Stephen Fry's engagement: what's wrong with age-gap relationships?
News has broken that actor, QI host, and probable pub quiz supremo Stephen Fry, 57, has become engaged to Elliott Spencer, a comedian 30 years his junior.
It is thought the couple have been dating since at least November last year (or as Mail Online had it: “November of this year”), and on 23 December made a formal application to marry.
Of course, in a world in which everybody’s love life is ostensibly fair game, “Stephen Fry” was trending this morning on Twitter, and while Fry tweeted that he was very grateful for congratulatory messages – including from the actor Robert Webb, activist Peter Tatchell and pianist James Rhodes – plenty of people were quick to call out the age gap.
Age gaps in relationships seem to a be a perennial taboo. I cannot for the life of me (all 25 years) understand why: they’re great. I don’t have a specific type of romantic partner – either gender, any colour of eyes or hair, don’t care about height – but I do tend to go for people significantly older than me.
Why am I attracted to older partners? Well, I moved abroad at 18, and so was just generally around people a lot older than I was. I realised while living in Russia that I was more interested in the intellectualism of an Alexei Karenin than the dashing, whippersnapper partying of a Count Vronsky.
And, well, the sex tends to be much better. The exact opposite, in fact, of crappy sixth-formesque sex such as this scene in The Inbetweeners.
But society (and my friends) view age-gap relationships as odd. There are myriad banal reasons, such as “but all of your cultural references are different”. Well, no, not so much, when the internet and box-sets and streaming music services exist.
I might not have been born in the 1960s, but doo-wop is one of my favourite genres of music, and if I’m not listening to the Platters, I’ll be awkwardly air-drumming along to 80s post-punk and new wave.
OK, so I might not have been there sweating out pills to rave music at the Haçienda as an ex of mine was, but I was doing the exact same years later, so tangentially at least we still shared the same experience.
I didn’t get into politics via an opposition to Margaret Thatcher or the introduction of the poll tax, but the current crop of expenses swindling and hegemonic egotistical MPs motivates me just as passionately.
Another objection people raise is the idea of the individuals in an age-gap couple being at “different life stages”. Newsflash: this scenario can happen whatever the ages of partners. An individual’s maturity isn’t necessarily dependent on their age, and neither is broodiness, or the desire to marry or purchase property.
There’s also the fact that because of the rising cost of living, plenty of adults are having an extended youth. Thirty- and 40-year-olds are still living with their parents; plenty of us based in fast-paced cities eschew car ownership for public transport; men in suits are just as likely to be brandishing white earbuds and listening to a spoof video on YouTube as kids on the bus; mature students are on the rise.
This negates the impact of many age discrepancies. There is a difference, too, in how society views age-gap couples according to gender and sex.
Generally, younger dudes who date older women are viewed positively. The trope of a Milf is well rehearsed – at least in American high-school movies – and a 22-year-old regaling his mates with a tale of how he pulled a hot older woman is met with high-fives and the cracking open of beers.
The woman in the same relationship, however, would be viewed as a “cougar”, as in the Courtney Cox sitcom Cougar Town; or even more pejoratively, as a “cradle snatcher”. Just look at the horrified reaction when Madonna (56) dated Jesus Luz (27), or Cameron Diaz (42) hooked up with Justin Timberlake (32).
More recently Homeland fans were squeamish about CIA operative Carrie Mathison (35) sleeping with undergraduate medical student, Aayan. Or as Peter Quinn put it: “You’re fucking a child.”
As for older men dating younger women, well, it rarely raises an eyebrow. It’s almost de rigueur for middle-aged guys to show off younger trophy girlfriends, or for older married men to trade in their wives for younger models. Websites exist to match rich sugar daddies with younger women.
I suppose this is related to other inconsistencies in how society views the sexes. Women who like sex are “sluts” and “slags”, whereas men are just, well, normal.
Age differences in same-sex couples don’t seem to attract as much stigma - Stephen Fry aside - and seem to be more common. Perhaps this is because the LGBT community is more accepting in general, or because there’s a smaller pool of partners to choose from.
People need to get over the idea that individuals who go for older partners are harbouring Freudian fantasies, or that those who go for younger ones (so long as they’re above the age of consent) are somehow a bit creepy. They’re not. They’re just in love.
So, good luck to Stephen and Elliott.
I agree completely! I mean, I like to think I am not somehow a bit creepy. Crazy, perhaps. Dysfunctional, definitely. A bit creepy, not so much.
At least, that is what THIS Daddy thinks.