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December 3, 2012

Age: Some Enlightenment

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:49 am

In a relationship, is a big generation gap inherently icky?

My answer: You tell me.

As in: is your age difference an element of the relationship, or is it the defining factor?

Like, is the core draw that he is a George Michaelicious Father Figure? Or that she is super-Mrs. Robinsonic? Or the other way around?

To put it another way: if you two were roughly the same age, would all of the thrill be gone?

Because no, a big age difference is not by definition suspect, unless you are Anna Nicole Smith. Sure, when there’s a True Connection, age difference is downgraded to mere circumstance. And yes, Oedipus and Electra are allowed to play bit parts in your dynamic as a couple.

BUT. Lolita/o is not. AND. When the age gap is the main event, there’s probably something going on there [insert admittedly facile pop-psych blame-the-parents theory] other than — dare I say in place of — actual, equal partnership.

One more useful concept, courtesy of BG’s friend Louise. Depending on what you’re looking for, it’s not how old they are, it’s how donethey are. Done as in cooked. Ready. Steady. As in: sense of self no longer runny. Sense of purpose firm. Toxins [mostly] destroyed in heat of past moments. The key: someone can be warmed through at 25; frozen on the inside at 45. So when in doubt, skip the math; test for doneness.

This week we’ll be looking at the age questions you raised in your letters. Just let me find my reading glasses.


  1. “Icky” is an external opinion that other people place on a relationship. Therefore, “icky” can’t be inherent.

    However, it is reasonable to ask whether a relationship is a bad idea due to a large age difference. My wife is 16 years older than me, and I see three main considerations for people who are dating across an age gap:

    1. Are both people mature enough to handle a relationship?

    As Louise indicated, there are some people in there 40s and 50s who aren’t mature enough, and there are others in their 20s who are.

    2. Do the partners see/treat each other as equals?

    Relationships are not inherently equal. My wife is older than me; she has more assets; she has more relationship experience. I’m more intelligent than my wife; I have a higher income.

    Our ability to view each other as equals (despite the differences) and make decisions jointly is what’s crucial.

    3. Can the partners accept and handle the challenges caused by the age difference?

    For example:
    I may continue working for 20 years after my wife retires.
    There’s a 7 in 8 chance that I’ll end up outliving her.

    If you’re pursuing a serious relationship (and not just a fling), you should give serious thought to all of these things in advance.

    I haven’t encountered anyone who things my wife and I are “icky” for having a 16 year age spread. In general, people take their cues from us. We treat the age difference like it’s no big deal, and so do they.

    Comment by Karl R — December 3, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  2. I find them rather creepy. Well, it doesn’t matter so much when the younger party is probably over 25 or so, but it seems like most of the ones I see are barely-legal girls with guys old enough to be their dads. And the power dynamics of that really creep me out. It seems like they just want to date someone who doesn’t know better about their behavior.

    Comment by Jennifer — December 3, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

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