Is she really going out with him?

In real life, Catherine Zeta Jones (29) is stepping out with wrinkly Michael Douglas (58). In her new movie, she takes up with pensioner Sean Connery (67). So what's the attraction of the older man? Kate Mulvey (32) explains
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The Independent Culture
Has the world gone wrinkle mad? We have all seen the pictures of a nubile Catherine Zeta Jones, 29, cavorting on a Spanish beach with the saggy, paunch-ridden, 58-year-old Michael Douglas. Despite her come- to-bed eyes and model-like figure, the stunning Zeta Jones has picked a man probably older than her father.

Is this a case of fantasy slipping over into real life? Next Friday sees the opening of Entrapment with Zeta Jones falling for the charms of a 67-year-old Sean Connery. Thirty years after he persuaded the likes of Honor Blackman into his bed, he may still have the husky voice of a god, but now he's got more ridges on his face than a piece of corrugated iron. But then she says she likes the much older man and, indeed, the beauty- and-the-beast scenario - in which a stunning young girl falls for a crabby old man - seems to be as alive and vigorous on celluloid as in real life.

Take the film True Crime, in which Clint Eastwood, 69, seduces Mary McCormack, 28 - a 41-year age gap is no obstacle for our Clint. In the wacky world of Woody Allen, young women fall for craggy old men as a matter of course. What's he on? I mean, would someone of Elizabeth Shue's age and beauty really go for the bespectacled, ageing nerdy Woody Allen in his film Deconstructing Harry? Er yes, as a matter of fact, she would.

Of course, the Hollywood wrinklies are quite unlike ordinary mortals in their power to turn their fantasies into real life. Woody Allen, at 62, had no problems realising his desires when he married Soon Yi, the 27-year-old adopted daughter of Mia Farrow. Revelation of the relationship came not long after Allen had cast himself as the babyfaced schoolgirl Juliette Lewis's older teacher and lover.

Luciano Pavarotti's young and comparatively tiny girlfriend Nicoletta admitted recently that it enrages her to see him pick up the black eyebrow pencil and start inking in his wispy grey eyebrows.

Then there's white-haired Rupert Murdoch, at 68 sporting new trendy outfits because of Wendy Deng, 31, the new woman in his life who he married last week just days after his divorce came through. Even Bill Wyman narrowly missed an assault charge when he started seeing the teenage Mandy Smith. He was 52 when they got married, and she was still a teenager.

Do these unusual couplings work? Woody Allen is still ensconced with his young wife, although it wasn't long before Bill and Mandy were on their way to the divorce courts. But in my opinion, stepping out with a man 25 years your senior just ain't worth it. And I should know. I've done it.

Last year I went out with a 61-year-old writer. I was 32 at the time. What started out as respect for his wisdom and supposed gravitas eventually turned to pity and the arms of a 25-year-old. In my opinion, relationships with such a large age gap (I'm talking over a quarter of a century) just don't work.

Why? Because you're there to make him feel young. There is nothing quite so comical as a crusty old man cavorting around as if he has just left university. It's a sad sight when a man of advanced years puffs out his chest and salivates over firm thighs and a bit of cleavage. Even more so when you have the misfortune to be his date.

Like the ageing dowager who swans or staggers down the King's Road in PVC mini skirts and painted lips reminiscent of Bette Davis in Baby Jane, the Peter Pan Pensioner wears the uniform of the young. You can spot him a mile off, baseball cap stuck firmly to his head, baseball jacket with Redskins printed on the back for macho effect, and the obligatory pair of cowboy boots that no swashbuckling hero would be without. And yes, he looked a grandfather trying to pass as an American jock. I tried to tell him that what was attractive about an older man was the fact that he was older. What was the point, I said, of his dressing like a younger man, when I could have the real thing without the wrinkles?

"For God's sake," I said one day, "wear a suit and look your age."

And there's the rub. Age, it seems, is no indicator of maturity, and far from putting his ego aside and allowing you to shine, the Peter Pan Pensioner feels he is in competition with you. Well, it stands to reason, the man who thinks he still has the sexual allure of Brad Pitt is a man with an ego the size of New York State and the fragility of Venetian glass.

As long as I bolstered up his ego, he would pet and stroke me, but how many stories of a man's life in the fast lane can a girl take? If I dared to assert myself, and contradict him, I felt the lashings of his acid tongue. Far from the reassuring older man, what I got was an insecure ageing Lothario who, underneath the braggadocio and swagger, was an old man trying to escape the inevitability of creeping old age.

In my opinion, the PPP is often a weak man who rarely has the strength of character to deal with a woman who has youth and sexual power on her side. Look at Rod Stewart, lady-killer par excellence. Rachel Hunter leaves him, and the poor sod is a broken shell of his former rock 'n' roll self.

But, then, most PPPs are former lady-killers. Once, back in the mists of time, they were the men who had all the blond babes at their table. My man was no exception. "Oh, that's Tammy, my Israeli princess, I met her in the Sixties," he would say as he launched on yet another tale of his exploits. I remember my man cooing with delight whenever he accompanied me and my younger friends to parties. I would cringe as he embarked on yet another sentence beginning: "I remember when Joanna Lumley burnt her bra at one of my parties."

So a word of advice to Ms Zeta Jones: Michael may be all sophistication and know-how when he's serenading you on his private yacht, but when he gives you the "I remember when I starred in Streets of San Francisco" line, take the Prada bag and hook up with a 25-year-old. Even if he does listen to Oasis all day long, living in the present beats life with grandpa any day.

If You're Dating An Older Man

Do ask...

How many staff he employs (OK, he might look like he's retired, but flatter him).

Whether he gets many comments on his uncanny resemblance to Michael Douglas or any other ageing sex symbol.

After his racehorses.

If he agrees that all men in their twenties are superficial and unsophisticated.

About his golf handicap (if he doesn't play the game, the old boy will be pleased that you think he's still active).

Whether he can understand Leonardo DiCaprio's appeal, because you just don't get it.

About his plans for the future (which shows that you're confident he's actually got one).

Don't Ask...

If you can call him Dad.

When he last went raving/dropped a E.

Whether Viagra is all it's cracked up to be.

Which DJ he prefers: Matt "Jamm" Lammont or Karl "Tuff Enuff" Brown?

Why he wears a baseball cap (it's to protect his bald patch from the sun).

About decimalisation, or the First World War.

If he's got health insurance.

If he needs help getting out of his chair.

Take Him To...

The RAC

The Garrick

The Chelsea Arts Club (members are all over 60 anyway)

Weddings (your friends won't know who he is so they'll think he is someone)

Country pubs (they'll all think he's your uncle)

Notting Hill Gate (you might bump into your younger friends who will fuel his sense of insecurity)

A restaurant owned by Marco Pierre White or any other young celebrity chef (they attract youthful types which will only highlight his great age)

Don't Take Him To...

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