Acceptable age gap in dating
October 23, 2006 9:13 PM   Subscribe

What age gap is "acceptable" in dating?

I am 33, was married for 9 years and have been single for a little over a year. I'm newly entering the dating world, which is so unfamiliar to me. I met a nice man and have had several brief, nice conversations with him. I assumed he was older than me, but I also have a horrible judge of age. Last week we had a more lengthy conversation and he asked me for my card. Long story short we went to dinner tonight for the first time and had lovely conversation and an enjoyable evening. During the conversation it became apparent that he is definitely in a higher financial bracket than me, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but I can deal with it. He is considerably older, 46. Is this too large of an age gap? I generally don't care too much about the social "norm", but this may be a different. He has a 5 year old son, which I think is great, I adore children but don't plan on physically having any myself. Is this gap too large? Can you tell me any personal experiences with wide age gaps in dating?
posted by illek to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My grandfather's second marriage was to a woman at least 25 years younger than him. They got along splendidly, and it happens all the time. Not an issue unless you make it one.
posted by phrontist at 9:17 PM on October 23, 2006

Speaking as a 40 year old male, I can't imagine dating a 27 year old. Nor could I imagine dating at 46 year old women when I was 33.

Whatever works for you though. There's a generation gap that may be kinda weird.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:21 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Take the older person's age, divide by two and add seven. Any age lower than that number is too young.
posted by chiababe at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

When I was 27 I dated a woman who was 42. We had a fabulous time together. She was involved in an open relationship with another 27 year old at the time.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:27 PM on October 23, 2006

Thirteen years is nothing. You seem to like him, he seems to like you, see where life takes you. Good luck!
posted by LarryC at 9:28 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

chiababe, that's an absurd way to answer this question. illek, I'm sure you know compatibility is made up of a lot of different factors. You had a lovely evening with someone; why not try for another? If there's "too large of an age gap" between you - which might have something to do with your different financial situations and his son - it'll show in due course. But cutting a pleasant friendship off because of some abstract worry about future age issues?

Please don't do that.
posted by mediareport at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always thought it's more a "compatible stage of life" issue than necessarily chronological age. If you look at this guy and easily see yourself fitting into his entire lifestyle -- including step-mothering a five-year old -- then go for it.
posted by occhiblu at 9:30 PM on October 23, 2006

Over 30: who cares. We're all adults.

Under 30: Make sure it's legal.

Don't worry about what other people think, you'll never be happy. If you like each other, then keep up the good work!
posted by Ookseer at 9:30 PM on October 23, 2006

My mother has been living for 20 years with a guy who is two years older than I am.

If the two of you are happy together, it's nobody else's business.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:35 PM on October 23, 2006

When I 26 I fell in love with a man who was 39. We were together for several years and the age gap was never a problem in any way whatsoever.
posted by necessitas at 9:37 PM on October 23, 2006

Okay kind of silly but -- take the older person, divide by two, and add 10. That's the formula for acceptable age difference. Your guy -- 46, divide by two, equals 23, plus 10, equals 33, okee-dokee.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:52 PM on October 23, 2006

There's no clear answer, but I think it depends on the motivations of the people involved. I half-dated someone 20 years my senior at one point, but it was a bust because he was a man who ONLY dated 20something women, and wouldn't even consider anyone older than 29. 20somethings were trophies. Plus, I realized I enjoy dating someone closer to my age because I like being able to reference past events in a specific manner ("dude, remember when we were 13, and Kurt Cobain died?"). Makes me feel like I knew the person then, even if I didn't. This might not be the case for you, however.

Some people are looking to be parent figures; some are looking to be parented, which there's nothing wrong with if that's what you want. I'd say there's no problem as long as both parties are clear on their intentions and feelings are genuine, much like any relationship. My Dad's 13 years older than my Mom, and they worked out fine. I never noticed anything strange in their age dynamic. If you like him, and can't think of a dealbreaker not to date him, go for it.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:00 PM on October 23, 2006

My new girlfriend is 20 years younger than me... Doesn't seem to be any problem to either one of us
posted by growabrain at 10:04 PM on October 23, 2006

You're fine. Have fun.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:38 AM on October 24, 2006

Also, chiababe was kidding. Clearly. There is no formula for that and that was the point she was trying to make, I believe.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:40 AM on October 24, 2006

I got married last weekend to someone 18 years older than me. We've been together 6 years so far. It's going rather well.
posted by handee at 6:42 AM on October 24, 2006

Haven't y'all ever heard of the "rule" that chiababe posted before? Obviously, it's not a *rule*, but as a guide it's a pretty good way to give yourself a ballpark number. (With the caveat that we're all unique, individual snowflakes who can't be reduced to anything as simple as a number, blah, blah, blah.)
posted by MsMolly at 6:51 AM on October 24, 2006

congrats, handee.
ilek, you are fine. Have a blast.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:51 AM on October 24, 2006

My parents are 12 years apart in age, and they've been going strong for 20 years. According to dad, age has never been an issue for them. You've met a nice guy who thinks you're nice too -- good luck to you both!
posted by teem at 6:54 AM on October 24, 2006

chiababe's formula is a pretty standard one. Obviously, you can't reduce it to just numbers, but if you fall in that range, people aren't going to be thinking "that's weird." A thirteen year gap isn't that big over 30, and will seem smaller as years go on.
posted by justkevin at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2006

My parents have been married for over 30 years, and there's a 10-ish year gap between them. Seems to have worked OK, although there's obvious cultural differences (music/TV/film tastes most notably) and also that as Dad gets older, he's less inclined to go out to places and things that Mum still wants to...

YMMV, of course
posted by Chunder at 7:00 AM on October 24, 2006

Can you tell me any personal experiences with wide age gaps in dating?

I met my beloved aged 30, he was 43. 13 years later we're still a couple of lovebirds.

Age differences are only a problem if there are other issues in the relationship. If you like each other, go for it!
posted by ceri richard at 7:01 AM on October 24, 2006

I think if you are both comfortable with it then that is half the battle. You are both established adults, it's not like you are 18 or even in your twenties. There are age brackets but I'd say once you turn 30 you can mix socially and romantically with anyone in the 40s and even young fifties.

I have lived together with a woman 9 years older than myself and have dated women 9 years younger that were mentally mature (no, they weren't teenagers). If the age issue comes up often in conversations between you and he, then there could be a problem. But if both of you ignore any differences and your friends and family keep their noses out of your business then there should be absolutely no problem. I know plenty of maried people with at least a decade difference in age.
posted by JJ86 at 7:03 AM on October 24, 2006

Take the older person's age, divide by two and add seven. Any age lower than that number is too young.

No, you take the man's age, not the older person.

46/2+7 = 30. You're in the clear!

As for the financial bracket, just relax and enjoy it.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:09 AM on October 24, 2006

My sister is about 10 years older than her hubby; they have a wonderful marriage, and they are very good for each other.

This is her second time around, btw. Her first marriage was with a guy slightly older than she who was emotionally and psychologically still a child. Their marriage was a trainwreck.

My point: It really depends on the individuals, not on the ages.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2006

I am 50, my boyfriend is 34. We have been together for two years, and are planning to move in together in May, when my kids' lives are a bit more sorted out. FWIW, no one ever believes my age and he has kind of a craggy demeanor. Out in the world, we don't get a lot of second looks, we seem to fit together 'normally'. Also, he's quite mature, somewhat reserved and I'm more, well, lighthearted and playful. My parents are gone; I guess his assume I'm older (I have teenagers) but probably underestimate the gap. Still, we're lucky since his family is very "if you're happy, we're happy".

In the beginning, once it was clear it wasn't a fling, I was very uncomfortable -- so much so that we broke up a couple of times. I hated all my women friends with the "you go, girl" thing -- I did not want to be a character on Sex and the City. I worried a lot about him waking up one day and wanting kids, which I wouldn't be able to give him. I was even somewhat suspicious of him for preferring me to having children. I worried about physically aging, and losing him when I am too old or tired to get it up for another 'big' relationship and then I would end up alone.

Now and again, these thoughts pop up but the reality of our love and respect (and desire) for one another vanquishes them pretty quickly. He hung in through my early tumultuous days of doubt, and continues to love me ... just me, not 50 year-old me ... in a way that is right and good.

It's a cliche, but anything can happen at any moment. Why oh why would I choose away from real love and happiness based on worries about "the future"? In my (long!) experience, worrying about the future is utterly futile -- it's unknowable and uncontrollable, I promise. Also, it's arrogant to try and think it through for him ("he'll want kids someday, he just doesn't know it yet"), to try and control his experience, in a sense. I have eyes in my head and I see how he operates in the world -- he's thought it through as thoroughly as his mix of experience and intelligence can allow. Which is a lot.

So, I'm going to stay with this, in its glorious moment, and hope (a much better state to exist in than worry) we can sustain it. And work at it, by being more conscious, by being better and kinder than I've been in past relationships. So far, so good.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:24 AM on October 24, 2006 [5 favorites]

My mum re-married with a guy 17 years her senior, and he's been a fantastic partner and step-father. I recently started a relationship with a lovely woman that is 11 years my senior and we're having a terrific time so far. To both of us, love is more important than numbers.
posted by glip at 7:41 AM on October 24, 2006

really, that boils down to whatever age gap you're comfortable with. i once dated someone considerably older than me (+20 yrs) who also made considerably more money than I did. She was really great and we had a lot of fun together, but ultimately those differences (especially the financial one) made me really uncomfortable, and I broke it off. Definitely my hangup, not hers.

Anyway - you sound like you're really interested in this guy, so go with it. Have a great time and enjoy yourself - it's far too early in the dating process to decide if the age gap is going to cause a problem.
posted by wearyaswater at 7:41 AM on October 24, 2006

I'm there myself -- nobody cares, trust me. The part I really enjoy is when he tells a story about something he did at age 25, and I say, "Oh, I was in junior high then." Hehhehheh.
posted by JanetLand at 7:49 AM on October 24, 2006

Ironmouth writes "Also, chiababe was kidding. Clearly. There is no formula for that and that was the point she was trying to make, I believe."

posted by chiababe at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2006

There is 12 years between my wife and I. Four years into our marriage and we are very happy. My guess is that the real "problems" may arise when I am 80 and she is 68, but hopefully she won't mind my extramarital affairs then... I kid!

As has been said above, it will all depend on individuals and things other than the age difference should be considered. For example your concerns about the wage bracket.

Good luck.
posted by terrapin at 7:58 AM on October 24, 2006

stay with whatever is legal in your country and state and follow your heart. it's not what others think, it's what you desire. 19 or 57? who cares.
posted by krautland at 8:01 AM on October 24, 2006

I'm 52. My wife is 31. We have been together for 7 years.

Some issues.... she is in early career, I am in late. SHe has 90's music /cultural sensibilities, I have electic ones but those formed in the 60's/70's. No plans on kids for either of us, so that's not an issue with us, but it could be with some people.

There's a concept called convergence... as people age they are rumored to get more like their opposite gender. It's a good thing for men to be closer to their female side and that seems more prevalent in older men. Also, they've proven that they probably aren't going to die from drug overdose, excessive drinking, or the time they've spent in prison... all still looming possibilities for the young. Darwin has spoken, as it were.

FWIW, my first marriage was to someone exactly my age. It lasted until cancer intervened and she died. Our compatible ages presented some stresses, so I'd personally resist using age as the only discriminant.

In the 20 year time frame, you're going to have to confront a major difference due to age... retirement and old age issues. You need to be sure you're up for that.
posted by FauxScot at 8:17 AM on October 24, 2006

I'm 27 and my boyfriend is 37. It hasn't really caused any problems for us, and I think that's because of what occhiblu describes above. We are at similar stages in life - no kids, never married, finding our respective ways in relatively new careers. He is in a slightly higher financial bracket than I am but I am closing in fast :-)

Unless there are good reasons not to (and the age gap by itself is not a good reason), go for it!
posted by altolinguistic at 8:32 AM on October 24, 2006

Hypothetically, I think 33 and 46 would work out fine. Sure, there's a 13 year difference, but proportionally, you're getting closer in age all the time. Also, that 13-year half-generation gap will make for great conversation.

The more important question is whether YOU feel he's too old for you. Some 46 year olds are 23 at heart (ew), and some are 67 at heart.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2006

One thing in the modern age is the cultural sensibilities thing. If you have particular connections to parts of history or pop culture, it can be weird when your partner has no reference point. I find myself most comfortable with other people who broadly consider themselves Gen X because so much of my adolescence was entangled with the art, music, humor etc of that generation - people who are not old enough to remember reagan's cold war or pre-nirvana pop music, or who are too old to have found those things formative when they happened, can be harder to immediately find commonality with. On the other hand, that opens up the potential to expand horizons, etc.

If you get along in fundamental ways, age shouldn't be a factor on its own, but I think it's very plausible that an age gap will express itself as a kind of cultural gap. Although, there are always gaps, always things "you just don't understand", with everyone, so it's a matter of picking your battles.
posted by mdn at 8:51 AM on October 24, 2006

I have a friend who is in his late forties who dates a woman in her late 20s - they get along fine. I think its really only a question of a) whether you can put up with social disapproval as a result of an age difference and b) whether you can work something out for things like whether to have kids etc...

In short if it feels good do it and don't worry about what other people think.
posted by prentiz at 9:36 AM on October 24, 2006

Personally, when I was single, 15 years older was my fishing limit. Not because I think that it's ew gross to date past that, but I found that for me, common cultural ground is problematic with more than a 15-year difference.

It matters less as you get older. 33 and 48 doesn't strike me as weird -- you're both established adults.

I agree with occiblu's point about "compatible age of life." When I was 24 and dated a 21-year-old, we had some weirdness because he was still an undergrad. His day-to-day reality included on-campus apartments, finals, and majors. My day-to-day reality included salaries and benefits and performance reviews. That doesn't mean that 3 years is an insurmountable age difference, though, obviously.
posted by desuetude at 10:01 AM on October 24, 2006

My experience (similiar to what mdn notes above) is that even significant age gaps are irrelevant to the success or otherwise of a relationship, unless there are other incongruent factors (which may then be exacerbated by the age gap/different cultural and social norms). You haven't known each other long enough yet to determine if the age gap is going to be a problem. Enjoy the feelings you're experiencing now, you can think about this later once you know each other.

My parents-in-law are 42 years apart, and have been married for 27 years, and I have been in long-term relationships with twelve and 8 year gaps. Age itself should never be a barrier to a burgeoning relationship.
posted by goo at 10:16 AM on October 24, 2006

FWIW, I've always liked the "half your age plus seven" rule as well. Some examples:

18 --> 16
28 --> 21
33 -> 23.5
46 -> 30
80 -> 47

The idea is that age differences matter less as you get older. However, as everyone else has pointed out, this is only a rough (and amusing) guideline. Don't let it stop you, unless you're breaking the law. ;-)
posted by chrisamiller at 10:20 AM on October 24, 2006

The biggest issue you're likely to have doesn't involve age, but the fact that he is a father. My husband is 8 years older than I am, and I was 23 when we met 10 years ago. His boys were 3 and 5 at the time, and honestly, if I hadn't also been a single parent, I don't know if things would have worked out. Step-parenting is a very tricky business.
posted by Biblio at 10:30 AM on October 24, 2006

I am 35, and my girlfriend is 21. The relationship was her idea. I'm mad crazy about her. She plays baseball (hardball, not softball), reads Neal Stephenson, and always chooses staying in over going out. If you're compatible, you're compatible.
posted by vito90 at 10:55 AM on October 24, 2006

My parents have a seven year age gap. When they married, my Mum was 17.

They're still together more than 35 years later.
posted by lowlife at 11:26 AM on October 24, 2006

Age mattered much less to me when I was younger, but I got to the point where I realized that when it came to a relationship that could potentially become long term, I couldn't see myself with someone who was not a similar age for a number of reasons. A big one being that I want someone to grow old with--someone whose life is in sync with mine as I finish my schooling, develop a career and think about settling down. However it took dating someone significantly my senior (add a couple of years onto your age difference) and developing stong emotional attachments while simultaneously knowing he was not someone I could envision a future with to come to this conclusion.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:48 AM on October 24, 2006

i'm 23 and my bf is 42. it's basically the best.
posted by kooop at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2006

I first heard of the X = Y/2 + 7 rule via the movie Malcolm X. It was referred to as Elijah Mohammed's guideline for the ideal age difference for marriage. I'm surprised no one has mentioned that yet.
posted by Araucaria at 12:58 PM on October 24, 2006

I think that rule or a similar one is also part of Chinese tradition.
posted by concrete at 2:17 PM on October 24, 2006

Seconded the half plus 7 rule. You may not like it because its very formulaic, but in every example i've come across it seems to give a good indication.

A 33 vs 46 gap doesn't seem to be an issue to me and the rule would agree:

46/2 = 23 + 7 = 30

If you were 28, then I would find it odd and, surprise surprise, the rule does too.

No I'm not kidding.
posted by mr_silver at 2:37 PM on October 24, 2006

That rule is mentioned in Louisa M Alcott's book, Good Wives when Meg becomes betrothed to John.
posted by b33j at 2:40 PM on October 24, 2006

21 year difference between my mother and stepdad.

Only an idiot would base their love life on a mathmetical formula. Ignore the rule and follow your heart.
posted by dobbs at 3:16 PM on October 24, 2006

Only an idiot would base their love life on a mathmetical formula.

The point of the formula is that it is a quick description of what society seems to find acceptable, not a prescription for relationships or society. Society does not observe the formula, the formula describes society today. Thus, it will matter if a relationship is the kind that may be stressed (perhaps to breaking point) by normal (ie unthinking) social disapproval. If the problems that come with social disapproval are not an issue for a particular relationship, then there is no need to observe social norms, and thus information about social norms (such as a crude formula) is not relevant.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:20 PM on October 24, 2006

I'm 49. My partner is 33. We've been together 9 years. It works, great. My first partner was 16 years older than me, worked great.

My second partner was 23 years older, and it did not work great, but the age wasn't the reason. However, there was a real gap. He remembered Pearl Harbor. My first was still Viet Nam era, same as me. He just had a closer view.

I get a kick out of telling my partner about stuff that happened when he was born. It is only a little weird with his parents, who are a mere 9 years older than myself.
posted by Goofyy at 2:54 AM on October 25, 2006

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