I’ve had some unusual relationships. There was the years-long relationship during which we never touched each other in a sexual manner. We lived together, with separate bedrooms. That relationship ended because it wasn’t just the relationship that was bizarre; it was him.
I had a similarly atypical relationship with a much, much, much younger (but legal) man. There are many benefits to such a relationship, besides the obvious. He introduced me to new music and he got me to do things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, some that may never have even occurred to me. He made me laugh amazed me with his capacity for generating ideas. He infused my life with energy and enthusiasm and renewed my interest in the world.
The age difference never bothered me at all. It weirded him out a little, mostly because he was surprised. I tend to forget how old people are anyway. I don’t know what his friends thought, but I can tell you that mine were all for it.
The only time it got uncomfortable was when we went out in public together. Yep, people would sometimes assume I was his mother. It happened a lot less often that you might think, given that we didn’t act like blood relatives! It did happen, though, and it pissed me off.
I know we, as humans, like to classify things, which we do to help us make sense of the world. If we know a couple is married, we make all sorts of related assumptions based on what we think it means to be a married couple. If we know two people are mother and son, we’re probably not going to come on to either one.
If we don’t know what the relationship between two people is, we have a tendency to fill in the blanks. “That guy is way younger than that woman, so they must be hanging out because they’re related. I’m going to guess he’s her son and go with that.” That gives us an idea of what kind of behavior is acceptable toward and in front of the people in question. The rules of polite society dictate which behaviors are “appropriate” and which might be frowned upon. That makes us feel secure and confident and we can go about our busy day of misreading nonverbal cues and mislabeling relationships.
Come on, man. Do you really think a young man stands this close to his mother? Or touches her like this or looks at her like that? Where the fuck are you from that this is the norm between parent and child? He finally resorted to calling me “sugar tits” in public to head that shit off at the pass.
Nonverbal cues aside, why do you need to fit relationships into a neat little box with a preconceived label? Where do you get the idea that an adult woman and a young adult man can’t hang out just because they enjoy each others’ company? Why do you even need to know?
On the other hand, it was kind of fun to watch the confusion, realization, surprise, discomfort cycle play out on the faces of those we set straight.