dilemmas; Generation gap

Divorced, 43 and with two teenagers, Clem is in love with a devoted, kind young man of 25 who virtually lives with her and is very anxious to marry her. They've been together for 18 months and he says it doesn't matter if they can't have children. But when he's 50, Clem will be over 70. Would he still care, she asks? And would this be the right move for him?

Is it really still true that while it's acceptable for a man of 43 to marry a w oman of 25, the reverse is still thought to be a trifle weird? A man might be old enough to be his wife's father and everyone's quite indulgent, but isn't there something a little funny about a woman being old enough to be her husband's mother?

Despite the eager exhortations of American psycho-gurus that partnerships should consist of two equal people with their own rights and own space who meet now and again with mutual affection, love and trust, there is a great deal more nurturing that goes on in most relationships than we like to think. Some of us may cringe to think about it, but there are couples who even call each other mummy and daddy, for heaven's sake. And Clem's letter, short as it is, reeks of nurture. I wonder if she knows quite what a mum she is. She's already a mother, of course, to her own children, but it's interesting that her boyfriend is not that sold on the idea of being a father - and it's certainly unlikely at her age that Clem would be able to conceive anyway. Small wonder that she asks in a completely understandably childish way: "Will he will care for me when I'm old?" If he loves her as a mother, might it not be more difficult for him to love her when she became more feeble and dependent? Then there is her most poignant query, in which it's revealed just how very mumsy the relationship is: "Would marriage be right for him?" (my italics, as they say). If she wants to play that's fine, but I do think she might just have considered whether marriage is right for her, as well.

Some people would recommend the marriage wholeheartedly. Lucky Clem with her toyboy, they will say; he'll keep her young. But if young men are boys and not men, they can also make you feel terribly old. Clem may feel like a glamorous mum now, but she may eventually feel more like a grannie if she maintains her current maternal view of the relationship. But perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps this is a relationship in which Clem is more mum than daughter or equal; perhaps she likes it like that. But then, I wonder, why does she ask the question about marriage at all? Why, too, this obsession with marriage anyway? Marriage is fantastically easy to get into and fantastically difficult to get out of. Were they to fall out later, Clem's then husband would have rights to her home and money. I notice he lives with her, not vice versa. Does he indeed have a home of his own, or is he a gorgeous, sweet-singing cuckoo who has found a comfortable nest?

I don't doubt everyone's sincerity, but I feel very strongly that Clem should wait a long time before thinking of marriage. She has never known what a relationship is like with her lover on his own. The two teenage children are huge factors in the whole relationship, factors who will suddenly disappear to lead their own lives, leaving Clem and her lover on their own - a place where they have never been before.

If, when the children have fled the nest, Clem and her boyfriend still want to marry I'd be the first to be jumping up and down outside the church yelling: "Go for it!" at them down the aisle. But until then I can see that marriage offers Clem nothing that continuing to live together wouldn't offer just as well for the time being.

Forget the age difference, have no regrets

My wife and I got together when she was 40 (with teenage children) and I was 26. Our friends told us (separately) "just enjoy your affair, but don't think of anything permanent". However, we did make it permanent and had one daughter when she was 43 and another at 45 and many happy years together until she died suddenly two years ago from a heart attack at 77.

Of course, there is a downside. I'm suffering it now. The younger partner is always more likely to be left alone, but that's life. Better to live with happy memories than with regrets for what might have been. So, Clem, forget the age difference and try for children if that's what you both want.

A young and active father who loves them and you can be a real partner and parent.

Ian

London SW11

Get on with it - there are no certainties

Well, it needs to be good for you, too, and I'm assuming you know your man and are confident of his integrity.

We have to move forward and there are no certainties. But your relationship as you describe it, and the goodwill surrounding it, are as promising a foundation as anyone could wish for to a new marriage.

Moving forward means change, through maturity, sexual need, the effects of adversity. Awareness of the age gap will take a back seat, given a chance. Respect and affection, kept in good repair, are your best assurance. I'd get on with it if I were you.

Ursula

Borehamwood

I've been there too, and there's no room for fear

First of all Clem should stop worrying about what is "right for him". He has obviously made up his own mind what is best for him and considers the age difference no problem. As someone who went through the same agonies when I fell in love with a man much younger than myself I found the best advice came from my own 15-year-old daughter, who said: "So what, isn't your age just on a piece of paper? It's who you are that counts."

Go for it Clem, you love him and he loves you. Don't let fear for the future, which may never become realities, cloud the present. Take this opportunity for happiness - I did, and neither my husband, I, nor my teenage children have regretted it.

Elaine

St Albans

Take our advice, don't listen the doubters

Dear Virginia,

We are a married couple but wanted to write to you independently ...

In 1977, at 43, I married a man of 22. We had known each other three years and, when asked to marry, I had all the same misgivings as Clem.

I had four children, and it was they who helped me make the choice. They appreciated a mother who, with someone to share the responsibilities and chores, had more time for them in a loving home. Our only sadness is not to have a child together. However, we are enjoying our five grandchildren enormously!

Now at 62 and 41 respectively, our love has ripened and matured. Romantic love may have dimmed a little, but mutual respect and loving companionship are the things that last.

I hope that Clem's future will be as joyful as our married life has been.

Patricia

Tonbridge

Any 1996 marriage has a one in three chance of failure - but that is no reason not to try. If you don't bet, you can't win.

There are three possible outcomes for you in 20 years' time - one: you are still happily married; two: you were happily married for a time, but it went wrong; and three: you are cursing yourself for not taking the chance when you had it.

I was born in 1955 and my wife in 1933, and we've been married for 20 years. The age difference truly is immaterial. There are much greater gulfs of class, of temperament, or of culture. We are still deeply in love, and thank Providence that we were not dissuaded by well-meaning friends who said it wouldn't work.

Laurie

Tonbridge

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