According to dating experts, age-gap relationships are set to boom in 2024. Trending app, Bumble, recently predicted that this year would be about personal prioritisation, such as being open to dating people older or younger. It also includes placing more value on emotional vulnerability, self-acceptance, and shared priorities.
Age-gap relationships are typically defined by an age gap of 10 years or more between partners – though the gap can also be less. And research suggests that these connections are becoming more common.
For example, a 2011 study revealed that the number of women cohabiting with a man five or more years younger had tripled since the 1970s – with terms like ‘cougar’ and ‘toyboy’ being coined to reflect this. Other research found that in Western countries, 8% of male-female couples have an age gap of 10 years or more.
One study also found that the average age gap between same-sex partners was higher than that of male-female partners.
However, at present, age gaps – particularly those with a gap larger than 10 years – often receive scrutiny and pushback from people who don’t believe that romantic love between two people with a sizable age gap could be genuine. In contrast, others argue that we should live and let live, providing both parties are happy and of consenting age. And, in some cultures, such as some African countries, age-gap relationships are considered normal.
So why might people argue for or against age-gap relationships? Why are they becoming more common? And is the age-gap taboo here to stay?
Why might people argue for age-gap relationships?
While there are a huge number of reasons why people might argue for an age-gap relationship, some more popular reasons might include…
- Shared values and life experiences. Partners at different stages of life can offer unique perspectives and enrich each other’s understanding of different things. Older partners might bring wisdom and stability, while younger partners might add spontaneity and fresh ideas.
- Breaking free from societal constraints. Age-gap relationships challenge societal expectations around relationships and life trajectories. They can represent the freedom to choose love beyond predefined parameters, defying ageism and stereotypes.
- Mutual mentorship and growth. Age gaps can offer opportunities for mutual learning and growth. Younger partners can benefit from the experience and guidance of older partners, while older partners can stay energised and connected to new trends through younger companions.
- Emphasis on compatibility and connection. When age isn’t the primary focus, partners may prioritise shared interests, values, and life goals. This can lead to stronger connections and deeper understanding, regardless of the age difference.
- Positive examples and redefining narratives. Successful age-gap relationships challenge negative stereotypes and can contribute to a more inclusive understanding of love and partnership. They demonstrate that age alone isn’t a determinant of compatibility or happiness.
Why might people argue against age-gap relationships?
People might struggle to accept the idea of age-gap relationships because of…
- Power dynamics and potential manipulation. Large age gaps can create power imbalances – due to differences in life experience and/or physical health – making one partner more vulnerable to manipulation or control.
- Different life goals and stages. Significant age gaps can lead to differences in life goals and priorities. Younger partners might want to start families or build careers, while older partners might seek stability or retirement. These clashing aspirations can create conflict and dissatisfaction.
- Social stigma and isolation. Age-gap relationships often face social stigma and disapproval, leading to isolation and judgment from family, friends, and communities. This external pressure can add strain to the relationship and impact mental well-being.
- Generational disconnect and communication challenges. Differences in cultural references, technological fluency, and social experiences can create communication barriers and hinder shared understanding between partners with significant age gaps.
- Unrealistic expectations and potential for exploitation. Younger partners, particularly in their early 20s, might be drawn to older partners for reasons beyond genuine connection, such as seeking financial security or social validation. This can lead to unhealthy dynamics and exploitation.
Why are age-gap relationships becoming more common?
There’s no definitive answer to why age-gap relationships are becoming more popular, as different factors may influence different couples. However, according to some experts, there are several possible reasons why age-gap relationships are becoming more common, especially in Western countries, such as the UK.
One is that more people are seeking partners who suit their preferences and needs, regardless of age norms and stereotypes. As counsellor Sedef Salim says, “We can’t choose who we fall in love with.”
This desire may also be strengthened by an increase in social acceptance and diversity – making it easier for people to pursue relationships that reflect their values and beliefs, rather than those of society.
Increased life expectancy and health could be another factor, as older people may remain active and attractive for longer, while younger people seek mature, experienced partners. With this increase in life expectancy, comes a boosted desire for personal growth and development, which may motivate people to seek new experiences, challenges, and perspectives, through relationships with partners who have different levels of knowledge, skills, and wisdom.
Do age-gap relationships work?
A study of 3,000 people in the US found that, the larger the age gap, the more likely a couple is to split up than those of the same age. For example, couples with a 10-year age gap were 39% more likely to separate, while those with a 20-year age gap were 95% more likely.
However, whether an age-gap relationship works will be mostly down to how compatible couples are, and how they handle any potential obstacles that come their way – including judgements from others. And there will absolutely be exceptions to the results of the study.
5 tips for making an age-gap relationship work
Age-gap relationships can be rewarding and fulfilling, but they may also face some challenges and stigma from society. If you’re currently in an age-gap relationship or think it’s possible you could find yourself in one – these five tips will hopefully help you navigate the situation with confidence…
1. Respect each other’s differences and preferences
You may have different tastes, opinions, and lifestyles, so be open-minded and respectful of your partner’s choices and boundaries. Avoid trying to change them or impose your views on them, as this can result in an unhealthy power dynamic.
In any relationship, maintaining your sense of self and individuality is key.
2. Communicate openly and honestly
Age-gap relationships may have some unique issues, such as family reactions, health concerns, or future plans. So, remember to talk to your partner about your expectations, feelings, and needs, and listen to theirs.
Try to be supportive and understanding of each other’s concerns; and look for solutions to problems together. This is the most effective way to remain a team.
3. Focus on your compatibility and common interests
Age is just a number, and what matters more is how well you get along with your partner. Therefore, it can help to find activities that you both enjoy, and share your passions and hobbies.
This is also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate your similarities and learn from your differences. Again, you don’t have to love everything your partner loves, as long as you can respect their passions and interests, and they can respect yours.
4. Ignore negative comments and judgments
The sad reality is that some people may not approve of your relationship or make rude remarks about it. And, difficult as this can be, try not to let them affect your happiness or confidence.
As long as you and your partner consent to and enjoy being together, that’s what matters most. Remember that your relationship is valid and that you have the right to love whoever you want.
5. Have fun and enjoy your relationship
Age-gap relationships can be exciting and adventurous, as you can learn new things from your partner and experience different perspectives.
Therefore, it’s important to try not to let the age gap define your relationship or limit your potential. Be yourself and have fun with your partner – you both deserve to be happy.
Age-gap relationships are not uncommon in today’s society, but they still face some challenges and prejudices from others. While some people argue that age-gap relationships are unnatural, unhealthy, or exploitative, others contend that they are based on love, compatibility, and mutual respect.
But, the reality is that age-gap relationships can work, as long as the partners are committed, communicative, and respectful of each other’s differences and preferences. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful relationship, and age isn’t the most important factor – providing both adults are consenting and of age.
Therefore, instead of judging or stereotyping age-gap couples, we should celebrate their diversity and happiness.
Have you been in an age-gap relationship? We’d be interested to hear about your experiences in the comments below.