Relationships & Love

Age Differences in Relationships: What Are You Comfortable With?

When I was 26 years old, I became involved with a 40-something man.

He was a high-ranking New York City homicide detective who moonlighted as a Hollywood stuntman. Fire suits and high falls were his specialty. Our relationship lasted five amazing years. He was supportive and enthusiastic about my budding career as a writer and I was fascinated with his glamorous and intellectually stimulating double life. Plus he was the only boyfriend I’d had so far who genuinely loved my dogs.

What are the pros and cons of being in a romantic relationship or marriage where there’s a considerable age difference, whether it’s an older woman and a younger man or vice versa?

Before you embark on such a coupling, consider the elements of energy levels, interest in sex, ability to travel and cognitive changes and ask yourself what the realities are of a substantial age difference.

Sometimes, the realities aren’t so great. “I thought I was cradle robbing when I went out on a date with a 27-year- old when I was 45,” a friend recently relayed. “But I didn’t care for his immaturity and turned into a grouch within an hour.” A gorgeous friend in her early 60s who occasionally uses dating apps offered this opinion. “I always assume guys in their 40s or even 50s are messaging me because they’re divorced and broke and looking for a sugar mama.”

And other cases work out for the best. “My husband is 16 years older,” another friend said. “When we met, I was 27 and he was 43. It seemed like a big deal at the time. I was in graduate school, he was divorced with two kids. And I was concerned differences in our ages would become an even bigger problem later.”

“Eventually, though, I came to the realization I was happy with him. He valued the relationship and worked harder at it than the 20-somethings I’d been dating.” She said she realized they had a lot in common, politically, ethically, how they handled money. “Now he’s 63 and I’m 48, and I rarely think about it, although I was glad when he got hearing aids!” she said. Now that they’re both older, she’s more aware of health. “We’re both making an effort to eat better, get more exercise, stay in the best possible shape. I think that’s a crucial ingredient when you’re aging as a couple. The possibility of bad health does scare me, but that can happen to anyone, even without a big age difference.”

That’s not an uncommon concern:

Most people think the biggest source of anxiety in an older/younger partnership is fear of becoming someone’s caregiver or finding yourself tied to a partner who can no longer be overtly physical.

You met when you were 50 and he was 63. What drew you to each other was your mutual love of camping. You enjoy a decade of shared physically demanding experiences; hiking, golfing, tennis, skiing. Then osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration set in. One of you or both of you require a knee or hip replacement. Ask yourself how prepared you are to be someone’s nurse, or be the one having to be looked after.

Another potential minefield is you and your significantly older (or younger) partner may be in very different places in your lives.

To revisit my relationship with the cop/stuntman, in my 20’s, even my late 20’s, I still had a lot of living to do. Him, not so much. Despite his love of travel and adventure, on a normal weekend when we were both at home, he wanted to watch tv, and I wanted to go out and boogie. I was just getting started in my career in journalism; he was thinking how long he had to go before he could put in for his police retirement and start collecting his pension. He thought my friends who were my age were young and silly; I thought his work partner who was also his best friend seemed old and settled. Socializing in either group was difficult. He’d also had been married before and had a teenager. At 26, I wasn’t ready to have children but was open to the possibility; he made it clear he was done.

But other relationhips can work out for the best. A woman whose husband is 17 years her junior recently confided that after a decade-long marriage, “I worry one day he will look at me and see an old woman. But right now we’re super happy and still having a lot of sex. And that wasn’t something I could have predicted.”

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