They used to be called “May/December” romances — a younger woman and an older man. The lady was variously described as a “gold digger” or a “trophy wife,” more often the latter now. Sometimes you see the reverse, a woman senior to the man — a gigolo, if he is “kept” by her.
The relationship involves a kind of social exchange. The aging man trades his status or wealth for the woman’s beauty, fertility, and a return to the springtime of life.
When my daughters, both young women, hear about such things, all they can say is “gross.” The female isn’t the “gross” part.
Other factors do play in. Sometimes the tally of years is irrelevant. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit in age-acceptable matters of romance. Should a rare magic happen, age similarities or differences matter little.
The man who marries a woman of greater years, like the woman who enjoys a seasoned man, might also have unresolved parental issues. Transference is what Freudians would call it. Put another way, the adult child’s unconscious invites a second chance for the kind of love represented by the parental stunt-double — the new, older person; especially where such love was never won from the parent.
Nor should we overlook the attractions of mortality itself: another soul speeding to death’s gate before oneself. For those of us at war with time, the brevity of the rose’s bloom makes it even more appealing than if it were everlasting. We value things and people, in part, because we won’t always have them. The perishable delights of life create urgency and the desire to hold on tight before Cinderella’s clock strike’s midnight — and we all turn into pumpkins.
There is, however, a less dark possibility. Pablo Casals, the famous cellist/conductor of the mid-20th century was 81-years-old when he married his 20-year-old cello student, Marta Montañez Martínez. Robert Baldock, Casals biographer, wrote: “No one who knew them or saw them together during the final years of Casals life could doubt … that they married for love.” Indeed, Casals said his attraction to his wife came, in no small measure, from her physical resemblance to his mother in her youth.
Still, people being people, some wondered about the match. The musician put it this way in 1970, three years before his death:
I was aware … that some people noted a certain discrepancy in our ages — a bridegroom of course is not usually thirty years older than his father-in-law. But Martita and I were not too concerned about what others thought; it was, after all, we who were getting married — not they. If some had misgivings, I can only say our love has deepened in the intervening years.
An apocryphal version of the student/maestro story is amusing. Casals got engaged and then informed his MD of his upcoming nuptials. The physician expressed alarm.
“You’d better think before you do anything — this might be lethal!”
Casals didn’t respond right away, but appeared to consider the doctor’s words. Only then came the answer.
“Well, you know, if she dies, she dies.”
Quite vigorous for most of his remaining years, Casals passed away at age 96 in 1973. The Immortal Beloved lives yet.
The image above is of Pablo Casals and his wife, Martita 1960 by Lisl Steiner, with permission: http://www.lislsteiner.com/