Monday, April 23, 2012

Misc. Monday: Age Differences

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


  1. I love this post. The age difference business puts me in the mind Twilight and that crazy imprinting on a baby business. Jacob deserved so much better than to be made a pedophile.

    I know that's extreme. But you're right, it is much more acceptable if the character is some for of an immortal being. Especially if they still look and have about the same maturation level as their love interest.

    It's interesting to see how different people react to this subject and their thoughts on it all. Fortunately for me, the majority of age difference stories I read consist of an immortal.

    1. The Jacob example is extreme, but relevant her. Look, even if he goes away and waits until she's 18 or whatever the age of consent is for vamps and werewolves, he will always be ~18 years older than her. And has had a romantic history with her mom. Ick.

      That isn't even the only adult on baby incident I can name. In Christine Feehen's Carpathian books, a character shares his blood with a baby in the womb, so that she'll grow up to be his mate. Yeah.

  2. This post is full of win. I agree with a lot of the points you make. I particularly dislike how the age difference thing is glossed over in a lot of these paranormal books. I mean if the guy is 200 years old he's obviously not gonna be acting like a 18 year old guy even if he looks like one. Your comment on how this would make a "20 something human feel like an infant" is spot on. Not many novels with the supernatural age difference even acknowledge this unfortunately.

    1. This is exactly my issue. If he really is 200, why is he acting like he's 18? Is he faking it? Isn't that what predators in the real world do? They pretend to relate to the kid/teen, and like the same things she does, in order to build trust and make her easy prey. Creepy.

      I actually really like novels where the older characters really do act ancient. Where they're weary and wise and sort of bored with life. Then the younger (though God, please, not too young) person makes a nice contrast. They can teach them how to have fun again and so forth. Is there still a layer of creepiness there? Maybe. Probably.

  3. Haha I love this post, especially the chart. It makes perfect sense. I dont care about age difference in the immortal people, but with the humans, it bothers me a lot. I mean why on earth would you want an old person. (exact same thing I said to mu uncle's new wife. He took her to her high school senior prom, and he was 45. Yes she may have already been 18 but come on!!! Why do you want an old...and not I'm thinnking everything is going south for the winter and little blue pills suddenly come into the medicine cabinet. Why oh why? I can kind of understand the whole Hugh Hefner appeal. At least he has money and stuff. He'd be like a grandfather who gave you anything you wanted who you just happen to get it on with)

    1. I think the really depressing time comes when the little blue pills stop working, or mix badly with his heart medication.

      We thought it was a little creepy when our friend took a 25 year old to prom. The pictures of all of us looked like someone's big brother wandered into them. But again, to each his own.

  4. I had to LOL at some of the comments to this post. Sherre is hilarious. I am one of those readers who has a massive problem with age difference. Human or vampirical/paranormal. Especially if the author is going to go so far as to say Edward, I mean the vampire, is a virgin. WTF? What kind of loser immortal are you if you're still a virgin at 100 years old? I don't mind the human age difference so much if the younger party is say past 25. And the age difference is more than say 7 years. As long as both parties have the maturity to make logical decisions. Vampires and young girls...just not cool.

    1. I forgot that Edward was a virgin. Seriously, dude? You'd think by your fiftieth birthday you'd get lonely enough to resort to hookers if need be...


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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