As the old saying goes, age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
In dating, many people naturally gravitate towards people of similar ages. But opening to the pool of adult daters in a wide range greatly expands the possibilities of connection. And sometimes, by chance, we are especially attracted to a personality of someone much younger or much older.
Some people find themselves most attracted to people of a particular age, regardless of their own age. It is socially common for some older men to date much younger women, for example. Some young men are frequently attracted to older women, too. When an older woman dates younger men, our heads still turn and tongues wag, but it is also fairly common. Some young women are most attracted to older men, or older women.
Age gap relationships can be challenging because they flout conventional social norms and also because the experiences of the lovers and their lives are much different, presenting unique obstacles or difficulties.
What Is an Age Gap Relationship?
An age gap relationship is a relationship between people who are ten or more years apart in age.
According to the BBC, in the west, approximately 8 percent of heterosexual relationships are age gap relationships. In gay male relationships, it is about 25 percent, and for lesbian relationships, it is about 15 percent.
About 1 percent of male-female relationships have an age gap of 28 years or more.
A famous age gap relationship was the scandalous marriage between Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith and oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. She was 26 years old and he was 89. They walked down the aisle together with her towering over his wheelchair.
Young women who marry rich older men are often seen as gold diggers, taking advantage of helpless rich men. Conversely, the rich older man is seen as a kind of pervert, attempting to buy a young woman for love.
While certainly their age gap relationship was untraditional, in my mind, a grown adult man who had made billions in business was capable of understanding the limits of the relationship and its terms.
Certainly someone like Anna needed affection and security. Why wasn’t this an acceptable exchange, when marriages and relationships are formed all over the world for many different reasons? Both maintained their love for each other, even if it looked different from other people’s relationships.
Singer Madonna is also known for her frequent age gap relationships. Her husband Guy Ritchie was ten years her junior, but afterwards, she had a number of relationships with men 30 or more years younger, including a 25-year-old dancer and a Brazilian model named Jesus.
Can an Age Gap Be Too Big?
There’s no doubt about the fact that for most people, most of the time, we choose someone in our same age range for a relationship. This is true even among those who are consciously open to dating people who are much younger or much older than we are.
Exploring sex with people in different age ranges is more common than building an age gap relationship, but still is not the experience of the majority.
This is because people tend to form relationships with those they have much in common with. Building a relationship or life together often means having a similar starting point or foundation. A young man who is looking to build a family, for example, probably won’t connect with a 65-year-old woman with grown children older than he is.
If someone has been through three divorces and travelled the world, they may not find they have much in common with a young woman who has never left her state or been in a committed relationship.
That said, no, there isn’t such a thing as an age gap that is too big, for those people who find themselves drawn to each other against the odds.
9 Challenges of Age Gap Relationships
Stigma is becoming less of an issue as social connections become more diverse in every way and more people date different genders, ages, classes, and cultures, being open to all kinds of people.
Nonetheless, most age gap relationships will encounter some stigma from friends, family, and community.
2. Predatorial Partners
One challenge in age gap relationships is that the motivation for one partner can be predatorial. Without stereotyping all mismatched age connections as fake or somehow perverse, it is a reality that there could be red flags.
A much older person may be trying to prove they are still attractive and take advantage of a younger person who believes it’s meaningful and secure. They may new younger bodies as more attractive than other seniors and use their partner while professing love.
Conversely, a younger person may lure a vulnerable senior by making them feel wanted, when all that is wanted is their status or their estate.
3. Health and Mobility Discrepancies
When one partner is going dancing every weekend, running marathons, and working out at the gym, and the other is using a walker and an oxygen tent, the age gap relationship can face considerable friction as both must make allowances for the natural state of the other’s body and health. A young person may not be equipped to act as nurse no matter how much love they feel.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that if one partner is in her 80s and her lover is 33, both of them in a long-term age gap relationship will face the probability of a short relationship.
This can cause significant distress and anxiety. Of course any one of any age can unexpectedly have a serious illness or an accident. But if one person is elderly, illness and death is not unexpected.
5. Financial Differences
Many couples, whether or not they are in an age gap relationship, have dramatic financial differences between them. These are always tough to deal with. But not impossible. Communication and honest discussion of expectations is necessary.
If one partner in the age gap relationship is established and the other isn’t, it is not just the money that presents the challenges, but the difference in life experiences. However, some work very well with mentorship, support, and compassionate understanding between them.
6. Family Disapproval
One of the biggest concerns in an age gap relationship is family disapproval. Family members on both sides may be suspicious of the motivations of the partner, or they may simply be less willing than the lover to slow down, speed up, or make the necessary concessions.
7. Maturity Gap
Not all age gap relationships have a maturity gap in the way. Some older adults are young at heart or don’t have expectations that their younger lover has read all the classics and started a retirement fund.
Some young people are extremely sensible early on and don’t get along with their own age and the interests they perceive as frivolous. But for many age gap relationship couples, maturity differences can drive a real wedge between them.
8. Sexual Problems
It can be sexy at first to flout taboos and some people genuinely don’t care about what’s on the outside. But older adults don’t have the same sexual stamina, muscle strength, and nitty gritty realities like firm erections or wet vaginas.
A bond that is very intense and compassionate and patient can render sexual differences meaningless. But for others, there can be feelings of deprivation, pressure to perform, or of missing out.
9. Power Dynamic Problems
In an age gap relationship, it can be tough for both lovers to feel like equals, but couples who enjoy BDSM can channel power exchange dynamics into their own unique relationship. Others will find that power differences even out in different ways. For some, this won’t be surmountable for the long term.
Are you in an age gap relationship? How do you deal with challenges?