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Mind the Gap

We live in a time where technological and medical advances mean that age doesn’t seem to be a barrier to much at all. Fauja Singh secured a world record when he completed the Hong Kong Marathon at the age of 102 while Laura Dekker sailed solo around the world at the tender year of 16.

More and more of us are deciding to return to education or dramatically change our career in later life, retirees are just as likely to take off backpacking around the world as gap year students, and the average age at which we’re marrying, buying property and starting families is slowly but steadily increasing; it’s not uncommon now to hear of Women becoming Mothers in their 40s, 50s and even 60s.

The one area where age still seems to be a sticking point is when it comes to dating and relationships, or more specifically the relative ages of the two people involved. The societal norm dictates that our partner is within 2-3 years of our own age, and in a heterosexual relationship ‘ideally’ the man would be the older of the two. A throwback from simpler times, such a balance made sense in a world where the man was typically the provider, and the woman produced children and stayed at home caring for them. Women sought a slightly older man established in a stable home, whilst men, in turn, were biologically driven to a younger, fertile partner.

In our changing world, however, more of us are opting not to have children, to choose casual relationships over serious commitments, equality in the home often sees women take the role of provider, and the ever-rising divorce rate means that many people now re-enter the dating market in mid-life, looking for something different to the relationship they've left behind. All of those circumstances make age compatibility less of a consideration than it might otherwise be.

Yet still, couples who differ significantly in age can become the unfair subject of raised eyebrows at best, derision or scorn at worst. Mixed-age celebrity partnerships are common fodder for tabloids; Leonardo DiCaprio at 44 is roundly mocked for never knowingly dating anyone over the age of 25, and at 39 Caroline Flack is often portrayed as a predatory cougar for daring to favour men younger than herself; although this may largely come from jealous Harry Styles fans.

But is there really any problem with enjoying the company of someone significantly older or younger, so long as both parties are on the same page when it comes to their expectations?

There can be suggestions of a power imbalance where one partner is older than the other, a whisper that someone must be being taken advantage of, but studies show that couples with a wider age gap often report a higher level of general happiness than others; with the right blend of maturity and youthfulness making for a perfect balance, and differences in life experience, cultural reference points and interests complementing rather than conflicting with each other.

Rather like a relationship where each party speaks a separate language, or grew up in a contrasting culture, with enough willingness to make it work and plenty of communication, most differences can be overcome.

Then there's the question of how big a difference is too big? The old rule of thumb is half your age plus 7, or vice versa. So for a 30-year-old, 22 would be their suggested lower limit; a 40-year-old seeking an older beau should look for a match with no more than 66 candles on their birthday cake. Grounded in the sensible idea that too wide a gulf in generations could be very tough to overcome, like any old wife's tale it can be taken with a pinch of salt. It's fair to say in any relationship that mental age is more important than chronological age; and we all know someone we'd describe as an old head on young shoulders, or an older person who comes across much more youthful than their years. If two people the same age can be years apart in attitude and outlook, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a pair born 15 years apart could just as easily meet in the middle in terms of how they think and feel.

So, does age really matter when it comes to romance in 2019? As a 25-year-old head trapped in the body of a nearly 36-year-old, I'd like to think not. So long as you can find communication, honesty, respect and friendship, the key ingredients to any successful partnership, then forget the date on your birth certificate and love whoever you want to love.


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