Liz Banks is 51—but she is a generation younger than her husband, and that's how she likes it. "I did not date men my age," says Liz, who lives in Chicago with baseball legend Ernie Banks, 76. "I am a very driven woman. I enjoyed being with men who were career oriented and comfortable in their own skin. And I loved being challenged by men with more experience."
Liz doesn't need to worry about looking older than Ernie, yet a May-December romance like hers inevitably raises the question of the end. Liz has trained herself not to think about how much time she and her husband have together. "God picks us at all different ages," she says. "When will he take Ernie? I don't know. I don't believe in looking to tomorrow. I really believe in living in the moment."
Many couples say an age-gap relationship can be a great window into other generations—at dinner you might discuss World War II with a much older mate, or blogs with a younger one. "I turned 50 in December," says Elizabeth Yoakum, a graphic designer in Sheffield, Massachusetts, who met her boyfriend, Josh Buell, eight years ago. "He turned 37 the day after my birthday. We have about the same age difference as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon." Their circle of friends includes his and hers, young and middle-aged, a wonderful, eclectic, challenging gang. "Josh's friends are all 30-something, and now some of them are married to even younger people," she says. She has never felt self-conscious around them. "It's not as if people come up to me and say, 'I don't like hanging out with you because you're too old.' You don't have to be in a certain age group to know what's hip anymore. We all have the Internet."
But it does help to be of a particular mind-set. "If you're very conscious of how far your relationship is from the norm, then every day you're going to see those differences," Elizabeth says. "I wasn't raised to be by-the-book."
If Chris Crowley, 72, goes by any book, it's the one he wrote: Younger Next Year. He is on a mission to stay as youthful as he can for his wife, Hilary Cooper, 48. Chris rows several times a week, rides his bicycle through the Rocky Mountains and the Dolomites, and spends a month skiing in Aspen every winter. "Older men married to younger women have a duty to stay in great shape and work out like lunatics so their wives won't ever have to wipe the goo off their faces," he says. "Seventy-five percent of aging is rot—you get a little fatter, a little more apathetic, a little more pain racked. But you don't have to go there."
Both say Hilary, a portrait painter, is the wise old parent in the marriage, more fiscally responsible and always the designated driver. Chris is the kid who doesn't worry about debt and dances like a maniac at parties. "From the moment I met him, I knew he was such a young spirit," Hilary says. "He introduced me to the athletic lifestyle. I'd never skied before; I'd never mountain biked; I'd never gone windsurfing. I wore only black. Chris is 24 years older, but he's really so much younger. I am never bored with him, never ever." But, Hilary says half seriously, half sarcastically, "I get sad because he is going to leave me for another woman: death."
"We have different horizons," Chris says. "I know I'm going to be dead way too soon, and it makes me sick. We are inseparable, and inevitably, she'll get left. But hey, that's the deal."