My husband is twenty four years older than me. Twenty four. He was born the same year as my father – though my father died of cancer just as we started dating (so they were never really the same age.) Age is an abstract concept, much like time and distance. One of those things that when I am pretending to be ‘normal’ I also pretend to understand, though in actual fact I do not understand. These things are too abstract for me.
So while we were dating there were a lot of people who disapproved of our relationship. “She just wants someone to marry,” they would say – or, “One day she will wake up and realize this isn’t what she wanted.” But age is a number; an abstract concept. It isn’t a thought I can hold in my mind long enough to matter.
The difference in our ages only registers in my mind when I think about things like how we couldn’t have children, or when I was considering his retirement and panicking at the thought that being the income earner would be my responsibility (and I can’t even support myself, let alone my family.) But then I know people who married people their own age and couldn’t have children, or one was unable to work due to health issues or something. These issues aren’t exclusive to us with the age gap.
There was a time in our marriage that it did seem to register – but that was when I felt we were failing the children we were trying to adopt. We had been asked to adopt their younger brother as well. I wanted to, my husband didn’t, and I felt a failure as their mother. The thought came strong in my mind that if my husband had been my father, perhaps I wouldn’t fail my children.
That thought did a lot of damage in my mind and in my marriage – yet I couldn’t shake it. My husband was a ‘good’ husband. He would have made a ‘good’ father – much better than mine was; in the things that broke me anyway. But if my husband was my father… well, like I said, that thought did a lot of damage.
Probably I was seeking a ‘good’ father in my relationship with my husband – but that had nothing to do with his age. That question comes through my mind often with men that I… almost trust and feel safe with: “If I were a child, would you adopt me?” Would I be too much? Would you want me?
Forget the ‘adult’ relationship that people assume I am seeking when I am drawn to a man – what I am begging to know is if they would want me, accept me, love me – but as a child, not an adult. And that is as true of men my age as it is of men so much older than I am. It isn’t an age thing; it is a trauma thing, I guess.
However that wasn’t what I was thinking when I started dating my husband. I did want to be married. I did want a father for my son. I did want more children, and a family. I wanted those things. I imagine most people do want such things when they get involved in serious relationships.
I had never dated anyone much older than me before him – but as I said, age was just a number; an abstract concept I could not hold on to long enough for it to matter. He felt safe. He felt comfortable. When I went out with him and couldn’t talk (which was a lot of the time) he didn’t seem bothered by it. That is why I stayed with him.
It wasn’t until I started to feel I was failing my children that it even crossed my mind as an issue – and even then I am sure the thought of “if I had a good father…” would have done as much damage to a marriage to someone my age as it did with my husband – for my grip on the difference between fantasy and reality is not very strong, and I know that the thought “if my husband had been my father,” would cause me as much struggle with someone my age.
For the relationship of a husband has to be different than the relationship of a father. It has to. So the challenge to my marriage – contrary to popular belief before we were married – is not age, but is in my trauma, in my fixation on whether a ‘good’ man would have wanted to be my father, and my inability to separate that from my need to be in a safe and accepting marriage.
Age itself is just a number.