rarely discussed is the bias against couples with a wide age difference. And while it’s nothing like the biases against gay people, it’s a bias nonetheless. The looks we get everyday bear this out. So it’s worth examining our assumptions about all sexual minorities: gay, bisexual, polyamorous, and dischronic couples like. The reasons for our sexual attractions are mysterious, so difficult to pin down that we can rarely even articulate these reasons to ourselves. Asking someone to justify their attraction to a certain type of person is like asking them to defend their taste for Mexican hot-chocolate-flavored cupcakes. Nothing logical will come out of their mouth. —Hallie Lieberman