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I suppose I always had a bit of a thing for older men. My brother was born six years before me so I was accustomed to being around older people and, even in secondary school, found boys my own age quite tedious: I was going to clubs and hooking up with older guys when I was 15. I’m tall and always looked older than I actually was – plus they were less strict on ID in those days.
When my friends and I were all heading off for university, everyone was hugely excited about the prospect of going to parties, getting outrageously drunk and meeting loads of guys. Me? I harboured romantic (and, if I’m honest, quite pretentious) fantasies about falling in love with a professor, having profound conversations and drinking expensive wine. Learning of the 32-year age gap between Lady Kitty Spencer and her new husband caused me to nod knowingly, rather than gasp in shock.
Even so, I would never have expected to fall for a man more than twice my age when I was 22. Still less would I have anticipated that man being one of my father’s friends.
We first met when I was home for a weekend: my parents, always keen hosts, were having one of their gatherings. I always enjoyed these as it was a chance to catch up with family friends and familiar faces. I’d often have friends from uni with me for the weekend and they’d envy my family’s easy-going and hospitable lifestyle.
As a new face at one such gathering (he had recently joined my dad’s cricket club) I didn’t fancy Robert, 48, immediately but, as someone who had grown up in a very sociable household, I was well-versed in making conversation with newcomers. Chatting with him about university, I discovered that we had a shared interest in classical civilisation and Russian literature, as well as sailing. He said he had a boat that he regularly took out and asked whether I’d be interested in joining him sometime. My opportunities were limited to my sailing club, so I jumped at the chance – in fact, so innocent were my intentions that I told him he could get my contact details from my father.
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My father, for his part, saw nothing untoward in Robert’s intentions and willingly shared my number with him. We went sailing a few weeks later and it was a gorgeous day. He was impressed by my sailing skills and we talked non-stop. He’d remembered, from our conversation at my parents’ house, that I was vegetarian and had come equipped with a marvellous lunch. I felt seen and heard – something that younger men just didn’t seem capable of making me feel.
It didn’t take long for things to escalate. Soon we were texting and chatting on a regular basis, meeting up for drinks and, eventually, going for dinner. Even so, this had been building up for around two months before we even kissed – by which time I was desperate for him to want me. It was me who asked him to come home with me that first night.
My housemates, encountering him the next morning, were horrified when I told them that I’d woken up in his arms and been told that my father could not know, that he wanted to keep seeing me but that our relationship must remain a secret. They said he was dishonest, predatory and sleazy. I ignored them all – I was in love. He was able to talk to me about things and experiences that I was enthralled by, he was a skilled and adventurous lover – so far removed from the disastrous fumblings that my friends spoke of – and he was self-assured, independent and successful. I’m aware that his wealth – he owned a boat, after all – would have caused some people to question my motives, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t interested in his money – although I did enjoy the opportunities it gave us to spend time together.
Looking back, it was strange, the half-secret of it. My parents knowing that I spent time with this man, but not knowing the true nature of our relationship. Perhaps that added to the thrill of it? My father speaking casually of Robert’s presence at a Saturday morning cricket match, little knowing that Rob – as I called him – had left my bed in order to get there.
Even so, maybe because he was more mature than I was or maybe because I was more honest than he was, I tired of being his secret. My friends knew about and had met him, but I was a persona non grata in his life, other than being his teammate’s daughter. I couldn’t see what the problem was. It would have been weird if he’d known me as a baby, but he hadn’t – he’d met me as a woman. And it wasn’t as if he was married or had children. Nevertheless, whenever I pushed the issue, he’d shut down.
It was even more insulting, then, that after nine months of secrecy he ditched me on the basis that “we wanted different things”. Yes, we did: I wanted an open, honest and mature relationship and that was something he couldn’t deliver, at least not publicly.
I was heartbroken and I’m sure that my friends had to struggle to not say “We told you so”. To this day I’ve never told my dad. I’ve never dated someone quite that much older than myself again – 13 years has been the biggest gap since – and I ended up marrying someone very close to me in age. Now that I am almost the age that Rob was when I met him, I wince to think of my similarly-aged husband being attracted to a girl of that age – or a girl of that age being attracted to him. I’m not saying it could never work – clearly it sometimes does – and I suspect that age was just one factor in our split; the secrecy and deceit were just as big an issue. If we’d been open about our relationship though, if we’d stayed together, I’d be with a 73-year-old now. I can’t begin to imagine that.
As told to Sarah Rodrigues
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