ROSIE GROEN: My seven-year hitch
Stilering: Nicola Rose. Grimering: Caroline Barnes by Frank Agency. Hare: Alex Szabo by Carol Hayes
‘So exactly how old are you?’ asked my boyfriend, back in the early days, when I told him I hadn’t had my ears pierced until I was 45. His eyes widened and he looked horrified.
I told him I was 47. He told me he was 40.
We both took large gulps of our drinks.
The fact we had met in real life as opposed to via a dating app meant we hadn’t entered into this armed with each other’s vital statistics (ouderdom, ligging, smoking status and pet preferences) from the get-go. We had merrily sailed through the first stages of dating without knowing each other’s year of birth.
And now here we were – about date six and two months in – and a gulf of seven years suddenly opened up between us. He was born in the 80s. Net. He was starting secondary school as I was leaving.
So is age just a number or very much relevant when it comes to the success of a relationship? Do you need to have shared experiences – knowing the lyrics to ‘Ice Ice Baby’, for instance – and cultural reference points to make it work? And what about physically – do you need to be similar ages so you have a mutual experience of body and brain decline?
When I was 20, a 27-year-old seemed ancient. I wouldn’t even have considered a dalliance with anyone that old. We can safely say that age is a big thing for a lot of people. A friend of mine wouldn’t date anyone older than her; she wants younger men only. This is in part for procreation purposes, but also because she felt older guys would want to stay in all the time. My hairdresser is similar. His age limits on dating apps are set 20 – yes, twenty – years younger than himself.
I once came across a guy I knew on a dating app (krimp) who had shaved seven years off his profile (double cringe). Starting a relationship with a lie is surely a bad idea. But still people do it. A phenomenon called kittenfishing has emerged. Not as morally repugnant as catfishing (whereby an online dater makes up a false identity entirely), but it’s about misrepresenting yourself with lies about age or height or using old pictures. A distortion of the truth. Like saying ‘I am sporty’ when that means you like watching football on a widescreen while eating your body weight in snacks. Kittenfishers then hope they will win over their date when they meet in real life. They say there is a good reason for it, especially on the age front, because the theory is that everyone is adjusting down, so if you don’t you will end up with matches ten years your senior.
This wasn’t my experience. I was astounded by the number of young guys who messaged me on the apps. And when I say young I mean young. I’m talking 22. That’s nearer to my son’s age than mine.
I ignored them, mainly because a) I wasn’t brave enough and b) they didn’t appeal to me. They may have had washboard abs and were yet to be weighed down by the harsh truths of life, but what could we possibly have in common? One 20-something was so relentless I said, ‘Why would you want to date someone in their 40s?’ He said I was hot and that he liked ‘experienced’ women who don’t want babies. I told him he was right on the latter.
Nowadays I do get friends congratulating me on dating a younger man. They see it as a win. There’s no doubt youth is seen as an asset in the dating game – like good looks or having all your own teeth. Look at the successful people whose partner could be their daughter/son. I loved it when Ricky Gervais said: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, nearly three hours long… Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere, and by the end, his date was too old for him.’
But rather than bolstering my ego, dating a younger man could make me insecure about the ageing process. In werklikheid, it does neither. I’m happy he has age on his side, but seven years (or six and a half, to be precise) doesn’t affect things one way or the other. There’s another far more pressing issue that I didn’t know about before I was in too deep: he’s a cat person.