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Daddy Issues: The Age-Old Stigma Around Intergenerational Relationships

daddy issues
Photography: Florian Hetz

For numerous gay couples, it's the new normal.

Photo of Adam Russo & Joe Carrier by Bridget Marie Collective

I was 18 the first time I fell in love. He was 37 and kind of a Baldwin. Ultimately it wasn't meant to be, but not for the reasons I thought at the time.

When I was a recent high school graduate and fell into the throes of young love with a man twice my age, all I could think about was the taboo of our relationship, which was unconventional in more ways than one. I had a preconceived notion of who my first love was supposed to be. He would be taller with dark hair and masculine features, but no more than five years my senior.

Little did I know, I'd become part of a very popular relationship trend in the gay community and was only perpetuating its stigma. The intergenerational romance is nothing new for gay men. Some look at them and see an old man with a thick wallet and a young twink with daddy issues. If you've been in one of these relationships, you know that's rarely the case.

"In my experience, intergenerational relationships are some of the most functional relationships because they usually have a very honest perspective on what a relationship is," said Nick Fager, a mental health counselor who runs the LGBTQ division of KIP Therapy in New York. "Some similarly aged couples enter relationships thinking they are exactly alike, or perfect for each other, and that can lead to major problems when they inevitably encounter their first differences. Intergenerational couples tend to embrace their differences from the get go, which is a key ingredient to relationship longevity."

It's a dynamic that materializes not just in reality, but the fantasies of numerous gay men, men who are probably familiar with adult film star, Adam Russo. He's appeared in such titles as SugarDaddies, TeachMeDaddy, HisSon'sBestFriend, and Daddy'sBigBoy.

The man behind the films is Adam Keith who's making the transition into mainstream acting with the sci-fi series, Immortalz. At 48, he's not only made a profit off this mutual attraction between older men and younger men. He's built a relationship on it. For over a year, he's been dating 29-year-old personal trainer, Joe Carrier.

On the surface, a typical photo of the couple could be another still from one of Keith's films. But their attraction runs deeper than the physical.

"I think the most important thing is life experience or at least the desire to have as many different kinds of life experiences," Keith told me. "I feel more the teacher these days than the student. I love being able to share with Joe my life experiences and in return, I see the world through his eyes."

True to another gay dating trend, they met online. But their story contains just as much love as the next cookie-cutter relationship that our heteronormative society churns out. Their social media presence is a new kind of #RelationshipGoals, frequently using pet names for each other like "king" and "prince."

The dynamic isn't lost on Carrier either. He prefers older men romantically.

"Besides being all around sexier to me, an older man carries himself much more confidently, which is a huge turn on," Carrier said. "Having experienced more of life, they seem more in touch with who they are and what they want, which usually makes for better communication and less games. Probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is a genuine nurturing quality that older guys tend to have."

Although these relationships have long carried a stigma, Fager has seen it becoming increasingly accepted amongst the gay community. For Carrier and Keith and numerous other gay couples, it's the new normal. They might be sensationally depicted in our few film and television representations as unhealthy or destructive but they carry just as much potential as the next.

"The one piece of advice that I would give to people in intergenerational relationships in particular is to be very mindful of shame," Fager said. "Shame can come from multiple angles in stigmatized relationships, from both the straight community and the gay community. People are quick to obsess and look for reasons for the relationship besides love, such as this assumption that the younger member of the relationship has father issues, or that money is somehow involved. And also, be conscious of whatever shame each member is bringing into the relationship. We all have feelings and opinions about what it means to date someone much older or much younger than us. If we don't get in touch with them, they can affect our relationships in negative ways. We can be holding onto shame that keeps the relationships from progressing."

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