Age gaps in relationships
A large age gap between a romantic couple always sparks controversy in modern society, no matter how happy the couple in question seem together.
Although my personal experience with age-gap relationships is far from an extreme example, my current relationship could be considered one. I am four years older than Heidi, which may not seem significant but as we were both fairly young when we started dating, we did have to deal with a mild amount of external judgement at the time.
This mainly came from two sources, each with slightly different sentiments: first was Heidi’s family whose feelings were that of concern and secondly were some of my friends whose opinions were more in the form of humorous teasing. From speaking to other couples in age-gap relationships, these are the two sorts of external judgement that are most common.
Society seems to be more forgiving towards age-gap relationships these days and we see plenty of exposure for celebrity couples with large age gaps. Even so, every example provides divisive opinions on whether such relationships are “right”. One example is that of celebrities Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, with Demi being sixteen years Ashton’s senior. When their relationship was first revealed it was splashed all across the media world as wrongful and a “publicity stunt”, yet they still enjoyed many happy years of marriage together.
Aside from my personal experience of age-gap relationships, I often hear from older men who are anxious about openly dating a woman far younger than they are. In the remainder of this article I will give some of my own opinions and experiences in dealing with these concerns before passing over to you, the reader, as I am extremely interested to hear your opinions on where you think the line should be drawn regarding age-gap relationships…
Why would someone want to date someone significantly younger than them?
The main factor that confuses people when a large age difference is apparent in a relationship is how the couple communicate on the same level. Interests, experiences and maturity are all presumably going to differ between the two people involved, so how could a relationship work?
There are two causes. The first is the people who psychologically desire to be maturely superior to their partner and to have someone depend on them in some way. The second type is simply that the couple ARE on the same wavelength and do relate just as any other healthy couple would. It is generally the first category that people disagree with, especially when one of the two people concerned is of a very young age and consequently vulnerable to things such as grooming.
When I first started dating Heidi – she was 18 and I was 22 – I hadn’t set out to date someone younger than me; I simply knew exactly what I was looking for in a relationship and the kind of person I wanted to be with and age simply wasn’t a factor if all the other qualities were met. I had actually dated a number of other women the same age as Heidi prior to meeting her and on reflection Heidi’s overall maturity in comparison was far superior.
Dealing with outsiders:
The only opinion that should really matter is that of the two people involved in the relationship. However, the opinions of outsiders will inevitably affect the relationship, so helping everyone accept your relationship regardless of the setup is important.
I had a thirty-year-old male student last year who shortly after working with me became besotted by a nineteen-year-old girl and they promptly started dating. The relationship was mutual but both of them were extremely apprehensive about how everyone around them would react if they were to become an official couple. They eventually ended their relationship due to these concerns and to me that’s a sad outcome to what could have been a perfectly fulfilling relationship.
The only way you are going to change the perception of others is if you present it to them as perfectly normal. The old saying “something is only a problem if you make it a problem” fits perfectly here. As long as the relationship is portrayed as caring and genuine then it doesn’t take people long to overcome any of their initial disapproval.
If you are starting out in a relationship with someone of a vastly different age to you then you probably need to reassure the people around you that it is genuine whilst not allowing other people to dictate your relationship. You also want to prevent the whole age difference discussion becoming a big issue in the first place.
Every relationship that deals with an age gap has a unique set of circumstances, so it is hard to distinguish a set of rules that all relationships should abide by beyond the age of legal consent.
I am very interested in what you think is acceptable and what is not. Does your opinion change if an older man is dating a younger woman than if an older woman is dating a younger man? What age gap do you consider to be too much? Do age gaps in relationships become less important the older two people are?
(age/2)+7 works every time!!!! 🙂
haha thats funny. I’ve been trying to work out some that dont work but youre right it’s perfect!!
Ha yes I’ve heard this theory before too. It does generally seem to be quite fitting although it would be imprudent to rely on such a strict formula for every case.
Having said that, I can’t think of too many circumstances where a 45 year old and an 80 year old have had a strong affinity to one another so perhaps there is some substance to it! 🙂
Thanks for sharing,
I think once both the guy and gal are over 18 it doesnt matter. I have always been really puzzled why girls always fancy older men though. Hopefull some females can comment to enlighten us all???
Yes, like I said, it only really becomes a moral issue when one person is under the legal age for sexual relationships (16 here in Britain). Then again, can a 30 year old help but groom a 17 year old if dating one? It’s a tricky one for sure!
As for women fancying older men, I think it’s largely to do with the confidence, authority and status that an older man more easily exudes… all very attractive qualities. Some psychologists also claim that women look for a father figure in their partner so that could also have some bearing.
I would also love to hear some female thoughts on this though… Ladies, do you have a secret crush on an older man (a celebrity perhaps)? 🙂
I think most women would agree, that an older guy is generally more mature than a younger guy. I would say that women like maturity in a man, so that’s definately one reason we go for older men!
I noticed quite a big difference when I started seeing Sam (yep…this Sam^!). He just seemed more confident in himself, which as he says is a very attractive trait. He was also a lot more mature than any other boyfriend I have had, although not so mature that he wouldn’t have fun! That’s a good thing : )
I think what you are right to say that once you are over 18, it shouldn’t matter about age difference, although in my opinion, I’d say that anything over 20 years is a bit crazy! Would you agree?
I definitely agree that maturity is probably a big factor as well as generally being an attractive trait, although it does depend in what context maturity is defined. Maturity refers to human development as a whole and so there are a number of variations, namely physical, emotional or social maturity. It is generally social maturity that is attractive to women initially and emotional maturity that most often leads to fulfilling relationships.
Confidence is another thing that is gained through positive experiences (which is a result of aging and maturing). I have occasionally pondered whether we would have connected so well if I was 18 when we met… The truth is that I probably wouldn’t have had the social maturity at that age to allow you to get to the stage of connecting with me on a romantic level. Interesting food for thought ai! 🙂
On the back of your last statement I’ve just had a little search for the biggest public age-gap relationships and the two that I found were that of Rod Steward and his partner (26 year age difference) and Michael Douglas with Catherine Zeta-Jones (25 year age difference). I obviously don’t know the full nuances of their relationships but both couples seem happy enough together. 🙂
Great article Sam!
I definitely agree with Heidi, she makes some great points : ) x
Thanks a lot Eva 🙂 x
I think you have some great points about age differences in relationships. I think why so many are initially frowned upon is from that old cliche that a man who is middle-aged leaves his wife of several years and gets involved with a woman several years younger. Also, there are women out there who do similar things. But in the end, they are done for the wrong reasons. I know that there’s more to it than that but if you’re going to get involved with someone who has quite an age difference, it should be for the right reasons. It’s a shame about your co-worker. They’ll probably always wonder what could have been.
Still, if you meet the right person, age should only be a difference like hair color. They always say you know, and I think that is a big factor in finding that right person, no matter what the age difference.
Yes I agree; there are so many clichéd labels thrown around by a judgemental society: ‘sugar daddy’, ‘toy boy’ and ‘bit on the side’. These don’t really encourage people who genuinely want to date someone in those categories. I agree that relationships should only be formed for the right reasons and any labels people put on it should be ignored.
You’re so right that age difference should be far more trivial than it is. I remember when I used to be out and about meeting women all the time, age was one of the LAST things I would find out about a woman because it simply isn’t important in itself for two people attracting and connecting with each other.
I always look forward to your comments, thanks again Elena! 🙂
I actually think that timing is the most important thing in relationships and if you’re at the point where you’re looking for a serious relationship then an age gap is irrelevant. When you’re not ready and you meet someone, age can be used as an excuse for it not working. So my feelings are that we should try not to be too judgemental and set in our opinions over whether things work or don’t work.
I worry that relationships can be superficial such as an older man wanting a twenty year old model on his arm more for show than for the actual relationship, which is sad irrespective of the age. This is different to an older man actually falling in love with a younger girl.
Judgements and prejudices from other people aren’t worth concentrating on as you get them in every field.
I would worry about my son or daughter getting in a serious relationship at a very young age regardless of how much older their partner was and I think this is natural. So it isn’t the age difference that is a concern, it is the fact that young people are vulnerable.
At the end the day the important thing is that no one is being used in a relationship such as an older man or woman for their money or a younger man or woman for their looks.
Hello again, 🙂
I agree that timing is important although the timing can become right if you want it to. What I mean is that I wouldn’t have said I was looking for a serious relationship when I first met Heidi; in fact I was one of the most casual daters around at the time. The timing became right once I realised we had the makings of a good relationship together. That does back up your point that we shouldn’t have inflexible opinions on these issues though.
I agree that there will always be judgements and prejudices from other people and whilst you can’t change how other people act, you can change how you react to them and hopefully influence those people by example.
As I am not a parent myself I can’t specifically comment on how I would feel about my own child dating someone much older than them, although I can imagine how the concern for a child (even once they reach adulthood) would be prevalent. Young people can be naive and vulnerable although there is also value in letting them learn from their own mistakes and experiences, as long as no one is hurt in the process.
I agree that it is also important that no one feels used in a relationship, large age gap or not. I do actually know of cases where money and looks are the dominant force behind a relationship (commonly referred to as ‘gold diggers’). In the examples I have in mind though, it is actually a mutual setup where everyone still knows where they stand and if two people openly enjoy a relationship based on money and looks then once again, it isn’t for me or anyone else to judge. 🙂
Thanks for commenting,
I read the following contribution on the makes me think website and it reminded me of this article so I thought you might like it to share with your readers.
“Today, my husband celebrated a healthy, happy 80th birthday. I fell in love with him when I was 21. At the time he was almost twice my age. And despite all the initial negative reactions from family and friends, here we are smiling 40 years later. MMT”
It’s wonderful when you hear stories like this don’t you think?
One of my friends sent me a link to that website recently and I love it… I hadn’t read that submission though so thanks for sharing it! It does validate some of the points that age shouldn’t matter when you hear heart-warming stories like that! 🙂
Thanks for sharing,