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Since falling in love with Mike, she has needed to redefine beauty. "When you're with a younger person, you have to think, 'What's going to happen in five years? Ten? Is he going to leave me?' Your answer could be, 'I'm going to get a facelift.' My answer is, 'I'm going to be such a beautiful person inside that it's going to shine through to the outside,'" she says.

Not long ago, Dianne asked Mike if she should get Botox. He said no way. "One thing that makes our relationship strong is the fact that we were friends for so long beforehand," he says. "So when it comes to physical beauty, yeah, you get older, you get wrinkles, you get gray hair, but it's not that big a deal."

For many couples with an age difference, the most soul-searching conversations are about children—whether to have them, when to have them, if there's time. Dianne and Mike talked a lot about family around their desert campfires. "I knew he didn't want kids, and he knew I didn't want any more," she says. "If he had told me he wanted them, I would never have dated him."

For Carolanne McKirnan, 50, and Duncan Burke, 33, who live together in Boulder, Colorado, the question of children is still unanswered. "I'm not interested in having more kids," says Carolanne, who has a 20-year-old son and a teenage daughter. "If Duncan decides children are an absolute necessity, he has to make a decision. We're both aware of that."

Age-gap relationships need to be flexible, and sometimes they're in the spirit of "love the one you're with while you're with him." Carolanne, who wasn't expecting to be in love at all, has learned to take things as they come. When she met Duncan two years ago, she had recently opened a linen store and was more focused on searching for extraspecial percale cotton sheets than on finding romance. "I was a single mother, trying to get my business off the ground," she says. "I write. I try to draw a picture every day. I play the cello." Her attitude toward love and marriage was: Been there, done that.

Then she hired Duncan to design a website for her shop. He's similar to her—an artistic person who likes to play guitar for hours, who prefers quiet evenings and going to bed early over rowdy parties. "He's extremely graceful and very funny and handsome and old-world polite," she says. She could tell he was the kind of guy—and there aren't many at any age—who'd appreciate high-thread-count sheets woven at a monastery in India.

Still, she didn't let herself imagine they could be a couple. Boulder is a town full of beautiful, eligible young women. "The cultural norm prevented me from having any kind of relationship fantasy," she says. "If the older woman has money, she's seen as pathetic because she's buying the attention of a younger man. If she has no money, it seems like she's just hanging on to her lost youth. Those are pretty severe judgments."

But Duncan asked her out to a movie, then wondered aloud, "Was that a date?" Not long after, they spent the night together in her cottage, and he never left.

In the beginning, Carolanne hoped they would blend in with other couples walking down the street. "I was extremely concerned that we'd be treated as an oddity," she says. "Now I don't think about that. The more we're together, the more we look like we belong together." 

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