News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today
MONDAY, MAY 21, 2007
LIVING TODAY | HOME | ARCHIVES | COLUMNS

May-December romances — aka age-gap relationships — are nothing new, especially those in which the man is considerably older than the woman.
SHNS/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Illustration by Daniel Marsula
May-December romances — aka age-gap relationships — are nothing new, especially those in which the man is considerably older than the woman.

Does age matter?
Families can be torn asunder by May-December romances

By Monica Haynes
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When playwright Eugene O’Neill’s 18-year-old daughter Oona married 54-year-old Charlie Chaplin, her father disowned her.

When dental assistant Janet Pitta learned that her 30-year-old son, Bernard, was dating a woman 12 years older, she was not happy, either.

Fortunately, things turned out much better for Pitta and her son than O’Neill and his daughter.

“I got to know (her son’s girlfriend), and I got to see that she truly cared for my son,” said Pitta, who lives in Pittsburgh. “She treats me with the utmost courtesy and respect, which is something I can’t say his young girlfriends had done.”

May-December romances — aka age-gap relationships — are nothing new, especially those in which the man is considerably older than the woman.

Hollywood is full of such examples.

Screen legend Humphrey Bogart was 45 when he married 20-year-old Lauren Bacall, forming an iconic film duo. Actress Mia Farrow was 21 when she became the third wife of Frank Sinatra, 30 years her senior. Farrow, five years younger than Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, became the butt of jokes and the subject of much gossip. The couple divorced less than two years later.

Michael Douglas caused a stir when in 2000 he married second wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, who at 30 was 25 years younger than her husband.

Age-gap relationships can often cause tension, jealousy and nagging questions among family members.

For parents of a young woman or man, the main question may be why.

“I think most parents would be concerned about what’s the motivation and is this really in the child’s best interest,” said relationship expert Joshua Coleman, a senior fellow with the Council of Contemporary Families and author of the upcoming book “When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Child Don’t Get Along.”

Some biographers have speculated that because O’Neill had little or nothing to do with Oona and her siblings after he and her mother divorced, she may have been looking for a father figure in Chaplin. O’Neill’s guilt over abandoning his children may have prompted him to cut his daughter out of his life, they speculate.

In the case of Pitta, she wanted to make sure her son was aware of some of the issues that can arise when one mate is more than a decade older than the other.

Challenges

At 53, she knows about those challenges firsthand. Her husband, Frank, is 28 years older than she. “I told (Bernard) at some point that catches up with you.

“You’re going to want to do things, and she’s not going to want to do them.”

She said whether you’re married or in a committed relationship, people change as they get older.

“With my husband, as he got older, he got more and more set in his ways,” she explained.

She said her son told her they would work through it.

Pitta believes her son saw her and her husband as an example of an age-gap relationship that works.

“Maybe he looked at us and thought, ‘They did OK,’ ” she said.

Gold diggers?

In relationships in which the older partner is very wealthy, his or her adult children may wonder where they fit in emotionally and financially, Coleman said.

“Well, there’s a lot of concern in these situations when a man marries a much younger wife that the younger wife is a gold digger,” he said.

The children can be upset by the fact that she stands to inherit a large portion of his estate for a marriage that may last only a few years.

“Why is she entitled to anything is a common feeling,” Coleman said. “Based on the families that I’ve worked with, it can really tear things up and cause distance between the family members.”

Gloria Lehman of Pittsburgh was determined that would not be the case in her family when her daughter Natalie began dating a guy who was not only 16 years older, but her dad’s best friend.

“Her father wasn’t happy,” Lehman said of her late ex-husband. “Her father said he’s too old for her.”

Lehman, who said she never had a problem with her daughter’s age-gap relationship, decided to meet with her ex-husband.

“I said, ‘Bob, he’s your best friend. Is he an honorable man? Is he kind?’ ”

He answered yes to both questions, she said. He soon came around.

Natalie, 40, and her husband, Dan, 56, have been married for 12 years.

Family trend

However, theirs is not the only age-gap relationship in the family. Natalie’s brother, Robert, 35, is married to Helen, 47, and their youngest sister, April, 33, is seven years younger than her fiance, Seth. Sister Melissa and her husband, Burt, are both 36.

Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!

Leave feedback
on this or
another
story.

Email This Page



  www.decaturdaily.com