The Age Gap debate: how old is too old and how low can you go?

While the issue of gay marriage has been gripping the headlines around the world, my single friends (yes I have a handful still left – though most are scattered around the globe) and I have been debating a different issue – how old is too old and how low can you go, in terms of a potential partner? I was reminded of this again when watching the excellent film Liberal Arts the other day – where 35 year old university administrator Josh Radnor has a romantic opportunity with 19 year old student Elizabeth Olsen. In one particularly amusing scene we watch him do the maths – how old he was when she was born, how old she was when he was 16, and then the other end of the scale – how old she would be when he was 80. It was both an amusing and interesting take on what we consider acceptable and not acceptable in the romantic stakes.

There is no shortage of celebrity age gap relationships to point to when looking for examples and precedents – though the great majority seem to feature older men with younger women (Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta-Jones being an oft cited example). The one famous example of older woman with younger man (Demi Moore & Ashton Kutcher) unfortunately ended recently, and I can’t think of many other successful examples. It doesn’t help too that a woman dating an older man gets labelled with the term ‘cougar’, whereas older men with younger women just get the admiration and respect of their male colleagues. But I won’t go off on a feminist rant about that one 😉 And I don’t need to look far personally for examples either – my sister, my father and my aunt all have successful relationships with relatively hefty age gaps.

Most of the debate my friends and I have had though is about the older end of the spectrum (for some reason the prospect of dating a 20 year old boy just isn’t all that appealing…). All being in our mid-thirties, we had previously thought 40 was a pretty acceptable cut off point, but we are now having to revise our thoughts on that. That just leaves five years gap upwards, which doesn’t seem generous. Especially when, let’s admit it, the pool we are swimming in is becoming increasingly less stocked, and the stock left is…well, of middling quality shall we say 😉 There are bargains to be had for sure, but one has to search hard and long to find them. Fate is not in favour of the thirty something singleton living in Auckland, I can tell you that for free. And the world of internet dating, should one wish to foray into it, does indeed (I have heard…) ask you to specify what age gap you deem acceptable. So do you throw the net wide and hope you catch a good one, or do you keep trawling your narrow little pond and hope for the best (ok, I am done with the fish analogies now. Promise ;-))?

Most of the concerns raised about dating older men (or women, depending on your inclination) relate not to their having baggage or kids – such things are to be expected – but more to the importance of that age gap the older we get. Sure, a 15 year age gap may be no big deal now – if they are a fit and active 50 year old – but when we are 75 and still active and they are 90…that’s when things get interesting. To an extent I can see the merit in that argument, and I can sort of understand when people say they don’t want to be lonely when they get older. However, taking that logic one step further – shouldn’t we also ask about a future partner’s family health history? If he has a history of heart disease at a young age then shouldn’t we count him out too? And does that also mean we can’t date extreme sportsmen or soldiers because they have a higher chance of being killed in an accident? No – we don’t generally apply this logic, and I would argue that we shouldn’t apply the other either.

Surely it is better to have a fantastic relationship with someone you are brilliantly suited to for 10 years, than to have an ok relationship with someone you are moderately suited to for thirty years. Give me the short term fire works any day I say. And, I haven’t done any research, but I am pretty sure that bowling greens, garden centres and retirement homes are great places to pick up single older men once you are of that age yourself. So, you may not be lonely in your old age after all. For the same reason that I won’t have kids just to keep me company/look after me when I am old, I also won’t choose a partner based on whether he will be around when I am old. Life is a fragile thing and you can never predict what may happen. So if you meet the right person, but they don’t tick all the boxes, give it a crack anyway – you never know where it will lead. Though why I of all people am giving dating advice I have no idea 😉

By the way – Happy Easter everyone! If you are looking for movie ideas this festive weekend – the aforementioned Liberal Arts is a lovely little rom com with great performances from its two leads plus stellar supporting players Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney. It is worth seeing for the argument about the merits of the ‘Twilight’ books alone.  And for something a bit grittier -French film Rust and Bone – starring that girl what was in Inception, Marion Cotillard – is a simply brilliant and very unorthodox love story. And you have to respect any film that can get away with playing a Katy Perry song twice and still being cool. Happy viewing!


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