Today I’m going to tackle a subject here that is intrinsic to a meeting of cultures here in the Philippines. And that subject is the age-difference relationships between Foreign Men and Filipina Ladies. Also known as the ‘May-December’ relationship. Whether you are reading this as someone with interest in moving to the Philippines, or as a person curious about this sort of relationship, I think you will find yourself challenged to keep an open mind about this. So, without any more pretense, let’s get into the thick of this.
For the uninitiated, here is the situation.. here in the Philippines it is a very common sight to see a man in his sixties married to a young woman in her twenties with their child or two tagging along. Personally, I live on the small island of Mactan and I see it at least every other day. And if I go to the larger malls in Cebu, I see it several times a day all through the day. What a rarely see, and by rare I mean perhaps three times in a four-month period.. is a Foreigner/Filipina couple who are both the same age. It does happen, but here it is the exception, not the general rule.
Now, take just a moment to wrap your mind around this, because it will be the crux of what we are discussing here. Chances are if you live in Europe this is not unfamiliar to you and you have seen this plenty of times. Being an American myself, I have to say that in 49 years of living in the USA.. I probably only saw or knew someone in a May-December relationship perhaps a dozen times. Here in the Philippines, it’s a dozen every week. Husband is no doubt in his 60’s.. wife is in her 20’s and more often than not, very attractive. Him.. about 5’10” and her.. about 5’0”. I tell you, I’ve lost track how many times I’ve seen two or three young ladies walking by and at first glance I thought they were all schoolmates. All the same height, same weight, same nice figure.. and it turns out one of them was the Mother. That is the sort of situation that makes up the Philippines. It’s not like in America where it’s pretty easy to tell the Mothers from the daughters.
I’m the kind of person that observes and asks a lot of direct questions from people in private. I want answers. I want to know people’s motives. I want to know what makes their mind and heart ‘tick’. So, I ask. And from what I’ve observed of cultures outside the Philippines and within it here are some trends I have noticed.
In America, young girls are told from an early age, “You are an equal. You can be anything you want to be.”. That is great, and I raised my daughter along those lines. But there’s another unspoken side effect to this individualistic, self-sufficient mantra and it echoes something like this when they are older, “You aren’t the boss of me. I do what I want. I don’t need you. You’re lucky I even date you.” The only part of American culture I’ve witnessed that contradicts this mentality is found among conservative religions such as Christianity, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh-Day Adventist and similar Bible based religions which still hold up the values of the Wife who is both a HelpMate to her Husband, yet submissive to his authority and leadership. These days the ‘Proverbs 31’ Wife is practically spit upon by contemporary culture. It is no longer esteemed as it once was even in America’s own history as recently as 75 years ago. The very word ‘submissive’ is one that chokes in the throat of any woman who wants to be seen as ‘progressive’ among her peers. Today’s American woman, for the most part, does not value or practice the age-old values of a ‘submissive wife who trusts in God’. And this has everything to do with why the age-difference relationship is, to this very day, considered a pariah of society in America despite having such an open mind about interracial or same-sex relationships.
Two men can show up at a party as being openly Gay, living together as spouses and these days nobody dares speak a word against it. That would be prejudicial. That would be ‘hateful’. Same for interracial relationships. It’s been a long time since anyone batted an eye regarding a White and Black spouse being married or in a relationship. (Maybe in the South some eye-batting still goes on.) But people in America today are very accepting of both these relationship scenarios. However.. if someone shows up at the family reunion or Christmas party and the age difference between spouses is anything more than 10 years.. people’s heads begin to turn. Comments are made and if the age difference is 20 years or more.. slanders are uttered, accusations and judgments are made.
“She’s only with him for the money.. a gold-digger.”
“He’s old enough to be her father.. what a perv.”
These are, sadly, the sort of judgments.. and yes, they are judgments.. made upon anyone who dares to love or (gasp) marry someone with any noticeable age difference in America. And I think there’s a reason for it. Namely, what I just mentioned about how little girls are taught about self-sufficiency and independence. People look at a younger woman and assume the ONLY reason she would ever marry him is because he is wealthy. She shouldn’t be doing that. She should be out there, in the world, making her own fortune and not relying on a man who has established some security he’s willing to share with her in marriage. But that’s all assuming that ‘equality’ has anything to do with non-dependence. It doesn’t.
In a same-age relationship, if the husband works and the wife doesn’t.. she’s not accused of being ‘dependent’ or a ‘gold-digger’. So then why the stigma? Why so much judgmentalism for one couple and not the other?
The answer is found in two things: Differences in Culture and.. Ignorance.
DIFFERENCES IN CULTURE
Now.. let’s take a look at the Philippines. Americans at times like to say that America is a ‘Christian Nation’. America has a long-standing history of Christian roots, I’ll grant that. Those roots are evidenced in both our national traditions and even our Constitution. However.. America today is hardly a theocracy that looks to God for guidance either in its politics or its entertainment. Let’s not kid ourselves.. Congressmen hardly kneel down in prayer before voting on new legislation in search of God’s guidance. Hollywood is hardly turning down scripts that include graphic violence or envelope-pushing nudity. Christianity is an ‘element’ of American life.. but it is not a driving force across the nation. If anything, freedom for a multitude of religions is the core of America.. not Christianity as its sole backbone.
But not so here in the Philippines. The first thing you have to understand about life here is, “It’s a whole other world.” Here, Catholicism is not just one of a multitude of religions that coexist within it’s borders. No. It is much, much more than that. It is not just a driving force in their past history either. It is what shapes their laws, today. It is what is taught in schools. It is what is taught around the kitchen table at meal times. Just one example; Adultery laws. Here in the Philippines, Catholic culture is so embedded in the legislation that to commit Adultery is a legal crime. People can be imprisoned from 2 to 6 years for cheating on their spouse. Meanwhile, in America (the Christian Nation.. ahem).. no such law exists nor will it ever see the light of day. Here, Catholic dogma is everything. To the point that even contraception is still frowned upon to this day. (I could get into a whole discussion on how I disagree with this, but I won’t get sidetracked.) A person doesn’t have to live here long to see that laws such as ‘No Divorce’ end up doing more harm than good. Catholicism is such a driving force here that marriage is seen as an unbreakable joining of God that no man can render separate. You cannot get a divorce in the Philippines. Period. You can try to get an annulment, where the court says that no marriage ever should have occurred for a short list of reasons. But not a divorce.
My whole point in bringing this up and why it relates to age-difference marriages is that here.. a whole other phenomena is occurring in the raising up of young girls. Here, young girls ARE told to esteem the ‘Proverbs 31’ Wife model. Here.. Mothers teach their daughters in all strictness that when the day comes that they marry a man, they are to love him faithfully. They are to honor his authority in the family. They are to be his Helpmate in life. They are to be good Mothers to his children. They are to assist him in providing for the family needs.
This is an extremely important difference in culture that makes for all the difference between a 19 year old Filipina and a 19 year old American Girl.
The two cannot even be compared. The Filipina girl here at a younger age has a far different perspective on marriage than the American girl whose life is consumed with.. herself, her hair, her shoes, her wants, her.. her.. her. I see and meet young Filipina women here all the time and I’m telling you, when it comes to having their head on straight, being mature, having right priorities.. as a whole, Filipina young ladies blow away most young American girls. Sure, you’ll always find a few exceptions here and there. Some Filipinas are selfish and some American girls are very mature. But as a whole trend, Filipinas by age 17 already know how to keep a clean house, earn money, save money, help raise their baby siblings and have a much higher sense of respect for the authority of their parents.
HOW DIFFERENCE IN CULTURE AFFECTS MAY-DECEMBER RELATIONSHIPS
There’s a reason I took the time to show the difference between Western and Philippine culture regarding this issue. And it is this; what applies and occurs in the West is NOT what applies and occurs here in the Philippines. It is paramount you see this.
In the USA, the reasons a 19 year old, self-centered, insecure girl decides to run off in a relationship with a 59 year old man are usually pretty obvious. Money or Defiance. Either is bad news. I can give a bit more lenience to college age girls who fall for their older, mentoring professor who is maybe 20 years their senior. Once in a blue moon these sort of relationships work out in the US. People do fall in love, despite differences in race, culture, wealth or age. It’s not even worth pointing out the times it doesn’t work out because so many same-age relationships end up in divorce that one can’t make the argument that same-age relationships make for better, longer lasting marriages.. the statistics just don’t support that claim.
However, strangely enough, here in the Philippines.. not only are there a multitude of May-December relationships; they stay together and are happy together. I have personally chatted with so many men this year who are just happy as can be with their younger, loving Filipina wife. It is a dream come true for both of them. She has the ‘old-school’ values of a loving wife and he is so amazed with her he practically falls over himself to make sure she is just as happy in return. It is not a rare occurrence here to see older men happily married with much younger women. Now, people are people and you’ll find some unhappy couples if you look around enough. With no divorce available here, many married men give in to the plethora of available, more liberated Filipinas (who have adopted Western thinking, btw) and end up taking them up on an offer to have them as a mistress.
But by and large, the age difference here in the Philippines works. And it works here because there is an incredibly huge difference in the mindset of Filipina women from American women. It is old-school traditions versus new-age feminism. And old-school is coming out ahead here.
So when I hear about men who come here in their later years, marry a young Filipina who is more than 30 years younger and return to the States only to face ridicule and stigma from American society.. I’m not surprised. The assumption is that because it doesn’t work in the US, it must not be working anywhere else. The assumption is that if American girls do it for insecurity or defiance.. all other women in the world must be doing it for the same reasons. That is why I say that such condemnation is based upon an ignorance of the world around them. Living with blinders on to what is going on in this big world. Not realizing it is not limited to what they see only in their own country.
BUT.. “IT’S JUST WRONG.”
Really? I’d like to challenge that. For starters, let’s look at world history. In most Latin, European and even North American countries, older men have been marrying younger wives for centuries right up to as recently as the late 1800’s in America. During the Gold Rush era of the American frontiersmen in 1849.. men in their 40’s were commonly marrying girls as young as 14. By age 16 most women back then were already having children. My own Grandmother was married at 15 to my Grandfather who was 32. Same in Italy, France and Spain. It is not some new ‘fad’ produced by the modern world media. It has been the status quo in history up until the Industrial Revolution required that we consider anyone under 18 years of age to be a ‘minor’, subject to certain protections to insure they neither worked nor entered into binding contracts until emancipated as a post-18 year old ‘adult’. It was only recently that we began to get it into our heads that “18” was the magic number of years that confirmed a person as an adult. Yet, for thousands of years it was 14 or 15. On its face value, I think we can agree that there’s nothing magical occurring at age 18 for anyone, boy or girl. Some people are very mature at age 18.. others don’t mature until their 30’s. Recent scans on the brain show that the brain is still forming in vital ways until after age 25.
When a foreigner marries a young woman, unless he met her working in a bar or strip-club.. that older man will most likely find himself sitting in the living room of her parents asking for her hand in marriage from the parents. And, again, the cultural difference is one where the parents are NOT reluctantly agreeing to something they can’t stop. That is not the case at all. Rather, seeing a mature, older foreigner asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage is what they’ve been hoping for since she was born. The idea that such women are being exploited against their will or emotionally separated from their parents is pure, blind conspiracy and ignorance. Here, so long as the parents are alive.. the entire dating and marriage relationship takes place with the knowledge and blessing of the parents. Unlike in the US, where a young woman may not bring her boyfriend to meet her parents until after she’s been dating him for two years and living with him for another year and then.. they finally meet with the parents to announce their wedding plans.
From a legal standpoint, it’s not wrong. Again, the law is the law. Nobody is advocating marrying a 13 year old. Filipinas here do not entertain a serious bid for marriage until they are 18, no different by and large from the rest of the world. So, no argument can be made that it’s wrong based on any violation of law.
“But.. it’s not natural, it’s just wrong.”
Again.. really? Based on what criteria? Most opposition to age-gap relationships come from well-meaning, but misinformed, people with a conservative view on life. So let’s take a look at the Bible for some absolute truth to shed on the matter. Nothing. Not one verse that can be pointed to where it could be said that an age-difference is a sin of any caliber or grade. If anything, the inference can be argued that several relationships, such as that between Abraham and Sarah, David and Bathsheba (whom he later married and had Solomon as a child, btw) and even Joseph and Mary all may have involved an age difference of more than five years between them. Aside from that, again.. there are plenty of direct, distinct instructions about marriage from the Bible and if age-difference was SO important.. somehow it just doesn’t come up in any verses. So, before making the assumption that an age-difference relationship between two people of legal age who love each other is somehow wrong.. it’s best to get the facts straight.
“But.. the generation gap will cause nothing but problems. They have nothing in common.”
Tell that to all the happily married men and women here in the Philippines. There are plenty of successful, happy marriages with these age differences that can easily hold a candle to the stats of divorce among same-age couples married in the US or abroad. Again, just because it doesn’t work for different reasons in the US is no reason to think it can’t work here. The proof is in the pudding. In addition, long before addressing this subject I’ve always challenged this notion that two people are most likely to succeed as a couple if they “have a lot in common”. From what I have observed, there are only TWO things two people have to have in common to be married happily; (1) The same definition of marriage/family and (2) The same Life/Religious direction for their future.
When two people have those two things in common.. the rest not only doesn’t matter, it makes for a more interesting relationship. Different personalities, different cultures, different interests.. there’s a reason people have long said, “Opposites Attract”. It’s because being with someone different makes for a continual adventure in learning that person. Now, some people are just not the adventurous type. They want sameness. To them ‘sameness’ equates with compatibility. Well, goody for them.. they can have all the sameness they want. For me, and a lot of men, ‘differences’ equates to the exotic, the adventure and the constant re-discovering of your mate over the years. To each their own. But to say two people can only have commonality based on age is about as blind a statement as saying only people of the same race should marry within their own kind. You love you who love. It’s really not much more complicated than that.
But while we’re dancing around the issue of maturity differences, consider this. When I first got married I was a 19 year old who married my 19 year old girlfriend. Between the two of us, neither of us had any clue what we were doing. Neither of us had any life experience. By age 21 we were raising a family, again, just winging it with some advice here and there from family or friends. Some of the advice was even good once in a while, much wasn’t. Within 5 years of marriage, things were already shaky. By the end of ten years, we divorced.
Now, look at a May-December relationship. The Filipina is perhaps 19-23 years old. Full of energy, hope, ambition and life.. ready to encourage her mate and taking joy in making him happy. Only now, she’s marrying, not a 19 year old with no Life Experience.. but a man who has been around the block a few times. A man who knows the dangers of credit card reliance. A man who knows the importance of reading contracts, shopping for a bargain, buying a home, being patient with a woman’s monthly ‘visitor’, what to expect with a child, etc. This woman is not entrusting her life and future into the hands of a 20 year old with no clue. She’s entering into life with the advantage of an older man’s experience on her side. So, is there a difference in maturity? Yes. And it’s a good, positive thing.. not a detriment.
Again, there are exceptions.. some caveats to be heeded. As I just advised a young Filipina only two days ago, “If he’s a cranky, negative old man at 62.. don’t expect him to change much. Find someone better.”
“But young women will grow, change and want to party.. seeking out younger men her age.”
Yes, they will.. if they were raised in American culture. To take on this reasoning is to again ignore the important difference that culture has on a person’s decision making process. We make decisions based on what we value. In the US, we value independence and entertainment. Here in the Philippines, young women value stability, security and most importantly.. faithfulness. Faithfulness and loyalty are trademark here with most Filipinas. Find me the Filipina bad apple and I can guarantee you that you’ve found the Filipina who has adopted an American viewpoint on life.
To wrap up.. there are no absolutes in life other than, as they say.. “death and taxes”. All Americans are not ‘such and such’, nor are all Filipinas.. or Mexicans, or Whites or Asians for that matter. But there are such things as trends. Culture does produce an effect on how we make our decisions or live our lives. People who are raised by racist parents tend to see the world through a racist lens. People who are raised in a culture that esteems loyalty and faithfulness tend to be more loyal and faithful mates. These are tendencies, not absolutes. But, just as a casino makes money.. you operate with the odds in your favor and you’ll be okay.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES DATING YOUNGER WOMEN
On a personal note, I’ve done a lot of thinking now that I am single again and open to the idea of finding my mate in life. I am not leaving myself open to just falling in love with the first Filipina who takes an interest in me.. I have some very specific criteria based on what I want in life. One thing I want is to refrain from having any more children. I’ve had all the children I intend to have and I want to do some travelling and business ventures with my future wife that will not be at the expense of time away from a new batch of kids.
Most ex-pats come here and are completely fine with raising a new family. More power to them and God bless them. I wish them all happiness. But I choose to put my diaper-changing days behind me. That decision reduces the number of women available to me because, let’s face it.. most women whether they admit it or not WANT to have at least one child in their life. But some women are settled, as much as anyone can be I suppose, that they do not want children. It’s a much smaller demographic, but it’s what I’ll have to work with.
What I have found is that, due to a social stigma to make use of contraceptives here in the Philippines.. most women I’ve met over the age of 25 already have a child or two from a previous boyfriend. I understand, it happens. If I hadn’t used condoms when I was a teen, it would have happened to me just as easily. Many ex-pats are more than willing to love both the Filipina and her children as his own. Again, they have my blessing because so many kids here are in need of a good Father who is patient and knows how to be a good parent.
But that leaves a logistical problem for me. It means that if I want to date and marry a Filipina here who has no children.. my demographic is between ages roughly 18 to 23. Any older than that and, as I said.. they have kids. I’ve yet to meet one in my area that doesn’t. So starting a few weeks ago I had to seriously ask myself, “Am I really willing to be open-minded to the possibility of dating someone that young?” If reaching my goals to travel and be unencumbered with toddlers is my goal then the only logical answer had to be, ‘Yes.’.
And so I launched into doing something I hadn’t done in 31 years.. go on a date with an 18 year old.
Now, again.. it’s nothing like dating in the United States. Back then I dated my girlfriend who was 18 and we didn’t ask her parents if they liked it or not because I already knew.. they hated me. Despite having a 3.8 GPA, Editor of the school paper, in Drama and chosen as California Boy’s State.. I was Hispanic and their daughter wasn’t so.. asking for their blessing didn’t fit into our itinerary.
But here, the first young Filipina that I dated was Sarah, age 18. She did volunteer work in the community teaching disadvantaged kids guitar and the importance of staying in school. In her spare time, she helped raise her siblings and assisted with her parent’s coconut stand in town when needed. A very responsible young lady who insisted I get her family’s clearance before we dated. When I met her for our first date I already knew we’d not be alone. Her Aunt and Cousin were present at the table with us the whole time and walked with us as we strolled the mall. There was no touching, no goodbye hug.. just some time to meet and greet. On our second date, I was to meet her parents to get their permission to date her. Her parents had to work late so as we spent time with her Aunt instead. She vouched for me to the parents and finally Sarah and I had dinner at my place, during the day, and I had to have her home before dark. It was only then that she expressed she wanted to have children in a few years and I told her that was what we in America call a ‘Deal-Breaker’. We stayed friends though and still text every so often, but that was the end of that dating adventure. I was to find that things go much faster here in the Philippines. No time wasted with months of dating before discussing the ‘big issues’. Those are discussed by the 3rd date, sometimes the first date. (Did I mention that Sarah was 18, but still in high school?)
Next came Anna, also 18 and a student in vocational school to become a Medical Assistant in Elderly Care. Also very beautiful and goal oriented. My first date with her we met at her apartment.. which she shared with five cousins also in school who were present the entire time. After 30 minutes there, we then walked to her parent’s home so I could meet them and get their blessing on dating their daughter. We had dinner once her Father came home from work and afterward we had a one-hour ‘chat’ as to my intentions and answering all they wanted to know about me, my past, how I got to the Philippines.. but age never came up. Even before the interview was over the Mom was already whispering to her husband that I was a good man and that they should consent, which they did. A few days after that Anna and I had our first ‘official’ date.. again to have lunch at her apartment (and again with all her cousins present). We went through all this formality just so we could have a semi-private conversation. During which she then stated she intended to move to Canada upon graduating to take a job and wanted to know if I’d either follow her or have a long-distance relationship until she returned two years later. Another deal-breaker. We ended on good terms. I returned once to visit with her cousin during a birthday party for Anna’s Mom, but later decided pursuing Anna’s cousin may not be a good idea and left that alone. (A shame, her cousin Hannah is just wonderful.)
To be honest, after that I dated so many that it got to be a blur. All were ages from 18 to 20 with no kids.. but each one dropping out due to the no-baby clause I’m sticking to for the future. Not all required the whole process that Sarah and Anna had meeting the folks. But they all involved having either a friend or relative present during the date.
The second to last date I’ve been on was with a girl who said she’d meet me in a public place (SM Mall in Cebu) for lunch. We had lunch and she too dropped out when she said she hoped to have at least 2 children.. SOON. As if that wasn’t enough, she let it slip that she wasn’t exactly going to be 18 for another three months. “Check Please!”. I walked with her as far as the main lobby of the mall and stayed inside while she caught a taxi home. I wanted myself on the mall security video that I did NOT go anywhere with her. It pays to be cautious.
All this dating at the surface level may sound intriguing and fun, which it kinda was I will admit.. but it was also very draining emotionally. Not because they were young. But because anyone who has dated a lot knows.. it just sucks to keep your hopes in check and then still manage to be disappointed at the end of the day anyway.. over and over. As if all this weren’t discouraging enough, the whole time I was trying to erase my feelings for the one 20 year old that I do have feelings for but, also happens to be the one Filipina not looking for a relationship. Such is life, win a few.. lose a lot.
Even as I was returning home from this worst of the dates (thus far).. I was getting text messages from a young woman named Michelle. I had chatted with her in passing at the mall, where she works, but just 10 seconds here and there until one night she and three friends of hers invited me to a dance-club with them about a week ago. We had a fun time. Nobody got drunk. We danced a lot and everybody went home separately, Michelle and her best friend at her side she shares an apartment with kept each other accountable. So now I was getting texts and next thing I knew I’d asked her out for lunch the next day. So.. we went to lunch and talked for hours.
At this point, that’s as far as it’s gone. She’s 18, beautiful, sweet and doesn’t want kids. She lives three blocks from my place and I can visit her at the deli in the mall anytime. Seeing someone local is also part of my ‘list’. I’ve done one or two long-distance relationships in the past and don’t want to ever repeat that. So, with Michelle being local and all for the no-kids rule.. she’s the best candidate so far. I’ll still have to give it time to see how it goes so.. stay tuned for further developments.
My goal here is to lay out an examination on the topic of relationships with large age gap differences. I really don’t expect someone who hasn’t seen it first-hand to fully be comfortable with it. It’s a challenging concept to the Western mindset. My hope is that a person can be open-minded enough to see that culture not only makes for differences, but it makes for possibilities that sometimes works better than what we’re accustomed to back in the States.
I don’t think a May-December relationship is for everyone, any more than I think an interracial relationship is for everyone. Some people love long-distance relationships, or big families. That’s ok. Some people choose same-sex mates in life. It’s not for me, but that’s their choice for their life. But it does kinda break my heart a little when I hear of ex-pats who find the Filipina they love, enjoy a wonderful marriage with their wife who is perhaps 35 years younger and only encounter bigotry when visiting their family abroad. They say they feel so much more at home here in the Philippines where others see them together and just accept it as a part of everyday life. No judgments. No hatred. Just an acknowledgment that people of consenting age should be free to marry the one they love.
As for me.. I have my work cut out for me. If I were willing to crank out more babies or take on existing ones I’d have more marriage candidates than I could handle in five lifetimes. I’m serious. But because I have certain parameters I want to stick to.. she’s going to be harder to find. But, who knows. I may just fall in love with a woman with two kids and toss my parameters to the wayside. You just can’t always help who you fall in love with.
About Me.. In 2011 I made the decision to move to the Philippines within a year. Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat. (Mactan, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong, Boracay, Cebu) I recently spent the year living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Share with me here my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Dating, vlogging, cooking, traveling and sharing the information with you needed to make your own plans for living as a full-time expat in Southeast Asia.