When it comes to dating, there are a few unspoken rules about what is—and isn’t—an acceptable age-gap between partners. Dating someone who’s your age, or a few years older or younger than you, is considered normal. Dating someone who is at least a decade younger than you is considered robbing the cradle. And when you’re dating someone who’s quite older than you. Well, your intentions might not seem completely innocent. So despite all the unspoken rules, does age matter in a relationship?
We spoke to a variety of relationship experts to get to the bottom of this “age-old” dating conundrum and here’s what we found:
The age of your brain matters.
Sometimes a chemical attraction really is just that: chemical. “Our brains develop until we are 25 years of age,” revealed Nicole McCance, a relationship psychotherapist. “So, if a 29 year-old is dating a 23 year-old and that person’s brain is still developing, we can assume that they may change slightly, which could impact the relationship.” So if you’re dating someone who’s brain is still developing, chances are who they are and the way they approach relationships may change more dramatically than someone whose brain is fully-developed. In that case, you might have to size up whether your interests and future-oriented goals actually line up.
Energy level and health are more important than a number.
You know when some people say, “But I don’t feel my age”? That could very well be true. “Believe it or not, someone can be three different ages,” said McCance. “Chronological age refers to how long a person has been alive. Biological age refers to how old her body looks and feels. While psychological age, refers to her maturity, intellect, and how much life experience she has.” If you are dating someone much older, but they are healthy and fit, then you may not have to worry about age-related health issues in the future because your energy levels align. “And if you are dating someone much younger, but they are emotionally mature, then their psychological age may actually match yours,” she said.
Ronnie Ann Ryan, the Dating Coach for Women, broke it down to the importance of biorhythms: “Similar biorhythms–life basics–like, that you sleep at similar times, are hungry at similar times, and want to be active at similar times matter. This can become a huge problem if your clocks are off a great deal,” she said. “Couples with similar rhythms have less to fight about.” So if your partner likes to eat the Early Bird Special and you don’t, you may have a problem.
It’s more about lifestyle than life experience
Similar to dating someone your own age, how someone spends his or her time matters most when it comes to selecting a partner. “When searching for love online, it’s best to set the age-range of whom you seek to be quite broad. I suggest clients leave it quite open,” said April Braswell, Senior Dating Columnist at DatingAdvice. “It’s better to look for lifestyle alignment than an exact age. Talk about what activities you pursue and be sure to emphasize how active you are to attract another single with some vitality.”
Determining what that vitality means to you is also key. “The only negative issues [with age gap] I have seen is when a man is dating a younger women and she still wants to go out and party and isn’t ready to settle down,” said McCance. “He doesn’t want to rush her but also suffers through the process for her to catch up to him, in terms of wanting commitment.”
And no matter how large the age-gap is, “you need to be open to the other person’s way of looking at life and their morals,” said Ryan. “Otherwise you might have a difficult time understanding and respecting each other. Your basic view of how the world works needs similar alignment for you to get along and respect each other.”
Learning from each other is key.
One of the best things about dating someone who’s born in a different era than you is soaking up their understanding of the world. “Dating someone older can provide you with their knowledge and experience and even wisdom,” said McCance. “You may learn a lot from this person. They may also be more willing to settle down and even be more sexually experience (a definite bonus).” On the other hand, dating someone younger can invigorate you and allow you to have fun and grow in different ways.
Although Ryan did caution: “It can be easier to spend time with someone closer to your own age so you have a similar frame of reference–you grew up with the same music, TV shows, culture, movies, fads, politics etc…This doesn’t guarantee compatibility, but can make it easier to talk about things and share memories.”
Love isn’t all you need, but does matter most.
At the end of the day, it’s the connection that you have with the other person that counts more than the numbers on your birthday cake. “Age is arbitrary. What matters is how much your partner has lived and how she makes you feel when you are with her,” said McCance. “That’s what’s important.” From her experience, she said that, “age usually isn’t the only factor in terms of breakups. Traits that make a relationship work, like being accepting and understanding and being able to compromise and let things go, don’t really have to do with age. They more have to do with personality. Personality tends to be consistent throughout a lifespan, despite age.”