Today, Twitter users focused their snark rays on British actor, writer, and all-round clever chap Stephen Fry, whose engagement to 27-year-old comedian Elliott Spencer leaked in the British tabloid press. True, many of Fry’s 8.36 million Twitter followers responded with the grace and happiness that is typically triggered by a marriage announcement—Fry tweeted that he was “deeply touched” by people’s “kind congratulations”—but as the Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson noted, several amateur comedians went online to point out that Spencer looks like Fry’s son. Such larfs!
Of course, at 57, Fry is the same age as his fiancé’s father, Robert (who, incidentally, told the Daily Telegraph he was “over the moon” about the nuptials). A 30-year gap is no small thing, and in photos, the contrast between the two men is stark: Fry has borne the countenance of an old fogey—all tweeds and Tattersall shirts—since he was a whippersnapper at Cambridge, while Spencer could pass for a member of a boy band with his gelled-up Elena Kagan hairdo and Express wardrobe.* While Fry is rarely seen without a necktie, Spencer looks like he doesn’t know how to tie one unassisted.
Sass aside, the ability of rich, famous men to attract younger, more classically attractive mates is hardly breaking news, and the old rule of thumb that men should only date women no younger than half their age plus seven years has long been considered sexist and anachronistic. As long as everyone involved in a relationship is a responsible, mature adult, arithmetic should play no role in deciding a couple’s compatibility. What’s more, that silly calculation only ever applied to childbearing heterosexuals. The only time I have been even vaguely convinced that there is any justification for negative reactions to a May-December relationship (though the Spencer-Fry union is probably best characterized as April-ides of September) is when very old men father children. Is a 75-year-old father condemning a newborn son to early dadlessness? Quite possibly, but as long as his estate can support the lad, such behavior doesn’t seem particularly reckless. And none of that applies to this case, anyway.
Judging couples based on their degree of similarity is never cute. In recent history, couples have been challenged for having too little or too much in common—attitudes now, correctly, seen as shameful. Given the sad, painful history of gay men unjustly being accused of pederasty and of “recruiting” youngsters into the lifestyle, it’s tough to take the smug, snide “jokes” about the couple’s age gap with the lightness with which they were no doubt intended.
It would be better if we could just settle on this sentiment, in this and future cases: Stephen Fry pulled a handsome young man, and Elliott Spencer snagged a successful, erudite partner. Mazel tov, fellas!
Correction, Jan. 6, 2015: This post originally misspelled Justice Elena Kagan's first name.