Does Age Matter in Long-Term Relationships?

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Sometimes known as May-to-December relationships, romantic partnerships that have a large age gap raise eyebrows and concerns about both partners’ well-being. These relationships are not unusual in Hollywood, where movie stars and rock stars often marry people half their age, and these types of relationships are becoming more common in middle America, too. As people live longer and retain vitality into their 70s, 80s and beyond, artificially restricting yourself to a particular age bracket might not make sense. As with any relationship, however, it is important to consider the pros and cons.

Being Careful About Legality

Legality comes into play if you date someone significantly younger than you. Throughout the United States, the legal age of majority is 18. Although some states set a lower minimum age of consent, you could still be seen as predatory if a wide age gap exists. Stick to dating only people who are legal adults. Note that the age of majority varies in other countries, so use caution when traveling abroad with a much younger partner.

Having Common Interests

In an article for AARP, Dr. Pepper Schwartz points out that couples who a significant age gap are often in different life stages. You might be unable to relate to each other’s goals and concerns. Your peer groups might be very different, and you might have trouble socializing with each other’s friends. On the other hand, many May-to-December couples celebrate and enjoy their differences. The younger partner gets the benefit of a more worldly and experienced guide, while the older partner benefits from the other’s youth and vibrancy. Search for common interests and openly discuss your differences. Look for ways to meet both partners’ needs and desires and agree to disagree about things that are unimportant, such as which generation’s music was the best.

Having Health Concerns

Although people are living longer and are healthier than they were in previous generations, a significantly younger partner is likely to face caregiving responsibilities long before she would if she were in a relationship with someone of the same age. Many partners feel that the relationship is worth the risk, but it is important to discuss the possibility before becoming serious.

Another consideration is the possibility of children. Although some women are able to have children later in life, men seeking families often prefer women under 40, note the staff writers at eHarmony. In addition, many older partners enter the relationship with children from a previous relationship. Schwartz points out that an adult child might not be comfortable with his parent dating someone his own age. Although you should not let your kids dictate your love life, an open dialogue with everyone involved can smooth the family dynamics and make all parties more comfortable.

Who’s Older, Who’s Younger

In an article for Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Vinita Mehta examined several research studies regarding age differences in relationships. She found evidence to suggest that as a general rule, men prefer slightly younger women and women prefer slightly older men. However, when potential couples actually date, age preferences appear much less important than other issues of compatibility and attraction. She suggests that the dating landscape may be changing as the wage gap between men and women narrows and as social pressures to marry early in life become less important. In the contemporary world, you are free to choose from a staggering array of potential partners, and May-to-December relationships can work as well as any other relationships. Like all relationships, communication and compromise are the keys to success.