The Santa Monica home that overlooks the place where Don Bachardy and Chris Isherwood first met is filled with an array of color, drawings, sculptures and paintings—55 years of art accumulated in Bachardy’s brightly-lit home. Little clay reminders of his life sit on glossy white shelves.
Had it not been for Bachardy’s older brother Ted, he would have never met Isherwood.
At that time, Bachardy said, he was 16 at the oldest, and Isherwood would have been 46. Ted would always make sure Bachardy accompanied him to the beach every weekend. It would take them two hours to get from their home in Glendale to Santa Monica using public transportation.
Ted always wanted to walk north up the beach, and although Bachardy didn’t know the reason, he soon learned Ted’s intentions.
“I soon found out it was the queer beach, and all the guys were waiting for Ted. I assumed it was because he was very beautiful.”
One of the men that happened to be waiting there for Ted was Isherwood.
Today’s society differs from society 60 years ago in many ways, which has changed relationships. Age differences of 10 years is becoming well established. There is no longer a five-year constriction between couples. Although a 10-year age gap is making its way to become normal, 30 years is still widely seen as unacceptable.
Bachardy had always felt attracted to older men.
“I always gravitated to people older than my age, which I think is a sign of intelligence. One not wanting people like me, but older people who could probably teach me something, and oh boy, did he,” Bachardy said. “Chris had this great charm. That charm was turned on to the maximum strength, and it was irresistible. He was interesting and so witty and funny.”
As each year passed, the relationship grew and flourished. Although the age gap required a higher maturity level from Bachardy, patience was also necessary from Isherwood.
“He put up with all kinds of difficult behavior from me. He educated me and nurtured me. He was my home, and he was everything to me,” Bachardy said.
Isherwood being a year older than Bachardy’s father was only one issue brought to the family’s dinner table.
“My father refused to meet Chris for 15 years. He thought he was supposed to disapprove. It was a hard time, especially for queer young men. I would go to dinner with my parents by myself, and Chris was not even to be mentioned,” Bachardy said.
After writing “The Berlin Stories,” which inspired the musical Cabaret in 1972, Isherwood’s work was recognized on a higher level and reached a much larger audience. The attention and fame that wrapped around Isherwood’s life was only another obstacle that had to be conquered within their relationship.
A large age difference in a relationship might sound intimidating, even forbidden for some, particularly in a time when society was much less accepting of these things. For Bachardy and Isherwood, not being taken seriously, and the condescending views that came from the public surrounding them only motivated them to continue their relationship.
“The concept of what age means in our society is changing very rapidly,” said Ian Alger, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
Age gaps, as well as ethnicity, cultural backgrounds and family values are all included in relationships one way or another. The reason why some are seen as more unusual than others is still being answered.
David Buss, a psychology professor, researched various topics within relationships. One of the topics Buss researched was age gaps in relationships. Buss surveyed 37 cultures from six different continents and found that in every culture men preferred to marry younger women and women preferred to marry older men.
According to psychologytoday.com, “Buss collected actual age differences at marriage for 27 of the 37 cultures, and across the board men normally married women who were younger than themselves.”
A person is no longer defined by their age. Maturity levels are being closely examined by the people of today. Attitude and status is seen as more relevant to finding a mate than age is.
Elizabeth Velasquez, 22, a third year biology major at College of the Canyons, strongly believes in the success rate that can be found in intergenerational dating.
“At first, I would say to myself that’s gross, or I could never date someone five years older than me, but when it happened everything just sort of fell into place, and it was the most perfect relationship I have ever had,” Velasquez said.
After four serious relationships and dating more people than she can remember, Velasquez’s current relationship with Oliver Romero has lasted three years. Velasquez believes the age difference between them has been a motivating force for her to become successful.
Her fiance, who is 22 years older than she is, has found prosperity in managing and owning businesses, and will continue to be a stimulant for Velasquez’s educational future.
“When I look at Liz, I don’t see a little girl. I see a young woman I can laugh with and relate to. If I can help motivate her, that’s enough for me,” Romero said.
As for Bachardy and Isherwood, public acceptance was not something that came easy, but love for each other did.
“He never gave up on me, as mean and nasty as I could be when I was young and silly, he always understood and always made me know that I mattered to him more than anyone else. I knew I could rely on him, and that he was always there for me,” Bachardy said.
Having that kind of support in his life influenced Bachardy to further express his artistic abilities. Because he had someone older in his life pushing him—similarly to Velasquez—he was able to become a successful artist.
According to Bachardy, Isherwood was the most important influence in his life.
“With every success that I had he was so delighted. That was reassurance to him. He said he couldn’t have been prouder of me if I had been his own son,” Bachardy said.
After 33 years of being together, Bachardy believes the last 10 years were the best because they could function as equals.
“By then I was older, I had established my own identity, I was a professional, I had all kinds of satisfactions, and I had all kinds of wonderful reviews of my work in newspapers and magazines,” Bachardy said.
To help him cope with his lover’s death, Bachardy drew Isherwood for the last six months of his life.
“I even drew his corpse. I did 11 drawings of his corpse in the bedroom,” he said.
Drawings from that point are now carefully stored in his art studio outside of his beach view home. Memories and illustrations are what Bachardy has left of his once beloved partner.
Bachardy believed he owed it to Isherwood to prosper.
“I had to return this trust in me and by being as successful as I could and loving him as much as he loved me, what better success story can there be?” he said.