On my knees on the bedroom floor, I carefully snip away at his toenails. He moans and groans because I’m apparently being ‘too rough’ but, in fact, I am doing my very best impression of a professional pedicurist.
Fortunately, he can’t see my eyes rolling, or that my lips are pursed in silent riposte. When I carefully pop his beloved slippers back on, I recall how he would once laugh at anyone who owned a pair.
No, I don’t work in a care home. The man in question is, in fact, my increasingly cantankerous husband Paul.
When we married nearly 20 years ago, he was the ultimate silver fox. Then 57 to my 27, he had chiselled good looks and an impressively toned torso — much more Brad Pitt than dad-bod — and not once did anyone ask if I was his daughter.
I don’t work in a care home. The man in question is, in fact, my increasingly cantankerous husband Paul. [File image]
His assets weren’t confined to a nice set of abs either. As a director of the PR company where I worked, he boasted a luxury home, another in Portugal and a fleet of flashy cars. Newly divorced with no children, he was considered the catch of the office.
Our sex life was fabulous. Exuding confidence and worldly wisdom, Paul seemed to possess an irresistible sexual energy that men my own age just didn’t have.
I don’t mind admitting, I learnt a lot from him. Men of my generation only had sex when we were too drunk to appreciate it. Paul was just as keen on my pleasure as I was his.
Hardly a surprise, then, that I ignored my mum’s increasingly shrill — to my ears — warnings about the 30-year age gap, and promptly fell headlong in love.
Paul was George Clooney. After our first date, he sent me a curated posy of my favourite flowers. Pictured: George Clooney and his wife Amal
In my defence, I’d always point to celebrity couples with yawning age gaps of their own. Look at Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas (25 years), I’d say, or Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart (22 years), or Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (a mere 20 years). Look how happy they were!
And yet it pains me to say, I should have listened to Mum, who was herself a few years younger than Paul. Age is but a number, so the saying goes, but I’m here to tell you, with all my years of first-hand experience, that it isn’t. It very much isn’t. It’s much, much, more important than that.
It was at the ten-year point — when Paul was 66 and I was still only 36 — that things started to go downhill. Fast. First, his lifestyle-related diabetes kicked in. Then came high blood pressure, arthritis, problems with his prostate.
Of course, none of this is his fault, and I take my ‘in sickness and in health’ vow very seriously. I knew I’d be married to a pensioner by the time I hit my mid-30s, and that the hard body I fell for wouldn’t last. No, it’s not the health conditions themselves that I find hard to deal with. It’s the glaring, impossible-to-ignore differences in our attitudes to life, our desires and needs, which have arisen as a result, suddenly and without warning, as if overnight.
When we first started dating and he would pick me up from my shared flat in his Aston Martin, many of his social circle assumed, at best, that we were having a fling and, at worst, I was a gold digger. [File image]
At 46, I don’t want to go to bed at 9pm every night clad in pyjamas, as Paul now does. I thought we’d be travelling, working out together — yes, even at his age — spending weekends in the countryside. I see my friends take their partners wild-sea swimming and on Parkrun 5km events, and I am jealous.
Of course, many will call me ungrateful, or say you reap what you sow. I am used to being judged in this relationship. I have no doubt that, when we first started dating and he would pick me up from my shared flat in his Aston Martin, many of his social circle assumed, at best, that we were having a fling and, at worst, I was a gold digger. Yet, back then, ironically, it was Paul’s age that I fell in love with, not his money.
Were my mum’s tears those of joy or sadness? She won’t tell me
When I first met him, I’d just ended a relationship with a man my own age. We’d been together for a year and, while he was laser-focused on carving out a career in the restaurant industry, the reality was he was still living at home with his parents and didn’t even own a suit.
By contrast, Paul was George Clooney. After our first date, he sent me a curated posy of my favourite flowers — because, of course, he’d thought to ask me what they were.
Beware the silver fox; he’ll become a grey old moaner before you know it. [File image]
We began to see one another on a weekly basis, going to restaurants, days out by the sea, evenings at the theatre. There was never any question of me footing the bill. Should I have paid my way? I never gave it a second thought.
We never talked about the usual things men my age obsess about, such as football or hangovers. Instead, we debated everything from ecology to the ballet. Truly, I felt appreciated and loved by a man in a way that I hadn’t before.
After a month, I stayed over at his place for the first time, hiding my amazement at the size of his beautiful home. Inside there was a Jacuzzi, wine cellar and private gym. Outside there was a gated private driveway and extensive grounds.
Man boobs were appearing on that once firm chest of his
Over the next year, I became part of Paul’s world and like to think I held my own with his friends and their wives. There was one particularly hurtful moment when I overheard him being told what a lucky dog he was to have snared the company ‘blondie’, but as our bond deepened, superficial attraction undoubtedly turned into real love.
When he proposed a year after our first date, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
There were plenty of naysayers, of course. From my mum, to my friends, to Paul’s sister — they rang alarm bells over and over, but we ignored them all. In my view, you were either for us or against us.
As for our sex life — while it was glorious during the first ten years of our marriage, nowadays, well, I’m often stuck counting sheep to get to sleep while he snores beside me. [File image]
In fact, I lost friends over it and our wedding was necessarily a small affair. We exchanged vows on an idyllic beach with only immediate family present. Were my mum’s tears those of joy or sadness? Even today she won’t tell me.
Over the next decade, however, we gleefully proved the doubters wrong. Paul’s career went from strength to strength and we jetted off all around the world. I had accepted that children were never going to happen because Paul had had a vasectomy decades before, but instead indulged my love of dogs. But it couldn’t last.
When it came to the prime of our lives, we were fundamentally out of synch, and I now think there was bound to come a time when we could no longer run away from the inevit-able challenges represented by a 30-year age gap.
I don’t want to go to bed at 9pm clad in PJs as Paul does
The first dark hints came on our tenth anniversary. I looked at a picture I’d taken of our celebration and compared it to our wedding photograph. How had I not noticed? His jowls were sagging, those biceps had gone and man boobs were appearing on that once-firm chest.
I was in my mid-30s, arguably at the peak of my attractiveness and more confident than I’d been in my 20s. Overnight the age gap yawned.
When he turned 67, I accompanied him to an annual health MOT as he’d been having dizzy spells. I assumed the blood tests would point to cholesterol issues but, instead, they revealed diabetes. All those fabulous meals Paul had enjoyed over the decades had finally caught up with him.
Paul made a unilateral decision to retire. He started to become more set in his ways. The impulsivity I loved about him was gone and, suddenly, he was at home every day.
Without a daily routine, he began to dwell on his ailments. Every headache was a precursor to a stroke, every tingle in a toe was associated with the diabetes.
To all of those young, beautiful women out there convincing themselves decades of age difference does not matter, I tell you it does — and it will. [File image]
Within the space of five years, my gorgeous husband had morphed from George Clooney to Victor Meldrew. The smallest things would set him off: the placement of the bins outside; my failure to adjust the driver seat setting in the car after using it; the news — oh, the endless talking back to the news on the TV!
He’d nit-pick about everything and anything. Our once-fancy house took on the aura of a care home — over-heated and with meals required to a precise, never-wavering schedule.
If I were a similar age, of course, I imagine I would feel the cold, too, and want my meals at set times. I might get cross with the news myself. But I am not of a similar age.
Indeed, I can’t help resenting the fact that I have long felt prematurely old. In my 30s, I lived as though I was in my 60s — stuck at home instead of out enjoying life.
I sound like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but I’m very definitely not that kind of person (or wife). At all times, I try to be kind and compassionate towards my husband — even when he reminds me of his blood pressure problem when I disagree with him on some trivial matter — but goodness, my patience has run thin over the years.
As for our sex life — while it was glorious during the first ten years of our marriage, nowadays, well, I’m often stuck counting sheep to get to sleep while he snores beside me. Physically, alas, he just can’t manage to make things work the way he’d like, so what’s the point?
I always thought I’d be one of those endlessly understanding wives but, on this, it turns out I’m not. I really do miss sex and the absence of it only further emphasises how I’ve taken on caring duties rather than wifely ones.
It gets worse. Rather than risk him falling in the dark, he has a plastic pee container under the bed for when he needs to go in the night. It’s hard not to be woken up while he is using it and, to me, it feels like another care home prop.
The Aston Martin went with the diagnosis of his various health conditions — and, today, we have a Fiat that I drive him around in because he’s lost the feeling in one of his feet as a result of the diabetes. I have to zone out during the constant critique of my driving.
He is no longer able to do much DIY and, as the years have gone by, everything to do with the house has devolved to me. Yes, we have a cleaner, but all the rest of the domestic admin — including sorting bills and home maintenance —falls on my shoulders.
Where once we’d take sexy siestas — especially at his place in Portugal — today they have given way to his mandatory daily afternoon naps.
He has become needy in ways I never imagined, too. I can see that a couple in their 70s might become closer in their mutual reliance on each other as they get older, but our needs are now so wildly divergent, the balance of power no longer feels equal.
Paul moans if I want to go out with my friends and even insists on doing the weekly shop with me. I have never wanted a husband traipsing after me while I push a shopping trolley.
On the rare occasions that we go out together somewhere nicer — perhaps to a restaurant — I’m constantly anticipating his needs, too: can we park close enough to the venue, is the loo up lots of stairs? The glamour has ebbed from our marriage like a dishrag being wrung dry.
Of course, I’m green with envy when I see my friends dating or married to men my age. I’ve had more than one fantasy about what I’d like to do with one particular guy, too. Can you blame me?
Sometimes my mind goes to even darker places. Did Paul marry me knowing full well I’d look after him in his twilight years, robbing me of the best years of my life?
I’ve lost count of the times I wished I’d listened to my mother. She doesn’t want to hear it now because she is firmly in the ‘you have made your bed, so you lie in it’ camp.
And so now I can only echo her. To all of those young, beautiful women out there convincing themselves decades of age difference does not matter, I tell you it does — and it will. Beware the silver fox; he’ll become a grey old moaner before you know it.
As told to Samantha Brick. Names have been changed to protect identities. Maria Philip is a pseudonym.