Advice on dating someone significantly younger.
February 23, 2005 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Advice on dating someone significantly younger.

I'm twenty-three, she's eighteen. We're together, in love, and reasonably happy. But lately, we've been realizing how serious the age gap between us is. She's finished two years of college, held down a few jobs, and lived and travelled on her own. But there's no getting around it: she's still in the middle of her post-high-school identity crises, while I feel pretty secure in who I am and where I'm headed. This is her first serious long-term relationship, while I've been this-close-to-engaged before. The age gap itself — the numbers — isn't a problem. But being in such different places in our lives — that's making us nervous.

Have any of you been in this sort of situation? How did you approach it? Did it work? What do you wish you'd known or done differently? We've talked a lot about it: what we want, how we're feeling, what we're afraid of. What else should we be doing?

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that she and I are going to stay together. (In other words, I'm not interested in "answers" like give up or dump her. We might break up, but we can make that decision on our own, thanks. What I want to know is, so long as we decide to stay together, what's our best shot at making it work?)
posted by nebulawindphone to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You say that you've talked a lot about it. Talk some more. Keep talking, even when every part of you wants to shut down and clam up. Talk.

I've been both the older and the younger partner in an age-gapped relationship and it's always a little confusing when the gap is at a critical juncture in life such as yours. She's figuring out who she's going to be and you need to allow for enough growth space for it.

I think one of the worst things people do in a relationship is assume that the person you meet is the person you're going to end up with. Even now, I'm changing daily. She'd got a lot of living to do, but so do you. Realize that you'll be different people in a year, in five years and in 25 years. Be aware that you're not the only one that will need to adapt to changes.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:33 AM on February 23, 2005

You're both so young. (God, I sound old saying that.)

The age difference you mention is, seemingly, large at this point in your lives. Give yourselves a year or two and it will seem like less and less of an issue. You both are growing and changing.

Don't let this age difference be a problem for your relationship. If you care about her and she cares about you, enjoy your time together. If it lasts a week, a month, a year or a lifetime, that's still more time together than you've already had.

I was in a relationship with a similar age difference to yours when I was 18. Agewasn't the issue that eventually drove us apart. The split occurred over differences in relationship expectations and approaches to spirituality.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by onhazier at 11:36 AM on February 23, 2005

5 years is nothing. I don't mean to belittle your circumstances, nor am I being flip. In up to 4 years from today, that 5 years won't make much of a difference at all. Talking about what you want, how you're feeling and what you're afraid of is part of any healthy relationship. Keep doing it. The maturity difference, not the age difference is the issue and even that's not an issue unless it is an impediment. So she's in her post-high school identity crisis. Join her on her trip of discovery, listen, don't try to fix her circumstances unless she wants to have something fixed. Let her join you on your trip of discover because secure though you may be, I'm thinking that you're making one too, especially as you get closer to your 30's and your metabolism starts to change and your career starts to build etc, etc.
posted by plinth at 11:37 AM on February 23, 2005

I've experienced a difference of three years (both ways), both through those volatile late high school early college years, so I understand what you're going through.

It sounds like you're doing the right things by talking and being open about it—I know it can be a pretty touchy topic, even internally.

One thing you're going to have to do is give her time. As you've indicated, you have stablized. You're just going to have to wait for her to find that same security, and that'll take a couple of years. Keep on truckin' as you have been, but be sure to give her "growth space" when she needs it. You'll have a much better idea of where the relationship is going once she has a better idea of herself. You'll also have to be prepared for the possibility that she might grow out of the relationship.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:37 AM on February 23, 2005

A 5 year age difference will be totally meaningless when you're in your 30s or older. You'll both go through life changes ("identity crises", as you put it) on your own schedules.

On preview, FlamingBore has it just right.
posted by matildaben at 11:38 AM on February 23, 2005

It sounds like you're doing everything right, nebulawindphone, by communicating. You can also try to do things that put you both on an equal playing field- maybe you've both never been to.... Vegas. Or, smaller, maybe neither of you has ever cooked a pie. Similarly, let her teach or show you stuff she knows that you don't. Trying new things together will let you have fun, and help you forget some of the stress the age gap brings to your relationship.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:40 AM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm twenty-three...I feel pretty secure in who I am and where I'm headed.

Don't worry: in a year or two, if you're developing at all as a human being, you'll feel just as confused as she does now. Maybe more. Recognize that the journey is a spiral, and that if you can stay together now when you hit other similar personal growth points, perhaps where the dynamic of confused/stable is different, you'll both be able to recognize what is happening and help each other.

Good luck! Love's swell!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2005

(Yeah, I went through some major personal changes at 25, and so did almost everyone I know [give or take a year or two]. Not sure why that happens, but it does.)

The best thing for both of you is to be open and honest about what you're feeling as you progress in your relationship. I know that sounds like the typical pablum fed young couples, but it's true. Make sure she knows she can talk to you candidly about her concerns and can ask whatever questions come up, and that you want to be able to do the same -- and actually do it. Nothing is more damaging (short of infidelity, of course) to a relationship than making assumptions about where the other person stands.

ThePinkSuperhero has a good suggestion, too: find opportunities to share experiences on a regular basis. It brings people closer.
posted by me3dia at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2005

When I was twenty-three, I went out with a sixteen year-old-girl - the daughter of an older friend of mine - for two years.

The age gap was not an issue for us, but it was for other people.

The real issue came to be just how much people change between sixteen and twenty. You need to accept that the person you fell in love with may completely disappear, to be replaced by someone totally different, and who you might not get on with anywhere near as well.

I echo the comments about constant communication - this is vital in any relationship. Talk, talk and talk some more. But also listen, and keep your wits about you. It's easy to ignore change until its too late to accomodate, so if you want the best chance of your relationship going the distance, you need to be prepared to change too. If that's what you want.
posted by benzo8 at 12:14 PM on February 23, 2005

It's all true. You may feel you are coming into your own, but in reality you still have a way to go. She will be on track behind you for a while and may not come into her own until right around age 30. Unfortunately unless you figure out a way(beyond the love connection)on how to nuture her though her "growing pains", she will outgrow you before you outgrow her. It's easy for people to say don't worry about things when it's your life and you live in it everday, but really really really try to stop worrying and just enjoy being in love.
posted by oh posey at 12:16 PM on February 23, 2005

I'm just turned 26, my ex was 18 when we started dating two years ago. Point: I've been exactly where you are.

Realistically, you have a bit more idea of who you are than she does of who she is. That can be a problem-- especially if you put yourself (and I'm not saying you are; just saying I've seen this happen) in a mentoring sort of role. That ensures the relationship will implode once the need for mentoring has ended.

Just do what everyone else has always said: talk. Keep communication open. Do things together neither of you have done before. Just have a relationship.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2005

Three years ago, I dated a boy for three years who was five years younger than me (numbers yay!). He was totally mature for his age and really ambitious and totally devoted to the relationship, and trying to make it work. But as the older female, I was completely insecure with his age and how it reflected on me as a woman. Every time I brought him around my married/engaged friends, I felt like a pervert dating a little kid...and every time I was around his younger college friends, I felt like a creepy old woman. We got along fine together alone, but when the outside realities encroached, it was almost impossible to find a compromise.

I kept waiting for him to catch-up to me...but for every step in my life that I reached, he was always two steps behind. When he finally reached 'my level', I would shoot-up two more. This created so many problems. I freely admit that I was just way too insecure with myself to accept the fact that he was younger and less viable towards a firm future, but all my friends were in relationships that were guaranteed towards marriage. And I was looking at now at the possibility of marriage, and knew that he was no way ready for that commitment (nor did I expect him to be at like 23).

So I ended the relationship after holding onto him for way too long. I think if we were in our 30's it would have worked. But at the time, we were in our early/mid 20's. I was already out of college working full time, and he was still in college. He also made me constantly regress with his problems and issues, and I just didn't want to hear any of it. I had already been in that space years ago, and felt like he was an anchor weighing me down. It is fair to say that all of our problems stemmed from the fact that he was younger and I was older. I was constantly ‘pulling rank’ on him, and excusing all his shortcomings as an age difference. It was totally unfair to him, but so easy to pigeonhole his problems.

So the way to make it work is to make sure you are both totally secure in the way society/family/friends view you...and to not feel like either of you are compromising, or that either of you have to live up to any standard. I was just too insecure and shallow to make it work. Make sure you discuss 'the future' together...because chances are that the older person will want more commitment (marriage, kids, etc) sooner than the other. This was a major reason why I broke it off. I wanted a man, and he was still a boy. However, in hindsight, I wish it could have worked, so make sure to talk over all your problems before you make any big decisions. If you’ve found reciprocal love with someone, try to make it work against all odds. Good luck!
posted by naxosaxur at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2005 [2 favorites]

I think it sort of depends on what your relationship is about. I was in a similar relationship when I was 22 and she was 18, and it became really clear that a big part of the relationship on both our parts centered around the notion that I was "older and wiser" (how funny that seems to me now), and that she was "younger and knew less." Well, that's a set up for a pretty limited relationship that *can't* grow and develop.

So, do you and she both use your respective ages as a reference point? Does you get to "show her things," "figure stuff out," or do your decisions have more weight because she and you both think you know better? If so, I'd advise you to start turning things around sooner rather than later while you're still in love, because it'll be a lot harder later on.

Hope this doesn't come out as snarky - I sincerely wish you both the best!
posted by jasper411 at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2005

PS - what naxosaxur said!
posted by jasper411 at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2005

"The real issue came to be just how much people change between sixteen and twenty."

The general point here is repeated in several people's anecdotes. I think you should strongly consider it.

I was five years older than my ex-wife. She turned 20 when we were married, I was 25. But the period between 18 and 25 is a pretty transformative period for most people. Or, at least enough people to be an important consideration.

My ex left our marriage quite a different person than entered it. I still loved her, but she really had become a noticebly different person. More to the point, though, is that what she wanted was very likely to change during that period and, in fact, did.

So, I really don't see the problem in being in a medium or even a long-term relationship with someone that much younger than you at that age. But I'd wait until you're about 30 and she's 25 before committing to marriage.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2005

When I was 16 I started dating a 36 year old woman. We broke up just a few months shy of our 10 year anniversary and I don't think it had anything to do with the age difference. My advice would be to focus on the things you do have in common and just "have fun" and have new experiences together. If you fixate the age difference it will become a problem.
posted by pookzilla at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2005

Excellent words from both naxosaxur and jasper411. I am eight years old than my gf, and I feel pretty much the same as they do/did. Maturity gap says it all, and unless you both are already in your 30s, it's not likely to get any smaller anytime soon.
posted by eas98 at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2005

Some practical advice on specific points (I was on the young end of a larger gap at that age, and these are mistakes my ex-s.o. made):

* do not alienate her family (assuming they are on good terms etc) - they may not be comfortable with the age gap, and instead of resenting them about this, you must deal with them, in a way that makes them comfortable with the relationship.

* do not attempt to act as if you are in a teacher/mentor role, and she is in a student role. You may feel, either consciously or unconsciously, that despite what you say about her experience, there is a knowledge/experience gap. Regardless of whether this is true, you should act as if it isn't, and treat her as an equal. If you can't do this, I do not believe (based on my not-altogether-pleasant experience) that the relationship will succeed in the long run.

* Don't attempt to make her change her life radically to be with you. That is, do not try to make her transfer colleges, drop out of school, move far away, etc. The possibilities of doing these things may come up - this is not to say that she shouldn't necessarily do these - but under no circumstances should you try to apply any pressure however subtle to make her do these things.

* Don't discourage her from having friends her age (this may sound obvious, but it needs to be said). Also, she may have male friends her age, and the age gap might make you worry about this fact (if it were larger, I'd say "will" as opposed to "might"). You must trust her about this.

* Some of these points generalize to "don't be controlling" - for some reason this seems easier to do from the higher end of an age-gapped relationship. It's possible to be very controlling without realizing it.

* You may find you have certain mismatched opinions about things like marriage and children. I don't really know how to deal with this, but don't force your opinions on her.

Finally, to me 18/23 sounds much more workable than what mine was (18/29), especially if the younger one is female.

Also, I agree with some of the earlier comments - there is something like a "quarter-life crisis" starting around ages 23-27. This is much more significant/real in some ways than the post-high-school identity crisis. She will also go through this (possibly earlier, if she started college at 16). I think this may be more important to worry about than the post-high-school crisis, which has always seemed in many ways fairly superficial to me.
posted by advil at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've been in a relationship with a guy eight years younger than me for 3 1/2 years now. It's not weird for us though sometimes I find that phenomenon that naxo talks about: there's no "waiting for him to catch up" in some aspects, we just have to be okay with being at slightly different stages in our lives. This works to our advantage in some ways. He's still in grad school so despite the fact that we moved to a really rural location we have a built in social network. I've been through grad school and in the job-world for a while and have good advice on resumes and work stuff generally. We don't pretend that we're equal peers in everything, but I think that's good practice in many relationships. One person will be stronger, one person may be smarter, one person might be a better cook. As long as you're not in denial about these things and everyone thinks they have something to give and something to get from the relationship, well congrats, you're doing pretty well.

Me and my SO have discussed "big issues" like marriage/family/long-term goals etc and we agree on those things. Since that's the case, age doesn't matter to us, though every now and then it does to a total stranger or more distant family member and we scratch our heads and say "oh right, we're different from most folks" We don't know the same TV references, we didn't listen to the same music in high school/college, his little sister seems really young to me, his parents still work while mine are retiring, etc.

At the end of the day, we've had to accept that in some ways we're "a quirky couple" both because of who we are individually and how we fit together as a couple. There was some mumbling with my family [I don't know about his] when I first introduced him around because of his age, but everyone has grown to really like him, of course, and it's fine. My basic line when strangers roll their eyes is "well actually we're both pretty much adolescents, so this works out fine" Since we're not weird about it, other people learn not to be. Everything other people has said is totally right on: keep lines of communication open, talk about plans and how you might approach them differently, have a way to discuss the age difference to others that doesn't make you feel weird, and realize even though five years seems like a big deal, in the grand scheme of things, and as you age, it's not much at all. Good luck to you both.
posted by jessamyn at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2005

I've done this twice. The first time (I was 18, he was 23) It didn't work out, but I truly believe that was because I went away to college at that time. It wasn't so much that I was away at college, it was that because I was away (generally), he missed all the changes I was going through. When we got together - every other week, once a month - he would notice significant differences. I think that, had we been together more, when the changes would seem more gradual, things would have worked out better. The distance also didn't help because when we were together, it always had to be "special" and the true changes didn't really show through.

The second time (I was 20, he was 26) it didn't work out becuase he had the maturity of a 15 year old, and eventually that got tiresome and embarassing. Everything about the relationship took so. much. effort.

I guess I feel like people are constantly changing, and so the focus should be on doing it together, not in the sense that you are changing in the same way, or that you're changing for each other, but in that you're seeing it done gradually. Hm. That does not seem as clear as it is in my head. At any rate, age is just a number, its the maturity level and "place in life" that matter more. If you're willing to talk about it and work at it, you'll be okay.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2005

My gf and I wee pretty much in the same situation. When we met I was 22 and she was 18. This was her first serious relationship and I had been engaged before. We've definitely had some differences over some things, and the age difference did put a little bit of an odd spin on the relationship, but we've known that we were gonna be together from the long run for along time and it has all been worth it. I think I felt pretty much the same way you do at the beginning, but I'll echo everyone else and say that it will level out. Once you are both in you're mid-twenties the issue will be null. We've been together now for six and will be getting engaged (shhh!!!) this summer.
posted by ttrendel at 1:10 PM on February 23, 2005

My girlfriend is 27 and I am 32, but at these ages I really don't think there is much of a difference. She's more mature than me actually. In 5 years or so your age differences won't matter so much, though I am sure they do now.

The thing you can do is stay together, respect each other, and just vibe on the same things / lifestyle.
posted by xammerboy at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2005

I had pretty much the same experience as Ethereal Bligh with my first marriage. The relationship started while I was 23 and she was 18. We got married really quickly and were happy while she went through college and I worked. Once she got out of school and started working her priorities changed - end of marriage. There really wasn't much to do or say about it. The age difference really hadn't been a big deal. I certainly wasn't a mentor type or anything. Communication could have been better though.

Now I'm with someone seven years younger, but we were both out of school and working when we got involved and didn't rush into things. And we communicate much better.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:16 PM on February 23, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments so far.

Some of you (onhazier, plinth, matildaben) said that five years won't seem like much of a gap when we're older. Others (naxosaur, jessamyn) describe it as a gap that will always be there, and that we'll just have to adjust to the way we'd adjust to any other difference between us. It's interesting to see people taking both sides of the issue like that, and I'm curious what made you take the side you did.

(Of course, right now, that's just intellectual curiosity. I don't even know if we'll still be together in one year, much less dating for five or married.)

Also, I think some of you articulated things that were bugging me that I couldn't quite describe. Oh posey and EB talk about the younger one outgrowing the older one first, and advil talks about getting insecure about her same-age friends. Those are both things I was worrying about without realizing it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:23 PM on February 23, 2005

I'm 33 at the moment and recently ended a relationship with a girl almost ten years my junior. Whenever we got into debates along the lines of, say, "is religion a good or bad thing" or "can you apply your own moral standards to other people," she'd get very frustrated with me because I wasn't actively seeking answers to these questions. I'd tell her that, when I was her age, I had indeed gone through all sorts of doubt and angst on such subjects but that, eventually, I'd either come to some pretty solid conclusions or I'd gotten to a point where I was just going over the same ground again and again. In short, that I was largely done with those questions and had moved on to other stuff. This bugged her to no end. I think she saw the pursuit as something rather essential to living and couldn't imagine a day when it wouldn't be. I think she figured that I was just making excuses for being close minded or an intellectual wuss. Also, I think the whole "when I was your age" schtick seemed extremely condescending to her, made her feel like I regarded her pursuit as a childish phase that one outgrows.
posted by Clay201 at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2005

What advil said.
posted by ruelle at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2005

"Oh posey and EB talk about the younger one outgrowing the older one first..."

I'm not sure how you meant that, it's not the case that she became more mature than me. But in my case, I was pretty much the person I am today by the age of 25. She, however, in her case at 20, went through the period of college and a big reassesment of what she wanted out of life. I mean, when we met, I never would have guessed that she'd end up with a management degree. (Admittedly, A&E management, but still.) She changed quite a bit.

I also didn't mention, but will because people have talked about being in another age range, that because I went back to school at the same time, at 25, and I made a very strong connection with my peers at my odd, small college, ever since then my peer group and who I've dated has been pretty much about 5 or 6 years younger. And my experience is that it doesn't make nearly as much difference in one's thirties.

However, it does sort of make a difference now because 40 snuck up on me, I suddenly feel old, and my early to mid thirties friends can't really relate.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:44 PM on February 23, 2005

Five years? Good god, I've never dated anyone within five years of my age in my life. At age 18 I was dating people in their 30s and it was good all around. I learned a lot, I think they did too, and we're still good friends.

Don't try the "I know a lot better than you because I'm TWENTY THREE" crap. It sounds like bullshit to anyone with pubic hair.
posted by u.n. owen at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2005

My husband is 16 years older than I (we've been together over five years). In spite of being from different generations and being raised quite differently, it's rather scary how compatible we are.

In some ways, he is the "leader/teacher." He is older, has been through a lot and has wonderful insight in lots of situations. However, he doesn't hold it over me in any way. And he's learned a lot from me as well.

Numbers really don't matter. Compatibility and communication are key.
posted by deborah at 2:01 PM on February 23, 2005

"But being in such different places in our lives — that's making us nervous."

Get used to it. Even in relationships with age differences measured in months, the point where each person falls on the timeline of life changes constantly. In that the two of you realize your differences now says to me that your relationship has already reached a significantly mature level.

This is neither a disease nor a symptom, it just is.
posted by mischief at 2:27 PM on February 23, 2005

First things first: if you're a guy, you'll still be pining for 18-year old girls when you're 70. Part of our wiring, I guess.

To make it work, I have a couple pieces of concrete advice:
1. Don't load your relationship with expectations of love, or long-term partnership--it will just make what differences there are between you seem even more insurmountable.
2. Empathy. You were her age not all that long ago. Appreciate what she's going through, and communicate clearly enough with her that she can do the same for you.
3. Acceptance. It is tempting, in such a situation, to try to become her Yoda. Don't. If there are things about her that you don't like, don't try to change her. That never works. If you find that you can't appreciate her the way she is, it's time to consider moving on. This is not, of course, to say that things that happen between you are not completely negotiable. But if it's not coming from a base of complete, relaxed acceptance for who she is as a person, you'll have embarrasing fights in bars.

Speaking for myself, I was a completely different person at 23-24 than I was at 18--I didn't really get any sense for my boundaries, strengths, and passions until I was on my own. So for those that are poo-poohing the age difference, I know that it can be substantial at that age. By the two great loves of my live were six years older, and 10 years younger, so take heart...
posted by curtm at 3:34 PM on February 23, 2005

I am 32. My husband is 25. We met when he was barely 20 and got married last year after living together for 3 years. It helps that he is more mature than I am, in some aspects of our lives. I know that the main reason that we are together is because we find each other interesting, funny and adorable. We have a lot of mutual interests and we really enjoy each others company.

Our age difference has become a non-issue over time. At first, I noticed a lot of pop-cultural differences. For example, I remember seeing Star Wars in the movie theater; he wasn't born until 2 years *after* Star Wars came out. Oh, sometimes a pop culture reference will pop out that one or the o ther of us doesn't get because of the age thing, but not much any more.

Now, the first thing that my mom said when she met him was "Oh, my god, he's 12." He looked young for his age. Once I told my friends and family "he's younger than me" and they finally met him, the age thing evaporated because he's just so damned charming. And how much we adore each other is very obvious.

I guess what I'm trying to say is -- if you like each other, you like each other. If you don't, an age difference is an easy thing to peg as a reason to say "this isn't working" when the actual reason may be something else (differences on "big ticket items" like whether or not you want kids, political views, religious beliefs, and on and on.) But if you really like each other -- like as in best friend *and* romantic lover -- then your differences in ages will add to the depth of things you can share with each other, teach each other, and discover together.
posted by macadamiaranch at 4:13 PM on February 23, 2005

You need to accept that the person you fell in love with may completely disappear, to be replaced by someone totally different.

I don't have any statistics besides my own personal history, but I've found that this is 100% true in all the women I've dated. For some reason, the "college years" (whether they be spent in college or not) are a volitile transitional period for women's identity, and woe be to the guy who thinks he "knows his girl" if she's in this age bracket. Hopefully what you end up after the metamorphosis is complete will be someone you still want to be with, but don't count on it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:32 PM on February 23, 2005

I had pretty much the same experience as Ethereal Bligh with my first marriage.

Me too. I'm not going to say "the difference will always be there," but I wouldn't take as gospel those who assure you it will vanish either. Every case is different. But I think people change a lot in their twenties, and you should be prepared for her waking up as 30 approaches and deciding she wants a different life, one you're not part of. (She may be unconsciously seeing you as a mentor, and she may come to resent that or simply want to strike out on her own.)

Or not. Be prepared for anything, and enjoy what you've got while you've got it.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on February 23, 2005

I don't think it's all that significant an age gap. If it's going to work betwene you it will work regardless of age - and as the years pass by the age gap becomes nothing.

At 16 I dated someone of 22. At 17 someone of 32. Then at 18 I dated someone aged 26 - and the relationship lasted more than eight years. Within a couple of years it was hard to tell which was the older and which was the younger of us. Strangely, not only did our cultural references (separated by more than half a decade) begin to blur, but the physical manifestations of the age gap blurred. That's right - we looked like we were the same age. We acted that way too.

It can be a truly amazing gift on both sides, so I encourage you both to embrace the positive sides of the age gap rather than looking for the problems. In ALL relationships there are times that each partner feels they are in a different place. It can be political, spiritual, work, creativity, friends... anything. Age is just one constituent. And be thankful that the elder of the two is the male partner - because when the woman is the older, there can be major heartache when she hits the biological drive to have babies before he does.
posted by skylar at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2005

Just to breifly echo some others, I have always been years younger than people I dated, partly because I started college at sixteen and also just because I prefer men over the age of twenty-eight or so. It isn't such a big deal as long as you do two things:

* Never pull the "I know more because I'm older" thing. It's true. And a few years later she may realize you were right. But if you keep doing it, she will kick your teeth down your throat. Go ahead and say what you think, of course, but don't use your age to give it force.

* Build a relationship that can accept change. You are already doing this by communicating well. Something else that will help: don't cut and run the second things get tough. If you think you can't take something, give it a week. Talk to her about it. Look for a solution together. It won't always work, but I know my boy has said that every time he wanted to leave, he decided to stay, and he never regretted it. And now that we've worked out the hard stuff, we've been able to flex with our changing lives and still hang on to one another.

(For reference, he's seven years older; we got together when I was twenty-one and he twenty-eight.)
posted by dame at 6:31 PM on February 23, 2005

"But being in such different places in our lives — that's making us nervous."

This is neither a disease nor a symptom, it just is.

This is pretty much what I meant by my comments. Age is just one way of marking differences, thought it happens to be more obvious to many people than more subtle ones like class or education. I don't feel that I'm in any way "farther along" any particular pathway than my SO, just that there are definitely places where I look at something he's grappling with and say "well when I went through this...." and fewer times the reverse is true. On the other hand, sometimes not thinking you know how something is going to go in a given situation is a benefit. In any case, I never feel like we're the same age any more than I feel that we're the same height or weight or whatnot, it also doens't matter much at all, and I suspect the older we get, the less we'll notice it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 PM on February 23, 2005

Response by poster: On the other hand, sometimes not thinking you know how something is going to go in a given situation is a benefit.

Good point.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:21 PM on February 23, 2005

To me, this just seems about perfect. But a 6 year age gap is quite the norm in my family. My partner is 16 years younger. My first partner was 16 years older. All is/was very happy (my 1st died after 5 years, the last year was the best!). But for male couples, historically speaking, an age gap has generally made more stable couples.

Mind, in my current relationship, we are well balanced. He's more responsible, I'm the faster thinker. He has vastly more education but we share professional background. He was an innocent 25 year old in grad school, I was an old slut. He's Belgian/Flemish, I'm from Michigan (that is a fairly good match, actually). The weirdest part is his parents are only 10 years older than me, but that is likely a help, too. Its been 8 years together and still rather a honeymoon!
posted by Goofyy at 11:36 PM on February 23, 2005

It's interesting to see people taking both sides of the issue like that, and I'm curious what made you take the side you did.
For me, it has to do with the passage of time. At 18, 5 years earlier was entering into high school, going through puberty etc. 13 looks young to 18. At 23, 5 years earlier was entering college, figuring myself out and lots of trauma. 18 doesn't look nearly as young to 23. At 28, 23 is a peer or pretty close to it.

Again, it's an issue if it bothers you or her, the same way it's an issue if she never takes out the trash or you despise something she adores.
posted by plinth at 7:35 AM on February 24, 2005

As you can see, this is a pretty common age gap. Myself included, lots of people have been in this situation. Some of us are still with the people, some of us are not.

My advice would be to not get caught up on it. The fact that you are worrying about it enough to ask a question here about it is not a good sign. Don't make it an issue unless it becomes one. Don't blame your age difference for every fight or misalignment.

Don't think about it at all. Just like you don't think about what color eyes she has and wonder if it's a compatible color to yours. It's just another aspect of your particular relationship. The more you worry the more likely it will become the aspect that takes the whole thing down. Just be with the person. All the other stuff will fall away if you let it.
posted by tinamonster at 8:03 AM on February 24, 2005

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