Just over a year ago I unknowingly published my most popular post to date. After dating Jordan for a year I decided to write about some of the challenges we faced because we were (are) ten years apart. Relationships and dating are some of my favorite topics to write about. While I don’t think I am anymore of a “relationship expert” than the next person I do like to think about interpersonal relationships (romantic or otherwise). As it turns out I’m not the only one who has thought about age and what it means (far from it). Over the course of the year I’ve received several emails from women dating someone older and wondering if it would work. No one can tell you whether or not your will last BUT there are a few common elements of successful relationships that make a big impact.
I called this post The Smart Girl’s Guide to “Making” and Age Difference Work but I want to further explain what I mean by that. You shouldn’t force something to work that isn’t right. If you feel like you’re endlessly swimming up stream and/or attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole at the early stages of a relationship I suggest critically asking yourself if the relationship is right for you. There are endless variables in relationships from both partners’ values, socioeconomic statuses, life experiences, etc. Age is just a single factor but we tend to think about what it means a lot (at least I know I did at the beginning of my relationship). This post isn’t intended to tell you how to transform a not so good relationship into a fairytale but rather to identify how/why a couple with an age difference can work in order to spur your own independent thinking about your relationships.
Why it works:
You have the same long term goals
Connections that delve deeper than a preference for beer over vodka or camping over spa-ing hold more weight in a relationship. At the core you don’t need to be identical but sharing a similar faith, family values or long term goals like traveling the world, saving for a house or having kids make little differences like “coffee versus tea” or “Age 26 vs. Age 36” matter a lot less.
You are at the same major stage in life
I tend to advise against partnering up with someone in a totally different life stage than you. When you’re still in high school (no matter how mature you are for your age) there are experiences you haven’t had that make it different to relate to someone much older (even if you’re 18!) Likewise, if you have the traditional college experience it can be difficult to maintain a relationship with someone deep into the working world. On the flip side two grad students with a 5-10 year age difference may mesh well because their day to day lives and core experiences are so similar. Once you are in a similar “life stage” as someone else exact age is not as important.
You are able to seamlessly blend with one another’s friends and relatives
Even if the two of you get along well one on one chances are you don’t live in an isolated bubble. Your partner need not be BFFs with all of your BFFs but he/she should be able to connect or converse one way or another. As we age we sometimes outgrow certain activities and hobbies. Your partner should be able to graciously participate with your friend group without belittling you or your crew.
You have the same level of Emotional Maturity
If you watched Nick Vial’s season of The Bachelor you’re no doubt sick of hearing the terms “emotional intelligence” or “emotional maturity”. Taylor was right though (sorry Corrine) emotional intelligence IS important. Emotional intelligence dictates the manner you approach problem solving, empathy and expressing your own issues within a relationship. Both partners should be able to address interpersonal relationship issues on the same level (at least with on another). For the “Basics on Emotional Intelligence” check out these articles from Psychology Today.
Despite the age difference you share hobbies and/or interests
It is important for all couples to have interests or activities they can share. Differences in age are only exasperated if you don’t enjoy the same hobbies or lifestyle. Do the two of you love to cook? Love to hike? Love to listen to Trap music? Shared interests big and small make relationships work. For some people where they are in life heavily impacts their hobbies (do anyone other than high school students like loitering around at the mall?) but for others hobbies have little to do with age (I’ve loved running, traveling and reading for as long as I can remember). You needn’t share all the same interests but it’s nice to have common ground that will outlast the initial flirtation and “getting to know you” butterflies.
You don’t Hold Each Other Back or Push one another too Far
If you’re still at the travel the world backpacking stage and your partner is buying a house your financial priorities won’t always mesh. Likewise if you’re ready to have a baby and your partner is out every Wednesday through Saturday taking tequila shots you aren’t on the same page- this is true of all relationships not just relationships with significant age gaps however it can be illuminated by an age difference. It is important not to push your partner into a stage he/she is not comfortable in.
You make Each Other Better!
Arguably the key to any relationship is bringing out the best versions of one another. Your partner should encourage you to chase your dreams and to be the best version of you. If you’re able to raise each other up and support each other’s aspirations your ages won’t matter quite as much.
Even if you check off all the criteria there’s no guarantee your relationship will work-there just aren’t that sort of guarantees in relationships, people are complicated. Still, it is important to step outside of the heat of a new relationship and think about both individuals lifestyles. Age differences can set you up for big problems or they can be no big deal. By considering where both of you are in your lives, your goals, values and the dynamics between both partners you can enter into a relationship with both eyes open. Love might be blind but that doesn’t mean you can’t think critically about the choices you’re making and how they’re going to effect your heart down the line.
My experience? Dating someone ten years older than me has been the healthiest and happiest relationship I’ve ever had. However, I think the happiness in my relationship has little to do with our ages and everything to do with our personalities, lifestyles and communication styles.