When Hugh Hefner married former "runaway bride" Crystal Harris on New Year's Eve, family, friends and fans everywhere thought "Congratulations!" "Finally!" and "He's how much older than she is?"
The answer is 60 years. Hef divorced his first wife in 1959, 27 years before Crystal was born. Men in the U.S. are an average of 2.3 years older than their wives, making the Hefners' age gap about 26 times greater than usual (hands up who's surprised that Hef would do something 26 times greater than average).
So Hef's is big. But it's not the biggest.
The biggest recorded age gap of a married couple, according to Unconventional World Records (quoting the New Straits Times) is the 83-year gap between Sudar Marto of Malaysia and his bride Ely Maryulianti Rahmat. Sudar was 105 when he married Ely, 22, who was working as a maid in the home of Sudar's foster son. Sudar had "butterflies" when he proposed.... and not because he already had a 69-year-old wife, Fatemah Mat, who was unwell. The unusual age difference gave him the usual case of nerves but Ely accepted right away and Fatemah Mat was cool with it since Ely would also take care of her.
But wait! There's more! The site also references a couple who were bested by Sudar and Ely, Wook Kundor and Mohd Noor, with an age gap of a mere 70 years. At 108, Wook was the older woman (older than everyone, probably) and hubby Mohd Noor, 38, was her 23rd spouse. The Malaysia Star reported that as of 2010 the couple were hoping to adopt.
Okay, those aren't so much May-December relationships as Stone Age-Space Age relationships, but do age gaps in general get a bad rap? According to Slate's Christopher Beam, they do: in 2010 Beam wrote that the research, though scant, shows that age-disparate relationships don't fare worse than any others. We tend to see these relationships, Beam writes, as "everything that's wrong with American society: Rich old horndogs, interested only in beauty, taking trophy wives interested only in money or fame."
So we see them only superficially and decide they're superficial.
But if you believe the old standby that "opposites attract" why not opposite ends of the adult life cycle? A common head-scratcher for those who don't get the Harold-and-Maude dynamic is "What do they have to talk about?" It's true that being a similar age offers comfort and common ground but coming from different eras probably provides an endless supply of things to explain and explore. We build on relationships by sharing experiences, so "You show me how to use Instagram and I'll show you how to drive a stick shift," probably provides more opportunity to bond than "Remember dial phones?" "Yup."
Why people are drawn together and stay together (or don't) is often mysterious even to them and we should be glad: if we all went only for one type of person only that type of person would ever get laid. The world is tense enough as it is.
So congratulations to Crystal and Hef, and may their differences be a source of rich intrigue and mutual benefit.
One caveat, though. It's often assumed that in older-man/younger-woman relationships that the man's age will make "'til death do us part," a fairly short ride. Actually it's the women who might want to be wary. A study by Sven Drefahl of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in 2010 showed that older men with younger wives have an increased life expectancy but "the greater the age difference from the husband, the lower the wife's life expectancy. This is the case irrespective of whether the woman is younger or older than her spouse."
Well, that's not fair. Don't forget to eat your Wheaties, Crystal! (If that reference is a little before your time, ask Hef. He probably remembers.)