It’s common for people to make assumptions and judgments about couples who have a clear age disparity. We’ve all heard the terms: cougar, cradle-snatcher, sugar-daddy, boy toy, trophy wife. Females and males with younger partners are considered predatory while the younger partners are often seen in a negative light. Age gaps draw unwanted attention and unsolicited opinions of friends, strangers and gossips but what’s wrong with an age gap? When you meet someone who shares your vision, your values and your interests, will a decade or two ultimately come between you?
If you’ve ever been in a relationship where there’s a significant age difference, you’ll know how hard it can be to tolerate the external judgments and flippant comments that reduce your relationship to an unflattering label. Although these comments may be degrading and often hurtful, the best way to deal with them is to take an objective look at who and where they are coming from.
People fear what they don’t understand and large age gaps are not the social norm. The average gap between first-time married couples in New Zealand is two years. It is more common for men to be older than women in a relationship too. If your relationship doesn’t ‘conform’ to the status quo, chances are that you’ll come under extra external scrutiny from peers, friends and loved ones.
Assessing the Gap
When you’re younger, age seems extremely significant but as you get older, the significance seems to diminish. A large age gap may feel quite insignificant at the outset, particularly during the middle part of
your life, however considering the long-term implications of the gap is important. Lifestyle choices like children and retirement will have a significant impact on your relationship regardless of age but an age gap may increase their impact. Think about how a significant age difference may change your relationship, in both positive and negative ways, five, ten or twenty years into the future.
Compatibility matters more than age however age may impact on compatibility. We tend to gravitate towards people with whom we share common interests, values and ideals. Some of these common interests are born of shared cultural and social experience; for example, we may be attracted to people from the same region as us or to those who grew up in the same decade. You may experience a generation gap with your older or younger partner; your tastes in music, television, books and films may not gel. This is ok, as long as you don’t expect the other person to defer to your preferences all the time.
Understand the Motivation
Although you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your choice of partner regardless of the age gap, it is a good idea to look at some of the underlying drivers that may exist in your relationship. Looking at these motivations objectively will allow you to understand your relationship (and those judging it from the outside) a little bit better. People who have older partners are often seeking security (financial and emotional) while those with younger partners may like the respect their partner has for their experience. These motivations aren’t necessarily bad but make sure you recognise them as significant to your relationship. And be honest with yourself about your partner’s motivations to avoid being taken advantage of emotionally or financially.
Compatibility, companionship, love and mutual respect can be found with the right someone, regardless of age. Consider age as just one of many factors in your search for your someone.
Images from ‘The Graduate’ 1967