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San Diego couples give robbing the cradle respectability

Think of The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson or Harold and Maude?

Dan and Chris. Dan: "My ex-wife looked at me and her exact words were that I was a pedophile."
  • Dan and Chris. Dan: "My ex-wife looked at me and her exact words were that I was a pedophile."

WHILE THE DEBATE OVER GAY MARRIAGE ROILS THE COUNTRY AND INTERRACIAL COUPLES continue to be stigmatized in many communities, the true frontier of romantic transgression can be found in relationships between people of vastly different ages. Has our perception of such "age gap" couples really evolved beyond the lurid corruption of Mrs. Robinson or the absurdist comedy of Harold and Maude? Perhaps this state of affairs is about to change at a time when childbearing is not a prerequisite for marital bliss. More couples are experimenting with relationships that dive boldly into the generation gap.

"When you're 70, she'll be 90."

"When you're 70, she'll be 90."

I spoke to several couples who have braved the disdain and dismay of family and friends: "What, you can't find someone your own age?" they'll ask. "When you're 70 she'll be 90!" they'll proclaim. But some vigorous 50-year-olds with youthful outlooks feel that people their own age have become too settled in their ways. On the other end of the spectrum, many young people find that the romantic prospects among their peers are painfully immature. Despite the stares and giggles and whispers they endure, these couples know that love should be welcomed wherever it is found. As many of them told me, "Age is just a number."

Alice and Don. "I'm sure that she eventually had affection [for] me, or at least appreciated me taking care of her."

Alice and Don. "I'm sure that she eventually had affection [for] me, or at least appreciated me taking care of her."

DAN, 44

CHRIS, 21

Q: How long have you been together?

CHRIS: About two months.

Q: How did you meet?

Kevin and Samantha. "Kevin's so young, he's never been destroyed by some other woman. And I can train him."

Kevin and Samantha. "Kevin's so young, he's never been destroyed by some other woman. And I can train him."

DAN: Initially, we worked together. Then I got a better job and left. We were in two different sections of the same business: I'm a pharmacist and she's a pharmacy tech. Even though we could see each other across the room, we didn't really work closely. Occasionally, she'd ask me a question about a medication or something, and then, you know -- "Oh, how was your weekend, by the way?" "Oh, it was good." "What did you do?" That type of thing. Real casual.

Gary and Jamie. Jamie: "When we got married, I wasn't going to invite [my dad] to the wedding. I didn't want to face the rejection."

Gary and Jamie. Jamie: "When we got married, I wasn't going to invite [my dad] to the wedding. I didn't want to face the rejection."

Q: So when did it switch over from a casual thing to one or both of you admitting that you wanted to go out? And who did it?

C: We texted each other every day.

Liz: "He joked that he would take care of me even if I were in a wheelchair."

Liz: "He joked that he would take care of me even if I were in a wheelchair."

D: Yeah, we started texting, and she would ask me questions about her relationship. I guess because I had a little more experience [with dating], I would help her out -- like trying to figure out what her boyfriend at the time might be thinking. I gave her a guy's point of view on stuff. As far as when we made the decision to date, it's hard to say. We went to the desert and had a really nice time together, we went riding, but that was as friends.

Henry and Ann. Ann: "I never had much to do with people my own age 'cause they're just little kids -- they don't know anything."

Henry and Ann. Ann: "I never had much to do with people my own age 'cause they're just little kids -- they don't know anything."

C: We didn't make [a] decision -- it kind of just fell in that way.

Q: Somebody has to take that chance of ruining the friendship by going one step further.

D: Actually, I approached her. I told her that I had feelings for her [that went] beyond friendship. I told her that she would have to come to me and let me know that she felt the same way before we could make [a] decision. And probably within a week, she came to me and said, "I think I have the same kind of feelings, we should talk." So we went out on more of a date kind of thing and decided that we really wanted to see each other as more than friends.

Q: Chris, what were you thinking during that week that you considered whether you had feelings for Dan?

C: How I was going to break up with my boyfriend because I had found a man that was going to treat me right. Guys my age are just little boys. I don't want that.

Q: A common thread in my interviews with age-gap couples is that they find people their own age unsuitable for one reason or another. What was your attitude toward such couples before you were one yourself? Starting with you, Dan.

D: Never really thought much about it.

Q: Honestly?

D: I mean, if I saw a couple like us walking, I would kind of look at them and smile to myself and say, "That's kind of cute."

Q: How did your family react?

D: Not positive or negative, they were more concerned with my happiness, ultimately. They know that I'm really young at heart. I still go out and ride motorcycles and do stuff that most 20-year-olds are afraid to do. I literally will jump my bike like an X Gamer and not think twice about the danger. Although my soon-to-be-ex-wife is pretty gutsy, too, for a 39-year-old. I still feel like I'm in my 20s -- I like to go out and dance and have fun. That's probably why we clicked. She probably thought I was younger than I was.

C: Yeah, I did.

D: Obviously, I'm not 20, but I certainly feel that way.

Q: Okay -- Chris, same question.

C: My family and friends' reaction was, "You don't need to be with a guy that old." And I told them, "You know what? It's the way I feel. If I love someone, there's nothing I can do about it." They're kind of dealing with it now.

Q: Can you bring Dan to your parents' house?

C: They would not approve. They don't want him over there.

Q: So "dealing with it" doesn't mean that the fight's over?

C: No.

D: I've tried to be real understanding. I don't want to cause a rift of any kind. But I do talk to them on the phone sometimes. Her mom is very nice, I understand where they're coming from -- I mean, they're not much older than I am.

C: I'm giving them some cool-down time while they get used to it. Mom has said, "Be careful" and "What are you thinking?" -- [that] kind of stuff. My dad has just gotten back from a trip to the Philippines; he's only been back a couple of weeks, so he doesn't really know much [about the relationship] yet.

Q: How long have you lived away from home?

C: I've been staying here with Dan for the last two weeks.

Q: So technically you're not living together?

C: Well, I'm always here. I'm barely ever home.

Q: Sounds as if you have an uneasy truce.

D: An uneasy truce is a good description. They don't know everything about her day-to-day life. They realize she's an adult, so she's got her own space. She does go back home several times a week. But her mom hasn't been too nosy.

Q: Is she Filipino?

D: She's half French, half Filipino.

Q: Do they have a different attitude toward this kind of thing?

C: Filipinos are very strict. They want couples to stay within their culture and age [group].

D: So there's two barriers. But culturally speaking, she's an average person. I mean, she was born here and she doesn't really have to abide by the Filipino rules.

Q: How did your friends react, Chris?

C: They were, like, "You like the guy, go for it."

Q: And yours, Dan?

D: The guys are pretty casual about it, but the girls are kind of shocked. Everybody's nice enough, because Chris is so sweet, but my ex-wife looked at me and her exact words were that I was a pedophile. Chris does look like she's 15 or 16, but she's not [that young] mentally. She's got a lot of life experience for someone in their twenties. I could never look at a child and have the feelings that I have for her. I was a perfect gentleman, and we discussed things. It's not like I approached some kid in a schoolyard, which is what went through my head when [my ex-wife] called me a pedophile -- that really hurt.

Q: Have strangers said, "You have a lovely daughter," or asked, "Is that your daughter?"

D: Yes, my boss. He came into the office one day, and I had her picture up on the desk, and he said, "Oh, is that your daughter?" We get interesting reactions. When we started being close in public, we were more comfortable with her holding my arm rather than holding my hand.

C: One time someone said, "Gee, he's holding his daughter's hand."

D: There's been other times where they'll give me a dirty look. We were at the Padres game, and she was sitting on my lap some of the time. There were two couples on either side of us. One couple's reaction was not so good, but with the other couple, the girl was kind of smiling at me. After the game was over, I leaned over and said, "Age is nothing but a number." And she said, "My boyfriend is much older than me." She was smiling because she understood. She was looking and appreciating the relationship rather than judging.

Q: Are there any differences having to do with age that are particularly noticeable?

C: Now you're going to make me think. [Laughs.] I can't think of any.

D: Really, we don't have a lot. I stay pretty current on music and movies and such. I mean, I don't try and walk and talk like I'm 20. That's ridiculous. But I do connect on a much younger level. Chris is only 21, so there are some things she hasn't experienced yet. But that's not a bad thing. It's more of an openness to learn new things, an innocence. Actually, it's quite attractive.

Q: So what is it about people your age that makes them unsuitable as romantic partners?

C: They act too immature. I don't need that in my life. And they're all into drama.

Q: Have you played "When I'm x-age, you'll be y"?

D: Of course. I was graduating San Diego State with my first degree when she was born. So, yes, we've played that game.

Q: What do you take from those conversations? Live for today? Don't think about it? Men age better than women?

D: I've been the one to say things like, "I'm going to be having arthritis by the time you're getting to the peak of your youthfulness." And she says, "Oh, come on, it's not going to be like that. You're too young and vital." So I just tell myself, to hell with it, I'll live for the moment. I think about it more than she does, but as long as I'm enjoying myself now and we're having a nice relationship and she's sweet to me, what more do I need? If one day she decides that she wants a younger man, I'll deal with it then. For now, I'm happy. I'm not sweating it too much.

Q: That leads to my next question. Does the age difference spice up your physical relationship?

D: Yes.

Q: The taboo --

D: Absolutely. And she reminds me of when I was younger and more into the fun, devil-may-care kind of naughtiness. So yes, it is attractive to me, absolutely.

Q: And you, Chris?

C: I don't know. Not so much for me.

D: You don't see it as a taboo kind of thing?

C: No, just as a relationship.

Q: Would you do it again?

D: It's an individual case. It's not about repeating a pattern or anything like that. I love her. The person could be older than me, or they could be younger than me. Would I make the effort if I thought that I felt something for someone who was much younger? Certainly. I wouldn't turn away from it just because of age. [Chris and I] just happen to connect. Had we not made that effort to be friends, I probably would never have considered [starting] a relationship with her.

Q: Is it harder than you thought it was going to be?

D: Sometimes. For instance, we went to Mother's Day with my family yesterday, and for a while there I was uncomfortable, and I know Chris was [too].

C: Oh, yes.

D: She was having a good time, but I could tell when she looked at me sometimes that she was uncomfortable. Part of that had to do with the fact that my soon-to-be ex-wife is so close to my family. And her best friend in the world is my sister-in-law, who was hosting the party. So, there are times when it is very difficult. But the times that it's not outweigh those.

Q: Do you have any advice or thoughts for someone reading this who is in a relationship like yours or considering one or afraid of getting involved in one?

D: Well, the first thing my dad said when I told him was, "You know what, if you're happy, age is just a number." Love is love, wherever you find it. Don't be afraid of it.

FRANCES, 53

MIKE, 19

Q: How did you meet?

MIKE: We've known each other for a little less than ten years -- [Fran used to] live down the street from me. Two years ago, we reconnected at a Mail Boxes Etc. I was just sitting out there reading and I said, "Hey, Frances, I remember you." We had seen each other around for eight years but never really got to have any sort of deep relationship. We just hit it off after that.

FRANCES: It's interesting for me, because I've never gone seeking a relationship. At the time [we met], I thought that I was going to be happily single for the rest of my life. Most of the men [I've dated] have literally come to me, and Mike was one of those who definitely came to my call.

Q: Did you guys exchange phone numbers or anything to make sure that you'd meet again, or was that left to chance?

F: We may see that differently. For me, that first encounter was an immediate lock-in. All of a sudden it was this intense connection. We spoke half an hour nonstop. Then we walked back to my house, which is just down the street. I told him, "Anytime you want to, come by." I was not in a place to think of someone romantically at the time. He's a very young man, so I was looking at him more as a mentor [would], the older woman who can, you know, disseminate advice. Boy, was I wrong. He's the one that showed me. So it was very easy.

The real connection was that he plays the didgeridoo, a native Australian instrument. I've done a lot of workshops with people using different native instruments, so we began talking about the didgeridoo. He would come over and I would do guided meditation while he accompanied me. It was absolutely amazing, because we never had to plan it -- this was the magic for me -- we both knew when to come in, when to get softer, and when to get louder. It was just absolute harmony between the two of us.

Q: What was your family's reaction?

M: Haven't had a family reaction on my side of things. I can only anticipate their viewing our relationship as slightly queer, maybe even inappropriate and unacceptable. For the moment, they don't know -- that's easier on me and easier on our relationship.

F: It's been very difficult for me to come to terms with having a relationship with a younger man. I realized that I had prejudices against older and younger couples, [especially] older man/younger woman. I never saw myself in the role of older woman with a younger man. I've had a real challenge coming to terms with allowing the relationship in the first place, and then allowing other people to know about it. My daughter is the same age as Mike. In fact, a little bit older -- she's 20. And of course they knew each other a little from when they were growing up. I was very reluctant to tell my daughter [about it]. No matter how I said it, it was going to come out rather tawdry.

But then I gradually leaked it to my close friends, and they would say, "Oh, way to go, Frances!" They immediately thought it was sexual, of course, as if that was the only reason we were together. At first I let them think that, because the sex is good, but then I realized I was really dishonoring the relationship, [which] is a very sacred, spiritual connection. So, having tested the water with my friends and eventually coming to a place within myself where I was accepting of our relationship, I then gently let my daughter know [what was happening]. Luckily, she's out of the country. In a way, it was wonderful that she was so far away and had to deal with it on her own terms.

M: She couldn't scream loud enough for us to hear in the USA.

F: The marvelous thing is that she is accepting of it. I believe she knows enough of my values, so she accepts my judgment.

M: I have a few other friends my age that know, and they're accepting it. I tend to attract people to me that are more open.

Q: Friends are chosen; family is bequeathed.

M: Thank God my mother is older than Fran here.

F: Only by a couple years.

Q: What intrigues me is that you were initially prejudiced against age-gap couples -- if you saw a couple like you, you would think, "What's up with this? Can't he get along with someone his own age?" or "She ensnared him."

F: Dirty old woman, yeah, yeah. What is interesting is that Mike's therapist is totally supportive of [the relationship].

Q: Interesting. Mike, what were your attitudes toward age-gap couples prior to being part of one?

M: I don't think that I viewed it in any negative way. I may not even have had an opinion, because I hadn't been around too many people who had large age gaps.

Q: Who crossed over the line of acceptable friend behavior?

M: Me. I did.

F: No way.

M: Oh, yeah, baby, I did.

F: [I meant that] there was no way I was going to do that. I was keeping a very strong boundary around what I thought was the correct thing to do with a younger person. I have a beautiful story to tell. Can I tell? Can I tell?

M: Yeah, sure.

F: We'd known each other for a couple of months. One day we went for a walk on the beach in Del Mar and we brought the didgeridoo. The sun was going down, and we sat on the sand. A lot of young children would come up and listen to it -- "What's that? What's doing it?" -- and of course one of them said, "Is that your son?" Eventually, the children went away. We were sitting there next to each other, and [Mike] said, "Scoot over there and face me." So we faced each other, and he put the didgeridoo between us and placed it on my, ummm...

M: I put it right on her groin.

F: And he began to play the didgeridoo. And the vibration and the energy was coming right at me and right through me. And I'm going, "Oh, I kind of feel that. Oh, this is nice." And I realized that what he was doing was making love with me through the didgeridoo. When he stopped, I was alternating between being very embarrassed and feeling really affirmed and sensual with the whole thing. Finally, he said, "Did you like that?" And I'm going, "Yeah, I think so."

M: Yeah -- [laughs] -- she's about to orgasm.

F: I said, "Did you know what you were doing?" And he said, "Yes. What did you think I was doing?" And I said, "I felt that you were making love to me through the didgeridoo." And he said, "I was." And I immediately went into all my stuff: "Don't you see I'm old? I'm fat. I'm wrinkled. You know, I'm old enough to be your mother." I'm of course paraphrasing, but he said, "I see your age. I see your wrinkles. And I see you." Well, that to me was the most perfect moment -- the perfect words I had waited to hear all my life, especially from a man. When I was younger, I was relatively attractive. I was a trophy girlfriend in the relationships I'd had. Over the years I've wanted someone, a mate, to see me as a person, without all the superficial stuff. Basically, Mike was saying, "I see who you really are." I felt that this was someone that I had waited for for a long time.

M: After I played the didgeridoo to you in that way, and after we had gone through the "you're old" thing, we talked about the prospect of having a relationship, a very unusual relationship. And the possibility of it actually becoming sexual.

Q: Had Fran given you any hints earlier that she wanted to be more than friends?

M: No. Nothing. Even after it did become sexual, it took her a little bit of time to really want to show me her affection. It was still uncomfortable for her. For whatever reason it wasn't hard for me. So I was the one making most of the contact. This has been a process of becoming comfortable with what we have and learning to appreciate it and see it for what it is, which is not a purely sexually based relationship. Hey, I'm not saying the sex isn't great. It's great. But first and foremost it's an emotional relationship.

Q: I would think that the emotional relationship is the precursor to sustainable good sex.

M: Yes.

Q: I've heard all this "magic is over" stuff from people who have been together for a while. The emotional part must have been missing.

F: That is something I feel so strongly about. That emotional connection dissipates in so many couples. And if you don't keep that, the relationship isn't going to go anywhere.

Q: How has the "when I'm 50, you'll be 85" game gone?

F: For the most part, this relationship is about living in the moment. If there is anything I've wanted to learn my whole life, it is how to be fully present. It's been more difficult for me than it has been for Mike not to put expectations or limitations on our relationship. Of course, there is that part of me that really would like to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after; [I'd] love to have the security of knowing that Mike's going to be around in ten years. Especially since I will be on the decline, shall we say. However, spending a lot of time in that [mindset] really robs us of the beauty and the magic of the relationship.

Q: It's tempting to say to oneself, "This can't go on forever, I'm stopping now so I won't be in pain in 20 years."

F: Yeah, that's what I've done. That's the place my head goes. How do you deal with it when I get that way, Mike?

M: I remind us of the beauty [of] our relationship. And how much it brings to both of us right now. I know that I really have served that function a lot. And I think that she knows that when I look at her and say, "You know, I love what we have and I don't even want to worry about 10 or 15 years from now," I think she really feels that I do love what we have.

F: Yes, he does. He holds the vision for the relationship. It's just my insecurity? [I'll] think maybe I should cut this relationship off now instead of waiting, because it will hurt so much more [later on]. Well, you know, it's going to hurt no matter what. A friend of mine did say, "What happens when he leaves you?" And I thought, well, I could marry someone my own age, and he could have a heart attack. That's leaving me too, you know.

Q: Has she ever pointed out someone more your age and said, "You should be with her instead of me"?

M: There have been times when she has said, "You know, you should probably be with some young, beautiful, perky-breasted, sexy thing." Going through school, I realized that the type of person she was describing was normally the type of person who has the least amount to offer me. I want someone with content. I want someone with depth and creativity, someone who is very mature. You don't get a lot of those things with people my age. People my age like to party and have a good time and keep [everything] on the surface. If I want a very intimate relationship, I'm going to have to have it with Fran. Fran is the one for me. That's just the way it is. And she really knows that I feel that way and that I feel that way very strongly...

I have found older people's bodies to be more expressive. Their bodies exhibit more emotion, exhibit more maturity and wisdom. I find that very attractive.

Q: That leads to my next question. Do the age difference and the taboo add to the sexual charge in your attraction?

F: For me it does, yeah. I don't know if it does for him.

M: Not for me. If I were her age and I was making love with some 19-year-old chick, yeah, I could definitely see that... But then again, she's the first person I've ever made love with, so I wouldn't know what I would be comparing it to. Maybe there is that kick and I just don't know it.

Q: What are your complementary differences, perhaps borne out of the age difference?

M: Well, there are times when she displays a certain amount of impatience in situations where I am very patient. I can really help us to be patient and wait for the right time to do something, for instance. And on the other side of things -- help me out here...

Q: The other side of that could be that sometimes when you might not be spontaneous, she would draw that out of you. Is that the case?

F: Yes. I appreciate his ability to really be centered in himself -- I tend to be more reactive. So that is one complementary difference. Another is that the days of [women] being the homemaker and cooking and all of that stuff are over. That's not something that I find enjoyable anymore. Mike loves to cook -- it's so wonderful to be able to have someone else cook the meal while I sit here waiting for it. [Laughs.] It's kind of a role reversal.

M: I do the cooking and the gardening, and she takes out the garbage.

Q: Has anyone ever said, "Is that your son?"

M: Yep, heard that.

F: We went to church one day, and there was a guy there that I had known for years and years. He had never seen me with anyone in particular; it was unusual for me to be with someone. Then he came over and said, "Is that your son?" I said, "Could be, but he's my lover." To see the expression on this guy -- the conversation stopped, there was nowhere to go with that. [Laughs.] I like that.

M: Every now and again when we go into a store, someone may say, "Oh, is that your son?" And it's most likely because they can sense a strong connection between us and they want to clarify [what it is]. Normally people wouldn't just go ahead and ask, "Hey, is that your son?" They would either assume it or it wouldn't be interesting to them. When I was younger and I would go into stores with my mother, no one ever asked her, "Is that your son?" But it happens with Fran a lot.

F: They can see the bond.

Q: A common thread that I see in age-gap couples is that the older of the two tends to have an exceptionally youthful attitude, while the younger person tends to be exceptionally mature for their age. They think, "I don't know what people my age are thinking." I remember that my mom was frustrated with the whole post-divorce dating scene, and she told me, "I want to go out with these younger guys because guys my age just seem so old. What do I do? I'm damned either way." And that seems to be true with you.

F: Very true. After my last relationship about six or seven years ago, I really was determined that it was going to be my last. I wasn't willing to regress to the level that a lot of men my age seemed to be at. They tended to be rather set in their ways and not willing to continue to grow in the ways that I feel compelled to grow. Not to say that the men aren't wonderful, that's not it at all, but there's no stimulation for me. I feel blessed and gifted with Mike because I have in recent years neglected my body. And I can't do that [now] because I need to be somewhat fit so that I can be with him and do things that we both enjoy doing. I feel like I've been given this wonderful gift in life to regenerate and kick start myself back into "Okay, come on, you're not dead yet. Get that little body out there."

Q: How long do you think you can hide this relationship?

M: Well, I live at home with my parents and I'm partially dependent on them for certain things. Obviously, I don't have the money to be able to fully live on my own. If I did have my own apartment and was paying for all of my own things right now, I would definitely be more revealing about our relationship. It's not so much that I'm hiding it from anyone -- I just don't talk about it.

Q: You've both passed the test and now you graduate to the final question, which is an essay question. Starting with Mike. Do you have any words of wisdom for people who have found themselves in the same situation?

M: Get in touch with the reality of what you feel so that you can distinguish between your thoughts, which is where the worry comes from, and what your heart says. Listen to the heart. Really, really be clear on your feelings and give those feelings a great amount of weight, because they deserve it.

F: I think my personal journey with being in relationships has been to truly accept myself and to recognize that relationships -- and this one in particular -- are sacred and that spirit, God, whatever you believe in, has brought this to you and it's there for joy, it's there to nourish you. At some point I may even be able to look back and say this was the relationship that transformed me.

What Mike brings to me enhances my life. You know, I am a better person because I'm in a relationship with him... It's like the difference between a 50-watt bulb and a 100-watt bulb. I'm still essentially the same person, but I can burn brighter and brighter because of my relationship.

DON, 74

ALICE, DECEASED

Q: When you married, you were 68 and Alice was 94.

DON: Yes -- she was born January 27, 1898, and she died April 3, 1998, so she lived to be a hundred.

Q: What was your attitude toward age-gap romances prior to meeting Alice?

D: I don't think I had one in particular. I mean, this wasn't my bag, age-gap difference. I did it from the standpoint of compatibility.

Q: Did you have a history of going out with people older than you?

D: No.

Q: How did you meet?

D: We were neighbors. We had had nice, short, pleasant conversations. She was a very friendly person, she really radiated that. I started taking her for a ride every day, but she needed [more] care -- she was alone, she had no family here. Her only sister was living in Michigan. She was a very congenial person, and that attracted me to her. But once we got together, [it] was incredible.

Q: So things clicked between you.

D: Oh, yes. [Smiles.] Also, my mother died when I was nine, and my mother was born in 1900. Alice was born in 1898, so there was perhaps some attraction there too.

Q: When did you start to get the feeling that this could actually be a romance?

D: Well, she was in, how would you say it, dementia? Her husband died in 1987. She had been alone for five years when we got together. She couldn't remember things; she must have had some support from some friends, but not much.

Q: Was she coherent enough to fall in love?

D: I don't know. I'll tell you how this marriage came about. I was driving her around a lot and we'd come back here or we'd go out and have lunch together, sometimes dinner, too. Then she began to ask me to help with things. The mail would come and she'd ask me to look at it. I looked at her bank statements and found that she had quite a bit of money in the bank, but it was just sitting in a checking account -- it wasn't accumulating interest. Later I found out her sister-in-law, who had moved way the hell up to Grass Valley, was supposed to be taking care of her. Eventually, I found out this woman was an Alzheimer's patient herself. The long story is, I took the money out of that bank and moved it to a savings and loan. I was kidding around with Alice there, and they got the idea that I was trying to steal [her money]. I just wanted her to get a little bit of interest. I set the account up in her name and they said, "Do you want your name on it as well?" I said, "Yes, that would be helpful." Whatever I said, it was the wrong thing, because they turned me in to the county. So now comes the motivation for marriage. The guy from the county comes out here looking for Alice and he's there to take her money? -- "for her own good," of course. I said to the representative, John, "Are you going to come and buy Alice her groceries?" He just laughed. I thought, this is bad. I had no legal standing.

Q: Why would they take her money?

D: To protect her assets from me. I had been to the senior center and was working under a power of attorney and so forth, so it all looks terrible. After we had this conversation with this guy, I said, "We're going to go to Vegas and get married." So I took her to Vegas and we got married. I'm sure that she eventually had affection [for] me, or at least appreciated me taking care of her.

Q: Well, you had a relationship, you got married. You spent a lot of time together.

D: What we had was good for both of us, but the county did not see it that way. They still managed to take her money. We went to court and I objected, but it didn't do any good.

Q: The county did take her money?

D: Oh, yeah, the bastards.

Q: Do you think your relationship was a romantic one?

D: Oh, yeah. It took me two and a half years after she died to get over her. It was like a knife. But with Alice, it's hard to tell. We did the things that couples do. We would go down to the senior center and dance, she liked to dance. I never could dance with anybody, but from the very first dance we went to, I could dance with her. I felt so close to her. It was just a real solid connection.

Q: Was it a physical relationship?

D: Yes, but limited, there was no intercourse. We had some great times though. She had two red chairs, and I used to sit there after we'd come back from a ride and she would...I don't know what the hell she did, my feet would be over there by her and she would touch my toes. It was like reflexology. And it was wonderful -- sometimes I would go to sleep. We had great conversations. I have never talked to anybody as much in my life as [I did] with her. It would just pour out of me. Once I just put some clothes together and we took off across the country. We were gone about a month.

Q: Did she enjoy that?

D: Oh, yeah. She couldn't concentrate that long. She couldn't read that long either, so [car] rides were just the right amount of stimulation to keep her engaged.

Q: Did she have enough presence of mind to have real conversations?

D: Oh, yeah.

Q: She might forget what you talked about, but --

D: Whatever was happening at the time we talked about it, whatever we were seeing, where to drive to next...

Q: You must miss her.

D: I should say.

Q: I bet she had some good stories to tell about the early 1900s. What's the most embarrassing thing that happened to you as a result of the age gap?

D: When we had to go to court. I don't think they took our marriage seriously.

Q: Was her mental clarity pretty much the same for the whole five years you were together?

D: For the most part. But it got to be too much to take her for a ride every day, so I began to ask for help. I used to leave her in an Alzheimer's place, and of course those people were really gone, they were in their own world and she couldn't stand it. So I finally had to get somebody else to take her to lunch a couple of days a week.

Q: Did people think that she was your mother?

D: Yeah, that happened. It didn't register with Alice, and I would just let it go.

Q: It must have been tough knowing that you didn't have much time together.

D: No, that didn't bother me so much. But the end was bad. She ended up in the nursing home, unfortunately, and she died of malnutrition. She only had one tooth, so they gave her slop to eat, nothing decent. Those dirty bastards. But it was bad and I could not do everything for her that she needed at that point. One July [day] it was 90 or 100 degrees, and there's Alice, no hat, walking down to Fedco in her nighties. She'd walk across the street and stop the traffic. That wasn't too reassuring. At first she could go out by herself. Finally she was in a wheelchair, and it was just too difficult for me to take care of her. But [the nursing home] was a bad place. They wouldn't even let me visit in the end.

Q: In a way, it sounds similar to other age-gap couples that I've talked to. It's hard for them to be respected as a couple. No matter what you guys said or how long you'd been together, people would think, "Well, she can't remember what she said this morning, there's no way you can have a relationship, you've got to be joking."

D: Exactly. But it was worth it.

KEVIN, 31

SAMANTHA, 54

Q: How did you meet?

SAMANTHA: He was visiting from out of town, and I met him at a club. We were friends for a long time before we thought about being lovers. I guess the turning point came when I started to miss him when I was away. I used to love [visiting] my mom's house, until one time I just didn't feel comfortable [there] by myself. I thought, "I think I'm missing Kevin." That's how it started.

KEVIN: It was supposed to be a casual courtship, no strings attached. We dated other folks, but we always gravitated [back] toward each other.

S: Every time I met someone else, I'd say to Kevin, "Okay, you don't need to call me anymore -- you need to go out with someone your own age." I mean, he didn't have a car, nothing. [Laughs.] In my mind it was going to be just a fun, temporary thing. Well, I seemed to be meeting a lot of guys my age who, for one reason or another, just didn't have a clue. I took it as a sign. You have to train men, and Kevin's so young, he's never been destroyed by some other woman. And I can train him. We started getting serious after that. We talked about how you bring other problems from your past into your current relationship. But that's not an age thing -- everybody does that.

K: Yeah, but she brought a lot more stuff than I did. I had [only had] a few girlfriends.

Q: Does the age difference add excitement to your physical relationship?

K: It does for me -- we've been married seven years, and I still feel like it's a conquest. It's easy to go out to the beach and take down some 20-year-old, you can do that every day of the week. But it's different when you date a mature woman. I don't know how to explain it. It's a lot more exciting for me, especially since she's still in shape. I'm thinking, when I'm her age, am I going to be as attractive as she is?

S: He's always pointing out women [who are now] in their seventies that he had crushes on when he was, like, 12 --

K: Like Sophia Loren. Everybody had a crush on Sophia, you know.

S: Not all of them, actually. Or we'll watch a movie and he goes, "Oh, look at her. Oh, that's her mother. Her mother's hot." But, see, he's got muscles and a hard body and I'm not in shape, not like some 20-year-old girl, not like I used to be. I don't understand why he even wants to be with someone that looks like me when he could be with someone like that.

Q: You can look at it as being forbidden or you can say, "Well, this is kinda spicy."

S: My friends used to say, "Hey, you go, girl," or, "Look at the positive side: this guy likes you," instead of [the way I'm] thinking: "Why would he like me, I have flab, I'm 53, and I'm older than his mother." Sometimes when we go out with my friends [who are] older than him but younger than me, I want him to wear tight shirts and stuff [so I can] show him off. Then everybody can envy me because all their husbands have potbellies or they're bald.

K: But there's another side of that. It's cool to dress me up and take me out, but if my guy friend calls me and says, "Hey, let's go out and chat," and I go put on one of the same tight shirts, she says, "Who are you trying to impress? Where are you going?" I just want to feel good, you know. You have to dress down sometimes to keep your woman happy.

S: Well, [that's] because he doesn't think about wearing anything nice when we go out. I have to talk him into it -- I have to beg him. But when he goes out with his friends he doesn't think twice about [dressing up]. We've also had other issues. For instance, once we went down by Mission Bay on the Fourth of July. It's like a daytime nightclub. It's a --

K: -- madhouse --

S: Yes, wall-to-wall girls and some of them wear no tops and --

K: -- [and] guys, too.

S: -- thongs and yeah, there's topless guys too, but they all get pretty wasted and girls are hitting on him.

K: They don't really hit on me.

S: Well, whatever you want to call it. One girl started screaming when she saw him and said she loved his muscles and she wanted to take a picture of him -- and she wanted me to get out of the way!

K: Yeah, that was kind of bad.

Q: That sounds like a special moment. Has anyone ever mistaken you for his mother?

S: Yeah, twice.

K: The first time, it was this little funny-looking dude --

S: He was a black midget.

K: We were in a record store in Virginia, looking at music, and [this guy] said, "It's nice that you and your mother both like music."

S: I was really upset with that one.

K: At first it was funny, because the guy knew he had messed up.

S: So I told my husband, "Squash him." [Laughs.]

Q: Samantha, what was the most radical response you got when you told people you had decided to get married?

S: I have two daughters. The one that was with me when I met him had no problem at all because she's real cool. But my older daughter, who's older than Kevin, she was not thrilled.

K: One's four years younger [than me], one's four years older.

S: My mother and father didn't really know what bothered them more: that he was black or our age difference. What was kind of sad about the whole thing was that my mother was always very controlling. When she found out about him, she got upset and they disowned me. Then my mother got cancer. My father called and told me that my mother wanted me to come and see her. I was given strict orders not to [say] anything about the relationship.

Kevin never was allowed at the house. I was 45, but [she thought] she could tell me not to [get involved with someone] and that I would obey her. After we got married, I wrote them a letter. I tried to explain to them, you know, God wouldn't have put us together, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. My mom's so old-school. She always said, "You need a man to take care of you." I told her in the letter, "Well, here's the perfect man. He's so much younger than me that when I get old and decrepit, I'll have a nice young husband to whirl me around in my wheelchair." That didn't work either. And then nobody in the family talked to me. Sometime later, my sister's son got married, and Kevin met the rest of the family. [Since then] it's been no problem at all. And since my mother passed away my father has gotten to know him --

K: Now I'm his favorite --

S: He's his "favorite son-in-law ever."

Q: Kevin, were there any negative reactions from your family?

K: My grandparents are a little upset, probably more about the race issue, because they come from a small town. We have a general store where I was brought up, just like on TV. And we don't have K-Marts or anything like that. But they'll sit across the room, wave, and say, "Nice to meet you," because it's the proper thing to do. My dad shocked me. I didn't really grow up with him, so I don't know him that well, I guess. He warmed up to her pretty quickly -- I expected my mom not to like [the situation], but I also expected her not to say anything, and she didn't. I know she has some issues, but she tries to deal with [them].

Q: So we've got the families and the close friends dialed in. How about new people who will continue to pop up for the rest of your life?

K: That's been my biggest problem. I work in the military in a job where -- how do I put this -- I mean, fighting wars is...I don't want to say it's a kid's game, but it's a young man's game. The oldest person in the military is probably 55. That guy is like a four-star general, he doesn't fight anymore, he plans. But all my friends, coworkers, bosses, and the people that work for me, they're 40 or less. It doesn't take long before they ask me, "Hey, you got kids?" I'm 30, I'm married, and it's a common question, and if I say, "No, I don't want any," they might want to know why. So I try not to go into detail, not that I'm ashamed but...

Q: Save yourself some trouble.

K: Yeah. You don't want to have to go through this with every person you meet, especially folks who you're not really going to be that close with.

S: I used to walk out with Kevin and think, "Oh, my God, people are going to look at us." People think you feel younger with a young lover, but I feel older. But it's interesting how [everything] works out. You end up overcoming all of that, and it's like overcoming the color issue. I don't even see color anymore at all. Not at all. I've never been prejudiced. And then all of a sudden I get this old programming, people are looking at me. Are they looking at me because I look older, or because we are a mixed couple? I went through that for the first two years. One of his best friends was born two days before my daughter. We went to go visit him once when he was in the hospital, and I was trying to dress up, look young --

K: That's right, I remember that.

S: He knew who I was, so I didn't have a problem with him. But the doctor pulled me aside and said, "Oh, so you came here to visit your son?" And I thought I looked good! [Laughs.] I wanted to punch the doctor. Now I couldn't care less what other people think. I just don't care.

Q: So is it just funny now?

S: It is.

K: You know what makes it funny? The office [where I work] was like a huge soap opera, with all the marriages and breakups. And these people are all younger than me, not much, two or three years. But the problems they were having and all that stuff that they were going through -- we're doing better, you know? We're still together. Our marriage is doing great. We do better financially, emotionally -- and I say to myself, it looks like everybody has the same problems regardless of age gaps.

S: That's right. You can sit in a room with five couples from five different generations, and they're all going to complain about the same things: "He doesn't listen to me. He doesn't clean up after himself." That's what women really hate about men, you know? "He doesn't talk to me. He doesn't communicate. He doesn't care." It doesn't matter how old you are.

Q: Being the younger one does not guarantee a long life. You could have a heart attack or be hit by a bus. Still, there seems to be a temptation in some couples to end the relationship early so they don't have to deal with seeing who gets old and sick first.

S: Exactly. I still look pretty good. But what's going to happen when you're 46 and I'm in my seventies? You're not going to want to have anything to do with me then, for sure. For a long time I just thought I better have some fun now because he's going to take off anyway. It took a while not to worry about it. We don't even have age issues anymore, do we?

K: Not until we go out with other people. Then it comes up: "What's your birth date?" They look at me, I'm, like, "Nineteen seventy-two." And then she's, like --

S: "Nineteen forty-nine," yeah.

K: I notice it when we're out with people she went to high school with, and I'm talking, acting natural. And then I pick up my menu. "Well, what do you think about that? He can read the menu without glasses," as they pull out their glasses...I'm, like, uh-oh, I stand out.

Q: It can be funny, I wanted to tell my girlfriend's daughter, who's my age, "Don't worry, I won't try to adopt you." Maybe that would have lightened things up.

K: Actually, I carried her daughter as a dependent so she could have military medical privileges a couple years ago. I would have had to be married in kindergarten to be her father. When I was taking her paperwork to get the ID, the intake worker looked up at me and said, "This kid's 20 years old." I was only 24 at the time, so what were they thinking?

S: When he asked his boss to get some time off because his grandson was being born, he was 23 or so.

K: My grandkid! [Laughs.] So [my boss] says, "I'm going to let you go. That's such a good story."

Q: What are some of your necessary similarities and complementary differences?

K: I'm very articulate -- I'm a heady, book-oriented person. And she's the other end. She's about feelings, and that's good because sometimes I need that other side. Sometimes I need to just sit back and trust [my] instincts and not break out the abacus and get all caught up in my head. But I think maybe sometimes she thinks, "Well, it's nice to have somebody who is the bean counter." Another complementary difference is that she's more talkative and I'm more quiet, I'm the calm one. She'll get mad if her stamp is licked the wrong way, and I think it evens everything out, because if I had her temper I'd probably be in jail.

Q: What are some of your necessary similarities?

K: In our families we were both the black sheep. The different ones. I met her sisters and her dad, and she is different. I'm the only person in my house that has, first of all, left North Carolina and second, decided to go to college. I'm the only person in my family that I know of, for four generations, that [got] a college education.

S: We both see age as a number...[But] sometimes I feel cheated, because I want to retire and travel, and I have this husband who wants to be on the front line during the war and jump out of airplanes. That could be an age thing, because if he was my age he wouldn't be doing that -- he would already have done it -- he'd be retired. When we first started to get together, people, including his ex-girlfriend, couldn't believe it. Girls have this ego thing going -- it's like, "How could you leave me for some old lady?"

K: We were dating other people when we met.

S: And then his guy friends would say, "Well, how do you deal with it, don't you guys have to go to bed early and stuff?"

K: As if she were 90 years old.

Q: Sounds as if you complement each other.

S: Yes, and he's kind of brought me down a little bit. He'll take a nap in the afternoon -- I was [never] a nap person, I liked to go go go go go. Now I've got a bad back and arthritis, [which have] stopped me from doing a lot of the things I like to do. Actually, now I'm more on his level. I used to say I was going to put a firecracker on his butt because even when he did walk, he'd walk real slow.

Q: Any differences because of your different generations?

K: She's had to deal with a lot of stuff that came before my time. Like when she had this job and the boss told her if she didn't sleep with him she couldn't work there. She got fired because the guy was attracted to her. And I said, "What kind of crap is that?" When I grew up -- I graduated in '91 -- we were taught that if anybody ever made any reference to your looks, like, "Oh, you're so pretty" or "You got the job because you got big breasts," or something like that, there would be a lawsuit. You'd own the company the next year.

S: Sometimes it's fun to be around people my age that relate to my generation. He doesn't relate sometimes. And I'm sure sometimes he likes being around people his age. It's hard for me to remember being his age.

K: That's why I like going out with the fellows once in a while.

S: It actually works out good when we're having parties. Everybody gets taken care of -- it's interesting, we have three generations. We have the thirties, the forties, and the fifties. Of course, I'm usually the only [one in their] fifties [laughs], so he can attend to the thirties and I click with the forties. When I started going out with Kevin, I thought, "I'm going to get out and dance now." Neither of my two husbands ever went dancing. So I'm thinking, you know -- black man, clubs, time to party. [Laughs loudly.] But I can't even get him out to a club. He's actually more conservative than me. I always tell my friends, you'd think I was 30 and he was 50.

Q: That seems to be a common thread in these relationships. Okay, this is my last question. Each of you gets to give a few words of wisdom to the person who is either in, or considering getting into, a relationship like this.

K: I would just say, leave everyone else out of it. It's your relationship. Don't worry about what Mom will say, because she's not in the relationship. Forget her. And don't worry about your dad and your friends, because ultimately, if you find somebody that it's going to work with, then you should do it. Whether people are the same or opposite or whatever, the divorce rate is still 50 percent.

Q: Samantha?

S: I have some friends who are maybe 3 or 4 years older than their husbands, and they think that there's a big age difference. I always laugh and say, "What's 3 years? Try 24." What they need to do is find out what is important to them, what they like and what they don't like, and [they should ask themselves], "Can you communicate?" and "Do you have fun together?" If you're attracted to that person, that's really all that matters. Because, you know, age is just a number, it really is.

GARY, 46

JAMIE, 26

JAMIE: Tell him, honey.

GARY: We met at a corner in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, at a stoplight. We looked at each other and smiled.

J: I was sick and I had had to meet somebody at 11:45 up in the city. [While I was] driving there, somebody threw a golf ball off a freeway overpass and broke my front light. My girlfriend was 15 minutes late, and when I started to leave she shows up and says, "Oh, I tried calling but I didn't leave a message. I wanted to tell you they canceled that showing." So when I was driving home and met him, I thought, "Well, I'm having a bad night, I don't think it could get any worse." He waved, and I waved back. We started talking, and when the stoplight turned green, we went to a parking lot and talked some more.

G: I had just moved out after living in Bel-Air in a 15-room house for seven years. All my stuff was in a $300 storage unit, but I was perfectly happy. I had moved from a place where we had a couple of cooks, a couple of maids, a person hired to water the plants. And here I was, living in my truck with my two dogs with, like, ten grand in my pocket. Then I hit that stoplight, looked over at her, and it was all over.

Q: How long after that did you start to date?

J: By the end of the week we had gone out.

Q: How long after that did you get married?

J: Seven years.

G: I met her when she was 18 and I was 38.

Q: When you became fully aware of your age difference, what did you think?

G: I wasn't hiding my age, and I don't think she hid her age. We hid it more from her parents, probably.

J: We subtracted ten years off of his age. It was a while before she found out.

G: Her mother has a friend that has the same birthday as mine. He was turning 50. We were all at the table, and everyone is eating their cake --

J: Naturally, they asked everybody how old they were.

G: And me, not wanting to lie to the crowd -- she had told them that I was 28 -- I say, "Thirty-eight." Silence comes down over the table, it got kind of tense. So that's when it started becoming tough, [but] I was acceptable before that! The minute they knew, I was unaccepted.

J: I told them he was 28 because I lived at home still. I knew he was going to meet my mom soon, and I knew that she would flip if she found out how old he was.

G: If I was asked outright, I wouldn't lie to them. I had really become a master at avoiding the question. Sometimes we would just get engaged in conversation, and I would start like an idiot, saying things about the '70s or whatever, and I'd have to catch myself going, "Wow!" The guy [I was supposed to be] couldn't have been more than two in the '70s, so I'd have to be really conscious of not talking about life, other than the here and now.

Q: How long did this go on, from the time you met to the time they knew how old you were?

J: Maybe a year.

G: A year with her mom, longer I think with her dad.

J: With my dad, it took a lot longer. I've had to really fight for Gary, like, "Look, we are in this relationship, and you accept it or you don't!" When we got married, I wasn't going to invite [my dad] to the wedding. I didn't want to face the rejection.

G: He's not an easy person to talk to. He is very heavy. But he has lightened up enormously in the last year.

J: A lot, a lot, a lot!

G: He was very proud of the wedding. He walked her down the cliff. He was very happy, and ever since then he has been pretty accepting of me.

Q: Would you say that the age difference is a non-issue for him now?

J: He's come to accept it, but he doesn't have a choice, you know? If he wants to be part of my life, he's got to accept Gary.

Q: Did he ever take you aside and say, "You know, whatever makes you happy"? Kind of like putting out the white flag?

J: I don't think he's ever really done that. He hasn't flat out said it. I think he's just trying to ease into it with his actions and not bring it up and make it an issue and make things uncomfortable. He includes Gary in family stuff now.

G: He's extremely accommodating when we visit. They have a beautiful place up in Studio City, up in the hills. His wife's a lawyer, too, so they've got a nice setup. They make sure we have the best food to eat. They take us to the movies and dinner. It has changed about 360 degrees.

Q: So, you're "double dating" instead of "double hating"?

J: Yeah, pretty much.

G: It got to the point that he didn't want us to leave California -- he offered us 20 grand just to stay. We went to a psychic, and she told us this would happen.

Q: What did she say?

G: That there would be an offer from her father when we were ready to move that would be a temptation to us and lure us to stay here. She also told us that Jamie would be pregnant in February, and she just found out she's pregnant.

Q: Well, good job! Wow! You'll have to give me the number. Okay, has either of you played the numbers game? "When I'm 60, you'll be..."

J: Oh, yeah, definitely!

G: She does more than me!

J: He likes to say that because I'll be 27 in a few weeks. He says the closer you are to 30, the closer you are to 50.

G: I always give her a hard time. I'll say, "Oh, you're getting old!" Obviously, I'm twenty years older than her.

J: We joke about it a lot.

G: Yeah, she just told me the other day that when our child graduates, I'll be 62. I'll say, in 1976 I was in Colorado and I was doing this or that, and she goes, oh wow, I was just born, or I was this age. I say I went to Africa or whatever and she goes, oh yeah, I was 2 years old then. But it's really not an issue.

Q: What are your necessary similarities and complementary differences? Are there any that emerge specifically from your age difference?

J: He's experienced a lot of stuff that I haven't. Sometimes I get a little frustrated, because maybe you learned so and so and you know better, but give me a chance. I don't have as much experience and knowledge as you do.

G: I lived like Jack Kerouac -- I've never had a real job. I've lived, like, ten different lives. The farthest Jamie has driven, I think she said, is Palm Springs.

J: San Francisco!

G: I mean east! I started traveling when I was 17, and I've hit pretty much all of the United States. I've been through southern Africa and some of Asia. I was born to travel. I can remember the '60s, when they landed on the moon, the assassination of President Kennedy. They were very profound times.

J: I like going to bed early, but he can stay up and do things all night long and get up the next morning and be fine.

G: I have more energy than I can even contain. And she is more regulated and set in her ways, like someone in their seventies. I swear to God, every day at a certain time, it's like clockwork: she shuts down, she reads, she goes to bed, and I just have energy to burn. I have to get up at four o'clock for my job. I work down here at Home Depot and have to be there at five. Two nights ago, I was up doing things and getting ready to move, and I had three hours' sleep.

J: There's no way I could do that. I would be a zombie!

G: She's extremely organized. I'm not at all. Her credit is, like, the best in the world -- they're sending her platinum cards. I've got bill collectors chasing me. We're exact opposites in some ways, [but] that inspires me to get organized. I was a free spirit all my life, so I could use more structure. She is more compulsive, and I think my free-spiritedness takes her out of her structure-compulsiveness.

J: Sometimes I think I'm the older one of the two of us.

G: What do you mean by that?

J: Sometimes I'm the older, more responsible one.

Q: Do you have any difficulty with her friends being so young? And Jamie, do you have any difficulty with his friends being older?

J: A lot of our friends are mutual friends. Since we've moved here, all of the people we've met are kind of both of our friends. The ones that I knew up in L.A. also love Gary, and most of his friends are closer to my age, anyway. A couple we hang out with there are in their thirties...they're closer to my age than his.

Q: Have there been times when somebody has mistaken you for her father or you for his daughter?

G: In nine years, I maybe remember that once or twice, I don't know.

J: Yeah, just a couple times, and it was generally a stranger.

Q: Does the age difference add anything to your sexual attraction to each other? Does it spice things up?

J: I think so!

G: I think so!

J: The thing with Gary is that he is more experienced, and I kind of like the taboo of being with someone so much older. I've never been interested in guys my age. I've always had an easier time relating to people who are older than me.

G: I was always attracted to younger girls. That's why I was attracted to her, because in my thirties or forties it would be hard to meet someone my age that was as free-spirited as me, someone who didn't have to have a job, worry about insurance, worry about things that older people worry about. I really didn't have a life that led to being responsible, I traveled light. I didn't need the things that normal people need until I met her.

J: He never thought he would get married. I never thought he'd get married!

G: Of course I'd had girlfriends, but I didn't allow myself to fall in love. Then I started spending time around her, and next thing you know, three years [have gone by]. It got to the point where I couldn't see myself living without her.

J: We lived together for a few years. When I turned 21, I started to feel like an old maid -- like I was too young to be tied down. I started thinking about all my other friends who were away at school and doing this and that, having all these other experiences, and here I was working, living with somebody, you know, doing the "old couple" things -- I felt I was missing out on something. I had graduated from high school less than a month before we met. I started to want to go out more and do other stuff, so we separated for a while, [and once] I got that out of my system, I was ready to start thinking long-term again.

G: When she did go through that, it was short-lived, about six months. It was intense, but I could understand what she was going through. Our relationship actually got to the point where it was like a hair was holding it together. I think what happened was that our lifestyles and personalities caught up with us.

Q: This is who I really am?

G: Yeah, mine wasn't being in love and being with one person. Hers was young and not knowing what she wanted. When that happened, [the relationship] almost fell completely apart. Then the next thing we know, I proposed and it put it into a completely different context.

J: But, I didn't accept.

G: She wasn't ready. I think she wanted to, but she needed some more time.

J: I was so touched, but it just didn't feel like the right time.

Q: How premeditated was your proposal?

G: The first time was nothing fancy. The second time, I did it on her birthday. I did it up right! We stayed in this really cool hotel up by Balboa Park. Then we got up and had Starbucks, spent all day at the zoo, [then went] to dinner and a play. And then on the way home...

J: I was hoping something would happen!

G: Hoping?

J: Because we had already reached the end of the night and I thought, "I guess he's not going to ask me..."

G: My mom died when I was young, and the only thing I have of my mother's is her wedding ring. I had sent back to Iowa for it, had it polished up, and put it in a beautiful black case. So I said, "Look, there's a full moon out, let's just go to the fountain over here, close our eyes, throw some pennies in, and make a wish before we go home."

J: Right in front of the IMAX.

G: There was the most incredible full moon you could imagine, and I told her to stand up on the ledge. I said, "Take a penny, close your eyes, and throw it in the fountain." While she was doing that, I got on my knee, held up the ring, and said, "Now turn around!" And right when she did, I proposed! She just about fell over into the water!

Q: I bet! And, what was your wish, Jamie?

J: Oh! It came true, obviously!

G: That whole time with her wanting to party with her friends when she was 21, I was safe then. But when they all started getting married, I knew I was doomed. She kept bringing it up more, and it got more intense. "Wow! My friends are all getting married!" I knew then that she wanted to get married. And then it was the baby thing.

J: You wanted it too!

G: I did, of course! It started off pretty wild. Sexually, we were wild... I mean, we were passionate. It changes...

J: There is so much more to a relationship as you grow together. You have more interests, and there's just more to your relationship. There's more depth to it.

Q: Well, you have to do something in between the sex. You once told me that things were different in L.A.: you had all these distractions, all these preconceived notions about who you were. Like: "Am I me, or am I the sum total of my friends, my habits, and what I usually do on Saturday nights?" When you came to San Diego, all you had was yourselves.

J: There was a lot of past that both of us had. Everywhere we went [in L.A.] it was like, who he had been there with, this person that he used to hang around with, or whatever, and same with myself. [When we came] here, everything was fresh and everything was bringing both of us together, which was a lot better.

G: It's hard for me to go through that town without reminiscing. I went there to study acting, and I ended up dancing at Chippendales for a couple of years and doing the Hollywood thing. I think that did bother her, because a lot of my past there is pretty wild. I needed to get out. San Diego was a good place to get to know each other, and now it's time to move. It would have been too much for her to go from L.A. to Ohio. I think she needed this transitional time. I grew up in a town of 100 or less people, on a farm in the sticks in Iowa. We were self-sufficient; I grew up working the land and hunting for our food. She grew up in Los Angeles in a city of three million, in a family of one, with every convenience on the face of the earth.

J: I'll meet his parents for the first time: when we go to Ohio, we're stopping in Iowa.

G: And, there's another extreme difference -- with her parents, maybe because she's the female, it took me eight years to be accepted. My parents are so down-home that there'll be instant acceptance.

J: My parents wish that Gary did something more than just working at Home Depot. When we told my dad that I was pregnant, he started talking to me about going back to work, and I told him, "Well, Dad, the point is that's why we're moving, he's going to support us!" My dad kept going on about the whole financial thing -- you know, he wants to be able to see me taken care of.

G: It's hard for me to think like normal people sometimes. I mean, Home Depot is the longest I've ever had a job. Benefits are the big deal and the job is the big deal, and it's never enough.

Q: Any words of wisdom for other "age gappers" out there?

J: I think it's only an issue if you make it an issue. It really doesn't matter. Age is just a number. It's the person that matters, not how old they are.

G: Two 18-year-olds could be at each other's throat, or they could be madly in love. [A couple that is] 50 years apart could be the same.

Q: Would you do it again?

G: Getting married again or the young thing? Yeah!

J: Definitely.

LIZ, 57

BOB, 39

Q: How did you meet?

LIZ: We met in Hawaii. I was walking on the beach; he was lying on the beach. I sat down close to him, and pretty soon the sun went down. We went off to a pub and talked, had two drinks, and it all went downhill from there.

Q: Were you vacationing?

L: I was coming home from Australia and I stopped in Hawaii. He had just gotten based there in the Navy. I didn't think I was going to stay, but I ended up staying for 5 years. I thought I would see him for a couple of weeks, but it ended up being 15 years. He was supposed to ship out in a couple of months or so, but then he hurt his back and had to have surgery. They took him off the ship and gave him shore duty. Then I got hurt and had to have surgery. We sort of took care of each other. It ended not long ago.

Q: Did the age difference concern you at the outset?

L: No, I had been going out with guys that were his age for some reason. That whole age group was asking me out, so it was not a new thing for me. I was just having fun.

Q: Did it concern him?

L: It didn't then, and I don't think it does now either.

Q: Did the age difference add any interest?

L: Actually it did, because I could sort of mentor him [and share the] wisdom I had picked up over the years. And he could turn me on to any kind of fun that he was having, you know, being his age. I was pretty energetic at the time -- I guess I still am. We just had a lot of fun, went a lot of places, did a lot of things.

Q: How was the reaction from your camp?

L: My family liked him. Anything I want to do is okay with them. We don't get into each other's business. No matter what kind of choice I make, they're going to approve of it because they trust me. But I think deep down they were probably a little afraid of the future. My oldest brother said, "He's kind of old for you, isn't he?" He thought that was humorous.

Q: How about on Bob's side?

L: Well, his grandmother, who was 68, had boyfriends in their thirties. They had kind of a family history of older women [with] younger men, so his family was used to it.

Q: Did you worry about that whole "when I'm 60, you'll be 80" thing?

L: We never talked about it much. He joked that he would take care of me even if I were in a wheelchair. He said, "We're going to be together forever," so he wasn't thinking too much about it.

Q: Were you?

L: I was just concerned that he was starting to show a little bit of anger as he got older. That's what started weakening the relationship. Actually, I saw it from the beginning, but as he got older his anger got more pronounced, more intense.

Q: Familiarity breeding contempt?

L: Probably. And plus as you get older and you get more serious, your frustrations can start to turn into anger.

Q: The stuff you ignore kind of bubbles up?

L: Yeah, the new responsibilities start to get to you after a while.

Q: Especially if you don't take responsibility for the choices you made, as if somehow they were done to you. I think that's the core of a lot of anger.

L: I think he was so focused on being successful and making money, he just started driving himself a little crazy. I am interested in making money too, but not the way he did. He works his fingers to the bone, but I think there are better ways to make money, a better balance. He didn't have that balance.

Q: What similarities transcended the age difference?

L: We liked a lot of the same things. He liked to do everything from rock to Pavarotti. He liked to do all kinds of things and everything in between, and so did I. So that was good.

Q: And complementary differences?

L: Well, he did have that energy that I never have had and never will have. He just couldn't do enough.

Q: And was that a problem? Do you think he felt held back, that he would want to do something and not do it because --

L: Yeah, he probably did, he probably did. But I think he'll feel the same thing with the next person and the next person. With me it probably was worse because I had problems -- chronic fatigue and stuff like that.

Q: Did he know early on that you had chronic fatigue?

L: Yeah, he did, because it resulted from an injury that I had when I was with him. He was pretty good about it, actually. I've become extremely good at hiding it. Nobody knows I have it because I don't answer the phone on days that I feel bad. And there are days I feel good. I'm out there, lively, having lots of fun, doing all kinds of exciting things. You know, I'm riding my Harley, and I'm working out at the gym.

Q: You were talking earlier about not having to be with really young people too often, just enough to make things interesting, but not so much to be like, "Who are these people?"

L: Well, it was easy for me to be around his young guy-friends, even though some of them were trying to make him break up with me. But the girls that were in their early twenties, I couldn't hack it. I just couldn't be around them. It was really, really hard for me. You know the way young girls are. There's nothing wrong with them, but I couldn't relate. Plus I grew up around men -- I was the only girl with five men. My mother died early, so I can't relate to females anyway.

Q: How were the guys trying to break you up?

L: It was a jealousy thing or something. I don't know what it was, but Bob's best friend was always saying to him, "You need someone younger than you, someone who is going to take care of you when you get old" and "It doesn't make sense. She's too old for you." Finally he succumbed to that. But we were both going in different directions anyway.

Q: Someone says, "Well, you say that now, but how will you feel in 20 years?" Then the man says, "Don't worry, honey, we'll have sex in the wheelchair," or whatever people say to romanticize and lighten the reality.

L: But you know what? To me it makes a lot more sense biologically to be with a younger man, because women live so much longer. Women take care of themselves better. I didn't have as much nervous energy as he had, but I had more energy to do outdoor things. I took better care of myself than he did. He had more aches and pains than I did, really. When a woman is 85 years old, there's three of her to every one man. I go see my elderly aunt in her retirement home, and it's all women. I mean, there's thousands of women, and there's probably 150 men. If you marry a man your own age, you're going to die alone, basically.

Q: Were there any other difficulties arising from your historical frame-of-reference gap?

L: He said that he should have been born in the '50s. So that was his frame of reference. He grew up with his mother always playing Johnny Mathis and all the music from the '50s and '60s, so he could relate to that music and those times. That kind of helped, I guess.

Q: Would you be hesitant to strike up this kind of relationship again?

L: I've been trying to go the other way since we broke up, just to see how it is. I really need to see if I do better with somebody my age or a bit younger.

Q: You're information gathering?

L: I guess I've landed on somewhere in between, someone not as old as me but not as young as him, 45ish, something like that.

Q: Then that's working?

L: Well, it's worked for me, but I don't know if it's going to work for the 45-year-old that comes along. You know, they might say, by the time you get to be 45 you might just be looking for someone who's going to do nothing but take care of you. I don't know. I don't know what 45-year-old men want yet. Men always have that fantasy about the younger woman, but eventually that doesn't work. They fly the coop for a younger man themselves.

Q: I was having a hamburger at Tuba Man's a long time ago and I was talking about the mystery of compatibility, and the cook, who had overheard me, turned around to me like there was no mystery at all. He said, "You have to have necessary similarities and complementary differences. That's it." And he went back to his cooking.

L: That's profound, isn't it?

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for the person reading this article who's maybe thinking, "Should I go with Toby Joe even though there's that age difference?"

L: Well, I would just say be careful. I mean, it can work. But you have to be careful in any relationship. You just have to work toward each other. You have to meet in the middle someplace. Just keep your energy up, both of you, and keep the communication lines open in all the things you do. This is true in any relationship, but maybe even more so in this kind of relationship.

ANN, 27

HENRY, 57

Q: How did you meet?

ANN: At a Super Bowl party at the stadium.

HENRY: It was the 49ers and the Chargers in Miami. [The game was] playing on the big screen here. I had had a stroke and I was in a wheelchair. Anyway, she had a ticket and I had a couple of tickets. I said, "Well, come sit by me." So she gave away her ticket and sat with me. After that we started seeing each other and she would push me around. I've talked to her every day since that first day. Her mother and I got right, and we moved in together. Then we got married even though I had Dolphin colors on and she was cheering for San Diego. [Laughs.]

Q: How long was it from the time you met till you started dating?

A: About three weeks -- during that time we were just going out as friends. He lived in OB, and we would go all up and down Newport and eat in different restaurants.

Q: Who made the first move toward being more than friends?

A: He did.

H: I guess I did.

A: He would kiss on me and stuff. I thought he was just playin'. You know, like flirty...but I didn't know --

H: When we were at the Super Bowl game, I wanted to put my arm around her, but I didn't want to seem like I was comin' on to her. And she said, "You can put your arm around me if you want."

Q: It sounds as if you did it together. What was your attitude toward age-gap couples before you met?

H: I didn't think they should be together. I'd think, "What's she want him for?" I didn't agree with it.

A: But there were a lot of things you were against back then.

Q: Ann, how did you feel about it before you met Henry?

A: I didn't think anything of it, 'cause I usually dated older men before I met him. People tend to think that I'm ten years older than I am, and lots of people think he's younger than he is.

Q: When you first considered having a relationship with Ann, did you shock yourself?

H: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Q: So what did you say to yourself to make it okay?

H: I said, "What you doin', man!" Then I called my brother, and he said, "You're robbin' the cradle, Henry."

A: Some [members] of his family were worse than others, but there were reasons [for that] besides age. There's the race issue, too.

Q: So the race issue was a problem for your family, Henry?

H: Yes, and for some of her family, too.

A: Like my sister. But my mom and dad were okay with it.

H: No, no, no -- they were okay with us dating, but not getting married.

Q: How about your friends? Does their age difference make it difficult when you mix social scenes?

A: That mixing never really happened, because we've found new friends as a couple. That way he can go out with his friends and I can go out with mine, but we have other friends that we go out with together.

H: I didn't have that many friends because I'd had my stroke. But I had a few, and they were all wiggers.

A: Tell him what wiggers are.

H: Wiggers are white people who act black. [Laughs.]

Q: How do the differences in your generational frame of reference come out in your relationship?

H: There's things I tell her when something happens in her life because I've experienced [similar] things before. But she just thinks I'm trying to tell her what to do.

A: Or he'll be talking like, "You remember Kennedy?" I don't know these people -- I read about them in history books, that's all.

H: And her friends have a lot more money than I do. But [I've had more experience] simply because I've been alive longer. So we have a lot to talk about. On the other hand, she knows a lot of things that I don't know because of the environment that she grew up in.

Q: I know that in my relationship there are things that shock my girlfriend that don't surprise me at all.

A: He's like that, too.

H: Part of that is because I'm from Georgia. When I came to California, it seemed like another world. [Laughs.]

A: For instance, when we watched Bill O'Reilly the other night, Bill brought up the white-only prom. I'm surprised that that's going on in this day and age, and Henry's saying, "No news here."

H: Yeah, that happens all the time. She wants to go to Florida, and I tell her, "No, girl, we should stay here where it's safe." I've seen things that she couldn't even dream of happen to mixed couples. She doesn't understand 'cause she wasn't there.

Q: Does your age difference add anything extra to your physical relationship due to the taboos, the forbidden fruit aspect?

H: To some extent, for me.

A: I don't see it. [Much laughter.] My parents had me at 50, so they are much older -- they could be his parents. I've always associated with older people. I never had much to do with people my own age 'cause they're just little kids -- they don't know anything.

H: I have children her age and I look at her sometimes and say, "Wow." And now we're married and have two boys of our own.

Q: I guess the race issue could mess up my next question. Has anyone ever thought you were his daughter?

A: Well, they'll ask if our sons are his grandkids.

H: [Laughs.] All the time. They say, "Oh, what lovely grandchildren." But then we just don't look that different in age to begin with.

Q: What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you as a result of your age difference?

H: One time when someone told me what cute grandchildren I had, I said, "Those are my kids. There may be snow on the roof, but there's fire in the furnace!" [Laughs.]

Q: How long have you been married?

A: Eight years.

Q: How long did you know each other before you got married?

A: Six months.

Q: Oh, so you move fast, Henry.

H: [Laughs.]

Q: Fire in the hole?

A and H: [Much laughter.]

H: No, in the furnace. There might be snow on the roof, but there's fire in the furnace.

Q: Do you have any advice for other couples who might be considering having a relationship like this?

H: I would tell them to go where their heart leads them. People will talk no matter what you do anyway.

Q: Did people do anything to try and stop you? Did they offer you prizes or gifts or money to bring you to your senses?

H: Yes, they did. Our parents were supposed to drive us to the ceremony, and they drove us around for two or three hours until we said, "Let us out, we'll take a cab."

Q: So you were hijacked. It does not look as if it worked.

H: No. They knew we were gonna do it, and making us late would not stop us.

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