Romantic happiness trumps all–no matter how old you are


A visitor to my website writes: 

Dear Dr. Hurd,

I recently fell in love with someone fourteen years older than I am. We have been going out for nearly a year, and it’s getting more serious. In the past, I generally went for people my own age, but I have never felt so good about any relationship before. Is it wrong to enter into a relationship with such an age difference?


Dear website visitor,

My primary definition of a “wrong” relationship is one that leads to unhappiness for either or both parties. Tolerating or inflicting physical or mental abuse is certainly wrong. Staying with someone out of nostalgia or pity, while knowing fully well you’re miserable, is also wrong. According to my ethical perspective, genuine happiness is never wrong. It sounds like you’re happy, and I trust your partner is as well. What could be wrong with that?

I understand your reservations, but a relationship with an age difference (within legal boundaries, of course) ought to be approached like any other. Is there compatibility? Are there common values? Are there enough differences to make it interesting but not so many as to make sustained companionship impossible? There are unique aspects to relationships like this. For example, the younger person has less life experience, and the older partner has to be aware of this and accept it. The wider the age difference, the greater that challenge can be.

As in any relationship, there has to be intellectual compatibility—but intellectual abilities and life experience are not the same. An older person may respect how bright the younger person is, in spite of his or her lack of experience. People who are happy in such relationships don’t see the age difference as a challenge. The younger partner likes being with someone who has life experience and wisdom; the older partner enjoys the youth and vigor of the younger partner. Issues related to age are not nearly as significant as the presence of a connection, and the ability to sustain it over time.

The late actor Tony Randall married a younger woman, after his wife of many years died. He had children with this younger woman, something he and his long-time wife never did. I’m sure it was hard on his younger wife and young kids to lose him. But would it have been better if he had never remarried, spending his final years lonely and sad? Would his widow be better off never having loved him, and having children with him? I say no, because I always vote for happiness above knee-jerk responses based on emotion and bias.

The most important factor is to be honest at all times, not only with the other person but also with yourself. Can you honestly say that you are happy with this person and would rather be with him or her than anyone else? At the end of the day, coming home from work, do you look forward, above all else, to being with your partner? If so, then something is working, and you’re pretty fortunate—no matter what the age difference.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, points out that, “In some societies, age-disparate relationships are seen as aberrant or even perverse. Historically, the ‘gold digger’ mentality has been frowned upon as being akin to prostitution.” One of the easiest things to do is to be judgmental, because being judgmental (i.e., making a snap conclusion based on bias rather than fact) requires no thought whatsoever. A “gold digger” situation does not apply where two people truly love each other. Financial circumstances and/or age can be the same or different between the two, but in the end, love tells the tale, and only the two people involved will know for sure if it’s the real thing. There’s certainly no way for anyone else to know, unless they hear it first-hand.

‘m sure that there are relationships that fail because of age issues. One great risk is that needs and basic values can change between one’s early years and later in life. Yet, my experience has shown that it’s more the presence of extreme youth that creates the problem, rather than the actual age difference. The same thing can apply when two young people marry, only to realize later that one or both of them chose to marry too soon.

If you’re pursuing a relationship with an age disparity, and it bothers you, then try to figure out why. Are you happy with your partner, but dislike the idea of the difference in age? Do you worry about what others think, even though you’re happy? These are the wrong reasons to hesitate.

If the age difference is bothering you because you genuinely feel frustration over a lack of compatibility, then that’s a valid reason for pause. But, above all, don’t let bias or baseless prejudice stand in the way of your happiness. Love and joy trump everything else.