Age gap relationships: A dating taboo that just won't die
Relationships columist Monica Karpinski explores the history (and the stereotypes) behind one of the last dating taboos: age gap relationships
In May of this year, 19-year old Giuseppe D’anna proposed to his 76 year-old fiancee. She said yes, and like millions of newly-betrothed folks before him, he shared his news on social media.
I’ll admit that when I saw his post, I felt a prickle of unease.
"Why did I react that way?"
It seems that others did, too. “She’s his grandma,” commented one user on video-sharing app TikTok. “Dress in blue if you need help,” added another.
While the 57 years between D’anna and his beau could certainly be considered extreme, here I was, indulging the tired and familiar scorn that comes with age gap relationships. I know better, so why did I react that way?
Why are we wary of age gap relationships?
Age gap relationships are as old as time, yet they’re the dating taboo that just won’t die. Up to 25 per cent of all couples in Western countries are at least 10 years apart, while in the US, it’s estimated that around one per cent of heterosexual relationships have an age difference of 28 years or more.
If all of these people are consenting adults, why does their choice in partner make us feel icky?
Speaking for myself, it was because I made a snap assumption that D’anna was being taken advantage of. And according to Oakland University, this is a pretty common prejudice.
Their research found that people consider age-gap partnerships unacceptable because they assume there’s an element of exploitation at play, or that the relationship is exchange-based rather than being a “real” connection.
"If all of these people are consenting adults, why does their choice in partner make us feel icky?"
That he must just be in it for the money was another common theme in the comments section of D’anna’s post.
These stereotypes are literally centuries old. Think of the cigar-puffing older man who seeks beautiful young things to hang on his arm, or the “gold digging” waif waiting around to collect his inheritance.
Or, if we look back to the early noughties, we meet the cougar—a desperate older woman who preys on younger men.
Why can't we let these stereotypes go?
Possibly because they’ve grown from grains of truth. Men do have greater economic power than people of other genders, age does tend to come with more wealth and authority, and our culture does see feminine youth and beauty as desirable.
Socially speaking, then, there may well be power dynamics at play in age gap relationships that benefit some, but could also leave others in a vulnerable position.
Where we go wrong, though, is assuming that this is the case for all age-gap relationships—and forgetting that age isn’t the only thing that can disrupt the balance of power between people.
"For a relationship to be healthy, we must feel secure and loved, and be able to be vulnerable with our partner"
Insecurities, personality clashes, and a mismatch in how partners value each other can do the trick, too—it depends on the people in that relationship and what they bring to it.
For a relationship to be healthy, we must feel secure and loved, and be able to be vulnerable with our partner. There’s no reason why people of different ages can’t be these things to each other.
An age gap may indeed cause differences in perspectives and expectations, but it’s down to the people in that relationship to work through these challenges, just as they would any others.
Besides, age difference isn’t always something to overcome—it can also be a source of joy.
One user on discussion app Reddit shares that she’s drawn to younger partners because “they’re fun, exuberant…I’m extremely active and a bit of a daredevil, and younger men can keep up with me.”
Over on TikTok, one user posts that she loves her older partner’s maturity. “[He] wants a family, [and] just knows what he wants in life in general.”
Are these generalisations? Maybe. But these two consenting adults have simply chosen partners that fulfill their emotional needs, and if I’m not mistaken, is that not the whole point of finding someone to do life with?
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