Editors' Note: Guest blogger Michael Alvear is the founder of Gay Dating Success, the world's biggest gay dating advice site.
When somebody on my team suggested we compile a photo collection of the hottest older/younger celebrity gay couples, my immediate reaction was, "Forget it there aren't enough to make a list."
Boy, was I wrong. We ended up with pictures of 14 intergenerational celebrity gay couples. There are actually a lot more but we decided to cut the list there. But the list brings up a great question: Why are there so many famous intergenerational gay couples? And is that reflecting changes in the way gay men date? Or is it just that as society grows more tolerant of homosexuality that less well-known aspects of it are surfacing in the media?
First, we have to define what we mean by intergenerational. For my purposes I peg it at a 10 year difference between couples. Now, there have always been intergenerational gay couples but they do seem to be more common these days. One reason might be the shift towards more conservative, traditional views of couplehood. Now that we can get married in so many states, now that we can adopt children, now that we can bear children on our own, gay males are without question settling into more stable ways of dating, expressing our love, and getting into relationships.
There is a great hunger on the part of many gay men to be in stable, loving relationships and this just might be a driving force behind the possible rise in intergenerational couples. For the younger guy, what could be more stable than an older, more mature, more emotionally balanced man? And for the older guy what could be more validating then to know you are desired and treasured by the youth and beauty in your arms?
Of course there are a lot of powerful forces (like ageism) keeping most gay couples in generational parity (more on that later). So how is it that thousands of non-celebrities as well as celebrities like fashion icon Tom Ford, Olympic diver Tom Daley, and movie star Matt Bomer (click here to see pictures of their partners) are coupled in significantly older/younger relationships? How does any intergenerational couple make it in an ageist society?
The answer, it seems to me, has more to do with younger guys than it does with older guys. Older guys, straight or gay, will almost always be more physically and sexually attracted to younger, so they will always be more open to intergenerational coupling than younger guys. There is pretty much a consensus among evolutionary psychologists that men are biologically programmed to be attracted to "healthy" partners (it assures procreation). What are the markers for "healthy"? Youth and beauty.
So what drives younger guys into the arms of the older? Sometimes it is physical - they simply like the look of an older man - but in my intergenerational relationships I've noticed something else at work. The "attraction switches" in younger guys who prefer older guys track closer to heterosexual women's attraction switches. Women have the capacity, far more than men, to attach desire to non-physical, nonsexual characteristics.
It is exceedingly hard for hetero men to be sexually turned on by a woman's sense of humor, kindness or world experience. But for women, sexual desire is strongly attached to those personality characteristics. I find it's the same thing in the younger guys who prefer older guys. Like women, they naturally attach sexual desire to personality characteristics like power, confidence and other traits.
When you put the natural propensity of older to like younger (at least physically) with female-like "attraction switches" in younger males you get the high possibility of an intergenerational couple. When you look at the photos on our list of celebrity gay couples with big age differences and see the love that is clearly present between them it's hard not to ask yourself, "What does age mean? It's just a number."
Of course, there are a lot of things going against intergenerational gay couples. For example, the simple lack of cultural references can make conversations a little awkward. Complaining about your partner's nagging by saying, "You sound like a broken record" isn't going to be very effective when your partner has never owned a record player.
Expressing desire for your partner when he takes his shirt off by saying, "Schwing!" isn't going to work either since he wasn't around at the height of Saturday Night Live's Wayne's World. He'll just think you're talking about a bicycle made by Schwinn.
I'll never forget the time I was on a date with a younger guy and I said something about Barbra Streisand and he said, "Barbara who?" I made him pay for dinner.
Common cultural references aside, the biggest reason there aren't more intergenerational gay couples is that most of us are simply not wired for them. Think about it. How many of us older guys who are into younger guys were into older guys when we were young? Very few. And that is true about every generation. What twenty-something wants to hang out with people their parents' age? Very few.
The other factor working against intergenerational couples is the ageism that riddles our thinking. You can see the full glory of it in the dating apps where it's not unusual to see phrases like, "no one over 30," or "my age only!!" I've seen profiles that say, "If you're gay and gray, stay away!" and "No old people, and if you have to ask, you're too old."
You can also see ageism at work by simply changing the age on your profile. A profile pic that states you are 35 years old will get double the hits as the same pic that says you are 45.
There are plenty of older men who have no desire to be in a relationship with younger guys and they sometimes state it very strongly in their profiles. The funniest one I ever saw said, "Don't let your son go down on me."
Our list of inter-generational celebrity gay couples may or may not reflect the world at large but it does point out the depth and breadth of love between men.
Older? Younger? Does it matter?