Why Younger Men Love Older Women

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Beth liked Michael so much that she decided to fix him up with one of her friends--somebody a little more his age.

"Michael and I became best buddies at work," Beth said. "We went to lunch together almost every day, and eventually started getting together on weekends for a movie or dinner. We really related to one another. I thought he was a doll, but I never imagined our friendship becoming anything more.

"So one night I said to him, 'I've got this cute friend who's your age . . .' He hemmed and hawed, and finally said, 'But, I'm interested in you.' My first reaction was to laugh, although I secretly had a crush on him, too."

Not long after their evening of true confessions last spring, the Laguna Beach residents began seeing each other on a romantic basis--all of which would not constitute an unusual love story, except that Michael is 25 and Beth 31.

Celebrities have always had a knack for getting away with such eccentricities as out-of-wedlock babies and older woman/younger man relationships. Cher is 42 and her boyfriend, Rob Camilletti, 24; Tom Cruise, 26, has a 33-year-old wife, Mimi Rogers; Susan Sarandon, 42, and Tim Robbins, 30, are expecting a baby.

But in the past decade, ordinary folk also have started to throw out the rule book when it comes to age.

Of course, tradition scarcely bats an eye when a man is 5 or 10--or even 20--years older than his mate. And now, modern mind set shrugs off the reverse as well.

"So what? That was my reaction from the beginning, and it's still my reaction," Chris Liebsack, 35, said about having a wife 7 years his senior. "I judge people more by what they are than by their age."

Chris and Nan Liebsack met at work when he was 29 and she 36. Recently divorced from a man 3 years older than she, Nan at first was "hesitant about becoming involved with a younger man."

"I said to him, 'You know, I am older than you,' and he said something like, 'Big deal,' " Nan recalled. "It was real eye-opening for me."

The Santa Ana couple married 2 years ago. Nan feels that Chris provides her encouragement and motivation lacking in her first marriage.

"I just started back to college to get my degree," said Nan, an administrative assistant. "Chris has been very supportive. He understands why it's important to me, whereas an older man might say, 'Yes, dear, whatever.' "

"I think that the difference those 7 years make is in the way that my generation perceives the role of women," said Chris, who works in data process control. "To me, a woman has an obligation and a right to fulfill her own needs."

"He definitely treats my career more importantly than my ex-husband did," Nan said, adding that her first marriage was based on the idea that "he went out and earned the living, while I stayed home and took care of the children. That was acceptable at the time we were married, but when we divorced I discovered that I wanted to branch out. Chris was very understanding that I needed to become an independent woman."

One question that arose early in their relationship was the prospect of children: Nan, the mother of two teen-agers, can not have any more. "We talked about it, and I decided that it's OK with me not to have children of my own," Chris said.

"In the whole issue of older women and younger men, (the man's desire for children) is the only thing people really need to be concerned about," said Victoria Houston, author of the book, "Loving a Younger Man."

"A woman in her late 30s or early 40s who already has children may not want to go through that again. Chances are that if he hasn't had kids, a younger man is going to want them. But then again, an older man marrying a younger woman might not want more children, either."

"My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for 2 years," said Houston, the mother of three college-age children. "I don't know if it's going to work out or not. When you get older, that's a problem--it takes longer."

Tustin psychologist Kara Cross pointed out that a woman in her 30s and a man in his 20s frequently are at different places in their lives concerning parenthood. "She may be feeling her biological time clock, whereas he is not yet ready for children," Cross said.

Married to a man 9 years younger than her 43 years, Houston interviewed dozens of couples with similar age gaps for her book.

"I found out some surprising statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau while I was doing my research," said

the Connecticut journalist. "Forty percent of American women over the age of 30 are living with or are married to younger men. One-third of marriages today are second marriages, and of that group over half are couples where the woman is at least 5 years older than the man.

"Yet women still have this feeling that there's something not right about it. When women get asked out by a younger man, their first response is to say no."

Rather than reject the notion out of hand, Houston suggested, women should look at the advantages of involvement with a younger man. Like Nan Liebsack, Houston found her second husband "more willing to be an equal partner in marriage."

"My first husband grew up in an era when the national attitude toward women was that they were better seen and not heard," she said.

Beth, who is a few steps ahead of Michael on the corporate ladder, at first worried that her larger paycheck and more prestigious title would intimidate Michael. "But he seems to respect me all the more because of my ambition," she said. "There's nothing sexist about him."

Likewise, men may find maturity and stability to be bonuses in a relationship with an older woman. "Many men told me that women their own ages--in their 20s and early 30s--are confused about what they want and who they are," Houston said.

"A lot of women my age don't have the foggiest idea of where they're going in life," said Michael, who with Beth works for a marketing research firm. "They're fickle because they still think the grass is always greener; they play games because they're insecure.

Beth and I skipped right over the game-playing stage. She's seen a little of the world, she knows what to expect of relationships, and she knows where she's going."

In some cases, the enhanced maturity that an older woman may possess can hinder a relationship. Jane, 36, an advertising writer in Santa Ana, recently split up with her 26-year-old husband. "I know that it's totally individual, but I would advise a woman in her 30s to think twice about marrying a man in his 20s," Jane said. "Many 26-year-old men are still searching; they're not quite solidified.

"I think my husband resented my higher level of experience," she said. "If we were having a discussion and I disagreed with his opinion about something, he would say, 'I'm not a little kid, you know.'

"I don't think he considered me too old in terms of appearance. But I have two children, and he found himself straddled with more responsibility than he was ready for. Age becomes less of a factor the older you get; I would guess that a 46-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man would not encounter the same degree of problems that my husband and I did."

Dave, 24, a graphics artist in Garden Grove, has had two long-term relationships in his short life--both with women in their early 30s.

"I'm mature for my age--I was already doing well in my career by the time I was 20--so I've never been attracted to women my own age," Dave said. "But I'm going to start trying to stick with women closer to my age. Neither relationship was meant to be. I was too young for them. And most women in their 30s are ready to have a family, but I can't picture myself married for another few years, at least."

A lot of the attraction for older women, Dave admitted, was physical. "I guess there was some of the teacher-student cliche going on," he said.

In the Liebsacks' case, it was the younger man who was the teacher rather than the older woman. "I was very limited, shall we say, in my sexual knowledge," Nan confessed. "My (first) husband was the only person I'd ever been with. Chris has been very good for me. Even though I'm a little older, there are still things I can enjoy that I haven't experienced before."

"My generation is probably more experimental than the generations before it," Chris ventured.

No, said therapist Cross, it's not just a myth: women hit their sexual peak in their mid-30s, men in their mid-20s. "There is more sexual compatibility between older women and younger men," she claimed.

Furthermore, she pointed out, women tend to live longer than men: "If a woman marries a man 10 years older, chances are she'll be a widow by the time she's 60. But if she marries a man 10 years younger, he'll probably still be around when she's 80."

Women, Cross said, fret about the advent of crows' feet more than do their younger mates. "When the woman reaches about 40 or 45, and her husband is 30 or 35, she often starts to feel insecure about her looks," the therapist said. "She worries that her husband will start looking at women who are younger and prettier.

"But he married her in the first place because he is more interested in intellect and compatibility than in appearance. Oftentimes, he's a lot less bothered by the wrinkles than she is."

"Forty-five today is not what 45 was 20 years ago," Houston said. "We all look younger because we take better care of ourselves."

The reaction of family and friends can pose difficulties for younger men and older women-- especially when the woman has children. "My mother expressed concern; I let it go in one ear and out the other," Chris Liebsack said.

"My parents teased me that I was robbing the cradle, and Michael's parents thought I would try to rush him into marriage," Beth said. "But now that we've all met one another, everybody's happy about the situation."

Sooner than later, Houston predicted, the phenomenon of younger men with older women will completely lose whatever shock value remains.

"Men and women are more exposed to one another because of women entering the work force," she said. "The pool of eligible men diminishes past 30, so it's only natural that women couple with younger men."

"I can't see limiting yourself to one small category of people," Chris Liebsack said. "If a person has a lot to give and a lot to receive, what difference does her birth date make?"

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Census Bureau while I was doing my research," said

the Connecticut journalist. "Forty percent of American women over the age of 30 are living with or are married to younger men. One-third of marriages today are second marriages, and of that group over half are couples where the woman is at least 5 years older than the man.

"Yet women still have this feeling that there's something not right about it. When women get asked out by a younger man, their first response is to say no."

Rather than reject the notion out of hand, Houston suggested, women should look at the advantages of involvement with a younger man. Like Nan Liebsack, Houston found her second husband "more willing to be an equal partner in marriage."

"My first husband grew up in an era when the national attitude toward women was that they were better seen and not heard," she said.

Beth, who is a few steps ahead of Michael on the corporate ladder, at first worried that her larger paycheck and more prestigious title would intimidate Michael. "But he seems to respect me all the more because of my ambition," she said. "There's nothing sexist about him."

Likewise, men may find maturity and stability to be bonuses in a relationship with an older woman. "Many men told me that women their own ages--in their 20s and early 30s--are confused about what they want and who they are," Houston said.

"A lot of women my age don't have the foggiest idea of where they're going in life," said Michael, who with Beth works for a marketing research firm. "They're fickle because they still think the grass is always greener; they play games because they're insecure. Beth and I skipped right over the game-playing stage. She's seen a little of the world, she knows what to expect of relationships, and she knows where she's going."

In some cases, the enhanced maturity that an older woman may possess can hinder a relationship. Jane, 36, an advertising writer in Santa Ana, recently split up with her 26-year-old husband. "I know that it's totally individual, but I would advise a woman in her 30s to think twice about marrying a man in his 20s," Jane said. "Many 26-year-old men are still searching; they're not quite solidified.

"I think my husband resented my higher level of experience," she said. "If we were having a discussion and I disagreed with his opinion about something, he would say, 'I'm not a little kid, you know.'

"I don't think he considered me too old in terms of appearance. But I have two children, and he found himself straddled with more responsibility than he was ready for. Age becomes less of a factor the older you get; I would guess that a 46-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man would not encounter the same degree of problems that my husband and I did."

Dave, 24, a graphics artist in Garden Grove, has had two long-term relationships in his short life--both with women in their early 30s.

"I'm mature for my age--I was already doing well in my career by the time I was 20--so I've never been attracted to women my own age," Dave said. "But I'm going to start trying to stick with women closer to my age. Neither relationship was meant to be. I was too young for them. And most women in their 30s are ready to have a family, but I can't picture myself married for another few years, at least."

A lot of the attraction for older women, Dave admitted, was physical. "I guess there was some of the teacher-student cliche going on," he said.

In the Liebsacks' case, it was the younger man who was the teacher rather than the older woman. "I was very limited, shall we say, in my sexual knowledge," Nan confessed. "My (first) husband was the only person I'd ever been with. Chris has been very good for me. Even though I'm a little older, there are still things I can enjoy that I haven't experienced before."

"My generation is probably more experimental than the generations before it," Chris ventured.

No, said therapist Cross, it's not just a myth: women hit their sexual peak in their mid-30s, men in their mid-20s. "There is more sexual compatibility between older women and younger men," she claimed.

Furthermore, she pointed out, women tend to live longer than men: "If a woman marries a man 10 years older, chances are she'll be a widow by the time she's 60. But if she marries a man 10 years younger, he'll probably still be around when she's 80."

Women, Cross said, fret about the advent of crows' feet more than do their younger mates. "When the woman reaches about 40 or 45, and her husband is 30 or 35, she often starts to feel insecure about her looks," the therapist said. "She worries that her husband will start looking at women who are younger and prettier.

"But he married her in the first place because he is more interested in intellect and compatibility than in appearance. Oftentimes, he's a lot less bothered by the wrinkles than she is."

"Forty-five today is not what 45 was 20 years ago," Houston said. "We all look younger because we take better care of ourselves."

The reaction of family and friends can pose difficulties for younger men and older women-- especially when the woman has children. "My mother expressed concern; I let it go in one ear and out the other," Chris Liebsack said.

"My parents teased me that I was robbing the cradle, and Michael's parents thought I would try to rush him into marriage," Beth said. "But now that we've all met one another, everybody's happy about the situation."

Sooner than later, Houston predicted, the phenomenon of younger men with older women will completely lose whatever shock value remains.

"Men and women are more exposed to one another because of women entering the work force," she said. "The pool of eligible men diminishes past 30, so it's only natural that women couple with younger men."

"I can't see limiting yourself to one small category of people," Chris Liebsack said. "If a person has a lot to give and a lot to receive, what difference does her birth date make?"

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