A few months ago, in October, scandal swept through Minnesota high school tennis. It was revealed that at the all girls private school only a few miles away from the school I attend, the male Varsity Tennis coach was sleeping with at least one of his players. More details followed the first shocking ripple, including the fact that he thought they were “in love,” and couldn’t find any fault in their relationship. They had been sleeping together for two years. He is 27 she is 17.
Obviously this is an extreme example of a dangerous relationship made by an age gap. But on the other hand, one of my closest friend’s parents are 10 years apart, and their relationship is healthy and desirable. So the question is, how old is too old? And when?
One formula that seeks to address this problem is [Guy’s Age] / 2 + 7 = [Girl’s Age]. For example: a 40 year old guy shouldn’t date anyone younger than 27, while the youngest a 20 year old should go is 17. Obviously a mathematical formula has limited abilities to define life, however it does help to further illuminate some of the more interesting qualities of the age question. First, the older one gets the more leeway is acceptable, the 40 year old had 13 year range, while the 20 year old had 3 years to work with. Second, the formula exposes the interesting stereotype that girls are trying to date older guys, while guys only want to date younger girls. Notice there isn’t an easily accessible formula for how young girls can go, or how old boys can go.
A large part of that injustice is mental growth rates. Women usually mature at faster rates than men, which means that most will look at older guys because they have increasingly similar mental facilities. On the flip side, guys often prefer to feel younger than they actually are. That’s why a part of many mid life crisis is a relationship with a much younger woman.
The other interesting part of this formula, mentioned above, is this idea that as you mature there is a wider range of men/women available to you, with in the regions of what is socially acceptable. This phenomenon is easily seen in the two examples from the beginning. The difference in 10 years between the coach and player was a reason, and justly, for legal discourse to be taken. However, the 10 year gap between my friends parents is no big deal. While there is little empirical data on why this is the way it is, I believe this circles back to maturity as well.
Every year of high school people are vastly different. The difference between a freshman and a senior in terms of intelligence and thought is catastrophic. The difference between a senior in high school and a senior in college is still astrological. But the difference between 40 and 44 is a few blinks in time. Suddenly four years pass in a second, and the people that live through them emerge relatively unchanged. When you are growing up every year means thousands of new experiences and new knowledge, which is why you change so much every year. So dating someone 10 years older than you as a 16 year old seems not only weird but slightly disturbing, while my friends parents don’t seem like anything out ordinary.
Relationship age differences are tricky to navigate, and if you get it wrong there can be consequences. Of course legal action is taken when it is an adult and minor, but beyond that there are social consequences. Dating beyond what people may seem as “your range” as woman results in the title “cougar,” men are often reviled for searching for a much younger woman. The key thing to take away from this is that age is a difficult question in relationships, and that it is an individual one. Everyone matures at different rates, and is looking for something different in a potential partner. If the difference is illegal, reevaluate before you hurt yourselff and your partner. If the difference is just a cause for social mockery, make sure you are happy before deciding to bend to any form of peer pressure.
In conclusion, as long as people are willing to be honest and open in their relationships, age shouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe the formula will help you find a better match, someone closer to you in mental preparedness, but the most important thing is to find the person that clicks with you. As long as it’s legal.