Thursday, June 2, 2011

More on Age Differences in Relationships

Yesterday's post began with a discussion on age differences in relationships, but quickly spun off in another direction, due to the particular experience I was writing about, and also some recent revelations that included said experience. As a result, I think what I had was two separate posts blurred into one.

Irina, of the blog Appropriate Response, left the following comment:

Age difference will color our perception of life just as the behaviour patterns we have developed while growing up with our families will. Knowing this and approaching it from that end, brings us one step closer to "making it work". Do we ever get a relationship in which everything is "fine" form the start: no baggage, no preconceptions, no this or that? I don't think so, not any more.

I am 40 and my beloved is 24. When we met, I did not even think of the age difference. Fears and insecurities came later, when I started analyzing. But I am at the point in my life where I think LIFE WORKS, and that's what matter. We would have challenges in any case, I am sure of that, age difference or not. I know this much of myself to know this. :-)

A few years ago, I dated a woman who was about 5 1/2 years older than me. What's 5 1/2 years you're probably saying? Nothing, if you ask me. I barely blinked at it. However, for her, for some reason, it always was an issue. In the beginning, she repeatedly made comments about how "this might not work" and then, after it seemed to start "working," she'd say things like "I'm glad you kept at this, despite the age difference." The fears and analyzing that Irina describes above were always there for the woman I dated, although as both Irina and another commenter go on to say, blaming age is usually an excuse for not wanting to look at other problems.

Not long after she broke up with me, I found out she had "fallen in love" with an old friend, and not long after that, she was pregnant and getting married. My guess is that their connection had been intensifying for a long time and that, for whatever reasons, she had felt conflicted enough about it to keep dating other people, including me. She also was conflicted about a lot of other things, including her soon to be empty nest (her two children were in their teens), and her well paying, but highly stressful and not terribly fulfilling job.

All of that, and more, went into the focus on age which, in this case, really was a pretty meaningless difference anyway.

Another commenter on yesterday's post, Bjorn, wrote this:

My partner is 18 years older than me, and I had a lot of preconceived ideas and fears about age difference in the initial stage. But when I really looked into it, I found that our difficulties had nothing to do with the years inbetween us.

Opening up to this together with my loved one has been a very enriching experience for me. And I would hate to have lost all that just by pretending to be in an unsolvable situation.

Now this is quite a gap, but I also think that it brings up the fact that you have to move beyond the numbers themselves to get a clearer picture of any given relationship.

For example, I believe that the older you get, the less age differences will bring with them significant road blocks.

Taking the age gap between Bjorn and his partner, consider the difference between:

1. An 18 year old dating a 36 year old


2. A 60 year old dating a 42 year old

While either of these could work out just fine, with the first scenario, you have someone either in high school or fresh out of high school with someone approaching middle age. Although it's very true that some teens are more mature, and have their lives more together than many adults, that's not the norm. Furthermore, even with someone with an unusual level of maturity and awareness, it's pretty easy to imagine that things like current life goals and focus will be really different.

Over the past year, I spent several Fridays practicing Zen meditation with a local college sitting group. It was a great experience for me, in part because I was able to be around younger folks who were excited about, and committing themselves, to a deep spiritual practice. We had some excellent discussions after our meditation sessions, some of which brought back memories of my college days. However, that was just it. For me, it was about memories. Whereas for many of them, it was their lives.

I actually found that I had a lot more in common with the graduating seniors, given that a fair amount of my life is up in the air right now, as I work to redirect and redefine myself. And with the age difference issue above, even shifting the first example from an 18 year old to a 22 or 23 year old, often makes a lot of difference, given the kinds of development and life experiences that happen in those early adult years.

In fact, this NY Times article includes research suggesting that brain development probably continues well into the 20s for many people. Which might be one of the reasons why you find many women and men in their late teens and early twenties who are "hot" for older partners and then, once they've had some experimenting and gotten some experience, move on to people closer to their own age.

On the flip side, I have known people my own age and even younger who already consider themselves "getting old." And when you look at their lives, it's clear that this mindset has had a strong impact on both how they live and what they choose to do or not to do. Instead of opening up to learn new things, they've closed in on a routine that feels safe and comfortable. Every little ache and pain is sign that their bodies are starting to betray them. They wax nostalgic about the "good old days," even though they might have another 40 or 50 years of life to live.

It's beyond me how someone at 35 or 40 could be talking about "getting old" in this day and age. But it definitely happens.

Remember this from Irina: "Age difference will color our perception of life..." The same is true of how we perceive our own age, regardless of how old a partner or perspective partner is.

My mother turned 60 years old this year, and yet, you'd be hard pressed to find another 60 year old with as much energy, openness, and aliveness as she has. Even though she is getting older, she has never bought into the stories about "what is supposed to happen" when you get older. This attitude, as well as other healthy habits, has meant for her being a person who somewhat defies age. She could easily match up well with someone 10, 15 years younger than herself because of this. And on the other hand, you line her up with the average 60 year old, and she'll probably make that person look old just standing there together.

So, I'm really convinced that it's much more about one's perceptions related to age than it is age itself. And that these perceptions, coupled with life experience, can come together to either make or break a potential partnership.

Some people are like logs (see photo above) when it comes to age, seeing it all in terms of the body. While others are more like the moss growing on the log, seeing everything, including the body, as an opportunity for continued growth.

I'll opt for being the moss. How about you?


  1. I agree with your assessment of the age situation.
    My experience dating a guy 8 years older than myself, at the time ( my age, 22) had its rough points. On top of navigating the regular relationship scenarios, we differed in what caused us stress, our understanding of time, and life direction. I saw constantly an uncertain future, while he had a strong foundation and general direction. Equally frustrating, he came with a long list of checked off boxes. By that I mean, there was little we could do that he had not already experienced.
    Most notably though: unlike previous boyfriends my age, this guy was actully looking for a long term relationship. It was frustrating yet wonderful. I felt tied down yet simultaneously drawn to the stability, the promise.

    Between the ages of 18 and 25, in my experience, changes are dramatic. Large age gaps may work afterwards, but before requires extra patience, compassion and selflessness.

  2. Sorry if this seems random but I do have a question, there may a development with a guy I met through a friend of mine. Only problem is he is 18 and I am nearly 21. I understand that it is not a drastic age gap as such but I am paranoid what my friends may think/ feel. Your thoughts will be appreciated. Thanks.

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