By: Geoffrey James

I'm 49-years-old. Soon I’ll start the imminent slide from middle age into the world of senior discounts. A few years ago, my fiancée passed a milestone of her own – she bought her first legal alcoholic drink. She’s 21 and we’re getting married this summer.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m some bloke who left his wife and kids in a desperate attempt to recapture his youth and my fiancée is just brainless, gold-digging eye candy. But it’s not like that. She’s intelligent, creative and spiritual and, yes, she happens to be beautiful.

Me? I’m convinced that older man/younger woman relationships can be as healthy as – maybe healthier than – relationships between age peers. They sure are more fun, once you learn to deal with the fact that you’re violating almost everyone’s idea of what a good relationship is all about.

For the past 10 years, I’ve declined to date seriously any woman who isn’t significantly younger than me. I have my reasons and, believe it or not, sex isn’t high on the list. Today’s young women can be surprisingly modest. There are, of course, young women who sleep around, but they’re more interested in dating a cute boy who drives a ute than in starting a relationship with someone more mature.

I clearly remember the day I decided to date young. I was in my late thirties (but looked younger), newly divorced (but no kids) and hadn’t seriously dated in nearly 15 years. I was walking down a muggy city street when I wound up behind three first-year uni students wearing tight shorts.

They were achingly beautiful and, for a middle-aged guy like me, unapproachable. I felt ancient. That night, as I sat alone on my hotel bed, clicking through the movie menu, I made a decision. Somehow I was going to date the women I had wanted to date when I was younger, but hadn’t had the guts to ask out.

I took action. I lost the love handles, updated the wardrobe, cut the ageing-hippie ponytail and dumped the old-guy specs. I’m not Hollywood handsome or particularly wealthy, but I don’t look like a middle-aged geezer. I take the trouble to dress in a way that young women like. (Hint: wear nice shoes.) More importantly, I changed my attitude about meeting women. Most blokes feel like failures when they get shot down; I decided the real failure was in not making that first move.

Initially, I made an arse of myself. But once I’d learnt the rules, I dated more than a dozen young women, many of them less than half my age.

So what was it like? Sometimes it was fabulous. Young women are just starting out in life and see the world as full of adventure, excitement and possibilities. And that’s the way I still feel about my life. I may be nearly 50, but I want to conquer new worlds, write great novels, paint frescoes and compose symphonies.

Some “age-appropriate” women I know revel in puncturing such fantasies. Young women see me as I want to see myself – as somebody whose dreams could actually become reality. A friend of mine, a movie producer in his early forties, put it this way: “When I’m talking to a young woman, I’m in heaven. It’s not what she says; it’s how she makes me feel.”

Other times, it was bizarre. Young women do sometimes seem as if they’re from another dimension in terms of taste and fashion. Under the dress of a 22-year-old Irish waitress, I once discovered a massive, flaming tattoo that wrapped around her entire body. Then there was the four-hour drive to the beach (in mid-winter – very romantic) with a 19-year-old fundamentalist Christian who insisted upon singing along to her favourite Barry Manilow songs.

Sometimes it was bizarre and fabulous. I attended a Year 12 formal when I was 38. I know the image you have: a creepy old man lurking in the gymnasium, checking out the 16-year-old talent. Here’s the truth: the girl who asked me was a 19-year-old political refugee who was finishing an education that had been interrupted by a bloody coup in Eastern Europe.

She wanted to experience everything the West had to offer, including her high-school formal. I was her boyfriend – we’d met by phone when she dialled the wrong number and we talked for weeks before anything romantic developed. I hauled my tuxedo out of mothballs, but she thought the frilly formal dresses at the local shop were ridiculous, so she sewed one herself, an ivory satin sheath right out of Doctor Zhivago. It was an unforgettable night.

Then there was my future wife, whom I met when she cleaned my house as part of a summer job.

Tall and slender, with exotic eyes, she was just another pretty girl – until she told me she planned to teach music to kids (preferably handicapped ones) after she graduated from college.

While she cleaned, I put on a tape of my father playing the piano and we chatted about ballet and the local music scene.

I gave her a copy of one of my books when she left and she e-mailed me a few days later. We spent many hours walking and talking before we even kissed.

She’s an extraordinary person and has been taught since childhood that women are men’s equals, so she doesn’t feel a need to prove the point. And she’s easy to please. It had been a long time since anyone had thanked me for doing something simple, like taking them to a coffee shop for lunch.

We got along so well that the age difference just slipped into the background. We enjoy the same things as other couples – movies, concerts and bushwalking – and discuss literature, history, religion and music.

We make plans for the future, figuring out how to adapt our lives to two careers, with children on the horizon. We’re a normal couple trying to live a normal life. The fact that I’m over twice her age isn’t significant – to us anyway.

Everyone else seems obsessed with it, especially now that we’re getting married. My middle-aged friends think I’m nuts. It was one thing merely to date young; that’s just middle-age crazy. But marriage and kids? And her friends were less than supportive (“Yuck, he must be all wrinkly!”). We see the curious looks from men and feel the dagger stares from women.

“You’re causing her to miss out on the fun of being in her twenties.” Really? Would people say that to a twenty-something woman who married someone her own age? The real issue is whether this is a relationship between equals. It would be highly presumptuous of me to try to make her life decisions.

If my fiancée wanted the bar-hopping lifestyle of the typical Gen-Y single, she’d be hanging out at a dance club. But she evidently prefers spending time with me.

“When you’re old and feeble, she’ll still be of child-bearing age.” I don’t think so. My role model is nonagenarian body builder Jack LaLanne. I fully expect to be pumping iron (and popping Viagra, if necessary) until I reach triple digits.

I know couch-potato fathers in their thirties who are in far worse shape than I am. Ageing is relative.

“Her parents will hate the fact that you’re as old as they are.” Wrong. It turns out they’re less concerned about my age than about whether I’ll treat their daughter with love and respect. A bonus: we have a lot in common and I enjoy their company. How many future grooms can say that?

“You’re threatened by women your own age who are your intellectual equals.” In fact, I’m good friends with several women my age; I just don’t care to date them. (And vice versa; they find me “a bit immature”.) This I’ll confess: I enjoy being a mentor. I’m even in the Big Brother Big Sister program.

“You’re just a father figure to her.” So what else is new? All relationships have parental undertows; ours is out in the open. I do know this – if I tried to treat my fiancée like a daughter, she’d laugh in my face.

“You’re going to die long before she does.” Okay, you got me. This bothered me so much that I almost didn’t propose. But when I finally did, on a crisp, autumn day by a quiet lake, leaves drifting down, she told me that she’d rather spend a few years with me than a lifetime without me. I may have done some dumb things in my life, but I’m not going to throw away that kind of love.

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m convinced that I’ve found my soul mate. I’m so convinced, in fact, that I’d still be interested in her if she were 49, like me. When people think about us theoretically – as you are – it disturbs them. Until they see us together. Then they realise: those two are meant to be together.

Anyway, despite the challenges we face, this middle-aged guy is going to marry his way-too-young fiancée at a big, fat, white wedding. Wish us luck.

Getting Back in The Game?

Divorced at 38, the author decided to date whomever he pleased, as long as she was legal. What he learnt . . .

Singles bars and health clubs are a waste of time. Older men meet younger women in everyday settings – weddings, bookshops, at the office – where the women aren’t cruising for someone their own age.

Women in their late teens and early twenties are more likely to date an older guy than are women in their late twenties or early thirties. Why? The younger ones already know you’re “too old” for them. The older ones aren’t sure and your overture is an uncomfortable reminder of their own age. They may resent it. If a 19-year-old thinks you’re 32 and then finds out you’re 42, she’ll be more amused than alarmed.

Nothing turns off a young woman more quickly than an old bloke on the make. Low-key and friendly is the way; enjoy the process of getting to know somebody new.

The smarter the young woman, the more likely she’ll go out with an older man. My steady dates included high-distinction averaging students. Brighter women tend to be turned off by the relatively one-dimensional men their age.

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