Age gaps: Can it work if you’re much younger (or older) than your SO?

By Maya Khamala

My parents were born within a year of each other. Their relationship was a disaster, although the two hardly seem correlated. I almost always ended up dating guys roughly my age as well—without trying to or giving it much thought—until I ended up in a relationship with a guy 11 years my senior a couple of years ago, and now that it’s over (because it too did end), I find myself gravitating toward guys 5 years older than me at the very least. I realized that for me, while all men and women are undeniable individuals (some more than others, let’s be real), there seems to be certain perks to dating (somewhat) older men.

The pressures of society are a persistent reality

When it comes to hetero relationships, there are a few societal trends worth noticing that most definitely feed into the age gap discussion. Society as we know it makes a routine of the following behaviours:

  • hypersexualizing younger women
  • desexualizing older women
  • overvaluing men of all ages
  • devaluing women of all ages
  • generally paying women less money than men (in line with the devaluing) so that sugar daddy websites (for example) have the perfect climate to thrive in—thereby continuing to facilitate women’s financial dependence on men
  • teaching boys not to cry or express emotion, which could very well be part of the reason that girls “mature” faster than boys; they can communicate more easily and therefore learn certain interpersonal skills more quickly
  • teaching girls to pick up the emotional slack

Now good luck leaving this all-too-real misogynistic power imbalance out of your personal relationship choices. Impossible. Just as impossible as leaving your daddy issues at home when you decide who you’re attracted to, or forgetting all your past relationship foibles when selecting your next one. Life is messy. Roll with it. But be aware of the powers that be, is all. Awareness is good. 

Being with an older man

Unless you spend your days in a shoebox, you know that where there are age gaps in romantic or sexual relationships, there is most often an older man and a younger woman. Indeed, this is the pairing that our man’s world prefers to bolster via the dominant socialization practices (see above). In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that in age-gap couples, men are indeed more likely to have a younger than an older spouse, with 10% having a spouse who is 6-9 years younger, and 5% marrying a woman 10+ years younger. And women show the opposite trend, with only 2% marrying men 6-9 years younger and only 1% having a spouse 10+ years younger. In the case of remarriages, the age gaps are far more common. When I found myself preferring older men, I A) didn’t like that I was seemingly playing into the imbalance, but I also B) couldn’t help but make jokes about “man years” vs “woman years” (like cat years vs human years). In some cases, there is definite truth to this maturity disparity.

Pros & cons:

While on the one hand, dating an older man can mean dating a man who has managed to carve out some interpersonal skills; learned a thing or two about how to please a woman sexually; and maybe even honed some emotional intelligence, none of this is a given, since smarts can elude even the most ancient of us. On the other hand, dating a man that’s too much older, if there is such a thing (I like to draw the line at 15 years myself), can mean anything from too much of an imbalance in terms of experience and therefore power; a divergence in sex drives (his could be lower); and in the case of long-term relationships, there’s the very real possibility of becoming the caretaker of a much older partner if illness takes hold. Not to mention, if you want kids, and he already had his, like when he was young, that might be something to discuss/consider.

Being the older woman

Sure, there are Harold and Maude pairings out there too, but far fewer, and it’s because society shames such couplings—or at least the women, AKA “cougars.” Try to find an equally unflattering term for an older man. I dare ya. Sure, there is MILF porn, and sure, younger dudes are congratulated for bedding older women who can clearly teach them a few things about how to be a better lover, but the women themselves are often the butt of jokes about aging, desperation, and “robbing the cradle.” Interestingly, it does seem that when it comes to biological sex drive, older women are better paired with younger men (they are both known to have larger appetites). I would even venture to say that the status quo socialization of boys and girls purposefully opposes the dictates of biology, which would naturally place women in more positions of power. Food for thought.

Pros & cons:

On the one hand, being with a younger guy can be more sexually satiating if sex drive and frequency are high on your list, and as far as endurance and skill go, it’s often true that younger men want to learn and are potentially more open to your, um, lessons. Also, in my experience, the younger guys can sometimes be less jaded due to a relative dearth of experience, and thus, are more emotionally open. On the other hand, we could be talking about a serious lack of maturity and knowledge, which is not a good thing—particularly if you aren’t into the teaching role. Let’s face it: some of us would rather be taught.

Mind the gap: where to draw the line

A massive 13-year-long Australian study found that men married to younger spouses are the most satisfied at first, but after 6-10 years, the younger spouse stops reciprocating. Apparently women are "particularly dissatisfied" when married to older husbands and "particularly satisfied" when married to younger husbands. People who are married to a significantly older or younger spouse tend to have sharper declines in satisfaction over time compared to those married to people close to their age. A similar American study found that the larger the age gap between you and your partner, the more likely your marriage will end in divorce. “Only being one to five years away from your partner is nothing to worry about, but if you’re old enough to be your partner’s parent, then your marriage might be in trouble,” according to senior data scientist Randy Olson. 

Bottom line

All of the above statements are mass generalizations. The heart wants what it wants, and so does the body. There is little point trying to dissect it. There are both old and young men who lack maturity. Both old and young men who are epic in the sack (they’re out there!). There really is no substitute for chemistry, or a kindred spirit, so if the right feeling comes along, I believe life is too short not to try it out, regardless of what others may think—provided of course, both parties are of legal consenting age and mutually enthusiasm abounds!

Image source: Coucou Suzette

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