Love and devotion are not bound by age differences.
by Sharon Norris Elliott
When I was born, he was in high school. When I was in kindergarten, he was starting his first real job. My first broken heart unevenly matched his heartbreak over a failed marriage.
This scenario is the backdrop for me and for thousands of women who fall in love with and marry older men. The United Nations Population Ageing Report shows 79 percent of older men are currently married as compared to 45 percent of older women in the United States. Many of these older men are married to younger women. And, as I’ve seen firsthand, these marriages present unique challenges and joys.
My husband, James, and I met through a dating service. We were both busy in our churches and on our jobs, had recovered from past negative relationships, and were interested in meeting someone special. I had looked through the service’s many notebooks containing bios and pictures of male members and had turned past his photo. Although James is a handsome, distinguished-looking man, without even reading his profile, I figured he probably wouldn’t be interested in me. Why? His birth date was fourteen years before mine.
Thankfully, I was wrong. James selected my picture and indicated that he was indeed interested. When I went back to the books and read his bio, I realized this could be a possibility. We both like jazz and going to the movies. He was men’s fellowship leader at his church, and I was women’s fellowship leader at mine. He was mentoring three adolescent boys, and I was raising two.
After playing telephone tag several times, we finally hooked up by phone and enjoyed several long, pleasant conversations before we met in person. Absolutely everything clicked. We felt such great peace about each other that James and I were married within five months.
We have treated our age difference like everything else in our relationship: as something new and incredible to learn about. I’ve given James new energy, and he has settled me. Most of all, he relates to me the way the Bible teaches: “Husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way . . . and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life . . .” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB).
James’ gentle spirit has taught me some valuable lessons about how to love him. And I’ve learned a few things about my older man that will help me keep the sparks flying.
I understand that James is from the generation before mine.
James is a Builder, born and raised between the 1920s and 1940s. Builders were so named because they felt the importance of building homes, businesses, churches, and families. They experienced the Depression and/or its effects and feared polio. Their buzzword is stability.
I’m a Boomer, part of the group born and raised from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. This generation is split into two segments. Leading-edge Boomers rebelled against their parents, marched in the Civil Rights Movement, and feared the atomic bomb. The trailing edge (that’s me), too young to march, switched to the Republican Party and benefited from the Salk vaccine. Both segments of Boomers have one buzzword, though: experiment.
Our new Builder-Boomer home was headed for misunderstanding, but our commitment to God and to our marriage, as well as our openness to learn from some great writers, allowed us to understand these generational differences. I gained good information from Three Generations: Riding the Waves of Change in Your Church, by Gary L. McIntosh, and from the personality books by Florence Littauer.
My Builder husband has the business of our lives straight. A stable home is what he worked for, and he wants to be there now that it’s all built. As his Boomer wife, I’d like to go more and use a larger portion of the budget to shop, but I appreciate the comfort afforded me by my husband’s diligence.
I’ve come to value my husband’s generation and the wisdom he’s brought from it to our relationship. As I love and appreciate him, he sometimes becomes more open to seeing things my way.
I don’t try to make James “young.”
Even though I’m not yet 50, I spend time and money washing that gray right out of my hair. My graying husband, however, goes on his merry way with his salt-and-pepper hair and full gray beard and is described as “distinguished.” I fell in love with that gray, so I leave it alone.
If I want to update James’ closet, gift clothing can subtly make that suggestion for me. My gift of lounging pants and a Henley top “suggested” that I was tired of looking at the “old guy” type of flannel pajamas James loves to change into as soon as he’s home and showered after work. As long as I don’t make it seem like a you-need-to-look-younger campaign, I’m in the clear. That mistake would cause him to feel that I don’t love him for who he is.
I respect the relationships of James’ past.
Children. My husband has three grown children who could have exerted a negative influence on our relationship if allowed to do so. James was strong enough to discuss his choice of me with them early in our relationship. He connected all three of them on a conference call, told them about me, and answered all their questions at once.
My sons went on our second date with us. James and the boys talked and communicated easily with each other that evening. On the day James proposed, he took us to the mall. While I was shopping, he discussed with the boys that he was going to ask me to marry him. They jumped up and hugged James, and he went to get the ring.
From my side of things, I knew to respect his relationship with his children. I didn’t expect to mother his grown children, but I’ve sought to be a new friend. I applied Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV).
Ex-wife. My husband and his ex-wife have maintained a good relationship because they will always be the parents of their children. I gently communicated with James if I felt uncomfortable when they talked or saw each other. It helps if he tells me when they talk and gives me a summary of what they talked about. Though I trust him, James takes the extra step to insert little reassuring comments that comfort me and let me know he’s not hiding anything and that all his tender, romantic feelings exist only for me.
I continue to expect and enjoy a fulfilling sex life.
My husband is older, but as long as all the physical equipment works, we will have a very fulfilling sex life. I realize that health issues and general aging will one day call for more creativity, but that’s all part of the fun of growing and learning together. The National Council on Ageing reports that 79 percent of older men said maintaining an active sex life is important, and a full 76 percent sought a partner who was interested in sex and who had an attractive body. An older man enjoys the sexual exuberance of his young wife.
I’m not afraid to talk to my husband about death.
Since statistically women live longer than men, James will probably die before I do. We have taken care of all the necessary business. James and I have updated our insurance policies and survivor benefit information and have created a living trust. We’ve even made plans about the possibility of long-term infirmity.
These lessons have helped me smooth the transition into marriage to my older husband. Now I know that older men, especially those who have allowed Christ to infiltrate their lives, are wonderful husband material and that younger women who marry them are happy, blessed women indeed.
About the Author
Sharon Norris Elliott lives with her husband in Inglewood, CA. She has been published in a wide variety of publications, including Virtue, Urban Family, Ishshah, The Lookout, and The Secret Place. Sharon has also written several books and had selections published in books. Among them are What? Teenagers in the Bible?(Pleasant Word Publishers, 2003); Bible Seeds (seven selections, Starburst Publishers, 2001); God’s Vitamin ‘C’ for the Spirit of Women (“Duct Tape,” Starburst Publishers, 1997); and The Stupid Term Paper (OceanRose Publishing, 2003).