My Partner Is 30 Years Older: When Will He Marry Me?


I'm all in. Will he ever be?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

two men getting married at town hall

Q:
I am a man in a same-sex relationship with another man. He is in his midfifties and I am in my early to midtwenties. We’ve been together for five years now, and I’ve done the painful task of bringing up the topic of marriage to find out how he feels about it.

My partner married twice in the past and both marriages fell apart. He has two kids from his first marriage and two from his second marriage. His first marriage lasted for about seven years, until his wife decided to file for divorce due to differences they had both acknowledged. The divorce was mutual. His second marriage lasted for seventeen years, until his second wife cheated on him with five to six different men. At the end of it all, she made up her mind about filing for divorce, even though he was willing to make things work.

Because of his past experiences, he has doubts about entering into another marriage. I feel he’s afraid and that he never wants to marry me. He has told me he is just not ready, and that when he is he will let me know.

Do you think I might be pushing it a bit too far? Should I continue to be with someone who doesn’t believe in the true values of marriage because of his past? Will he eventually come around if I relax and don’t smother him with questions? I do know one thing: I love him and I want to be there for him to the very end. I love his kids as if they were mine. He feels that we are already living a life of marital bliss, but I feel otherwise. I feel we are living a life of sin by not following through with the tradition of marriage. He feels that marriage is just a piece of paper that our future shouldn’t be defined by, while I feel it’s important. Please help me clarify the confusion.

—Push Pushy Partner

 

A: Dear PPP,

It seems safe to say you guys have some different goals and expectations regarding this relationship. Sure, I’m all for taking what someone says at face value, and maybe he will eventually want to marry you. But you guys have a pretty significant age gap, different levels of experience in relationships, and he’s even got a pile of kids. There’s a good chance you’re coming at this from different perspectives.

Aside from that, sometimes folks just aren’t straightforward. I don’t think he’s being intentionally dishonest with you, but sometimes it’s hard to articulate what you’re looking for in a relationship. And it’s possible that his vision of long term and your vision of long term are just not the same.

Whether you agree with all of that or not, waiting around for him isn’t practical. Who knows how long you’ll wait? It doesn’t sound like he’s got a grip on when he expects to be ready, if he expects to be ready. So if you’re going to stick with this guy, it’s got to be for what you’ve got right now. Maybe it’ll change, but you can’t bank on that. If things stay as they are forever, are you okay with that?

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Lisa

    Ask if he can put a timeline on when he thinks he would be ready to get married again. If he can’t do that, then it’s time to part as amicably as you can and find someone whose goals more closely align with your own.

    I’d also like to ask you to think more on the “living in sin” comment. I’m not sure if that was a joking turn of phrase, but if that’s really how you feel, then it’s even more important that you find someone who is attuned to your values. It can’t feel good to be in a place where you feel that your life is wrong, and you’ll either need to reconcile how you’re living your life with the religion to which you belong or find someone else who embraces a similar religion/way of life so you can commit to a path together. A partner who pushes you to do something you’re uncomfortable with is not someone you should be with long-term.

  • Kelly

    I think in general people who want to get married, act like they want to get married. I think LW unfortunately knows the answer to his question. Best of luck- tough situation for sure

  • Amy March

    “I feel we are living a life of sin by not following through with the tradition of marriage. He feels that marriage is just a piece of paper that our future shouldn’t be defined by, while I feel it’s important. Please help me clarify the confusion.”

    I don’t think there is any confusion here. You are clear about your values. He is clear about his. They are in direct conflict.

    “Will he eventually come around if I relax and don’t smother him with questions?”

    Nope. A) He isn’t confused- he’s done marriage and has decided it is not for him. B) Nope nope nope to asking this question. Rule Number 1 (or, idk 17 or something) of Relationships? Do not make yourself less than who you are to change someone else. This is important to you. Don’t pretend it’s not to somehow lull him into changing his mind. It won’t work, and you’ll be giving away a piece of who you are.

    I think you know all of this, and are letting yourself get lost in the trees to avoid looking at the forest. It really doesn’t matter why his first marriage ended, or why his second marriage ended, or how many men his wife cheated on him with. What matters is who he is now. And who he is is a man happy to be in a relationship with someone young enough to be his child on his terms who isn’t interested in meeting your needs for the relationship. I think you owe it to yourself to ask why that is, and be honest about the balance of power in your relationship, and be careful not to keep giving pieces of yourself away to someone who has been very clear that he is not interested in the future you desperately want. It’s not that I think all relationships with a dramatic age difference are doomed, but when the older more experienced partner is relaying on all those years of age to justify why he can’t meet your needs, I think that merits a lot of honest self-reflection.

    • Lisa

      I know we’re discussing two male partners here, but that question came across as such a “cool girl” query. The idea that you should discount the things that are important to you just to keep another person in your life is never a good idea.

    • Liz

      finger pointing emoji

      That that that. All that.

  • idkmybffjill

    “I do know one thing: I love him and I want to be there for him to the very end.”

    Something I would add… without the protection of marriage you may not be able to be there for him until the end in terms of health questions. Particularly with the age difference, I think this is something you can’t ignore. I would also add if you two are living together and your name is not on the property, this is another thing to be conscious of.

    I think this is the biggest difference (to me) between “already living a life of marital bliss” and actually being married.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Other potential things to consider: whether they’re in each other’s wills, and whether they’re beneficiaries of any life insurance policies or other financial accounts.

      • idkmybffjill

        Yes. For some reason I feel like people often forget about the legal protections of marriage. Obviously it’s possible for these things to be taken care of legally outside of marriage, but it’s definitely more work & less things are automatic.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          And more susceptible to things like inheritance tax, disputes from his legal family, etc.

          • Amy March

            Right. Those children you love as your own are, by my math, probably older than you right? At least the ones from the first marriage are pretty close to it. That can be a really fraught relationship even without the complications of a same sex unmarried relationship.

          • idkmybffjill

            Exactly. Not to be morbid but the hospital politics really sound like they could get ugly. Obviously I don’t know these people or their relationship… but there is a real cache to saying, “That is my husband” which puts an end to questions.

            This is one of the number one very big reasons marriage is important to me. And also why marriage equality was so enormously important to me. Everyone deserves access to these protections.

            I also think – this is another conversation the LW needs to have with his boyfriend. If his bf is in his fifties, he can’t NOT have thought about any end of life things before. Does he want him there? Or does he not see the relationship going there? Because it’s better to find out now.

          • z

            +1. Really, this could get very sticky. Being married would help, but contra another poster, it wouldn’t really put an end to questions. If the children are older than you, or just close in age, it may be a very fraught situation at the end, and they may treat you as an interloper or younger and less experienced person rather than as a spouse. You cannot expect them to regard their father’s marriages as permanent, given the history you relate here. They will expect to have a lot of input, and there will be two of them and one of you.

            What about you and your own life goals, financial security, and old age? I’m not at all against age-diverse relationships, but there are a lot of important considerations here. Why do you think marrying this man is the right choice for you? Perhaps your partner’s reluctance stems in part from concern for you.

          • NolaJael

            The line about loving the partner’s kids as his own really set of warning bells in my mind. LW is likely similar in age to at least the first set of kids and was a teen himself when he started dating his partner. All of this seems fraught with the kind of lack of life experience you don’t even realize you don’t yet have at that age.

          • z

            +100000.

          • Violet

            That line got me, too.

        • toomanybooks

          Especially given the “it’s just a piece of paper” line that frustrated me so much when I didn’t have the right to get married to another woman (yet).

          • idkmybffjill

            Gosh for real. Especially when you think about how many things in our american life ARE controlled by that piece of paper, and franks lots of other pieces of paper. Pieces of paper are a big deal!

          • toomanybooks

            Yeah! Like, my birth certificate is just a piece of paper. My tax forms are just a piece of paper. My paycheck is just a piece of paper. My bills are just pieces of paper. Etc.

  • Mrrpaderp

    “He has told me he is just not ready, and that when he is he will let me know.” I get the feeling that what LW’s partner meant to say was IF – not WHEN – he is ever ready to marry again, he will tell LW. Partner is unsure about marriage and sees no reason to get married again. It’s just not a priority to him. This is not a person who is very likely to magically wake up one day and have a burning desire to get married. So no, the answer is not to patiently wait around while you’re secretly dying inside.

    LW should think about why marriage is important to him – luckily, he’s come across this here handy website that has some essays on the subject. Talk to partner. Be heard about how important this is to you. Don’t do it with the objective of changing his mind – you probably won’t – but you deserve to have your needs acknowledged. From there, you two can figure out if there is a path forward. Is he willing to commit to a timeline? Are you willing to potentially forever forego marriage?

    An aside that LW didn’t ask for – and this is in no way legal advice – but partner may want a pre-nup and/or a will that leaves mostly everything to his kids rather than LW. Partner has 4 kids to provide for and may have some court-ordered obligations that go along with that. I have no idea if this has anything to do with his reluctance, but I’d do some serious thinking about whether you’re cool with the concept of a pre-nup before talking about timelines with a person in partner’s position.

    • idkmybffjill

      “Partner has 4 kids to provide for and may have some court-ordered obligations that go along with that. I have no idea if this has anything to do with his reluctance, but I’d do some serious thinking about whether you’re cool with the concept of a pre-nup before talking about timelines with a person in partner’s position.” – really really important point.

      • z

        +1. Also, your relationship with his children may change if you marry. You say you love them like your own (although if they’re older than you, not sure what that means), but how do they feel about you? It is one thing for their dad to have a nice boyfriend who makes him happy without inconveniencing others. Quite another for their dad to make that person the medical power of attorney and primary beneficiary of the estate, cutting out the children. Second (and third) marriages are the bread and butter of estate lawyers, financial planners, and therapists.

        If he hasn’t shared financial information with you, maybe that’s something to discuss on the way to marriage.

        • Alexandra

          Wow, yeah, the drama here. I feel sorry for LW. Dude, this guy really is in no position to marry you. Second and third marriages sure are “the bread and butter of estate lawyers, financial planners, and therapists.”

          The thing about marriage is that there are a lot of very unromantic implications to it. In so many ways it is a legal/business transaction, which has always, to me, been a very compelling argument for same sex marriage. Second/third marriages are hella complicated and generally result in a ton of drama when there are grown children involved. If it’s marriage you want, I think you gotta get out of this relationship, because this guy just can’t do it without making an enormous disruption to his entire life, and potentially alienating his kids because of the estate implications.

          And–to second several other comments–it’s ok to want to be married. Don’t ever let anybody try to make you feel like that’s a wrong thing to want. It’s so hard to walk away from something you’re heavily emotionally invested in, but picture a guy who can commit to a legal obligation/contract to you without all this baggage. You are worthy of that.

          • Amy March

            Wait what? The only reason marriage isn’t possible with this guy is because he isn’t interested in it. It’s entirely possible to have a happy second or third or fourth marriage, and while I agree there is the potential for drama I think you are way overstating the case here.

          • Alexandra

            Estate implications are a huge deal in second/third marriages. I think that’s probably the reason why the guy isn’t interested–how is he going to explain to the kids and the former wives that now this new husband is the one who’s going to be entitled to the estate? There’d have to be some kind of prenup involved, most likely. The emotional implications are pretty massive, too, because of all the collateral relationships involved.

            It’s just more than one of those relationships where the dude can’t commit because he can’t get his head around marriage, which throw more ambiguity in (maybe he’ll change his mind!) There are a lot of concrete circumstances here that make it pretty clear that he would never change his mind because marriage would make his life way more complicated.

          • Amy March

            All of these are things that can be handled if you want to though is all I’m saying. And people do handle them, happily, all the time.

          • Alexandra

            True, but sounds like this guy doesn’t want to handle them. If it were just an emotional thing about waiting until he’s ready to commit to somebody (the way early twenty-somethings sometimes need time to be ready), that might make it worthwhile to stick around a bit.

            I think the kind of person who has enough character/gumption to be willing to handle all the baggage that would go along with actually marrying the LW is a pretty rare bird. Most people would be happy to take the companionship but not really want to pony up to the very real difficulties of a legal commitment under the circumstances.

  • Emma

    I have to say, I think the fact that this relationship (with its large age difference) started when the LW was a teenager or just out of his teens is a little concerning. I don’t think relationships with a large age difference are necessarily unhealthy or cause for worry. But the actual age, not just the difference, matters (ie. A relationship between people who are 20 & 50 is different to one between people who are 40 & 70).

    In my personal experience, someone who is willing and comfortable with a relationship with a teenager or very young adult is much more likely to be emotionally immature or seeking a power differential (possibly abusive) or both.

    In any case, good advice.

    • Violet

      The difference in years doesn’t bother me. The difference in lived experience sure as heck does.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        The difference in years bothers me as well, albeit from a purely practical standpoint.
        While there are never any guarantees in life, I’d be pretty concerned if I KNEW that I would probably spend my early 40’s taking care of a frail spouse, or on the flipside, if my retirement coincided with the peak of my spouse’s career. Things like that don’t have to be deal breakers, but at the same time, they seem like pretty huge drawbacks. I sure hope the LW writer has given some very serious thought to those issues…

        • Violet

          Such good points. Like Emma points out, when the difference in years happens to straddle very different life stages, those 30 years mean a lot more than 30 years that are at least somewhat closer.
          Not to keep harping on word choice that could mean literally nothing, but LW expressed his commitment as wanting to be there “to the very end.” So, maybe he’s thought about it? Or maybe he’s romanticizing it? I don’t know. I think of my marriage as primarily about building a life together. His choice of words around commitment was about being there at death. Seems like an unusual frame of reference for someone so young. (Of course, I am TOTALLY over-analyzing.)
          Regardless, as you say, there are definite drawbacks to dating someone that much older who may need care when you are in a very different place in life.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Yikes, you may be onto something with your analysis of word choice, and that almost has me more concerned than a scenario where he’d never given any thought to it.
            I know that when I was that age, I’d read a few too many Nicholas Sparks books, and had some very unrealistic views on those things. I do hope he realizes real life isn’t A Walk to Remember…

          • Lisa

            My friends and I had an equation in college that was supposed to help identify how old/young is too old/young for you to be dating without it being weird. Basically it’s half the older person’s age plus 7. For example, someone who is mid-50s (54) shouldn’t probably be dating someone younger than 34. Someone in their early twenties (24) should consider their dating range to be 19-34.

            Obviously this is a bit flippant, and circumstances can vary widely among different couples. However, it’s a slightly more quantifiable way of touching on the “life stages” discussion. As one gets older, the numbers matter less, but the younger a person is, she or he is typically going to relate to people in a narrower age range.

  • Keri

    “We’ve been together for five years now, and I’ve done the painful task of bringing up the topic of marriage to find out how he feels about it.”

    So you’ve brought up the topic to see how he feels about it, but does HE know how YOU feel about it? I wouldn’t say that if he knew how you felt about marriage, that he would change his mind if his mind is made up, but I would say that if he doesn’t know how you feel about marriage, you can’t be having the conversations that you need to be having.

    • Violet

      Yes. How does the partner feel? LW says he wants to be there for his partner until the end. I know it could have been a harmless word choice, but why not, “We want to be there for one another until the end”? I’m wondering if LW and his partner are in two very different relationships right now. LW is confused; his partner is blissful. There’s some kind of imbalance/lack of communication going on.

      • z

        Well, I think that brings up the question of LW’s life after the partner passes. Close-in-age stepchildren aren’t going to provide much eldercare, they’ll be elders themselves.

        • Violet

          My insinuation was actually a bit more cynical- LW sounds “all in” and used that term to describe how all in he is. Whereas I don’t get the feeling at all that the partner is nearly as committed. If LW thought his partner were just as committed, wouldn’t he have written something like, “We’ve already decided we’ll always be there for one another”? It was a very one-sided statement of commitment, is what I meant.
          I don’t want to even touch the stepchildren issue, as it seems LW hasn’t at all begun considering the emotional, logistical, financial, and legal implications of wading into that kind of family dynamic with a partner who is already not interested in marrying.

  • z

    I feel like there are a lot of issues potentially holding LW’s partner back from marriage, that don’t come up in the letter. I know letters often have to become shorter when published, but the letter doesn’t seem to capture the complexity of the situation.

    Can we talk about the step-parenting aspect? LW is contemplating becoming a step-parent to FOUR children. That’s a lot even if they don’t live in their father’s household most of the time. And two separate moms to coordinate with (maybe with their own new partners and additional kids). Even if everyone gets along great, it’s a lot. A lot of coordination, a lot of negotiation, a lot of compromise, and a lot of interconnectedness. How do these relationships and responsibilities mesh with LW’s own life goals, career, and finances? What happens if the kids decide they want to live with their dad, for example, or if something happens that causes them to need a lot of extra time and money from their parents for an extended period of time? Is LW willing to be geographically constrained by a custody arrangement?

    • MTM

      Amen.

  • I just want to say that it’s possible that the LW’s partner does believe in the “true values of marriage” and that it is his past alone, especially having gone through a unwanted divorce because of a partner’s infidelity, that makes him hesitant.

    I’d like to push back a little about the idea that people who don’t want to marry (or who hesitate/aren’t ready/etc.) don’t value marriage. After my own experience (of divorce because of my spouse’s infidelity), I will say that I would be way, way more hesitant about marrying a second time. (And I didn’t jump in by any means the first time.) I believe strongly in marriage and the value of it, even after divorce, but now it scares me. A lot. I don’t want to go through divorce again. I might decide to marry again someday, but it’ll take a lot of work to get past the fear of being left again….and I’m generally an idealist, a romantic and an optimist. Or maybe I’ld just have to marry and recognize that that could happen, and I’d eventually be okay, even if the worst happened again? I’m guessing maybe the fear won’t go away, I’d just have to choose to trust in spite of it.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to say that it could be that someone values marriage so much they don’t want to or hesitate to marry. It’s not necessarily because they don’t value marriage. That doesn’t change the end situation for the letter writer who is ready to commit to marriage, though. I think some discussions, possibly with a therapist/counselor/pastor/somebody, could be helpful to understand why you both feel like you do. Once you understand what’s behind the emotions, fear, hesitation, etc., you’ll be in a better place to make the choices you need to make.

    • Violet

      Hear, hear. One can absolutely value marriage and decide it isn’t for them.

    • Amy March

      Except he says he thinks marriage is just a piece of paper, so it doesn’t really sound like it.

      • From how it’s written, I’m not sure if it’s the partner who said that clearly or the LW who assumes that is how the partner feels based on the hesitancy. It’s entirely possible the partner said that explicitly, but it’S hard to tell what was said and what was assumed. Hence the need for the couple to discuss more…

  • NotMotherTheresa

    This whole relationship has me a little concerned. There’s just a really huge gap here in terms of both age and life stage, and I don’t see that boding well for the relationship long term.
    If they’ve been together for five years, and the LW is just now in his early/mid 20’s, that means they got together when he was a teenager. Now, teenagers are wonderful, but I’m only 30, and I already have zero in common with even the most mature 18 year old. There are many reasons why a 50 year old man might want to date an 18 year old, but none of those reasons are conducive to a healthy, long term relationship.
    Also, there are practical concerns–even if this man in his mid-50’s is a truly wonderful human being, and he is with the LW for all of the right reasons, the simple reality is that one person isn’t old enough to rent a car, while the other has four kids, at least two of whom are likely older than the LW himself. How is retirement going to work? Is the LW prepared to handle elder care for his spouse when he’s in the prime of his career? What type of stepparent relationship is he going to have with a “stepchild” who’s older than he is?
    There’s a realllllly good reason why most people date someone who’s roughly their own age, or at least in the same stage of life. Intergenerational relationships are wonderful in terms of friendship, but they’re just really fraught from a relationship standpoint.

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  • Erica G

    I would say LW has some soul searching to do about whether this is the best relationship to be in at this stage in his life. I see a lot of red flags in this letter, not saying his partner is a bad person, a problem, or not in love with him, but simply that they are clearly in very different places in life with different goals and expectations for the relationship. I remember being in a going-nowhere relationship in my early twenties and as a young person I was blind to the discrepancies in our values and goals as people.

    Also, I am uncomfortable with the idea that you think being unmarried is “living in sin.” That implies you feel some level of shame about your relationship. Maybe because of pressure others have put on you in regard to the age difference, his multiple divorces, etc… I think maybe some of this is that you feel being married will somehow FIX some element missing in your relationship or how others perceive it, which it absolutely will not.

    I would say it is worth it to take a critical look at you and your partner’s goals, and I really do hope you guys can find some clarity together!

    • toomanybooks

      I mean, I think the living in sin comment is fair enough as a reason to not cohabitate/sleep with someone before marriage, but if you are already doing that? Also, honestly, I’m a 26 year old lesbian and that sort of thing is reeeeeeally not part of gay culture for a number of reasons (growing up not being able to get married – at that time – anyway, not buying into religion’s edicts about sexuality for obvious reasons, not being able to find any other gay people who would have the same views on waiting until marriage if you did feel that way, etc). This is coming from someone who identifies as Christian and was kind of a lil prude during my dating life.

      Maybe these guys are just in a totally different region and culture because I don’t fully understand either of them?

      • Lisa

        This is what I was thinking of when I wrote my comment. If the LW is religious enough that “living in sin” is an issue, then that’s sufficiently outside the norm of the gay culture I know to be something he needs to screen for in potential partners. I’m sure it’s not insurmountable, but he needs someone who is at least on board with supporting his wishes–not someone who will undermine him or make him feel like what’s important to him shouldn’t be.

  • z

    Also, while it’s important to consider the implications if there is money, it’s equally important to ask what if there isn’t money? LW’s partner is nearing retirement age, and has many children– how is the financial outlook? What if the partner is unable to work but still needs an income, would the LW be comfortable as the breadwinner? What about preexisting committments to the kids, to pay for college for example? What about if the partner needs to spend down assets to qualify for Medicaid? I’m not really sure how that works, but it seems like it could really complicate the LW’s financial future, and possibly his own retirement security.

    It’s hard to get to 50 without learning at least a little bit about these matters, so I think the LW’s partner may have them in mind.