It's time once again for more meaningless commentary on fictional characters. And perhaps later, some pie*.
Remember when I talked about pet peeves in books? Well, one that I sometimes see pop up in romance and erotica is age difference. This is one that doesn't phase me much, personally, but inevitably when I'm browsing reviews of books where a significant age difference exist between the protagonists, SOMEONE has to comment on it. The most common word I see used is "creepy", and occasionally "gross".
And the thing is, I get it. I get why this makes some of us feel ookie. There are a lot of social and practical issues inherent in the wide age difference, enough to screw up the perfect Happily Ever After romance ending that readers are after. Let's look at a few of those issues**.
1) Different Phase of Life. When the age difference is wide enough that normal, healthy people of those age groups are in a position to need and want different things. A young man, fresh out of college, hooks up with a middle aged woman. He's just starting a career and might want marriage and babies. She's old enough that natural child bearing is a medically dangerous prospect. Plus she's probably well established in career and lifestyle and so forth. So...not really compatible.
2) Sometimes Getting Old Sucks. The older party is going to physically get old a lot sooner. They're going to be dealing with things like cataracts and bladder issues and osteoporosis and impotence. Is the younger party going to become a nurse in these cases? Be left a widow at age 30? Not particularly romantic.
3) The Potential For Power Imbalance. Getting older comes with good things too, like life experience and wisdom. All that extra knowledge equals a kind of power that the younger party is going to lack. It becomes difficult to see how this is going to result in an equal relationship.
4) Dealing With Other People In Your Family/Social Circle. Back in the real world, I know someone who is the exact same age as her stepmother. The level of awkwardness that this creates is unbelievable. But putting that specific case aside, in general, if you're in a relationship with a wide age gap a lot of people are not going to approve, and they're going to let you know that in all kinds of annoying and passive aggressive ways that slowly chip away at your confidence. So our fictional couple is going to be subject to social ridicule and it will probably help to destroy their happy ending.
...But guess what, guys? There's a loophole!
If the older party happens to have made a deal with the devil or God or the Easter Bunny, or got bit by a werewolf or werehamster, or sprinkled with fairy dust or ANYTHING AT ALL that made them immortal, all bets are off. No one really comments on the inherent "creepiness" of a 500 year old vampire dating an 18 year old fairy/tiger shifter/garden gnome. Immortality suddenly makes it socially acceptable for a man to enter a high school and hit on the nearest hot thing he sees.
Look, I made a chart to illustrate this absurdity:
I guess this makes sense? It's true that immortality does eliminate a lot of the age difference issues. Immortal people don't really have limited life phases, since they can just have babies or start new careers whenever they please. Nobody is aging, so no adult diapers to concern ourselves with (probably). And if you are a wereturtle, everyone in your social circle is probably a weresomething, so no one is going to judge you for marrying too young.
The power imbalance problem is still there, and is in fact multiplied exponentially. Once you've lived a few centuries your experiences should be enough to make even the most worldly 20 something human feel like an infant. But, magically, the power imbalance seems to become part of the appeal. Old immortals have a lot of stuff. They've built up stores of money, houses, cars, etc., gained knowledge in everything from philosophy to sushi making, and most importantly have figured out every effective sexual technique known to humans (or human like bodies).
I think there's still a creepy factor involved in the ancient/young scenario we as readers are willfully ignoring, but to each his own. If I were single, I would totally be looking for a druid demigod to rock my world and make me young forever***.
What do you think? Are age differences (in books) creepy? Sexy? Indifferent? It depends? Diapers? Leave a comment to let us know. Happy Monday!
*I totally lied. There's no pie at all. I'm sorry.
**I want to assert here that I'm referring to fictional couples, and not intentionally disrespecting any real life couples.
***If you are, in fact, a hot male immortal demigod, feel free to call me anyway. We can...talk.