There are many reasons why one person may choose to become involved with someone else who is well outside his or her age range. An older person may seem to be more stable and mature; a younger person, more attractive or energetic. A young person may feel flattered to have drawn an older person’s attention. An older person may feel flattered that they’re considered attractive by someone younger. Ideas of image and status often come into play. “Landing” someone a lot younger or older can be seen as an achievement, an act of sexual prowess.
If the age gap spans ten or more years (thereabouts) then the two people involved will be literally passing through different life stages. This doesn’t necessarily make the situation untenable. Some people are indeed “mature beyond their years” – mentally, emotionally, or both. It’s also true that love knows no boundaries. However, “love” can be harder to define when one person in a partnership is relatively inexperienced and the other has known loss and heartbreak. Our passions change over the years. They come to mean new things. Young love is not naïve: It is appropriate for that particular stage of life. But it may likely seem naïve to an older person who has grown into a different set of values.
These are the kind of challenges that can emerge when two people who are separated by a significant number of years become romantically involved, and they may not be obvious at first. Cultural historians are fond of describing the generation gap and the ways in which social values change as decades pass. Similar dynamics operate on personal levels as well. A twenty-five year old may be filled with enthusiasm for making a big mark in the world and conquering his or her niche. A forty year old may well have already passed through that stage and be more interested in a world of settled domestic quietude.
Both are worthy goals – but how well can two people manage to bridge the gulf between them if they’re trying to share an intimate connection? A large part of intimacy entails knowing where you’re going and then, on the basis of that knowledge, finding a good companion for the journey. In the case of partnerships with a big age difference, one person is embarking upon a journey that the other person has already taken.
Again, such hurdles are not insurmountable. But if the two people in question want to cultivate intimacy over the long haul then they will have to be faced. Communication will be crucial, as well as the willingness to try and see the other person’s point of view even when gaps in experience may work to create a veritable language barrier. There are, of course, many aspects of the human experience that impact upon us all regardless of our age. We are bound by a lot of common sorrows, joys, challenges and successes. A relationship that focuses on this common ground can possibly succeed despite any big age disparity that may exist within it. All relationships require work. The challenges here are simply of a different nature.