There are some people who meet their future spouse when they’re 14, sitting in maths class together and avoiding the teacher’s gaze so they don’t have to answer questions about long division. For everyone else, there’s the sticky boys you kissed behind the bins (or under the bleachers if you’re American), the girls who left you your first hickey and the ex who cheated on you when you were 17 and thought the two of you would never ever ever break up. As we move into adulthood, get our own place, get a job and try to figure out, desperately, what to do with the rest of our lives, our dating habits change. We might try going out with people outside of our social circle, and random acquaintances start playing a larger part in our life.
Dating apps have made it far easier for us to meet people outside of our regular crowd and age group whilst also allowing us to control the age of prospective partners: most have functions to set upper and lower bounds. As someone in her mid-30s, it’s pretty straightforward: I’m open to dating anyone who can tell me when the Berlin Wall fell. Another rule probably comes from some long-forgotten romantic comedy: it says that for prospective partners, the youngest you should go is half your age, plus seven years. So if you’re 30, your lower limit is 22, and if you’re 50, your lower limit is 32. Obviously this rule is pretty arbitrary, but a lot of people consider it to be true.
Of course, rules are made to be broken. I’m a firm believer in the idea that everyone at some point should date a person completely incompatible with them, just to help work out what they would like from a long-term partner. So, why not find someone older, spend six weeks having really hot sex, then realise that their political views are atrocious and outdated and their favourite pasttime is way too boring. Yes, the fact that they own a bed frame might sweep you off your feet, since a lot of men in their early 20s don’t seem to know that they exist, but is it really worth sacrificing your entire lifestyle to that fact?
Another thing to consider in a relationship with a large age gap is the future of it. A study from the Journal for Population Economics suggests that marital satisfaction decreases as the age difference between two people in a relationship increases and that the happiest marriages are between couples born within three years of each other. This doesn’t mean that relationships with large age gaps can’t work, but it is less likely.
From the other side of the relationship, things also look a little odd. OKCupid surveyed its users and found that 30-year-old men are as likely to message a 30-year-old woman as a teenage girl. It seems sleazy and creepy, and poses a few questions: what would such a man have in common with teenagers? Is it maybe because no women in his age group would ever date him, and he is looking for someone younger and easier to manipulate? Similar situations can happen with older women and younger men, and in same-sex couples, but statistics show that they are far less likely.
Relationships with age gaps aren’t automatically predatory. There are probably many couples where adults of different ages meet, have amazing chemistry and interests, and ultimately fall in love to live happily ever after. I would suggest that the issues arise when one person has much more power in the relationship than the other, and where someone exclusively dates people significantly younger than them to exploit their partner’s naivety or inexperience. If you’re dating and you meet someone a few years older and enjoy your time together, that’s wonderful. If you’re dating and you meet someone a few years younger and have a good time, that’s also amazing . But if someone only goes for people much younger than themselves… That’s a red flag.
There are also potential conflicts surrounding life goals and common interests. If you’re dating someone much older or younger, it’s likely that you’ll have different opinions on things like children, careers, where to live, or even how seriously you take the relationship. Dating someone older might mean that you have to deal with previous spouses, step-children or even step-grandchildren, and that you might not immediately click with their friends. Equally, if you’re dating someone younger but want to settle down and get married, they may not be ready for it yet and you could both head towards heartbreak.
So, dating with an age gap? As a fling, potentially a lot of fun. As a serious relationship… Not impossible, but more unlikely, and it requires more work and communication. The statistics don’t support happiness or long-term stability for couples born far apart, but if you find someone who you love and who loves you, then surely nothing as trivial as your opinions on bed frames will stand in the way.