There’s a fine line between “childlike” and “childish,” and it can get lonely being the only adult in a relationship.
As with many best-laid plans, things didn’t quite turn out the way I had thought they would. I had always dated older men, thinking they were more mature than men my age. But the one and only time I even glanced at a man younger than myself, I ended up married to him.
I look young for my age and he looks a little mature for his, so no one would ever guess we come from different decades. Except for finances (he’s a saver and I’m a spender) and food (he’s plant-based; I’m an omnivore), we’re on the same page with most of the major marriage flash points—religion, politics, and child-rearing. Our age difference simply isn’t an issue on a day-to-day basis.
Almost 99% of the time, I can tell you why marrying a younger man is fantastic. He keeps me young with his boundless energy, thirst for knowledge, and endless enthusiasm. He’s 4 years old when it counts, like when he plays with our almost 4-year-old son. But he can also be quite mature. He has travelled the world and had adventures most of us can only dream of, and he’s incredibly introspective, which makes him wise beyond his years. Oh, and he’s really strong, stronger than most men my age. He can lift, move, slide heavy things, reach high places, and open stuck jars—he can do it all! Just don’t ask him to fix the toilet.
And then there’s the downside. His youth will sometimes manifest itself as immaturity. Whereas I had decades of being alone, getting comfortable in my own skin and learning from mistakes, I often get the feeling that I’m my husband’s relationship guinea pig. I think he ditched all of his prior girlfriends right after the initial romance stage, so never really learned what it takes to go the distance.
With three kids having ravaged my body, I’m sure he’s also well past the attraction stage by now, which is the diplomatic way of saying that he’s learning the hard way that our relationship requires ongoing upkeep for it to thrive.
And that’s on top of some basic communication challenges that make me feel like I married a teenager. Getting his full attention is next to impossible, unless I raise my voice. He’s always busy doing something or other, and I struggle to get him to look up or even mumble an acknowledgement when I talk to him. But when he wants to discuss something with me, heaven help me if I don’t drop everything and give him my full attention immediately.
Sometimes I feel like I have a fourth child. I keep a checklist for my husband before he leaves the house. Not for the “please remember to buy the orange juice”-type stuff, but more along the lines of “don’t forget to put on deodorant.” I also have to remind him to do things a million times before he gets around to it, which, uncannily, is exactly how many times it takes to badger our son into cleaning up his toys.
I also occasionally feel like I’m mediating a schoolyard dispute between two boys. When my loving husband inadvertently hurts our son’s feelings or plays a bit too rough, his response is usually, “No I didn’t!” or, “He played rough first!” There’s a fine line between “childlike” and “childish,” and it can get lonely being the only adult in a relationship.
On days when I’m tired, insecure, or just plain frustrated, the doubts about our age difference creep into my head and wreak havoc on my psyche. I worry if we’ll really be able to grow old together. Does he regret not marrying someone younger? Does he still find me attractive, and will he five, 10, or 20 years down the road? Does he resent when I pull rank based on my seniority, or is he grateful that my life experience on many occasions has served us well? Sometimes, I just don’t know.
I know that there are no guarantees in life and love, regardless of our ages. I’ve seen young people get sick and old people stay vibrant well into their 80s and beyond. I’ve also seen people fall in and out of love in college dormitories and in senior citizen centers. Of course, I want to stay healthy and youthful for my husband, my children and myself for as long as possible, while also wanting my husband and I to grow old and gray together.
Which makes us no different from any other couple. We keep moving forward, sometimes in a breathless sprint and other times in shaky baby steps. Most importantly, we’re still learning to be patient and forgiving with one another. We remain a work in progress, maturing individually and as a couple, regardless of our age differences. I hope we always do.
Cara Paiuk is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other publications. She is also an entrepreneur, photographer, future book author (stay tuned, folks!), and of course, proud mother to a gaggle of ragamuffin redheads. You can follow her on Twitter @carapaiuk
This originally appeared on Purple Clover. Republished here with permission.