It is commonly accepted that you can’t help who you fall in love with. You see a pretty face across the room and their smile takes your breath away. Your heart warms as they look at you when they’re laughing, just to see if you’re happy too. Even if you say nothing, just laying on the couch together, scrolling on your phones, it can be the best part of your day. Should your respective ages determine whether these feelings can be shared between you and your partner?
Age differences within couples are quite common but the stigma surrounding them is high. Misconceptions and assumptions are made about the relationship practically on sight. In large age gaps (ten years or greater) there can even be some slurs aimed at the partnership, such as ‘cougar’ and ‘gold-digger’, that automatically establish the relationship as something off-putting, or not based on genuine affection. With these judgments made towards age gap relationships, debates occur about what is considered a reasonable age difference in relationships, yet there is no easy answer to such a subjective question.
In the conversation about age gaps in relationships, it is practically impossible not to bring up the ‘Dating Equation’. This formula states that it is acceptable to date someone ½(your age) + 7 on the low end or, on the high end, subtract 7 then double that number, thus creating a ‘suitable’ age range socially acceptable for someone to date within. This formula is considered a relatively sound standard aimed at protecting people from getting involved with people far too young or too old. Of course there will never be one rule that everyone agrees with. However, this can be considered a good starting point.
The age ‘formula’ here is trying to quantify that the older a person gets, the larger the age gap in a relationship can be before it is considered ‘inappropriate’. For example, a couple aged 18 and 28 is generally considered too large, yet if they were 38 and 48, the age gap would be completely acceptable. This example brings into account the stage of life at which the participants are in and, as a result, considers their maturity levels.
The question about age differences in relationships is a complicated one, ask your parents and they’ll look at you suspiciously and tell you that everyone not your age is off-limits. Ask your friends and they’ll look at you with intrigue and tell you to go for it. Not only are the people you talk to going to have different takes on age gaps, but the specific context of the relationship also changes depending on whether or not the difference in ages is healthy or sustainable for the couple. A most concerning example of when age gaps become difficult to debate is when one of the partners is minor and the other is not. While the age of consent in the UK is 16, the age at which a person becomes an adult is 18. In both cases a sexual relationship with someone much older than them is allowable by law, however, any younger and the situation gets complicated at best – and illegal at worst. Does the argument then become whether or not the legal definitions surrounding relationship allowances are the only factors to be taken into account?
Though it is an important consideration, especially at our stages in life, the legality of one’s relationship is not the only factor to consider. If one of the individuals is in a position of authority over the other then there becomes an imbalance in power and a potentially manipulative situation is born. Manipulative relationships can be mentally and emotionally draining, leaving the victim in a vulnerable and damaging state, which forms the basis for why these types of relationships are to be avoided. Grooming is an extreme example of manipulation in ‘relationships’. This is when people, statistically more likely to be (though not exclusively) children, are treated differently by people in positions of authority in order to generate relationships. These unhealthy representations of relationships where age differences are at the forefront have tainted society’s view of the acceptability of age gap relationships as a whole.
Relationships valuing mutual respect and genuine affection will have the strength to disregard the age differences of their members. An example recognisable to those familiar with pop culture is the artists Beyoncé and Jay Z. With Jay Z being eleven years older than Beyoncé, ages 49 and 38 respectively, their age gap is sizeable, however, their marriage has lasted for more than a decade.
Though there will always be some relationships with age gaps that fail, those without age differences are also at risk of not lasting. The context surrounding a relationship remains the most important consideration and although age is one factor, it is not the factor.