We no longer need to mind the age gap

Ellen Barkin: younger man

Ellen Barkin: younger man

What is the appropriate age-differential when it comes to dating? What I mean is, how low is it OK to go before disapproving stares become audible tuts? I ask this because I've been seeing a girl who is a bit younger than me and I'm wondering what you think.

How much younger? Put it this way: I was born during Beatlemania and she was born during punk. The landmark comedy heroes of my youth were Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, hers were AbFab and Friends. These cultural references not spelling it out clearly enough for you? She's a decade and a half younger than me.

But that's all right, isn't it? It's almost acceptable. Come on, the JC said so. Last week there was an interview in this very newspaper with Catherine Mayer who has coined a term, "amortality", that basically serves as a justification for growing old disgracefully. "Act your age?" ran the headline. "This woman says you don't have to."

It's true, though. These days, there is no generation gap, the old and young can happily coexist - see last weekend's Glastonbury festival for proof - and people can extend their youthful phase well into middle-age. Fifty is the new 35 and all that.

Please don't see this as an excuse for a bunch of swinging bachelors to court the junior miss, though. Just as often we're seeing instances of the opposite: the mature lady with the rippling adonis barely out of play-school. It has become such a micro-phenomenon they've even got a word for it - "cougar" - and a US TV sitcom, Cougar Town, starring Courteney Cox,
so we know it must be happening.

In fact, I randomly switched on the radio and they were discussing the subject. Many examples were given of what are known as "May to December affairs", where the woman is the senior partner: Joan Collins, who is a whopping 32 years older than her other half, while another Jewish actress, Ellen Barkin, 57, is living with the 26-year-old son of the man who directed her 1982 breakthrough movie, Diner.

But it's all good, not least for divorcees like me, because it means we can date with impunity across the age spectrum without fear of being ticked off for preying on the young.

We're not. Or at least, I'm not. I just happened to meet someone who is 15 years less old than me. But it's not as if she's 15 years less worldly, or less wise. Are you kidding me? Do you honestly think that I'm more mentally advanced than I was in 1995? If anything, it's me that gets berated for being juvenile.

Besides, since becoming single, I have been out with women of all ages. And the younger ones hardly fell at my feet, impressed by my wealth (I have none) or power (ditto). It's probably more to do with pity, and good genes from my mum which means my skin has a reasonably youthful glow. This has got me in hot bother: one girl who I went out with and I presumed knew my age, blanched when she discovered how old I was. No, not blanched. Turned green. Not a good look.

I've gone a whiter shade of pale myself, and experienced humiliation at the other end of the scale, going to expensive restaurants with successful older women and having to decline starters on the grounds that, if I don't, my children won't eat that month.

So for now I'm in a relationship with a thirtysomething who doesn't mind my economical approach to leisure activities. But nothing lasts forever. And who knows, next time it could be you, madam - yes, you sucking on the Werther's Original. Because I'm nothing if not an equal opportunities dater.

    Last updated: 12:07pm, June 30 2011