- Gender and Relationships
Successful Age Gap Relationships
Successful Age Gap Relationships
First things first (and this may disappoint a few people, but it must be said): a typical Age Gap relationship is just like any other romantic relationship. A healthy relationship can be characterized by honest and open communication, cooperation and compromise, balance between work and leisure, having compatible (not to be confused with ‘identical’) ideals, etc. In an unhealthy relationship there may be physical, psychological, or verbal abuse, or unequal control and consent, distrust, disrespect for a partner’s needs and desires, etc. In any failing or unhealthy relationship where there is also an age gap, society is often quick to point to the age discrepancy as the sole contributing factor at fault, simply because it is generally the most outlying (or ‘unusual’) aspect of the relationship. If this were the case, then all Age Gap relationships would be doomed to fail. However (and though this may disappoint a few people, it must be said): Age Gap relationships can (and do!) succeed.
Myths, Stereotypes, Prejudices
As Age Gap relationships are still considered taboo (that is, not wholly accepted by the mainstream public – or considered ‘normal’), there are plenty of myths, stereotypes and prejudices available in public discourse about such relationships:
The “general rule” for determining age gap limits for dating is expressed by halving your age and adding seven to get the lowest “acceptable” age of a younger partner (conversely, subtract seven from your age and double that number for the highest “acceptable” age of an older partner). For example – someone 30 years old, by such a “rule” is thus “allowed” to be involved with anyone 22 years to 46 years old. There are plenty of adults that are in happy, healthy, and loving relationships that do not “fit” this equation; societal constructs are merely guides (not hard fact or law), and the merits of an equation based entirely on a single variable (here, age) may be suitable for general mathematic interest, but should not determine absolute sociological tolerance.
Some of the most common stereotypes that are often unfairly ascribed to those involved in Age Gap relationships: the “gold-digger” (conveys that the younger partner is only in a relationship with an older individual for the security of wealth and luxury); the “cougar” (conveys that an older or middle-aged woman is aggressively ‘preying’ on much younger partners for sexual gratification); the “pedo” (conveys that an older man having romantic or sexual interest in someone who is younger only does so out of unnatural, inappropriate desires). A younger partner’s interests are also sometimes ‘explained’ away as a Freudian search for a replacement mother or father figure. Stereotypes rarely – if ever – accurately describe the truth of a situation as they are usually derived from exaggerations of extreme cases; often, stereotypes serve “better” to attack and/or insult that which the believer/user of such stereotypes isn’t likely to be fully informed.
Prejudice and ignorance are, too, often bred together. Whether innocent – like a stranger or long-lost friend inquiring (or insisting) that your younger partner ‘must be’ your son / daughter, or else your older partner is your father / mother (or worse, your grandparent!) – or decidedly malicious – such as when an uncouth person decides it is their personal / moral obligation to declare the ‘wrongness’ of your relationship – it can prove difficult to shrug off stupid comments even just once or twice (let alone again and again). When such disapproving sentiments (‘That’s disgusting!’ ‘What can you possibly have in common?’) come directly from close friends and family members they can be much more devastating and harder to ignore. Since they do (or should) have your best interests and your safety in mind, sometimes the best thing to do is just persist in showing them (as ‘telling’ does not always work) the positive effects of the relationship in your life. Having a witty / snarky retort prepared in advance for dumb commentary (i.e. “Ew, that means you/they were in high school / college / WWII when they/you were born!”) also helps – along with lots of patience.
Age Gap Relationship Poll #1
How Much Of An Age Gap Between You And Your Partner?
Complications from the Start
Secrecy is probably the worst element to start off any relationship with – Age Gap or not. It’s almost guaranteed that anyone who isn’t supposed to find out – WILL FIND OUT. If either or both partners in the relationship purposely won’t tell friends, parents and family, then there’s a definite problem. This doesn’t mean they must disclose everything about a relationship (including the age gap) to other people right away – or even at all – but it still shouldn’t be any secret whether or not you’re ‘involved with someone’ (and both partners should be clear about defining what that means). If either partner is concerned about their families ‘freaking out’ about the situation, their family certainly will be much more upset when they discover that they were deceived and lied to (especially if the younger partner is still living with family and / or dependent on them financially, physically, emotionally, etc).There are other situations where a relationship may have extra complications (but not due to age, necessarily). If either individual in the relationship is: a family friend or the parent / offspring of a friend; a teacher/professor and student (in the same school, and especially if in the same class); a work associate and/or boss; going through a divorce (or is already divorced) particularly with children from the previous marriage – These relationships can have repercussions if kept secret and then exposed and can additionally harm new and old relationships with other people for both partners. If either partner is cheating on someone else to be in their current situation, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT pursue the relationship any further. If both individuals are serious, then the relationship can wait until both parties are officially and/or legitimately single. As well, if the younger partner is not the legal age of consent in the country (or countries) where both reside, there will be CONSEQUENCES. Don’t get involved if you (or your partner) aren’t prepared to deal with legal prosecution; if both partners are serious about the relationship, then it can wait until it’s legal.
Age Gap Relationship Poll #2
How Long Have You Been In Your Current Age Gap Relationship?
Challenges to Consider
In an Age Gap relationship, each partner is likely to be at a different (although potentially compatible) life stage. For success in the relationship, it is important to both acknowledge and respect this element. Since the older partner may have already experienced some key events in life (like graduating from high school or college, getting a ‘real’ job and starting a new career, etc), it is important that they don’t color or diminish these opportunities for their younger partner. In all aspects of the relationship there should always be freedom as well as equality for both individuals; even though there is a discrepancy in age (and thus, in life experience, generally) there shouldn’t be a power struggle. Even if one person has experienced something hundreds of times before, their way of doing something is not the only way – both partners should have the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes as well as from one another. There is a distinction between offering some advice and giving instructions – most adults are gracious in receiving help when they genuinely need it, but are resentful in being ‘parented’ or bossed around when they haven’t asked for it or had a chance to try things for themselves first.
It must be said that maturity does NOT necessarily come with age. But keep in mind, too, that an older partner who is “young at heart” or a younger partner who has “an old soul” WILL want to (or can’t help but) “act their age” from time to time. Whether this means having some separate activities and friends – or embracing something entirely new that you hadn’t considered before – be patient and encouraging through all the moments of immaturity (and maturity!) that you both may pass through. Don’t miss out on the details of an experience because you or your partner has done it before – if you haven't done it TOGETHER before, then it’s likely to be a unique and new adventure. Buying a house, getting married, having children, etc – should all be decisions thought out together, with respect towards fair compromise in fulfilling both partners desires and abilities.
The Good of Age Gaps
“The Bad” and “The Ugly” have been covered pretty fairly, but there’s plenty of “Good” as well! Even when society tries to blame the Age Gap in a relationship for its failure, a closer inspection shows that there’s really nothing to fear about the gap. Research about divorces suggests that individuals who have divorced once are more likely to divorce or be divorced again if they get married again; as well, married couples with children (and more so for mixed families – with children from previous marriages) are more likely to divorce than married couples without children. It’s easy enough to skew those results to say that Age Gap marriages are highly likely to end in divorce (as it is somewhat likely that the older partner in Age Gap relationships will have been divorced – with or without children – before), but it makes much more sense to attribute the likelihood of divorce to factors which can actually add stress to a relationship, rather than to blame an innocuous statistic like a person’s age.
As iterated before, an Age Gap relationship is a lot like any other ‘normal’ relationship. It works best when there is honesty and full, open communication from both partners. With the gap comes plenty of unique and positive perspectives. A younger partner may lighten things up with idealistic dreams while an older partner may know how best to realistically achieve them. Each individual will bring their own personal traditions into the mix which may be influenced by the idiosyncrasies of different generations; the balance between the two is something truly striking. Even with the best relationships, it helps to have support: there are many outlets online where open-minded, honest, and helpful people discuss (as well as celebrate!) their Age Gap relationships. I would also recommend to anyone – and everyone! – in any relationship (whether romantic, familial, friendship, etc) the quick and considerably insightful book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. By learning to distinguish the ‘language’ (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch) that you – and others – understand best, any relationship will be successful.