I’ve heard so many different rules about dating someone older, and they all boil down to a magic number: “Don’t date anyone more than ten years older,” or “Marriages never work if there’s more than fifteen years’ difference.” People love rules, telling themselves that abiding by them will cause them to get hurt less. The reality? So not true!
Don’t embrace any rigid rule about age differences. The most important rule to follow is a general one: Make sure the two of you have the same goals for the relationship and for your daily life together.
Do You Have Goals That are Similar Enough?
Think about whether you want to get married; have a big or tiny wedding; have children; be with someone who already has kids; live in the future in the same town or city where you’ve been dating; move somewhere far or close; have extended family very involved or not very involved in your life; have a relationship where you socialize almost always together or often; have a partner who’s more of a social butterfly or homebody; and have a partner who is very involved or not very involved in extracurricular activities.
Chronological Age vs. Psychological Age
You’ve probably heard someone say, “He seems young for his age,” or “She’s so young at heart.” Though we all have a chronological age, we also have what I refer to as a ‘psychological age.’ How old do you feel, for example? Does your age accurately reflect how old you feel?
In addition, ask yourself what the psychological age is of your prospective older partner. Does he or she:
Have younger friends?
Enjoy different types of music?
Like to exercise?
Like to dance?
Like quiet hobbies, such as reading?
Like to be spontaneous?
If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll have gobs of good information as you try to determine whether a long-term relationship with the older individual could work well. Rather than asking him or her such questions directly, lay low and gather your information over time. You’re not going to a get a true picture about someone’s lifestyle in a month; give yourself a few months of dating to make sure that you’ve seen him or her in as many real-life situations as possible.
Assess Your Respective Sexualities
Though I find that most people overemphasize the importance of sex and sexual attraction, intimacy is a factor worth considering. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because someone is older, he or she isn’t very sexual. Again, use those early months of a relationship to gauge whether your sexualities are congruent enough. (It will never be exactly the same for two different people.)
Assess Your Proclivity for Indulgences
While many behaviors in the extreme form represent a problem or even an addiction, some of those same behaviors can be harmless if not taken to the extreme. Consider a list of activities that fall on the hedonistic end of the behavioral spectrum: drinking alcohol, gambling, shopping, traveling, and spending, for example. Are you always up for something fun and spontaneous? Do you like to feel the occasional rush of adrenaline and stimulation? If so, you either need a partner to like the same things, or you need to find someone who is fine with you doing those things without him or her.
Assess Your Social Circles
Take an honest look at your friends and anyone else who is a recurring character in your social life. Think about friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and even extended family members with whom you socialize. Now, insert a significantly older partner in that picture. How will he or she fit in with your social life as it exists today? In addition, think about everyone with whom your prospective partner socializes. Do you feel comfortable with that crowd? The most harmonious relationships involve a fairly seamless overlap of social circles.
In the end, falling in love with someone significantly older can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life – or one of the most frustrating. Though compatibility factors are important for any relationship, the stakes are even higher for relationships with major age discrepancies. Do your homework and get to know your new crush well before you let yourself truly fall in love. You’d never guess, but caution can, in fact, lead to powerful lasting love.
What are your thoughts about dating someone significantly older?
Dr. Seth Meyers has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.