Age gaps are controversial in relationships these days, and sometimes for good reason.
With age gaps, you run the risk of predatory behavior or tendencies to be abusive or controlling. Other, less nefarious baggage that can cause men to go after younger women is them not being able to find good women their own age, or having emotional trauma/damage.
My husband and I have an age gap in our relationship, he is older than me by a bit, for the last two reasons I stated (trouble with people our own age and emotional damage from past relationships). Neither of us ever felt our relationship was unusual, especially considering many family members and fellow church attendees had the same age gap that we did.
Perhaps for young people who have been indoctrinated to believe it is their God-given right to have an extended period of immaturity in order to experience “childhood” and party in their young years because “LOL YOLO” an age gap would be a problem, but my husband and I were both homeschooled. This meant we were raised without that expectation of extended adolescence, and also meant that we were well versed in interacting with people of all ages, treating people within a decade of our own age as if we could be best friends. There was no pressure to conform to people in our own “grade” or class, and that gave us the freedom to be open-minded when the time came for us to consider each other as potential partners.
Many of my own friends have felt this societal push for the era of young people stuck in Neverland trying to be Peter Pan. Some have accepted it, but a few, like me, rejected the notion. Those who accepted it are the ones I lost when I enrolled in college at 15, and if that didn’t get rid of them, my engagement at 17 certainly did. For the ones that stuck around, some of them have been placed in the same situation my husband and I were, deciding between immature people our own age, or branching out in hopes of finding someone more mature in a different age bracket. This wasn’t unheard of in our grandparents day, but the social script now is far from what it was then, and for those of us that reject it, we find ourselves going back to how it was done when people valued things that weren’t drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.
I've been asked for some advice on the topic of age gaps (and young marriage) in the past, so I wrote down a list of things I would say to someone considering dating an older man based on my own experience. 1. Ditch the formulas!
As my husband and I were discussing this post, he mentioned a formula we’d both heard before that he calls the “non-creepy formula”. This formula is the one where you cut the age of the older person in half and then add seven to that number. If that is the girl’s age, or if she is older than that, then it isn’t creepy. For us, apparently, we are still in the creepy zone. While I don’t think a 90-year-old dating a 20-year-old is a great idea, I don’t think you are going to find an answer to whether or not you should date a guy by using an arbitrary formula that isn’t based on anything substantive except for the current social norms (which are ever-changing).
What you should do instead: Focus on legalities.
Disclaimer: I do not have any credentials to give legal advice, this is just some things my husband kept in mind while we were dating and it is a good place to start for people to start thinking about it. Contact legal counsel if you need specifics about your state or situation.
All parties should be over the age of consent before your enter into a dating or romantic relationship. If the man is in a position of authority over you, even if it is at church (elder, deacon, etc.), the age of consent for you might be older than normal (maybe even 20 or 21 in some cases I’ve seen proposed for legislation). If this is a situation you find yourself in, you’ll have to wait until you are at the age of consent or the man you are interested in may have to step down if you want to pursue a relationship.
It is a good idea to check new laws that are being proposed to make sure that the age of consent has not changed for your situation, and if you can, carry proof of when your relationship started in case there has been a change as you could be grandfathered in. Take steps to prevent any legal issues by being informed!
2. Establish reasons why the age gap is there.
Be honest with yourselves and each other about how you’ve found yourself in this situation if you are considering dating someone drastically older or younger. Everyone has flaws, but age gaps can cause unique complications by quickly putting you and your partner on an uneven playing field. Why is he not with someone his own age? Why are you not with someone your own age? Answer these honestly before pursuing a relationship. Confront any unhealthy reasons head on.
For my husband and I, the people around us didn’t share our religious values and immaturity at both age ranges kept us from many potential partners. We had a set (of non-physical) values that were important to us and rather than compromise on them, we found someone willing to work with it, at the cost of some social scorn (hint: it was worth it). We both had some emotional baggage as well, which was something we healed together.
This, in my opinion, is the man’s job if he is older. He is responsible for initiating conversations on important topics in your relationship. Things like finances, religious affiliations, values, and physical expectations. For my own relationship, I didn’t know how to communicate at first, so that was something my husband had to gradually and patiently teach me until I had a confident voice of my own (which would not have been possible without him). He bore the brunt of the work communicating and shouldered the burden of making sure we were equally discussing things and giving opinions.
4. Do not start out as romantic.
This may ruffle some feathers, but I am going to say it anyways. When you start “dating” or “courting”, do not start out romantically interacting. Get to know each other as people before you throw other things into the mix. My husband had a gradual progression of what role he took when interacting with me. First, he was a best friend, then an older, protective brother, and then, later on, a romantic partner. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, despite some people thinking this was weird. He still fills all of these roles, though at this point the vast majority of our interaction is romantic.
5. Manage stereotypical expectations.
There are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to age gaps. Most notably that of the demure, submissive, perhaps misguided woman and the sexually promiscuous and predatory man (or “sexually experienced” as some people say) who takes advantage of youth and innocence. I think the stereotype of the man is what makes the societal stigma with age gaps such an issue.
This is one of the ways that my husband and I don’t fit the stereotype. Due to personal conviction and purity culture (you can read about my experiences in purity culture in these articles: Women, Relationships, and Purity, Purity Rings and Good Intentions, 5 Things I Want My Son to Know About Purity Culture and What Purity Culture Meant For My Marriage), we took our relationship extremely slow in terms of physicality. We waited until our engagement to kiss and our wedding for sex. This made us focus more on practical aspects of our relationship rather than feelings, which benefits us greatly, even years later.
6. Don't waste time listening to unsupportive people.
If they actually have substantive objections, listen to them with an open heart and mind. If all they have is that they think it is creepy or weird, tell them you are sorry they feel that way and move on. Realize they are a product of their time and don’t hold it against them too much.
7. Always, always, always carry an I.D.
I cannot count the number of times my husband and I were approached at parks and I.D.ed for our ages. I looked younger than I was, and without an I.D., our dates could’ve gone much differently until I was able to prove I was over the age of consent (though we were never doing anything more than holding hands or working on Hebrew homework when we were approached). After all of those incidents, we’ve found it is a great policy to keep a copy of our marriage licenses on us at all times after we got married, just in case.
8. Talk about your relationship philosophies.
Be on the same page about your end game. Do you both want marriage and kids? Where do you want to end up? How do you each define love?
I personally think it is better to end a relationship with differing goals sooner rather than later, especially before physical intimacy has occurred (this goes double for those with an age gap).
While it can be easy to feel used and regretful after breaking off a peer age relationship, with age gaps you run the risk of looking back and seeing it as tainted by a power struggle due to age, even if it wasn’t.
9. Expect weird pop-cultural references that you are too young to remember.
Everyday. Every. Dang. Day.
My husband will be hanging out with my son in the living room and I will walk in to my husband singing a song I’ve never heard or watching a cartoon with our toddler that I’ve never seen. I’ll ask him what he is doing and get the most shocked stare from him as he declares that it is only the most popular song/cartoon of his childhood and how could I not know about it! Then I’ll ask him when it came out, and he’ll tell me a date that was four years before I was born.
Cue the facepalm and the “Honey, that was four years before I was born.” We have a moment of awkward silence before going back to our regularly scheduled activities.
10. The curse of the bachelor.
Depending on how long your guy has been single (given he will be years older than you if there is an age gap), he may be set in his ways. And by set in his ways, I mean he has had years to work out a system of housekeeping, laundry folding, cooking and toilet paper preferences before you came onto his radar. He will know exactly how he likes his towels and underwear folded, exactly how long he wants the chicken cooked, and he’ll have an exact system for cleaning the entire house.
Good luck changing any of this, sister! Remember to put the toilet paper on right (and by right, my husband says “over”).
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