After 14 years, I’m pulling back the curtain on what it’s like to be married to a man who is only 3 years younger than my mother, and to co-parent children who are just 12 and 16 years younger than me.
First up, the most frequently asked question I receive:
Did you have an affair?
We met on the set of a TV show. The boss and the much younger assistant. I know how it looks. People who ask me if we had an affair already assume that we did, and some have gone so far as to accuse me of lying when I deny it. But no, we did not have an affair. I wasn’t even the first women he dated after his split from him first wife.
Had you ever dated someone so much older before?
Had Warren ever dated someone so much younger before?
Do you have Daddy Issues?
No. I grew up in a traditional home with a traditional father/daughter relationship. But I feel like my answers are getting boring now, so maybe I should make something up.
What did your parents think when you told them that your boyfriend was 19 years older than you?
I never asked them what they thought, and they knew better than to say anything negative. I truly don’t care about the opinions of other people, except for my grandmothers and my three sons. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandmothers love me no matter what, so I wasn’t worried about them. My children on the other hand, are the reason I don’t have tattoos. One of them HATES tattoos. I can’t fathom what it would feel like to tell my parent that I felt strongly about something only to have them ignore it.
How did your stepsons feel about the age difference between you and their father?
I don’t think they realized we were different ages for several years. To kids, there are only four categories: peers, older kids, adults, and grandparents. Twenty, thirty and forty are all the same to them.
I remember driving Jackson and his friend to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert when they were 14, and his friend asked (in front of us), “Is it weird that your parents are so far apart in age?” Clearly his parents has planted that. Jackson’s response was simply, “No. Should it be?” I’m not sure, at that point, if he had given our age difference any thought.
My dad is only 10 years older than my husband, but the boys have a very traditional granddad/grandson relationship with him.
What made you want to date someone who was essentially your parents’ age?
I’ve always been attracted to older men. My teen crushes were Michael Douglas and Joe Walsh. Even now, men my own age seem so young to me. But I think my attraction to Warren was less about age and more about self-sufficiency. I wanted a partner who was independent and established. L.A. is full of grown men searching for a direction in life, which is fine as long as they are not married to me.
You were 25 when you married Warren. Do you feel like you had just as much in common then as you do now?
According to my mother, I’m an old soul, and Warren has always related well to people who are younger than him, so I’d say our age difference feels more like 10 years than 20, but I’ve never felt that much younger than him. If we have more in common now, it’s because I’ve converted him to my way of thinking on several political issues. You’re welcome, Babe.
You two eloped. Is there a reason you didn’t have a wedding?
At the time, I was working as an assistant to two executive producers on a TV show. Planning a wedding felt like producing an episode of television, which is fake. I didn’t want my wedding to feel less than sincere. We flew to New York during a hiatus week and eloped, without the boys. It wasn’t a secret, our family and friends knew, but we didn’t make a big deal of it. I have no regrets, except not hiring a photographer.
There’s a stereotype about older men in Hollywood and their much younger second wives. What are your thoughts on that?
When we were dating, I was definitely warned that it would never last; that I was his rebound.
There a general feeling that older men will take advantage of younger women. But unless you have the power of Weinstein or Moonves, there’s not much to take advantage of. I had a Saturn sedan and an assistant salary. He drove a Maserati. Who’s going to take advantage of who?
Have you and he ever gotten any snarky comments about your age difference?
Not comments, but looks. Is it possible to give snarky looks? I feel as though I’ve been on the other end of them. The moms at school were not always welcoming.
On joint projects with your husband, do you feel like people take you less seriously? Has anyone ever questioned your qualifications?
Oooooooh, yes. And not just on joint projects. I’ve had executives and fellow writers ask me if he got me into the industry. For the record, I have a screenwriting degree. I started as an assistant and worked my way up. I was hired by executive producers and network executives who had no connection to my husband, who hired me based on my script sample and story pitches. But because it’s a hard industry to break into, people always assume that those who break in had a leg up. I’ve seen it happen the other way around as well — to men whose wives are writers. If her husband breaks in after her, they assume he broke in because of her. It’s insulting.
What is the hardest part about your age difference?
The cost of life insurance. No one warns you about that. If he dies at 75, I’ll be 55. That’s a lot of years to fund. Economically, it’s best for me if he goes at 72. I remind him of that quite often.
Also, his forgetfulness. He remembers almost nothing I say to him.
What is the easiest party about your age difference?
His forgetfulness. He remembers almost nothing I say to him, so I can add anything at any point, and he has no choice but to go along.
In what ways do you think your age difference has benefited your relationship?
I benefit from his life experience more than his age. He’s extraordinarily self-aware and reflective, and able to share wisdom without parenting me or preaching to me. He also knows when to keep his mouth shut, which is absolutely why we are still married. That is not a skill I possess.
What did Warren’s ex-wife initially think of you being 23 years old?
You’ll have to ask her.
But I will say this — she invited me into her son’s lives and never discouraged them from loving me or my family. I realize now, 14 years later, that that is ALL that matters.
When you are out as a family, do people assume Jackson is Levon’s dad and Warren is the grandfather? How do you handle that situation?
Warren definitely gets called Grandpa a lot. He doesn’t love that, but he politely corrects them. I’ve had people assume that my parents are Jackson and Henry’s parents, but no one has ever assumed that Jackson is the dad or that he and I are a couple. I think we give off a fairly traditional family vibe in person.
How do you feel about caring for your spouse as you age?
I don’t think it’s any different for us than it is for any couple. Plenty of same-age spouses care for each other through illness and even death. Anything can happen to anyone at any age. I could end up being the one that needs to be cared for, so I don’t stress about it, at least not any more than the average person.
Did your age difference affect your adoption of Levon?
No, but I was worried it might. I thought expectant families people might make assumptions about us, and perhaps some did, but my son’s birth family did not. I asked them about it point blank, and they said it never occurred to them. It’s also important to note that my son’s birth great grandma is 17 years younger than his great grandfather, so maybe our age gap is just normal to them.
What advice do you have for other May-December romances?
Ignore the noise.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.