Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Mind the age gap

By Jane Hardy

Celebrities often marry someone much younger (or older). But what does it really feel like to mix it with someone of a |different generation? And can it work for us mere civilians, too?

Jim Reid (52) is married to Charlene (26) and both of them are care assistants. They have two children, Courtney (5) and Brandon (3). He says:

We met while working in the same care home in Jordanstown. It was the first staff wedding they’d had there and our photo was in the Newtownabbey Times.

We just hit it off initially as really good friends. We could talk to each other about anything, but mostly about music. Of course, we have different tastes and most of my favourite musicians, like Jimi Hendrix, are dead. Charlene’s more into dance music and now Christian music. We’re both not long saved — Charlene just over a year ago, and me just under a year ago.

A few months later we fell in love with each other. It just happened and now we’d say she came into the care home for a reason and we met for a reason. It’s all mapped out for you, you see.

Why were we attracted? Charlene would hit me on the head for saying this but I’m a plain Jane, so she didn’t go for looks. Or for money. People make a lot of the age difference but why shouldn’t we go well together? Salt and vinegar go together. And she knows what I’m thinking better than I do.

I’d been a long time out of a relationship, looking after my three girls, and this came right out of the blue. You can easily get into a rut but she walked into my life and turned it right round. Sparks flew, there was something between us, something there.

Age isn’t an issue for us nor mainly for other people. We work in a female environment and most people think ‘So what? They’re husband and wife.’ Nobody ever says ‘Jim’s 26 years older than her.’ In fact, some people come up to me and say, ‘Good on you’. As long as you’re happy, that’s what matters.

I don’t feel like a father figure, and I think Charlene would say 100% no. Some people have said it was due to my ego, but I didn’t know how old she was when we met and it wasn’t just about physical attraction. Our romantic life is still good — it still works, but we have far more than that. It’s not the be all and end all of everything.

People are a different mental age from what it says on the birth certificate and Charlene is more advanced than I am. Ladies are far more intelligent and street-wise than fellows who are into cars, football, and wolf-whistling after girls. There are bonuses. I taught Charlene how to cook and bake. She didn’t know why the mince was cooked on the outside and raw inside. Now she’s better than I am.

She brings energy to the house and a lot of love and has taught me how to be a modern parent.

Yes, I’m going to get older first, but people can have a stroke in their forties or fifties and some 70-year-olds put you to shame. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve talked about this, about getting older and dying and I tell Charlene she can push me around in a wheelchair when I’m in my eighties and visit me in the home. What I do know is that she’ll still love me to bits.”

Lindsay McCartney (34), works at Jude’s wine bar, Belfast and is engaged to Jonny Campbell (26), a data inputter. They have two children, Matthew (4), and Melissa (3), and Lindsay has a daughter from a previous relationship, Amy (12). She says:

Johnny's parents were, you could say, interested to meet me. I was the older woman, and Johnny would boast about it, but I didn't know this until later. I was called ‘Mrs Robinson’, and his friends would say ‘Here's your old bird'.

My parents were very impressed with Johnny from the start, and how he was with Amy, which was important. He’s a great stepfather.

We met because we lived in the same street in Stranmillis. Nobody had a garden and if you had a glass of wine outside, you socialised. Jonny was 21 and I was 29 when we met. It was a friendship at first, then one evening we'd had a few drinks and had a wee kiss; it was only a peck and I thought that was it. I was mortified and never thought it would happen again, but then it became a girlfriend-boyfriend situation.

We were both in denial because of the age gap, in fact I thought the relationship would never happen. It wouldn't have mattered if we'd both been a bit older, but because he was only 21, I thought I would be judged for going out with him. After all, 21 is still quite young to be going out with a 29-year-old. And, also, because I already had a child, a daughter who was eight. Our friends were delighted, though, they loved him and were very encouraging.

The event that changed my mind was when we'd looked after my friend's dogs for the weekend and we got together, talked about it and realised we had something.

This gets quite juicy, you know, because really early into the relationship, I got pregnant which was never meant to happen and I thought ‘No!’ I never wanted any more children or different children by different fathers yet our relationship was built on it. The result was Matthew, our son.

The age difference isn't an issue for us and sometimes we laugh about it. Once, Jonny put a Stranglers CD on, and I said I could remember them being in the charts. He said ‘No way’! It was in 1981 and he wasn't born then. That to him represented the age gap.

We just work really well as a couple, we're a strong team and emotionally aware. We have had some really bad things happen to us and got through. We're not married, although we got engaged at Christmas so it may happen. But every time we make arrangements to get married, I get pregnant or we move house.

I look younger than my age, and he looks a bit older so visually there's no difference. Romantically, and sexually, we have to find the time, with two small children coming into our bed in the morning.

What makes our relationship work is that he allows me to be myself, and vice versa — that’s important. He’s a really good-looking guy — especially now that I’ve groomed him to be how I want! — but the key is really acceptance. He spoils me, by letting me have a lie-in sometimes and looking after the kids for two hours then running me a bath and bringing me a cup of tea. To me, that’s being treated like a princess.

A huge part of our lives is about the kids, and whatever I suggest about what they should wear or do, he follows through. I do tend to take the lead which is maybe because I’m older — he doesn’t easily make decisions.”

Young at heart

Hollywood stars have never let the small — or indeed large — matter of an age gap stand in the way of true love and marriage. There are obvious recent examples such as Michael Douglas (63) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (39) and Harrison Ford (65), who reputedly got around to proposing to Calista Flockhart (43) this spring.

But the tradition goes back much further than that, since Charlie Chaplin married Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene, when he was 54 and she was just 18. Another, and also very successful, age gap marriage comes from the glory days of the movie business and involves Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, 25 years his junior.

Ashton Kutcher is 15 years younger than Demi Moore and there is roughly the same age gap between Geena Davis and her younger fourth husband, Dr Reeza Jarrahy, while Woody Allen is 35 years older than his wife Soon-Yi Previn.

This side of the pond, Rod Stewart was 25 years older than last wife but one Rachel Hunter, but then the veteran rocker makes a habit of acquiring ever younger models — current wife Penny is 37.

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s second wife, Wendi Deng, is 37 years his junior.

Then there’s Madonna (50), who is 10 years older than her Guy. Despite recent speculation the pair were set to divorce, the union is still going.

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