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Mary Kenny: Listen, girls: don't waste your youth on an older man

It has been reported that theatre impresario and all-round national treasure Michael Colgan, aged 61, is 'stepping out', with a new girlfriend, the ravishing blonde Louisa Carroll, aged 29. Ms Carroll is quite a theatrical powerhouse herself, having founded the award-winning Jouissance Productions in 2008. Jouissance, amusingly, is the French slang for orgasm.

It is said that Dublin's theatrical circles now recognise Mr Colgan and Ms Carroll as a couple, but the relationship has 'raised eyebrows'. I find this hard to believe. I imagine the consensus of views would be 'the best of luck to them'. And the consensus of views among men would certainly be -- to any chap aged 61 'stepping out' with a cutie of 29 -- 'good for him'!

It is, of course, possible that Mr Colgan's former girlfriend, Noelle McCarthy, may have a dissenting opinion, though we cannot know.

It is possible that his former wife, actress Susan Fitzgerald, the mother of his adult children, has her own views too, and it is probable his eldest daughter, who is older than the apparently new leading lady in his life, either considers it hilarious or ridiculous, since that is frequently the reaction of adult children when one of their parents acquires a paramour younger than they are.

In any case, it is a scenario as old as storytelling itself -- older man takes younger bride -- because it is something embedded in nature. Freud said: "Anatomy is destiny", and by this he really meant biology. By biology we live and die and biology has determined that men, and in particular the Alpha-male, can go on attracting sexual partners well into maturity, and can father children into old age. Nature and biology finds this acceptable.

With the aid of assisted conception and egg donation, it has been made possible for women to become pregnant in their 60s, but the medical -- and general -- consensus is that it is selfish, unnatural and even repulsive.

So we will always have the Alpha-male (so-called after observations on chimpanzees and gorillas, where there is always a dominant male in the tribe) who, in his 60s, and beyond, will always attract and hold the attention of a beautiful and nubile young female.

If, as is reported, Michael Colgan is among that category, then many will indeed wish him the best of luck and he will be admired for his pulling-power.

However, if I may take the thesis from the particular to the general, my advice to a younger woman is do not marry, or live with, a man more than 10 years older than yourself. It is fun, to be sure, to have a relationship with an older man when you are 20 and he is 40, or when you are 30 and he is 55.

But, actuarially speaking (deriving from the statistics of probability, as drawn up by insurance companies) it is likely to mean that when he is 80 and you are 50, you will be, in effect, his nursemaid.

In the 17th century, the essayist Francis Bacon wrote: "Women are mistresses to young men, companions to men in middle age and nursemaids to old men." This has not changed one whit, and I speak from experience.

My mother married an older man and so did I. My mother was in her 20s when my father was in his late 40s and she adored him. Young men seemed callow in her eyes, and Pa's experience of the world added hugely to the allure. I was born when he was 67 (and she was 42). He was cheered by one and all. "Hombre!" the men cried. She was pitied: imagine starting motherhood again in your forties! But he died when I was five and she spent 40 years as a widow -- rather longer than she had been a wife.

I, too, married an older man and things were fine until he was in his 60s and I was in my 40s. I still wanted to do everything and go everywhere but his focus had changed. He began to hate action-packed city life and wanted to while away his time in a quiet pub by the seaside.

I know quite a few couples now where the age gap has widened with the passing of the years. With one particular power couple, she is now just about hitting 60 and a dynamo, while he, in his 80s, though once the dominant Alpha-male, just can't quite keep up. Of course they could split up, there isn't the stigma of divorce these days, but splitting up costs a shedful of money, and anyway, a woman of 60 who dumps a man because he is 80 comes to look a little on the caddish side.

I can think of a full cast of second, or third, wives who were attracted to mature men when these guys were at the top of their game. The guys in question left their first (or second) wives for a fresher young model: and now the fresher young models are nursing elderly husbands or partners with Parkinson's, strokes, heart disease, various cancers in remission, or the onset of motor neurone disease.

If you love someone, of course you care for them, and not for nothing did the original marriage vow contain those meaningful words "in sickness and in health". And if the tables were turned, wouldn't many a husband look after an elderly or ailing wife? Many do. But the statistics are still very much more likely to tilt the way where it is the wife who cares for the husband.

I refer to the general picture. There are exceptions to everything. Michael Colgan and his young friend may be nothing more than affectionate friends. They have an entitlement to a private life, even if they are stars of showbiz.

At one level, it is none of our business what the nature of their relationship is. But, generally speaking, I say to young women contemplating committing themselves to a much older man -- don't do it, sister! Imagine yourself at 50, and him at 80. Or, alternatively, of course, only do it if you love him very, very, much and you are willing to sacrifice the best years of your life to that love.

Irish Independent