Age Differences in Relationships: Good or Bad? (DE Coast Press)

Tony Randell in a tuxedo and his wife in a pink strapless dress

A visitor to my website writes that he has fallen in love with a woman who is fourteen years his senior. He tells me that he generally goes for people his own age, but that he’s never felt so good about any relationship. He asks if this is wrong.

First of all, congratulations! Second, 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 wrong. Staying with someone only out of nostalgia or pity 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?

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? Of course, there are unique aspects as well. For example, the younger person has less life experience, and the wider the age difference, the greater that challenge can be.

As in any relationship, there has to be intellectual compatibility. But mental abilities and life experience are not the same. An older person may respect how bright the younger person is, in spite of the 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 experience and wisdom; the older partner enjoys the younger partner’s youth and vigor. Issues related to age are not nearly as significant as a real 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 the younger woman, something he and his first wife never did. I’m sure it was hard on his younger wife and 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? 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, not only with the other person but also with yourself. Can you honestly say that you would rather be with him or her than anyone else? At the end of the day, do you look forward to being with your partner? If so, then something is working, and you’re fortunate, no matter what the age difference.

Wikipedia 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 making a snap judgment based only on bias requires no thought. “Gold digger” does not apply where two people truly love each other. Financial circumstances can vary, but love tells the tale, and only the people involved know for sure if it’s the real thing.

Of course there are relationships that fail because of age issues. Needs and basic values can sometimes 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 age difference. The same thing applies when two young people marry, only to realize 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 age difference? Do you worry about what others think, even though you’re happy? Those are 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.

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