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Does Age Difference Affect Relationships?

From cougars to cradle robbers and everything in between, age differences can make or break relationships.

Reveling in the afterglow of ecstasy, Brianna snuggled against her man, gazing at him with a love-struck look and murmuring, "Victor... you are awesome," before slipping off to sleep. Victor, though, remained awake—he felt more virile and alive than he had in years.

Toying with the gold locket around Brianna's neck—a little token from Victor commemorating the six month anniversary of their first date—he thought she was everything he'd ever wanted: adventurous, uninhibited, and breathtakingly beautiful. So what if she's young enough to be his daughter!

Brianna and Victor have a pretty serious thing going. She feels committed to a man for the first time in her life; He hasn't felt close to or touched by anyone since his wife died. Such a relationship as anything more than a casual encounter was, until recently, rather unusual, and when it existed, was often a target of ridicule and scorn.

Cradle robber! Gold digger! Manther! Cougar! Sugar mama! However you refer to a relationship that includes a substantial age gap, you should know that these kinds of relationships have staying power beyond the one-night stand and are growing both in popularity and social acceptance. An ever-increasing number of older men and women are finding out that younger mates not only offer a chance for sexual fulfillment but a new lease on life in general, as well.

Crock of Ages

Once dubbed mere "May-December romances'' and dismissed as foolish flings, age-disparate relationships can be happy and harmonious in all combinations. While older man-younger woman is perhaps the most common liaison, younger men, if they're not on a misguided search for a mother figure, can find bliss with older women, too. You’ve all seen American Pie, right?

Even the somewhat conservative Dr. Joyce Brothers condoned such relationships. In counseling a thirty-five-year-old woman considering marriage to a man in his early twenties, Dr. Brothers pointed out: "At midlife, a woman often is just beginning to feel free enough to fully enjoy herself, and this is frequently the time when her husband is losing interest in sex." Young men who yearn for lusty, mature women may seem sort of offbeat socially, but perhaps that attraction is the most natural of all. Besides, someone with experience can teach these youngins a thing or two.

Further proof of the potential of age disparate relationships is evidenced by the number of popular celebrities spearheading the effort to shatter social taboos against them. We all recall the Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher romance, right? Demi was 15 years his senior and the two were in a relationship and marriage for eight years.

Kate Hudson and Nick Jonas kept their relationship on the down low, but their 13 year age gap garnered them attention.

But it’s not only the ladies who are going after the younger men. Older men are also on the prowl for youthful, beautiful women. Hugh Hefner has an extensive history of dating (multiple) women who are younger than he is. Ashley Olsen married Olivier Sarkozy, a wealthy French banker who is 18 years her senior. And we can’t forget the dreamy George Clooney, who snagged himself a wife who is 17 years younger than he is.

But this is hardly a new fad in the public or private sector. In the 70s, gossip columnists initially questioned the motives of petite Pia Zadora, twenty-nine, when she connected with wealthy businessman Meshulam Riklis, sixty-one, but the birth of their baby girl shortly after seemed to quell the squawks of the scandal squad at the time.

Though it is unknown exactly how many older men and women are getting involved with lovers much younger than themselves, data derived from online dating sites found that of 450,000 users, men between twenty and twenty-nine are most likely to date older women. Additionally, the site found that older men also preferred younger women, specifically those 11 years younger. Even men in their sixties preferred this age gap.

Photo via The Sun

Love is Love

Here's perhaps the best news of all for men thinking about hooking up with a sweet young thing: Sex researchers have recently found that older men who marry much younger women actually have a longer lifespan than those who don't! If age-discrepant relationships are rooted in psychological turmoil, however, they may not be so healthy. Some psychologists suggest that a younger woman involved with an older man may be attempting to resolve an earlier father/daughter conflict caused by the physical distancing on the part of the father at the onset of his daughter's puberty—a distancing the young girl often perceives as personal rejection. As for the older male lover, Lewis Yablonsky, author of The Extra Sex Factor, states: "In some cases, the age distance from his young woman lover provides a father who has repressed his sexual feelings for his own daughter with an opportunity to now act out many of his formerly incestuous emotions."

But, counters clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Sviland of California, "Age-discrepant relationships do not necessarily indicate psychopathology for either party. "People should," she asserts, "be allowed to choose their mates on the basis of psychological compatibility, not preconceived standards of propriety or normalcy."

Brianna, who's twenty-four and a Department Director at a marketing firm, would agree with Dr. Sviland. "I didn't pick up with Victor because he was like my father, or because he's gray at the temples—or even because he's a wealthy movie director, which he's not. I fell for him because we like the same things."

Victor, forty-seven and owner of a plumbing contracting business, admits that Brianna helps him live out wild and crazy fantasies he'd never be able to realize with matronly widows, but he also insists that it's not just sex.

On the flip side of the coin, many older women enjoy a younger lover's sexy physique and lively libido, but also their fun and exciting outlook on life and their thirst for knowledge and experience. One sensual divorcee candidly remarked, "Aiden is as interested in getting himself off, but takes extra special care to make sure that I get off, too, more than any man I’ve been with. Even my husband. He’s curious and attentive and durable, if you know what I mean.”

Photo via American Pie

Making It Work

Realistic expectations and each partner's own strong, self-assured sense of independence seem to be keys to the success of relationships with age gaps. It's when one partner is too needy or greedy, too demanding or insecure, that problems arise. But that can happen in any relationship, no matter what the ages.

If the affair turns out to have more going for it than the pleasures of the flesh, there are some strategies. First of all, you must not think that you have to agree on everything or be together all the time. "Shit, if Brianna wants to party all night, and I'm beat, I just go home," says Victor. "I don't think about her running off with some kid, and I know she can take care of herself."

While it would be unwise to ignore the differences—not only in age but in hobbies, taste in clothes and music, etc.—try to make the things you have in common into bonding factors. Zoe, who's thirty-eight, met her husband Brian, twenty-seven, while fishing one afternoon three years ago. She's an attorney, and he's a cop—but they both love relaxing with a six-pack and a tackle box by the lake.

Sometimes the age difference itself helps keep the relationship fresh, a foundation for constant stimulation. "Jean-Claude is French, so that's foreign and exciting," says twenty-two-year-old California girl Marie of her main squeeze. "And the fact that he's 12 years older makes for more fertile territory to explore. He's been all over and seen so much—I'm fascinated by him!" Don't consider the differences as negatives; Think of the ways you can learn and grow from knowing your older or younger partner.

Finally, you can't let what "they" say influence you too much if you want to keep an age-disparate relationship healthy. There is still a slight stigma attached to such liaisons that violate established social norms. There are those who will criticize younger women for being "gold diggers" and condemn their older men for "robbing the cradle," while accusing younger men of being "gigolos" and ridiculing their older female companions for being "cougars." Yet despite the problems confronting age-disparate lovers, most are quick to point out that any relationship has its share of pitfalls. They adamantly insist that it's their lover they're in love with, not their lover's age, and that true love—as the maxim goes—can conquer all. 

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