As the average life expectancy trends ever upward, little things like social convention and gaps in age seem to take a backseat to romance.
Madonna has a decade on Guy Ritchie, former Sen. Fred Thompson’s wife is 25 years younger, and Joan Collins is 32 years older than husband Percy Gibson — a true May-December situation.
“A May-December romance is between a woman and a man who are about 10 years apart in age, maybe eight years and anything over 10 years. And they’re really defined as a couple,” sociologist Susan Shapiro Barash said.
Increasingly, the woman is on the December side. In the past seven years alone, the number of women married to younger men is up by nearly 900,000.
“I think that for the woman it’s really liberating. She’s breaking the rule. She’s doing something that she was taught not to in our culture,” she said.
But what was once frowned upon has become fashionable, or at least more accepted. Fourteen years ago, Chris Tittinger met Patricia Maguire at the restaurant where they both worked. Sparks flew and they were married within a year. Chris is now a mature 47 and Patricia is a youthful 65. She said she knew right away that she was attracted to him.
“Just watching him walk around the restaurant, I knew there was something very special about him,” she said. “But I did know from the first day I saw him at work. I thought he was very handsome, very bold — I liked his stubbornness and sticking up for himself in different situations. I admired that. And he was very cute. And I guess, I can’t say this, but I used to watch his little butt, and it was very cute.”
It seems that relationships are changing in part because old age just ain’t what it used to be. In some ways, 60 is the new 40.
“It can be,” said Dr Michael Roizen, co-founder of realage.com, a Web site with medical advice on how to slow the aging process. “In other words, I’m 61 but my real age is 42. And women can get a little better advantage than men can, so women can be about 40.”
He said a 60-year-old woman can have a real age of 40 or a real age of 80. If she is on the younger side, she is biologically compatible with a much younger man and will probably live about the same amount of time. But having children can be a problem.
“I thought about it, obviously, ’cause I like kids,” Tittinger said. “As everybody can tell by our grandchildren. So, that was an issue that I had to deal with, and get over. But at the end of the day, it was more important to be with Patricia and to be with the person I loved, than to just, you know, have children. I made that choice.
“So, that was my choice and I’m stickin’ to it.”
And real-life Hollywood, it seems, is fertile ground for May-December relationships, like Demi and Ashton. Geena Davis is 15 years older than her husband; Julianne Moore is a decade older than hers. Dinah Shore was 20 years older than Burt Reynolds when they dated.
Take Carl and Estelle Reiner. She is eight years older than he.
Carl Reiner has been a fixture on screens big and small, from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “Ocean’s 13” and, at 85, a contributor to the upcoming book, “80,” about our most famous 80-year-olds.
Estelle Reiner is probably best known for her role in “When Harry Met Sally” as the woman who delivered one of the most memorable lines in film (“I’ll have what she’s having”) after Meg Ryan faked an orgasm. In 1942 she was a leggy young thing, and when Carl met Estelle, it was magic. He was 20 and she was 28.
“He was just extremely handsome,” Estelle said.
“I had a lot of hair in those days — black hair,” he said. “Wavy. Too much black hair or too much wavy hair.”
“No, no, he was really good looking, but typical — I said tall, dark and handsome,” she said.
Back then it was unheard of to date a younger man, but at 28, Estelle was a little old to be unmarried and her friends and family were happy to see her finally tying the knot. Today the Reiners have three children, five grandchildren, and a marriage of 63 years and counting.
“A lot of people, since we’re married so long, they say, ‘What do you attribute this long marriage to?’ And I used to say, ‘Well, if you really wanna stay married, you find a way to stay married. Or your husband has to be your best friend,’ ” Estelle said. “But now my answer is the best. It’s ‘Marry someone who can stand you for 63 years.'”
Carl said they never thought about the age difference. They got married because they wanted to.
“We didn’t think of that,” he said. “We were so totally self-involved. And we did what we needed to do for ourselves: she for herself, me for myself. And it worked out that herself and myself became ourself.”
Shapiro Barash says that older women and younger men isn’t a trend but a reality — and probably the future.
“As more options open up for women, women will feel more comfortable saying, ‘Yes. I’m with someone who’s 10, 12 years younger and it makes me happy,'” she said.
So if everything else in a May-December relationship works, age doesn’t really seem to matter.
The Reiners say that age is just a superficial thing and says nothing about how a marriage will turn out.
“Being the same age never kept anybody together,” Carl Reiner said. “I mean, people married, ‘Oh, she’s three years younger than he. Perfect. They’re perfect. They’re perfect.’ And they break. That doesn’t keep you together. What keeps you together is mutual interests, mutual love …”
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“And being nice to each other,” Estelle said.
“Yes,” Carl said. “Be nice!”
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