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Dating someone who is considerably older is a curious topic, especially for us university students. We are hovering on the cusp between our teenage years and adulthood, a space in which we are free to act like children but can claim we’re adults. But then, where does that put us in the ‘Dating older’ debate? When does it become okay to date someone who is significantly older than you?
Personally, I think that age is just a number. It’s down to individuals and really not our business to judge. Yet, when a twenty-year-old friend turns up with a thirty-something, suddenly, everyone has an opinion. We also often assume it is a woman dating an older man yet, it is also true for men dating older women and same-sex couples. This leads me to the question: is the dating age limit something society has created or is there an innate reason why we have these preconceptions?
In my opinion, it isn’t innate as we used to marry at all ages in the past. However, in heterosexual relationships, we maybe expect the man to be older because historically it is the man who would provide for the family. It is possibly these societal values that make a woman look for an older man and why it seems unusual for the guy to be younger. There is also the stereotype that an older woman mothers her partner. This creates an image that the older member looks after the younger counterpart even though, in a balanced relationship, be it homo or hetero-sexual, both take care of each other.
It is only recently that relationships with a significant age difference have become taboo in order to shield those society feels need protection. For example, school age children having relationships with older men and women is recognised as being wrong and, in my opinion, quite justifiably so. However, when I was at secondary school, I knew a girl who got into a relationship with a 20 year old guy – when she was 15. She soon turned 16 yet, the relationship was still disapproved of by families and friends. He was labelled a paedophile and she the school bicycle – though they were, of course, neither. Now that she is 20 and he, 25, they are happily engaged and living together, with the full support of everyone. So, what changed? I think age is a massive part of it. Once she was considered old enough, nobody objected to their relationship, five years difference was perfectly normal. So what age gap isn’t considered ‘normal’ and why?
If we look at celebrities such as Dick Van Dyke, he was 86 when he married 40 year old Arlene Silver. There were no repercussions because of the age of the people involved – Arlene was considered a mature woman able to safely make her own choice of partner. Yet, if Van Dyke had been 62 and Silver 16, there would have been a very different reaction. This is also demonstrated in same-sex partnerships. Graham Payn was only 14 when he met 33 year old playwright/composer, Noel Coward. He became Coward’s protégé, later becoming his lover once Payn reached his twenties. Consequently, there isn’t a ‘normal’ age gap but an age at which it becomes acceptable to date someone older.
So, how much older do we think is acceptable at 18-21? I asked my friends their opinions and it was interesting how their first answers were all similar – at 25 being the maximum age they’d date.
Beth (19) said that for her, it’s a personal choice but for others “really depends upon the maturity of those involved.”
Frankie (20) added that “an age gap doesn’t matter as long as the relationship works, and is a safe situation in which both are happy. Yet, there are disadvantages to a considerable age gap as the differences in eras could mean that there are barriers in conversation as one member may not have been born when the subject, the other is reminiscing, was around.” However, I would argue that, even with these differences in experience, if they have lots in common they will still work well as a couple.
Amy (19) commented that “if there are enough similarities and the individuals are compatible in maturity and personality, then it doesn’t matter what age they are. Yet, there are some age differences which are seen as wrong such as a 16 year old with a 25 year old”.
If the couple are compatible, age is just a number; though it does depend on how young the individual is when dating someone considerably older.