Charles Roberts' parents never said anything, but he could tell that they disapproved by the looks on their faces. Roberts, a 35-year-old chemical engineer who lives in Eagle Rock, likes older women--20 or 30 years older. From time to time, he said he's gone out with women closer to his own age, but "I just don't seem to get excited about the whole thing."
Roberts was one of half a dozen men in their 20s and 30s at a recent brunch-time meeting of the DecMay Club at a Wilshire Boulevard hotel.
The group, made up of nonsmokers interested in meeting older women or younger men, is neither shocked at the youthfulness of some of Cher's beaus nor horrified at the recent marriage of fashion designer Mary McFadden, 53, to Kohle Yohannon, 22. Nobody snickers at the notion of a man choosing to be with a woman old enough to be his mother or even his grandmother.
Founded in 1984 by Phyllis Sidney, the club has a core of about 30 active members, said Sidney, a designer of fashion accessories. At the brunch, the ratio of men to women was about 3 to 1. But that was a fluke, Sidney said. Usually the number of men and women is about equal.
Judie Gold, who described herself as "57 going on 25" and was at her first club meeting, said she thought that the mix was perfect. "This is a lovely turnout," said Gold, assistant to the head of TV at Motown Productions. "Ask any woman."
Sidney, who is 60 and lives in West Hollywood, said she started the group because there was no safe, comfortable place for women such as herself to meet the younger men they prefer. Sidney, who used to joke to friends that their sons were too old for her, said she finds that she likes men "up to about 40."
Bars weren't the answer for Sidney. And at most singles events, she found, the expectation was that women, at least, would show interest only in men their own age or older.
"I would approach a man I found attractive and that I thought was appropriate, and he would look at me with complete bewilderment," she said. Sidney ran an ad proposing the unusual social club in a local alternative newspaper. "Eleven people showed up at the first meeting."
At the time, Sidney said, an organization that aids December-May liaisons for women "was considered beyond avant-garde--it was considered sick." One of the best things about the group, members say, is that they don't have to deny, explain or justify preferences that some people regard as odd, comic or even distasteful. "Everybody who comes here knows why they're here," Sidney said.
The club, which runs ads in singles publications, meets as often as five times a month for brunch, picnics and parties at members' homes. Dues are $20 for six months. So far, the organization hasn't resulted in a wedding but, Sidney said, "there's been a lot of dating going on."
Members of the group, which is open to people of any age, say they don't accept the conventional view that women become less desirable as they age.
"I find their experience attractive," said Robert James of Long Beach. "I like going out with a woman who already knows what she wants," said James, who looks even younger than his 23 years.
Sidney said she was married to an older man for 16 "yucky" years. She turned to younger men because "men my own age would try to sabotage me. I've never found a young man who would do that."
She said her male contemporaries tend to be domineering, patronizing or worse toward women. "Older men presume a lot," she said. "I don't need someone to tell me to cross the street. If I need a man, I need a man. All my experiences with younger men have been delightful. Younger men don't feel that they have to be in charge of the world, in charge of everything."
Best of all, she said, "with younger men, I could be who I really am."
Keeps Spirits Up
Sidney said she finds it easier to find like-minded companions among young men, but she wouldn't say no to the right silver-haired man. "I would go out with a man my own age if he was playful, if he was helpful," she said. She also said she finds that younger men are more fun. Her profession--designing bows and other decorations for women's hair--is demanding, creative work, "and I need to keep my spirits up."
Several of the men at the brunch chose not to be interviewed. Others said they felt comfortable with older women in ways they did not feel with women their own age. James said he doesn't think he is particularly attractive to female contemporaries because they place so much emphasis on appearance and status.
"I don't have a very glamorous life style," said James, who works in retail and goes to college part time. "What I have to offer women are not things that can be bought."
Mike Holland, 28, of Glendale, who has dated a woman 20 years his senior, said he likes the independence that so many older woman show--"they take control of their own agenda." Holland, who runs an equipment rental business, said he thinks that "there's more pretense involved in relationships with younger women."
As did several other club members, Holland said he would not be put off by an older woman's inability to have children since he doesn't particularly want to have children of his own. Holland said he has not discussed his interest in older women with his family, "but my friends respect my choice."
Sidney said she has only once had to ask someone who came to a meeting not to come back. He was a problem drinker, she said. As to the possibility that some young hustler will join the club in hopes of meeting and exploiting a wealthy older woman, Sidney doesn't worry about it. "These are all older women, and they can take care of themselves."