Monday, 23 April 2012

The Perception of Age

by Casea Major 

I recently submitted a story to a quality small press and was offered a contract. The story is part of a series with two additionally completed manuscripts. When the publisher read the additional stories, they conditionally offered a contract with several revisions, one of which was that the hero in the second story was almost twice as old as the heroine and needed to be made younger.

As an across the board standard policy, that's fine. However, in this particular instance the age gap between the H/h in the second book (which is the one at issue) was significantly less than the age gap between the H/h in the first book (in which there was no issue). **Scratches head**

Why the difference?

Maybe it will help to take a little deeper look -- In the first book the heroine is a contemporary college student who is transported to a medieval fantasy world where she meets a man she assumes is late twenties. She is a worldly girl and has experience with men, albeit limited. As it turns out, aging in this fantasy world is different and while he looks younger he is really more than twice her age.

In the second book, the heroine is part of the fantasy world and the hero has known her all her life. He's watched her grow up. During her 19th Birthday Celebration he realizes he loves her and sets out to win her hand in marriage.
The heroines are the exact same age, but the older hero is perceived as ok while the younger isn't.

What are the differences that cause the ick factor in the one but not the other? Can they be defined?

Take for example recent news reports -- Why is it that the 41 year old man who left his wife for the 18 year old is considered a deviant predator while Hugh Hefner at 80 years old is on his umpteenth relationship with a twenty-year old and he's considered a legend?

Now don’t write me ugly letters - I'm not advocating either scenario as right or wrong. I'm saying that public perception is very different between the two. And I want to ask you gals – Why do you think that is? And should there be differences?

Food for thought – Edward Cullen is 105 when he marries Bella who is 18 years old. Is it because he looks young that makes it okay? If so, what does that say about our society?

By the way – in my current release with Decadent Publishing, Night with a Dom, the hero is older than the heroine. And you may ask yourself – why are all of Casea's stories older hero/younger heroine? That, my friends, is a post for a different day. LOL Maybe next time on Four Smart Women.
Thanks for having me.

 Night with a Dom
Casea Major

Melody Manning’s workaholic ambition, coupled with a slave-driving former boss, has made her the youngest market analyst in her firm. It’s also killed her personal life, including losing her fiancé. When she receives a message from him on New Year’s Eve announcing his engagement to another woman, Mel loses it. Her new, more compassionate boss has the perfect solution for her—get laid. Good and laid.
At his suggestion, she signs up with the 1Night Stand service, listing her deepest sexual desires on the application.  A speedy response from Madame Eve has Melody on her way to Sonoma Valley wine country and a one-night stand with a mysterious Dom.
The sexy, masked Master promises to get to the bottom of her guilt and provide ultimate satisfaction under the safety of his stern hand. After an emotional night of submission and uninhibited passion, will her lover’s unmasking lead to the end of their encounter or give Mel another chance at love?

Prior to becoming a writer of romantic fiction, Casea Major worked in the legal field for a non-profit dispute resolution company for ten years.  She is now a full-time mom to three preschool children with whom she and her husband live happily...most of the time.  When she isn't chained to her laptop, she enjoys Cary Grant movies and crocheting.


steph beck said...

Situations with age can be like adding another character, not just character trait, to a story.

I've read where age is done effortlessly where it adds sooo much to a story and then I've read...well, when it is an ick factor because maturity and reasoning is never fully developed concerning the issue.

I'm sure you rock it well, lady!!
All the best :)

Stephanie Beck

Faith said...

I think it depends on the genre and the situation of the story. You mentioned Edward, but vamps are known for being centuries old, so the age dif is accepted. Take that same guy and put him in a story that happens today and remove his paranormal powers and people go, "Eew!"

Add magic, paranormal, fantasy or even sci-fi/futuristic and you can get away with just about anything as long as the author writes it in a believable way.

Karenna Colcroft said...

I agree with Faith; it seems like in paranormal, huge age differences are more acceptable because the paranormal person/creature/thing ages more slowly or lives much longer than humans.

In my paranormal novel Eternal Love, the hero is a 935-year-old immortal; the heroine is a 20-something human woman who's the ninth incarnation of the soul of the girl the hero fell in love with as a teen. Haven't heard any complaints about that age difference, and it's kind of enormous... And in my M/M werewolf series, the hero is about 30 and his lover is 50 but looks about 30-35 because weres age more slowly than humans.

The second age difference would be possible among humans, but I don't know if it would be considered acceptable in, say, a contemporary romance.

Fierce Dolan said...

I think you're onto something that has been catalyzed by the 'cougar' trend, to which I continue to respond, "Older women who date younger men are cougars. Older men who date younger women are men. WTF?" My response to that has been to explore in my fiction the traits that we consider "mature" and how they have nothing to do with chronological age. Rather, they rely solely on perception, specifically the view point of the character describing the relationship. Culturally speaking, our narrator on the hawt in relationships is still masculine. Thus, our collective perception of people who engage in these relationships is shaped by patriarchal ideals. Is that an oxymoron? Anyway. I'm talking about roles in relationships and perceived power. Who has it and who doesn't?

If I'm understanding correctly, it seems to me that in your situation the perception is that power rooted in the contemporary scene carries with it our implied cultural perceptions of gender. In short, older guy + younger girl=gross. In the fantasy world we can suspend those ideologies and create one where age difference doesn't carry a disparity in power.

I have a blog piece coming out on this soon, as "Gigolo Seduction" brings up these same issues, or should I say turns them upside down. Would love your thoughts on it.


Casea Major said...

Stephanie - that's an interesting concept that age is so important it's like adding a character.

Faith - In writing, I think sometimes the genre does play a role in what people are willing to forgive or suspend logic for.

Karenna - Paranormal elements take us far beyond the limits of what contemporary humans see as even possible and therefore can be a factor in suspension of certain values. Thanks for the comment.

Fierce - You tell me when you post Gigolo Seduction and I will be there for you. Thanks for your comment I totally agree.

Harlie Reader said...

For me, age is a number but I can see both sides of it. In paranormal the age difference could be 400 years old but both the H/h "look" the same age.

That said, I do have issues with the whole Hef thing. To me, that's just gross.


Brenda said...

I'm not going to touch on the age difference in para novels because it has already been addressed.

As for age differences between a man and a women, I normally don't have a problem with it. Sure when I see old actors and actresses going for someone waaaaaaaaay younger than themselves, that sort of makes me sick--but mainly I think the older one is just trying as hard as he/she can to hang onto their youth--sorry, doesn't matter how young the person you are with is, you are still old, lol.

But I have also noticed a huge change in myself as I have aged--I'm 44. I would much rather read about about a hero and heroine who is in their 30's instead of the them being in their 20's--especially in their early 20's. I have a son that is 20 and I find it hard to imagine him or any of his friends--female and male--being mature and handling a grown up relationship. But that is strictly just my opinion.

Anthology Authors said...

I'm with you, Marika. That whole Hef thing makes my skin want to crawl off my body and hide somewhere far away from him. (g)

While age may really be in the mind to some degree, there is, for the most part, a maturity that can only be gained by living. Some people seem to be born with older souls, but even they have their moments. And then there are those who never grow, regardless of their life experience.

As for power and the patriarchal system, age does bring power, although not always. In the past, women were considered chattel of first their fathers, and then their husbands (and in some cultures still are. O.O) An established man, which usually means older, meant he could take care of her and any children she may bear. It was very common for a 15 year old girl to marry a 40 year old man. (Can we say, "Ew"?)

Me? I can't imagine being with a man that much older than me. My husband is 10 months younger, so I guess you could call me a cougar. (g)


Jenna said...

I'm still not sure why the question of age has become so prevalent now. Perhaps the problem with child pornography and exploitation is a factor. There used to be lots of "May- December" romances with a prominent age disparity. But then in the 70s & 80s there were a lot of rapes occuring in romancre novels. Times change.

In the past girls were often way younger than the men they were married to. Which makes it a challenge sometimes to make historical romances historically correct. Many publishers refuse to have heroines younger than 18. In some time periods 14 was the age at which women married (Juliet of Romeo and Juliet was only 13 when her parents wanted to marry her to Paris). So many historicals end up being about the exception and not the rule.

Perhaps the problem with your age difference, Casea, has to do with the fact that your hero watched her grow up. This coud set up an expectation of an Electra complex--Freud's idea of a girl having romantic feelings towards her father and competing with her mother for his affections. Not sure how to fix this, except find a publisher who's more open-minded.

Fiona McGier said...

I agree with Jenna...I think the reason the publisher is giving you grief is because the hero watched the heroine grow up and that does smack too much of "fatherly". Anything that has even a hint of incest in it can be a sue-able thing, so probably the publisher is only covering butt.

I don't like the older man, younger woman trope because it implies that the woman needs to be taught and taken care of...and it never answers the question as to how they will deal when the vagaries of old age beset him, while she is still young and vital! As for Hefner, he's too old for me and I'm in my mid-50s! YUCKO!

Casea Major said...

Awesome discussion!

Harlie - Hef thing is gross to me too but there are many who will turn a blind eye because of who he is.

Brenda - I think you hit the nail on the head. It's about a level of maturity and being unselfish enough to put someone elses needs above your own and not just in a co-dependant clinging way but in a healthy I-want-the-best-for-you way.

Marci - My husband is five years older than I am but in most respects of aging I consider us on equal footing. I do have a friend who was 17 when she married the man next door. Many people say Eww. But the truth is, they have one of the strongest marriages I've ever witnessed. They've gone through tremendous personal tragedy including the loss of a child in an freak accident. They have four beautiful children who are the sweetest most well-behaved I've seen. I just don't think you can put such an easy lable on things.

In my opinion, if the fruit from the relationship is good. In other words does it make the person better than they were then probably it's a good relationship. If the fruit is bad - as we have seen with the 41 year old man who destroyed his wife and children to leave for the 18 year old. I have to say that's not good fruit. A tree is known by its fruit.

D'Ann said...

I don't know the answer. I've always been a fan of older women/younger men. I hate the term cougar, though. Ugh.

Did this have anything to do with your discussion? LOL

Casea Major said...

Fiona and Jenna - Thanks for your comments. I think it's the fact that he grew up around her, too. And also she has never been with a man. The heronie in my first story has lived a party girl lifestyle and is percieved as being able to take care of herself.

Oddly enough, if you look at the two heroines, the second one copes much better with traumatic life expeiences than the first. She is IMO, more mature - but she doesn't have the same level of sexual experience.

Very interesting conversation. I love the comments.

Anthology Authors said...

Five years isn't that much, Casea. That never bothered me, except when I was 15 or so.

Well, obviously, it depends on the people, but for me personally, whenever I was hit on by older men in my teens and twenties, which was often, it creeped me out. When I was 12/13, I looked 18. When I was 18, people thought I was in my 20s. When I hit 27, people thought I was 18. (That works for me. LOL)

While I can be attracted to the mind of someone, I guess I am too shallow to get past the age difference.


Casea Major said...

D'Ann - It definitely falls into this discussion. I personally see no reason why a woman can't date a younger man. It's not my personal preference but I do think it's shameful that in some ways the older woman gets more stigmatized than the older man.

Author Nikki Prince said...

For me In stories and real life age is but a number, with an exception. Legal age. Now I do admit to having an ick factor with the whole Hugh Hefner thing. But I guess what ever floats their boats. But it isn't for me.

Now on another note I am 11 years older than my husband. So I am the other spectrum. An older female with a younger male.


Melissa Limoges said...

Unfortunately, I don't think there really is any right or wrong answer. Of course, you can't qualify one then disqualify another. Well, you can, but that's my point about having no right or wrong answer.
Everyone has already touched on valid points which I won't repeat..the paranormal/fantasy age gaps etc.. Although, they are all fiction. So, anything goes in fiction.

Personally, I don't want to be with a man too much younger than myself. In my experience, most men can be a pain in my a**. I really would not want to throw in that extra low level of maturity(not saying the older ones have such a higher level of it). However, I really couldn't go for an extremely older man either. All that springs to mind in that case is that episode of Sex in the City where Samantha was sleeping with the older man (saggy a**). Now I'm eternally scarred from looking at much older men and their rears.

I suppose everyone has their own preferences though.

Sheri Fredricks said...

The beauty of paranormal and fantasy is anything is possible. This isn't reality, people.

I'm sure the way you've written your characters, the difference in age isn't the issue at hand.

Go with your gut instincts, Kary.

Maggie O'Malley said...

I call Hugh a lecher. I don't care about age between the two, but an 18 year old doesn't have clue about life and men. 'jus sayin'.

Daryl Devore said...

I'm about to bump into this topic and I hadn't even appreciated that point until I read this. In Capri's Fate she meets a son of the Fates
who is waaaaay older than she is.

Great discussion.

Casea Major said...

Marci - I've seen you recently and you do look good. I understand why me hit on you. LOL

Nikki - I love your tolerance. There are lots of times when i think "eww - that's not for me." But that shouldn't preclude others -- unless it's illegal.

Melissa - as sad a commentary as it may be on me and you I also use Sex in the City as a benchmark for certain things sexual. LOL

Sheri - Thanks for the encouragement.

Maggie - generally speaking no and 18-yr-old doesn't have a clue about much of anything. But there are a few exceptions.

Daryl - It's an issue I frankly didn't think much about either until now.

Thank you all so much for your input. Very insightful comments and valuable discussion.

Anthology Authors said...

Thanks, Casea, but they don't hit on me anymore. In my younger days, they did. (grin) If I wasn't interested, it made for awkward moments.

Lisa Kumar said...

There's definitely a stigma against aging. We're a society who doesn't want to get/look older. Of course, this is aimed even more heavily at women than men.

When people get older and lose their youth, I think there's an impression that their life is practically over for all intents and purposes.

That said, yeah, the whole Hef thing grosses me out. There's old and then there's old! I like the look of an older, distinguished man, but not of a wrinkly old horn dog.

Lia Davis said...

I don't think it should make a difference. My mom is 12 years older than my dad. And they've perfectly happy together.

Toni Kelly said...

Love this post, Casea! It is so true. In my latest, my hero is 170+ years older than my heroine but he definitely doesn't look it. In fact, he is considered young by his species' standards.