Q: I could use some help in understanding proper etiquette when a heterosexual fellow asks me out thinking that I’m a straight woman. What can I say?

A: If you missed the wonderful cartoon on this subject in the New Yorker recently, let me repeat the caption, since it’s brilliant. Straight guy asks lesbian out, and she replies: “Thanks, but I’m in the middle of a lesbian phase that started the day I was born.” If you’re prepared to be out, a dollop of humor will take you far. A line of that kind delivered with warmth (as opposed to snottiness) definitely counts as “proper.”

Are older gay men “cougars” or “daddies?”

Q: I’m in my mid-40s and have started dating a guy who is about 20 years younger than me. While it’s practically trendy these days for cougars (older women) to be pursuing younger straight men, I’m getting a lot of flack from my friends that my boyfriend’s not “age-appropriate” for me. What is most insulting is how my friends dismiss him in social situations as a “kid” (even though he’s a Fulbright Scholar) and me as a “daddy,” which he doesn’t need or want and which is a role I would never play. They also just assume that I’ve pursued him and that I’m “robbing the cradle.” That’s actually not the case. He came after me. I’m frustrated and need to know how to handle all these raised eyebrows and sharp words.

A: Did you know that the general rule of thumb for so-called age-appropriate relationships is half your age plus seven? So, given what you’ve told me, you’re very close to a mathematically correct relationship. But, really, so what? The most important thing is that you’ve found someone you care for and that those feelings are reciprocated.

As for your friends mouthing off about your age difference, I can only guess that it’s some combination of envy (“he’s got a young, hot one”), caring (“as soon as he grows up, he’ll leave you with a broken heart”) or the slimy cultural residue from Donald Trump’s numerous age-inappropriate marriages. But don’t forget the many happy “age inappropriate” gay couples: writer Christopher Isherwood and painter Don Bachardy (30 years between them) and playwright Terrence McNally and lawyer Tom Kirdahy (25 years). In any case, it sounds like you need to speak up, though not in front of your boyfriend. Be clear with your friends that you expect them to treat him with respect and that their jokes about you being a “daddy” have worn themselves thin. Good friends will follow your lead. Bad friends can be asked to make for the door.

Of course, “daddy/boy” relationships have a long and not necessarily sordid history in gay culture, but whether or not there is that dynamic, it’s nobody’s business to make a judgment. Honestly, it’s hard enough to find a compatible boyfriend or girlfriend, so congratulations to you both. And don’t forget Julie Andrews’ memorable lyrics from the Sound of Music: “Love is where you find it.”

 


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