I am 43-years-old and my partner is 31. However, I did not consciously choose my partner because he was younger, but because we were on a level spiritually and emotionally and he possessed all the qualities that I would want in the ideal partner.

The age that you are chronologically doesn't necessarily equate to a certain level of maturity or even attitude or interests. You can, for example, have two twenty-year- olds with totally diverse interests, a different outlook on life and different degrees of maturity and yet you can find a 70-year-old who is on a similar wavelength to a 30- year-old.

The Reverend Barry Trill, 59, is a retired vicar from Hastings and in June 2001, his wife, Sharon, who is 30 years' his junior gave birth to their first child. If you witnessed the two of them together, you would have no idea that the age gap between them was so large. This just proves that biological age is often so different to your chronological age.

Age is one of the least important factors in maintaining a successful relationship. I have several friends who are happily married to, or involved with, much older or younger partners. Whether the man or the woman is the older partner, the essential ingredients that uphold the relationship are companionship, compatibility, compassion, understanding, kindness, affection and trust - factors that don't necessarily bear any relation to age.

In the past, the media in particular have insidiously set the framework for acceptability and propagated the idea that in order to be desirable you have to be young and emaciated and that if you're past a certain age you have little hope of finding a partner. However, an increase in societal acceptance towards age gap relationships has widened the scope for newly single or divorced people, who can now look outside the confines of their own age groups in pursuit of the perfect match.

Jayne, a customer service advisor, would agree. She is 52 and her husband, Malcolm is 34. They met a local club in Swindon when they were both on a night out with their respective friends. Jayne, who had already been divorced twice and had three grown-up daughters, was not looking for a relationship and would certainly not have thought of finding a partner in a place that was full of youngsters, mostly under the age of 25.

Jayne says, "I was just out having a few drinks, a dance and a good laugh with the girls from work. The last thing I thought was that I would meet my future husband in a place that was renowned for being a cattle market, where young lads picked up girls for one night stands and vice versa.

I was waiting to be served at the bar when this gorgeous, blond guy, with an amazing suntan and smile to match, moved in by the side of me and started making small talk. When he then asked me to dance, I thought he was having a joke or that he had been sent on a dare by his mates. When I realized that he was seriously interested in me, I was quite rude to him and told him that he was only after a bit of experience because I was older. I asked him what he really wanted with me, when he could have had his pick of all the beautiful young girls in the club, with tight bums and boobs up under their chins?

His reply was, "They may look good, but wait until they open their mouths. You can't have a decent conversation with them and, besides, you're not afraid to let your hair down and have a good time and that makes you far more beautiful than any eighteen year old. You'd be lucky if those girls let you near them in case you messed up their makeup or hair. And what happens when they get older and don't have the personality to replace the looks?"

As you now know, the rest is history. We began dating nine years ago and have been married for five."

Here is Malcolm's story. "My friend and I, who are in the air force, had just returned from a posting in Cyprus and we had a couple of weeks' break before our next mission. When we are working, we don't have a social life to speak of, so we decided to make the most of our free time and go out to a local nightclub. Although we were both single, the purpose of the night out was to have a laugh and a few beers. We had no intention of trying to find a date.

We had been in the club for a couple of hours, most of our time having been spent propping up the bar, when we noticed a group of women nearby obviously having a really good time, laughing amongst themselves and occasionally getting up to dance with each other. They seemed different to most of the others girls in the place more laid back, natural, no airs or graces and definitely not there to be "on show".

I was particularly mesmerised by a tall, more mature woman with red hair, who had an obvious Cockney accent, but was dressed very stylishly, without all her fleshy bits hanging out, like so many of the younger (and not necessarily slim) girls in the place.

She was a bit taken aback when I first approached her at the bar. She obviously regarded me, like most of the other guys in the place, as someone who was just after a one-night stand or a bit of experience with an older woman. It took some time for me to convince her that I was genuinely interested in her and not just for a short-term fling.

Naturally, I didn't initially know whether or not she was married and the fact that she wasn't wearing a wedding ring didn't really mean anything. I have known many people who have removed their rings before going out, although she didn't really seem the type to do something as callous as that.

Luckily for me, she wasn't involved with anyone and we spent the rest of the night talking. By the end of the evening, I knew that this was definitely the woman for me. I wasn't fazed by the eighteen-year age gap and, besides, younger women tend to expect so much more from their men and can make them feel inadequate. You don't have to teach an older woman anything. I like to think that Jayne has taught me a few lessons about life, amongst other things!

However, it did take Jayne a long time to trust me because she had been divorced twice and was very cynical about men in general.

Initially, Jayne kept refusing my proposals of marriage because she said she didn't want to hold me back if I wanted to go off with someone younger, someone who could bear my children. Because Jayne has had a hysterectomy, I had to accept that we would never have children of our own. Although I love kids, spending a lifetime with someone I love is far more important. I don't believe that having children could make me any happier than I already am. Besides, children grow up and leave home, so the relationship with your partner has to be the most important element.

I'm glad she gave me a chance because the last nine years have been the happiest of my life and I couldn't ask for more."

Jayne and Brian are just one example of the thousands of couples whose love and compatibility transcends an age gap, however great.

Heidi, 42, met David, 58, when she began working as a flight stewardess for Saudi Airlines. David was an airline pilot at the time, but has since retired and the couple now live in Saudi Arabia for part of the year and England for the other half.
They have been together for over 20 years and, as Heidi says, "David has just as much energy now as he had at the age of 35 when we first started dating. And the wonderful thing is that I will always be the younger woman, so I have no worries about him suddenly eyeing up a more youthful model. Besides, I think he's probably already gone through the male midlife crisis bit, not that I noticed!

Age is just a state of mind. We have all known people who look younger than they are and are in better physical condition than others who are half their age. Similarly, you may know a young person who has the mental and physical age of someone a lot more mature.

My partner has a maturity that greatly exceeds his years, whereas I still have the mental age of someone in their teens. Consequently, despite the fact that I am twelve years older than my partner, he has the more mature mind.

As the saying goes, "You are the age you feel." Therefore, the way that you are in your mind and heart is an important factor in alleviating differences in age, something that is reflected in your appearance, your thoughts, your actions and your feelings.

If we all adhered to the pre-conceived guidelines that society sets about what is regarded as a normal relationship, then there would be an awful lot of lonely and unhappy people in this world. And those who step outside those boundaries would have more chance of their relationships thriving if well-meaning acquaintances stopped judging and interfering. Age gap relationships can fail for the same reasons that any other relationship fails, but it's all too easy for the sceptics to focus on the age difference as the sole cause and I have also seen several potentially healthy relationships fall apart because of unwanted intervention by other people.

It is time that everyone realized that true love knows no boundaries, least of all age.


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