Do Age Gap Relationships Bother You?
By Cara Sutra
Most people have an opinion on age gap relationships, whether they are resolutely black and white about what’s an acceptable age gap in a romantic relationship or they believe age differences just don’t matter. What do you think about people of different ages being in a relationship?
By age gap relationships, I’m talking about people over the age of consent who choose to get involved in a romantic relationship together. Most couples (or people in a poly relationship, if that’s more you) have at least some age gap element to their relationship – it’s unlikely you were both born on the same day in the same year. You might be wondering what the big deal is about any difference of age in relationships.
Age gap relationships get a lot of attention when the difference in age is more than a few years – especially when it’s more than a decade. Once you start reaching a difference of age where there’s a generation gap – ie. one person in the relationship is old enough to be the other person’s parent – that’s when things start getting really controversial. Often people are very judgemental and critical of these larger age gap relationships, putting their own moral spin on things and making (usually quite unfair) assumptions about those involved.
These judgements aren’t reserved for people known personally such as friends, family or neighbours. Those in the public eye also have to deal with presumptions about, and critique of their relationships when there’s an age gap deemed remarkable. Famous celebrity age gap relationships include Catherine Zeta-Jones/Michael Douglas, Jerry Hall/Rupert Murdoch, Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher and Johnny Depp/Amber Heard (although I guess that one’s off the list now).
It’s interesting to note the general public’s difference in attitude depending on which gender is the older or younger party, particularly in heterosexual relationships. An older man with a younger woman is often judged as just wanting ‘arm candy’, or said to be ‘taking advantage’, while the young woman is often described as only interested in the contents of his wallet, or as trying to get into his will. Meanwhile, an older woman with a younger man is described as a ‘cougar’, a ‘cradle-snatcher’ and seen as very lucky (Barbara Windsor and Joan Collins come to mind). I’ve seen the younger man with an older woman also sometimes described as ‘lucky’ but there is often mention of financial motivation too. Overall, woman are still seen in our society as the ones being taken advantage of sexually whereas men are still assumed to be in control in all aspects and able to make a sound decision when it comes to who they want to be in a relationship with.
In both cases the older party is often seen as predatory, but society seems to find the idea of a predatory older woman quite comedic and even sexually attractive; whereas a ‘predatory’ older man is seen as creepy, wrong and disgusting.
It’s a shame that society firstly think these relationships are any of their business, and secondly that it’s fair to presume any of the motivations and/or naivety of those involved.
It’s worth stating again that these attitudes are mainly expressed towards hetero relationships, not as much towards gay or lesbian couplings. Only one example comes to mind of a celebrity gay relationship where the age gap was hugely remarked upon by the press and frowned upon by the general public: Stephen Fry and his new husband, Elliott Spencer. Both Stephen and his husband have faced criticism; Fry is assumed to be taking advantage of the ‘young boy’ whereas his younger husband is assumed to be with Stephen for fame and financial reasons.
I’ve been in an age gap relationship myself. When I was 15 I started dating a man older. He was 25. He was also a doctor, which really didn’t help when it came to people making derisory comments, passing judgements and generally poking their nose in. How dare a man in a position of authority date this poor, naive young girl who is quite obviously being taken advantage of? As it happens, the relationship didn’t last in any case – we split when I was 18. Throughout the few years together though, I had to deal with being looked at and talked about by my social circle as if I were being abused and molested by a doctor rather than as a woman who chose to get into this relationship – whereas my boyfriend was dealing with whispers of child abuse and being a disgusting pervert.
That’s not to say I don’t believe that any problems can arise in age gap relationships. Now that I am with a partner who is only a few years older than me, we do have more things in common than my (now ancient history) age gap relationship. We have a shared remembering of the late 80s, and 1990s. We can comment on pop culture shows and laugh together about a past we remember in similar ways as we were similar ages through those times. I think those moments might be a bit more awkward if, say, he was much older and remembered a teenage 60s or 70s brilliantly whereas in comparison my teenage years were spent in the 1990s. That’s not to say it would be a relationship breaker for me; it would just make for a few moments where the age gap would be all too present and real.
So how much is too much when it comes to age gaps in relationships? I believe an age gap only really matters if it matters to you. For all the criticism, judgements and opinions of other people, at the end of the day it’s how the people actually in the relationship feel about it that makes any difference. For me personally, I probably wouldn’t get into a relationship with someone who was old enough to be my parent or someone young enough to be my child. I’ve learned to never say never though – life has a way of surprising us. You never know what could happen, who you’re going to meet and who you might end up falling in love with. And that’s probably a good thing to remember before passing judgement on anyone else’s relationship.
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