Age Differences In Dating
by Tina B. Tessina, Phd
Dr. Romance gets many letters about older women dating younger men, which appears to be shocking to some people, but I don’t find it so unusual.
Why would a younger man want to date an older woman? Who isn’t attracted to success, smarts, and experience? Young men can find this just as attractive in an older woman as in anyone else. Perhaps he enjoys the mentoring, perhaps just the emotional stability of an older woman who knows her mind and her heart. These relationships can last; it’s not age that makes the difference, but how well the couple builds trust, partnership, and a life together.
Socially, there is a role reversal of sorts going on, women are more powerful, and may want men who are younger and therefore, more flexible: men who can handle it if the woman’s career and lifestyle are more important. Movies and TV shows are also showing women that dates don’t have to be older. Women who have high-powered careers or a well-developed self-image and want freedom and flexibility are exercising more choice. Women who have been divorced and are established single moms may enjoy having a playmate, someone to have fun with, who doesn’t try to control her.
In my counseling office, I have seen many relationships succeed with this kind of older woman/younger man scenario. The media focuses on the age difference, but what really makes or breaks the relationship is how well the couple can form a partnership or team that works.
Age difference is an adolescent worry: when you’re a teenager, an age difference of even two or three years makes a vast difference in your experience and your outlook on life. Such a difference can interfere with communication, life goals, outlook, and relationship experience. In addition, for the young, the social reaction to such a relationship is often very negative. If one partner is underage, a sexual relationship is even against the law.
As you get older, life experience and emotional growth help to equalize your relationship skills and resources. A ten-year or more difference in your ages makes little difference in how well you can conduct your relationship.
Don’t focus on an arbitrary number difference in your ages. If you are getting along, you have good communication and problem solving, and you love each other; that’s a precious thing, and far more important than any age difference could be. If other people have a problem with it, let it be their problem.
Whether a relationship is healthy is not determined by age differences, but by the interaction between the partners. A ten-year difference is not too difficult to bridge, but differences of twenty years or more in age can lead to some difficulties, as the partners get older. For example, the younger partner may mature and reconsider his or her choices, or an older partner may confront aging problems much sooner. As long as both parties are adults, and the couple has talked about their age difference and the future possibilities, I don’t make judgments about their respective ages.
The reasons some people choose to date individuals much younger (or older) than themselves are myriad and often go back to childhood. There are healthy and unhealthy reasons to date someone of a different generation. One inappropriate motivation for dating a younger person is fear of aging on the older person’s part. A younger partner isn’t going to reverse the aging process or protect you from old age. Obviously, a man or woman who dates someone as young as his or her children are going to run into some social opposition, but the differences that can cause the biggest problems within the couple relationship are different maturity levels.
Most of us are used to older men dating younger women, but as more and more women choose younger partners for relationships, the question arises: Are women in their late 30’s and early 40’s are likely to be successful with partners who are 10 – 15 years younger than themselves?
Success in these relationships depends on what the motivations of both people are. Some older people feel younger at heart than their contemporaries and like to date people who are as active as they are. Chronological age doesn’t always reflect either physical capability or emotional maturity. Sometimes an age difference is a mentoring relationship — the older person advises the younger one on life or career. This can backfire if the younger person decides he or she has learned enough and wants to move on.
If you’re asking: “Is it OK for me to have a partner who is much older or younger than I am?” You’ll do better if you forget about your ages, and concentrate on whether the relationship works for both of you, or not. What really makes a romantic relationship succeed is the emotional connection, rather than external appearance. Men are more visually focused. A woman who connects with a much younger man may be powerful in a career and looking for someone to play with. It’s difficult to tell without knowing the couple.
Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 40 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 15 books in 17 languages, including Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today; It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step , How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog (drromance.typepad.com), and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” and offers courses at GenerousMarriage.com . Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina