Age is just a number… Unless you’re dating someone significantly older or younger than you. In that case, age is a factor that requires management. The jury is sharply divided on age difference in relationships and both factions have some merit to their claims. And I, dear reader, am standing on no-man’s-land, trying to present a complete picture.
Each relationship has some areas that need to be worked around. It can be workaholic tendencies, introversion, financial habits, healthy communication or insecurities. The age gap in relationships, like each of these other factors, has its fair share of pros and cons. It can be a source of comfort and joy as well as frustration and annoyance.
But we simply don’t have enough conversations surrounding the subject to know what works and what doesn’t. I hope you’re ready for a mini-education on relationships with age gaps aka May-December relationships. We’re going to cover everything – viability, foreseeable problems, and some solid advice on how to navigate these waters.
Can An Age Gap Affect Relationships?
My grandmother once told me, “Even if you’re cut from the same cloth, you have a different make.” When it comes to relationships with age gaps, the year of manufacturing is also different. So yes, an age difference does affect your connection with your partner. Let’s look at it this way – a romantic relationship is a potluck party.
At this potluck, both partners bring their best dishes to the table. But an age gap means that their tastes are different. Say, the older partner likes leafy greens because that’s the sensible and healthier choice but the younger partner has a more taste-over-nutrition kind of preference. The table now has an eclectic mix of food on it.
Depending on the sort of couple they are, they can either enjoy each other’s dishes and gain exposure to a new way of doing things or they can fight about who’s better or right in the cooking department. It’s all about what you do with the age difference in relationships; some people experience immense growth by being with an older/younger partner, while others experience trauma bonding.
A numbers game – Patterns of age difference in relationships
A study by Conroy-Beam and Buss suggests that heterosexual couples usually have a three-year age gap. Since men tend to choose younger wives and women opt for elder husbands, the age difference in relationships sees older male partners. And if you think about it, we do see this pattern in a majority of marriages or relationships with age gaps.
In an attempt to understand this phenomenon, I spoke to my friend, Rebecca, who is dating a man 5 years older than she is. Why not prefer someone your own age? She said, “I never subscribed to the belief that older men are emotionally intelligent until I met Jason. He has a very nuanced perspective that resists being judgmental. Moreover, he’s quite balanced in the face of conflict. There are no ultimatums or shouting matches. It’s such a refreshing change…”
It seems like this dynamic is working out quite well for many women. The recent investigations by researchers have unearthed interesting findings too. A demographic study by Sven Drefahl reported that having a younger spouse is beneficial for men but not for women. And an older spouse? That’s detrimental for both sexes!
Related Reading: Dating An Older Man – The Ultimate List Of Dos and Don’ts
With so many conclusions and facts at hand, we can’t help but wonder if a large age gap in relationships is viable. Can the partners make it work in the long run? Does their love translate into a relationship? I’m taking it up in our next segment.
Do Relationships With Age Differences Work?
Whenever such questions are posed, I ask the individual what ‘work’ means. To me, a relationship works when it brings happiness and security to both partners. It works when it is healthy, regardless of its duration. From this perspective, yes, relationships with age differences work quite well.
The younger partner brings a lot of spontaneity, novelty, and energy while the older partner has maturity, stability, and experience to offer. When these qualities come together, the bond is beautiful and unique. And of course, there are many practical considerations at play. A serious relationship or a marriage is also a partnership. Two people come together to build a life together.
When women bear children, they invest a significant amount of time and energy into raising them. Their careers take a backseat by default, at least for a certain period. During this period, women prefer to have a spouse that can offer stability and financial security to the relationship. Someone who can look after them emotionally, financially, and physically. Older men check all these boxes nicely.
Younger women, on the other hand, are more attractive to men from an evolutionary standpoint; youth is an indicator of fertility. The general pattern amongst heterosexual couples functions very well in light of these facets. But it remains to be seen why the reverse (older women and younger men) dynamic flourishes. Ditto with same-sex couples.
However, age difference in relationships makes the couple hit a few roadblocks too. There are 4 main problems you’ll encounter if you’re dating someone who doesn’t fall into your age range. Here’s presenting the age gap relationship problems…
Age Gap Relationship Problems
The best example I can think of is Richard Burke and Monica Geller from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Think about the course of their relationship and the troubles they faced. Actually, scratch that. Think of how Monica said, “I mean, I’m dating a man whose pool I once peed in.” Jokes apart, their fictional woes are a living reality for many people.
The age gap in relationships poses a particular set of problems that people usually don’t see coming. We’ve listed the top 4 issues that crop up. There’s a high chance they’ll resonate with you and I’m sorry in advance for the bad trip incoming.
1. High society? More like bye society
Social disapproval is written in the stars of those in large age gap relationships. If you’re in one, the people around you will keep throwing ‘whys’ your way. Why someone older or younger? Why not try someone your own age? Why create a future with them? These unceasing questions will annoy you a lot. A. Lot.
And older men still get away with it, okay. Older-woman-younger-man relationships have attracted much scrutiny, as a study by Lehmiller and Agnew has demonstrated. These ‘cougars’ are often viewed in a negative light. For instance, George and Amal Clooney have garnered less attention than Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
Love comes at a price and that price is often social scrutiny. But on the bright side, you’ll get rid of any and all nincompoops in your life with zero effort. I think it’s a win-win situation.
Related Reading: 8 Relationship Problems Faced By Couples With Huge Age Difference
2. “You rock my world”
In an earthquaky way. Age difference in relationships makes them more prone to instability. This happens for one simple reason – the partners don’t see eye to eye on quite a few things. As we grow older, our perspective becomes a little less black and white. Maturity and experience change the lens through which we view the world.
Consequently, partners tend to clash on how things should be handled. It could range from finances to socializing. Actually, the latter is a frequent complaint of many older partners. A close friend was ranting about his girlfriend’s college group and he said, “They’re all a bunch of idiots. I can’t stand being around them for a second.” Ouch.
Romance is also one of the biggest age gap relationships problems. Younger partners have different expectations of expressing love but older partners are more likely to make uncommon romantic gestures. The level of satisfaction derived from the relationship might go down gradually.
3. P for priorities… and problems – Age difference in relationships
I once heard my brother yell, “THE MARTIN GARRIX CONCERT IS IMPORTANT, SUE ME JENNIFER.” He was talking to his girlfriend who was two years older than him. While this conversation can be used to illustrate how one should NOT make a case for themself, we can use it to understand how the age gap in relationships sees differing priorities for each partner.
Both individuals operate on different timelines. A 35-year-old will place more value on getting married or building a meaningful connection that lasts. But a 25-year-old will be occupied with their career or education. The relationship priorities will not align, to say the least. The younger partner will experience pressure to commit, while the older will feel like they’ve taken a backseat for the sake of the other’s professional advancement.
The younger partner might even feel an inferiority complex due to the older’s success and growth. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that they’ve undertaken a much longer journey to get where they are in life. Relationships with age differences have trouble finding congruity of vision between two people.
4. Tick-tock on the clock
Nope, not the song by Kesha. Large age gap relationships face a problem as time passes… the age difference becomes more evident suddenly. Sure, a 25-year-old dating a 40-year-old is still okay. But a 30-year-old with a 55-year-old? A 40-year-old with a 65-year-old? Okay, you get the gist.
There are many physiological effects of aging and the younger partner may feel the weight of them as these effects become more pronounced in their SO. From childbirth to agility, the quality of life changes when you’re with someone older. The most obvious example is sex. A lack of intimacy in the relationship can give rise to many other problems.
Having and raising children is also an important factor in long-term heterosexual relationships. The older partner might not have the bandwidth to be an active parent to the child. Thus, conflicts might become more frequent than the couple can expect.
Hmmm, so many age gap relationship problems… is there a way to tackle them head-on? Yes! There are not 1 but 5 awesome ways to manage the age difference in relationships like a pro. As America’s beloved author Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Age Gap Relationship Advice
There are a few adjustments and compromises one has to make when they’re dating a senior or junior in age. The right person makes the effort worthwhile and individuals are more than happy to go the extra mile for love. I’m here to make things a little easier with my age gap relationship advice. You’ll want to keep these close at heart!
And hey, this list has been curated after prolonged conversations with people who’re in age gap relationships. (No, I don’t mean my brother who belongs to the Garrix fan club.) Basically, these strategies are tried and tested life hacks. Enough with the chit-chat, here come the showstoppers…
Related Reading: 10 Bollywood Age Gap Movies That Show Love Transcends All Bounds
1. Open the (mental) windows
First and foremost, you need to keep an open mind. Like, REALLY open. Relationships with age gaps require a lot of flexibility from both parties. If you’re going to try and shape your partner into a version you like, things will go right down the dump.
Since there’s an age gap, the two of you will have very different interests. If you have the same interests, you’ll have starkly different ways of pursuing them. So, embrace this diversity wholeheartedly. Even when you disagree with your partner’s choice, respect the differences. Judgment or criticism have never been the characteristics of a healthy relationship.
2. Inner and outer space for age difference in relationships
Give each other the room to breathe. When both of you have space to be your own person, there will be less fighting or aggression. You will be your most authentic selves in the relationship. Letting the connection morph into a clingy or obsessive love affair will prove to be highly detrimental.
Power struggle in relationships with age differences becomes quite intense. Younger partners can feel like they’re being controlled or manipulated while older partners can feel deliberately neglected. The best way to prevent a battle of egos is not to let the relationship become the end-all and be-all of your life.
3. Breathe in, breathe out
Patience is key. To what, you ask? Everything. Patience is the key to literally everything. And you’re going to need a lot of it to navigate the rough patches in relationships with age gaps. A lot of what your partner does might be difficult to embrace initially. Their habits, way of life, perspective, etc. And the only way you’ll adjust to it is with a cool head.
A reader from Omaha wrote, “When I started dating my girlfriend, she was still in college. I’ve seen her transition into becoming a financially independent adult who has got her life together. But her progress was very slow, at least in the beginning. She took so long to get used to ‘adulting’. Her way of doing things really irked me sometimes but I knew I had to be patient. She’s doing well now, just by the way.”
American TV host Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
The best way to overcome age gap relationship problems is to communicate with your partner. You are more likely to do well when you work as a team. Bridging the age gap becomes relatively easy when you’re both open to listening in the relationship. Hear each other, respond instead of reacting, and be honest.
Related Reading: What Is the Best Age Difference For A Successful Marriage?
5. Of cuddles and care
Be affectionate and loving toward your partner. Making them feel loved and secure is an integral part of navigating the age difference in relationships. Hugs, caresses, pats, and kisses can work wonders for your bond. Along the same line, lead an active sex life. Spice things up in the bedroom every now and then to keep the relationship fresh.
You should also figure out your partner’s love language and use it to express your affection. This will cultivate empathy, kindness, and trust between you two. Just remember that love makes the world go round… wear your heart on the sleeve!
Well, what do you think? I hope you have all the information you need on age difference in relationships. If you think I’ve missed out on something or if you feel like sharing your own experiences, please drop a comment below. Bono loves hearing from its readers!
There is no ‘acceptable’ age gap as such but the general pattern suggests that there is a 3-year difference between heterosexual couples with the male being older. If the difference is significant, the individuals may experience societal disapproval.
What is “too much” in the face of love? But to answer your question, yes, a 10-year age gap is significant and can pose its own set of problems. Societal disapproval, different priorities, declined satisfaction over time, etc.
Yes, many couples lead a healthy and happy life in terms of love despite the age gap. A few problems do crop up but they can be managed with ease if both partners are willing to make adjustments.