My partner is 20 years younger than me ... but why do people care?

I am almost 52. My partner of five years is 32. There's no doubt about it, the 20-year gap means we're a living cliche.

I know what you're secretly thinking, because here's a selection of things that have been said to my face. "What's wrong with women your own age?" and "Ew, she could be your daughter," and, "Typical, you're having a mid-life crisis, why didn't you just get a sports car."

And the classic from her side, "Yuck, are things all saggy? Can he still …?"

What has been made disturbingly clear to me, is that if you dare put one foot outside the circle of acceptable, mainstream "normal" behaviour, it really messes with people and they simply can't help tell you about it.

Unenlightened times

I can't imagine what it must be like to be a good way outside the circle, like the young "Gay Cowboy", NSW rodeo rider Joshua Goyne, for example. Goyne recently came out and , including death threats. "I wish it 1850 so I could shoot you," opined one charming homophobe.

We're supposed to be an enlightened, open contemporary society but sometimes it's like we're a bunch of sniffy Victorian aunts, smelling of mothballs, armed with iPhones.

I'm not exaggerating. Morning TV's favourite larrikin, Karl Stefanovic, has made the mistake of being well known and being pictured out with a woman 10-years his junior, Jasmine Yarborough.

They haven't made any comment on the "relationship" so who knows if it's real or not, but that hasn't stopped the negative commentary.

Inevitable judgement

A mainstream website , under the headline What No-one Wants To Say About Karl Stefanovic's Rumoured New Girlfriend.

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Apart from the obvious thought that if no-one wants to say it, then don't say it, the disapproval is thicker than a tub of French anti-ageing night cream.

"Yarbrough's age shouldn't matter." Clearly it does. "A 42-year-old man dating a 33-year-old is far from taboo. But something about it feels expected. Inevitable ... she is there to remind us of what we are not. She is thinner and happier. She is carefree and fun. She can play and laugh."

Okay then. There's no public confirmation of a relationship at all, yet Yarbrough is already publicly vilified for reminding Australian women, presumably just those older than her, of "what they are not."

And I didn't know playing and laughing was only for women under 35. I still manage it.

Actual disgust

I ended a long friendship with a married mate who asked me, by email, if my partner had any friends who might want to "hook up".

I realised he saw younger women as a bunch of sex-mad libertines in lipstick and heels, looking for a sugar daddy to entertain. I had one, so could I get him one too? I told him she didn't know any hookers he didn't have to pay and he was quite offended.

My partner has also lost contact with a friend, who told her at a school reunion that to be with a man of my age was "disgusting" and wouldn't be convinced otherwise. She'd never met me.

At a 20-year reunion of a mag where I used to work, talk with former colleagues, now mainly middle-aged women, turned to relationships. There'd been divorces, new partners, lots of the usual drama over the years. When I chimed in with my story, I might as well have announced my new life as a serial killer. I was asked for a picture. My phone was passed around in a long awkward silence, then literally thrown back at me.

I asked what the issue was. Apparently it was that young women are possible "husband stealers". They saw my relationship through the lens of their own fears.

Bridging the gap

It can be hilarious though. When I use the expression "what a hoot" it's a total hoot, apparently. Films that came out what seems like a year or two ago are "classics". I like The Clash. She likes … stuff I've never heard of. I'll tell some story and she'll say, "that was when I was four," which continues to amaze us both. It's like being in love with someone from another country, the differences subtle, interesting and intriguing.

Her parents are only five and eight years older than me, which I was a bit worried about when first meeting them.

Unfortunately for me, rather than disapproving, they think it's hilarious. "I'll put some Doobie Brother on, of course you remember the Doobie Brothers, Phil!" They're merciless.

And "it's almost 9.30, time you were off to bed old fella."

The person, not the age

I once said it's the person, not the age, I love and was told, quite heatedly, that "she wouldn't be the same person" if she wasn't younger.

But to experience the firm resistance to nudging up against one of society's lighter taboos, I can't imagine what it must be like to break a biggie.

I'm very glad I'm just an old dude, not a gay cowboy.

Are age gaps in relationships a 'living cliche'? Let us know in the Comments section. 

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.

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