If Tash Casso Fogel and Jimmy Fogel go out for a Valentine's Day dinner, they know what to expect.
It might be a disparaging look, perhaps a snide comment or maybe even an innocent remark that's made with all the best of intentions but still stings.
The reason is that even though they are spouses, Tash (pronounced Tosh) looks young enough to be Jimmy's kid. In fact, she's younger than his kids.
Tash, 43, and Jimmy, 81, have been married for nearly three years. During that time, the Minneapolis couple have experienced it all: disapproving looks, more often from women than men, Tash said. Ridicule, including references to her being a "golddigger" and him a "sugar daddy." And well-meaning asides about how nice it is to see a father and daughter spending time together that, unknown to the speaker, are much closer to an insult than a compliment.
And through it all, they smile. Not because they take the insults lightly, but because they're happy about their relationship — and they don't care what anyone else thinks about it.
"Nobody runs my life," Jimmy said. "If they want to look at me like I'm a dirty old man, well, I can't worry about what other people think."
"People make assumptions," Tash agreed. "Jimmy says the only thing you should ever assume is a mortgage."
They are part of a small group. Demographers refer to romances with more than a 10-year age difference as age-gap relationships (AGRs). According to the most recent data, only 8.5% of married couples in the United States qualify as AGRs.
They also are a mixed-race couple. When they first started dating, Tash wondered if that was the reason people reacted negatively to them, but she soon came to the conclusion that people weren't being racist, just jerks.
"You get to know how to read people," she said. "We've gotten really good at this."
And it's not in their imagination, confirmed Beverly B. Palmer, author of "Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life" and professor emeritus in the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. One of the biggest hurdles that AGR couples face is societal disapproval, which tends to increase in proportion to the age difference.
But Tash and Jimmy also have discovered the flip side of the story, confirmed in a 2006 study with the expansive title "Marginalized Relationships: The Impact of Social Disapproval on Romantic Relationship Commitment." The study, conducted by Justin J. Lehmiller and Christopher R. Agnew at Purdue University, found that the criticism of outsiders can help cement the relationship between couples who are convinced that they are right for each other.
"It's not my problem," Jimmy said of those who frown on their relationship. "It's their problem."
A slow beginning
Tash and Jimmy not only spend their free time together, but they work together as the Fogel Group at Coldwell Banker Realty. (In one of their rare concessions to generational differences, Tash advises that if you want a phone call answered, call Jimmy. She's better at text messages.)
It was real estate that brought them together. Both agents, they met when she was representing a client who was interested in one of his properties. It wasn't exactly love at first sight.
"I had to present an offer to Jimmy," Tash said, adding: "I wasn't that nice to him."
That negotiation fell through — as did their next one: Jimmy, whose wife had recently died of cancer, asked Tash out for breakfast. She passed, but when their paths crossed again a year and half later, he asked her out for coffee. This time she accepted, even though she doesn't drink coffee.
"I just felt a connection," Jimmy said when asked why he tried again.
They started hanging out as friends, "and then things just started to progress," Tash said. "We were seeing each other about once a week. Soon it was twice a week. Then it was every day."
They never discussed their age difference, she said. Sure, hints would pop up in their conversations that could have been used to estimate their respective ages — like where they were when the space shuttle Challenger exploded — but they refused to go down that path.
"I ignored the hints," Tash said. "I mean, I knew he was older, but I wouldn't give it more than a passing thought."
Jimmy was more direct in his approach. "I really didn't care" about the age difference, he said. "So I didn't need to think about it. I was attracted to her, and that's all that mattered."
His children didn't take to the relationship as readily. "But I was pretty blunt with them," he said. "Nobody lives my life but me, and if her company puts some joy in back in my life, that's all that matters."
As for Tash, she faced the innuendos that she was in the relationship for a payoff.
"People are always trying to diagnose you," she said. "I heard all the talk about a May-December romance — and I hate that term — and how I was a golddigger looking to have him buy me a Mercedes. But I was on my second Mercedes when I met him. I already was a success."
Some of the digs are fairly blatant. While attending a wedding reception, they were seated at a table with 10 other people. The wife of the man sitting next to Tash went around the table asking every person when they had graduated from high school.
"They're not at all subtle," Tash said. "And, generally speaking, it's mostly the women."
She was offended at the time, but now she looks on the bright side. "I think it's kind of funny," she said.
When they're not working — which isn't all that often — they keep busy with activities that, unfortunately, have been mostly derailed by the pandemic: eating out, socializing at the Minneapolis Club and traveling.
Some of their friends from when they were single didn't handle their transition to a couple all that well, but they also made some new friends who were willing to keep an open mind.
"If people get to know a person, it makes a difference," she said.
And if people aren't willing to keep an open mind, Tash and Jimmy don't hesitate to move on.
"Sometimes the best thing to do is to remove ourselves," she said.