Sunday marks the day Jordan and I first met. Okay, we technically met at my birthday party last year, but let’s just say I had a little too much champagne and therefore spent way more time dancing to Blank Space and dipping cheese in ranch dressing and virtually no time talking to my soon-to-be boyfriend. Just a week after my 23rd birthday we were invited skiing with our two friends who had just started dating, my friend broke her wrist, and Jordan and I spent a great deal of the day talking to one another. Not long after we took a road trip to California together, said “I love you” for the first time on Valentine’s day and the rest…it’s not so distant history.
Looking back there are a lot of reasons Jordan and I shouldn’t have met. We both didn’t want to go up to the mountain that day, we both almost flaked out, we both were sort of seeing other people (casually) and we are ten years apart. For Jordan, the latter was less of a big deal than it was to me. Initially when we met I completely ruled out the idea of dating him. It wasn’t because I wasn’t attracted to him (I was!), but rather that I couldn’t imagine our lives would mesh well together. I was a full time nanny, he was the owner of a construction company. I didn’t know how to pay my bills on time, or clean an oven and my bedspread was from the children’s section of Target. Though I’d always thought of myself as mentally and emotionally mature I still saw 30 as “grown-up” and on the inside I felt too similar to a lost little girl.
As Jordan and I got to know each other better I realized how comfortable I was around him, he made me laugh, he never pressured of pushed me physically (in fact our first few dates I didn’t even realize were dates, oops) and I felt as if he understood me on a deeper level. As someone who always feels misunderstood and misrepresented that last part was huge. I was sick of guys who saw me as a blonde barbie kind of girl, and Jordan was just the opposite. He saw past everything superficial and seemingly appreciated my soul.
At first people would ask me if our age difference was bothersome, if it was difficult and/or how it affected our relationship. I would roll my eyes and scoff that it didn’t make difference other than that Jordan was more established in his life and career. At the time, I was telling the truth and I wondered why I had been so judgmental of dating a guy even 5 years older than me before (I often refused). As time went on and our lives became more intertwined my opinion shifted once again.
How does a ten year age gap affect our relationship? I think the answer depends on the stages of our relationship. When we first met it was a minor adjustment, in the initial dating period it didn’t matter at all, and now that we’re settled into a serious and committed relationship the difference is more substantial. Jordan wants to buy a house, while I’m still feeling stoked to have my own apartment. Jordan is so focused on his career while I still want to drop everything to travel the world. I don’t feel any sense of urgency when it comes to investments and house hunting and owning furniture not from Ikea. Luckily he doesn’t feel compelled to start a family or else our age gap could be a deal breaker. I have a feeling that as I become more settled in my career, my finances and adulthood the age difference will matter less (once again). It helps that I am ever so slightly more mature and Jordan is so youthful and playful.
For those of you that hung in there, that’s my story (or I guess I should say “our story“), but I’ve learned a few lessons that transcend my relationship and apply to anyone dating someone outside of the realm of “someone they could have known in high school” (that is plus or minus three years).
Common differences you’re likely to encounter when your Partner is five or more years older than you:
One| Your Partner may not be able to Relate to your Day to Day Struggles:
While I’m debating whether or not I should pack lunch for work to save money instead of buying a sandwich at the grocery store deli, my boyfriend is eating out at “real” sit down restaurants each day. When one of my friend’s gets engaged I’m freaking out (because NONE of my friends has been engaged yet) while half of his friends are married. I get insecure if his ex girlfriend likes a bunch of his photos on instagram, but he doesn’t understand because some of his friends are dealing with divorces and child support. Our problems are relative and the reality is, a lot of the day to day struggles you encounter in your early twenties may be different in your early thirties. It can be difficult for your significant other to fully understand your perspective if they have been removed from the same struggles for years. It isn’t necessarily wrong that the two of you don’t share the same issues, but it takes recognition and understanding to provide the proper level of support. You don’t have the right to belittle your partner’s problems and he/she should give you the same respect.
Two| Your Partner is more Financially Savvy than You:
Occasionally Jordan will talk about buying a house, in Seattle the housing market is quite high, and though I know it is realistic for early twenty somethings in other parts of the country to invest in property, in the Seattle metro area it is quite likely you’ll be renting through your mid twenties if you want to live in the city. Jordan and I can both daydream about purchasing a house or condo, however, his ambitions are rooted in reality while mine seem like an idea for the distant future. Similarly, Jordan discusses buying a new car, expanding his business, even just heading into the grocery store and buying whatever catches his eye without feeling slightly guilty about shopping at Whole Foods. Depending on your partner’s spending habits and relationship with money this financial difference may be more or less obvious. Even if your partner works in an industry that doesn’t allow for many pay increases over time, your partner still has years of working experience on you. At first I declined talking about money at all with Jordan because I felt like we weren’t in the same chapter let alone on the same page. As we became more serious (and moved in together) I realized I couldn’t avoid discussing money every now and then even if it felt uncomfortable at first.
Three| Your Partner’s Relationships are at Different places:
Maybe you call your Mom every time you need to bake a potato or get a stain out of a silk shirt or perhaps the highlight of your weekend was when your Grandma took you out for brunch and took you shopping. In your early twenties you are still adjusting to adulthood, which often means your family members are still transitioning into fully treating you like an adult. Your older significant other probably isn’t in the same relationship with his or her family emotionally or financially. I have three younger siblings who I don’t think of yet as adults, while Jordan’s brother is married with two children. Understandably these relationships are different. Your version of independence could be drastically different than your partner’s and it is important to understand these differences when your relationship becomes serious.
Four| Your Partner Prioritizes Life Experiences Differently:
Whisking away on a whim for the weekend, playing hooky from work to celebrate your anniversary, or taking off a month for the summer to backpack through Europe might sound like great ideas to you. Like any couple chances are you will value certain activities more than others. It is likely your age gap will enhance these differences. As a generalization men and women in their twenties tend to be more impetuous, while men and women in their thirties are more likely to tie themselves to additional responsibilities. Each person’s personality is unique meaning your boyfriend could be just as spontaneous at 36 as you were at 19, however, the prioritization of life experiences will become apparent at some point. Maybe you can’t wait to attend your first friend’s wedding (he’s already been to eight), maybe you are freaking out about buying your first couch from Ikea (while he’s already gone through two sets of furniture). Regardless of your differences in perspective it is important to respect and support one another’s ambitions and even the little joys.
Five| Your Partner has Years of Experiences you Haven’t Encountered yet:
Perhaps the greatest difference your age gap will accentuate is the most obvious, your partner no matter how shockingly similar to you has additional years of life you have yet to experience. I used to cringe when Jordan would say to me “when I was 23 & 24 this was how I felt/what I experienced/etc…” Initially the comparison made me feel childlike, I didn’t want to recognize that he had lived ten years since that time. Now, I realize I was just being self conscious, it’s ridiculous not to acknowledge that my boyfriend has ten years of friendship, heartbreak, work experience, bad dates, falling in love (and more) that I couldn’t possibly have. This isn’t to say I don’t offer diverse experiences or unique perspectives to our relationship, the fact of the matter is he has just lived longer!
I’m confident that the older I get the less apparent the differences I mentioned will become. In early adulthood many individuals face a transitionary period in life. As I have adjusted to paying all my own bills, securing a “grown-up” job and settling into my own apartment, Jordan has viewed these experiences differently. It has never mattered that he has already experienced many of the exciting new changes I am going through for the first time because he still makes our experience together feel special. At the end of the day it is up to you and your partner to decipher if your age gap is complimentary or just too different. What is important to me is being with someone who values my need to overanalyze my feelings, who can be totally silly with me in public, and who will love the people I care most deeply for. In Jordan I have found a best friend and so much more.
If you’ve dated someone outside of your “We could have gone to high school together” age range what did you notice? What was difficult? Did you find out the age gap mattered more or less than you initially thought it would?