30 year old man dating 20 year old woman?
February 14, 2011 2:29 PM   Subscribe

My 20 year old younger sister is dating a 30 year old man. Is this a cause for concern?

*Note: My younger sister is aware I am posting this question, and she will be reading the replies.*

This morning, my younger sister called me to tell me she has been dating a man who is 10 years older than her. This concerns me. According to her, everything is brilliant and wonderful and he is a prince who treats her with respect, love, and affection. I am posting to query how problematic this age difference is considered by mefites, whom I consider a good barometer on this sort of thing.

Details about the relationship that may or may not be relevant:
  1. She and I were both raised by strict religious mormon parents. We both independently left this religion years ago for saner pastures. We were taught some good and many deeply twisted, woman hating, and patriarchal things about love, sex, and relationships. She still lives at home with our parents.
  2. She is having sex with this guy (he is her first), and our parents would maybe/probably kick her out of the house if they knew this. She would not be homeless, because she could come live with me, but given that I live in another state she is not super fond of, I am sure she wouldn't prefer that. Because of the very high cost of rent where she lives with my parents and the fact that she is in college, she cannot get a place of her own until she finishes school so suggestions to move out are not very helpful.
  3. She works with him, and they are keeping their relationship private for now because of that. This was a mutual decision, although they are both anxious to be public.
  4. He treats her very well and with a lot of respect and kindness. She says he has been wonderful, caring, and gentlemanly to her.
  5. THe relationship has moved somewhat fast, and she says this is the first time she has felt such mutual love and commitment.
  6. She is mature as any 20 year old I know. However, I know at 20 years old I still had a lot of growing up to do. She is more mature than me than I was at that age though.

So basically, this is a relationship where other than the age difference, there aren't really any huge red flags. The problem is, I don't know how much of a red flag the age difference is. I'm in my late late 20's and I simply cannot imagine dating a 20 year old under ANY circumstances. She is taking a balanced perspective on this, and she realizes that even though this guy seems perfect now, things could go very wrong and is she is open to more information and perspectives.

So, hive mind- please tell us, how worrisome or problematic is this age difference?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I think it's a bit of a concern, but I also think you should mind your own business. You are only going to alienate your sister by telling her who she should and shouldn't date (and isn't that exactly the problem with your parents, that they are trying to control her choices?). I suspect this guy might be a lot less attractive if your parents weren't so strict.

As long as your sister is using birth control and otherwise taking care of herself, then I wouldn't worry. It's not THAT big of a deal. A lot of young women date older men and get over it when they grow up a little more themselves.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:34 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

My default attitude toward that age difference would be skepticism but openness. It's not hard to be in your 30s but at a "place in life" that's more associated with early 20s; if she's relatively mature at 20, that can match up pretty well.

So, yeah, I don't blame you for being a little uneasy over this. At the same time, it's within the boundaries for "If it looks good, and you trust her to identify a bad relationship/bad partner, all is well."
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Doesn't sound like a problem to me. I think this is so situation specific as to defy a generalization. It sounds like your sister is handling it well and aware of the risks. If it were me and I were you, I would give my sister support and not comment beyond what you have already.
posted by AugustWest at 2:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

The age difference is big, but if she's as mature as you say she is, and they seem to be good together, it's probably ok.

I would be more worried about what would happen if (when?) your parents find out. It's far more likely that she would move in with him than with you, given that she's in school and has a job in her state. That seems like bad news waiting to happen.
posted by charmcityblues at 2:37 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

In general, I wouldn't say that a 30-year-old dating a 20-year-old raises any immediate red flags. I do worry that she's perhaps jeopardizing her current living situation due to point 2. I personally see nothing wrong with pre-marital sex, and even encourage it, but I'm not her parents.

She needs to tread lightly, and perhaps investigate the possibility of moving out before she's forced out. Parents are a lot less likely to find out what a child's sex life is like when the child doesn't live at home. Once the living/parent issue's sorted out, they may need to tell a supervisor or HR at work. Better to be out in the open about it than be keeping this sort of thing a secret that may later backfire or be grounds for dismissal.

Again, the age difference isn't a big deal, but the circumstances surrounding the relationship may be.
posted by explosion at 2:38 PM on February 14, 2011

What type of position is she in, that is, is she some sort of intern who when done with school will be vaulted into a better position than her counterpart?
What position is he in at her work, is it some sort of supervisor/manager type position and are you aware of him doing this before?
Is he married or ever been?
The age difference should not really raise a concern, I figure once someone is past say around 23 or 24 and up until 45 ish the only thing age really is is a number, and perhaps you might be slightly better at trivia if you are on the upper end of that range since you have lived a little longer and might be more familiar with older pop things, but other than that it appears you are wanting to make sure his true intentions is to be with your sister and there isn't something you are missing, so I would work with the above questions and go from there.

Most people will say if she's happy don't worry about it, and well this can be true, girls at a frat house who are hopped up on xtacy about to be date raped are happy as well, its only after the high has worn off and the realization about what has occurred sets in are they not happy. That is, she is happy, which is why she's told you about this to share her joy.

Also, are you sure this is not some sort of act of rebellion on her part, and by cluing you in that can be effectuated by you cluing in your parents, she still lives at home and as you note is actively aware it could be cause for disruption of her living situation, but it's possible your parents will still weigh high cost of living and let her stay, just be disgruntled.
posted by aorkis at 2:38 PM on February 14, 2011

My sister is 39 and is married to a guy who is in his 70s. What of it? They're adults, nobody is forcing either of them, and it sounds like she's being treated well. He may very well treat her better than the immature guys her age will.
posted by brownrd at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

He's not old enough to be her father, or even a father figure. Yes, the "they work together" thing and the "they keep it secret" thing are concerning, as is (to a lesser extent, for me) the "somewhat different ages and stages" thing, but in the secular world, people generally have lots of relationships and most of them don't work out.

I think it makes awfully good sense for both of you to be careful about how well you assess the health of relationships outside of the religious/cultural/philosophical framework you were brought up in, and hooray for you for doing that, but I don't see any obvious red flags here except for the "they work together" and "they keep it secret"--the age difference itself doesn't seem so significant to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would rank the possible concerns as (1) the relationship with/attitudes of your parents, a long way ahead of (2) the workplace aspect. Finally, a very distant last, verging on something that is only going to be a problem because your parents will look for problems that don't exist (3) the age difference.

Everything you say about your sister and her partner makes me think the age difference is something they are going to handle well. If it helps you to get past the age difference, remember this guy was in his twenties a few months ago.
posted by caek at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2011

Without any evidence that this guy is mistreating your sister or using her, I wouldn't be worried, especially if your sister is mature and generally makes sensible decisions about important things. I have been involved with someone eight years younger than me, and our relationship is both stable and long term.

Honestly, I'd be more worried about the possible repercussions of dipping the pen in company ink than anything else given the facts you've presented. But it sounds like they're aware of those risks, too.
posted by Hylas at 2:43 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I understand five years can make a lot of difference, but my mom (stepmom actually) married my dad when she was 25. He was nine years older, and they are still happily married, 35 years later. They came from a similar conservative background to yours.

Does your sister's boyfriend understand or identify at all with your sister's background? Is marriage sometime in the next few years a possibility, or no? Does he have a sexual background way different from hers?

The age difference in itself is not a problem. Problems arise only if they have different expectations or assumptions about how their relationship will work out. Things like money, in-laws, religion, kids are more important than age as she considers possible relationship roadblocks.

It sounds like this guy is great, so I'd say she should continue dating him while keeping her eyes open and figuring the rest of this stuff out.
posted by torticat at 2:43 PM on February 14, 2011

She is mature as any 20 year old I know. However, I know at 20 years old I still had a lot of growing up to do. She is more mature than me than I was at that age though.

I'm sure she still has some growing up to do; all 20-year-olds do, even the mature ones. So why would it serve the purpose of helping her grow up by convincing her to remove herself from a situation that... may wind up being instrumental in helping her grow up? We learn by doing; we grow by experiencing. If things "go wrong" and relationship ends, then she'll learn and grow from that. Not having your first relationship work out is not the worst thing that can happen to someone; sometimes, it can be the best.

I'm in my late late 20's and I simply cannot imagine dating a 20 year old under ANY circumstances.

What you can imagine is right for you is not what is right for everyone else.
posted by scody at 2:44 PM on February 14, 2011 [16 favorites]

She is taking a balanced perspective on this, and she realizes that even though this guy seems perfect now, things could go very wrong and is she is open to more information and perspectives.

This is a good approach.

This happened, they're in love and he's treating her well by all accounts. She just needs to make sure she's treating him well.

The age difference is is something that will bother other people, but if it doesn't bother them, then that's fine. In the end, it's their relationship and they, not the world or even you, have to be happy with it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:52 PM on February 14, 2011

This might sound a bit out of left field, but is it possible that some of your Mormon upbringing might still be affecting your thinking a bit? I say this only because my extended family has a healthy serving of observant Mormons, and there is a cultural pressure to marry strong view of sex outside of marriage as extremely sinful, leading to many people marrying in their early 20's. You may be unwittingly seeing that a guy who is single at 30 as a bit of a red flag-- because it's a bit unusual for Mormon guys to make it to 30 still single-- so you might be unconsciously wondering if there is an issue that makes him not great relationship material.

Dating someone you work with is always fraught with issues, as others have said. And no matter how discreet they think they are being, people may still guess, because some people have a sixth sense about that kind of thing, and other people are not as good at hiding things as they think they are.
posted by ambrosia at 2:52 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the great things about being a 20-year-old woman is getting to date 20-year-old men. My husband is 6 years older than me, and we met when I was 24. I'm glad I found him, but I'm also glad I had the experience of dating casually when I was younger.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:53 PM on February 14, 2011

i was raised a strict mormon - left the church in my teens - i always dated older men. i actually attribute it to the church. we're encouraged to start looking for return missionaries as soon as we turn 18 (and honestly, a little before), so best case per the church is a 3 or 4 year age difference. i think this had me always looking towards older males for partners.

your #2 point is sort of a red herring - no matter how old her partner is, chances are that a 20 year old former mormon gal is going to be sexually active with her boyfriend, no matter what his age.

to me, the most concerning part of the whole thing is that she still lives with her parents. all that twisted woman hating stuff - that's being reinforced at home, not by the guy removed from the situation. if anything, it's probably very good for her to interact romantically with a non-mormon to see that the framework she was raised with isn't the only choice.

feel free to memail if you want to discuss more about the church and dating post church and all that.
posted by nadawi at 2:54 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't think you should necessarily be worried about the age difference, unless there are other warning signs. Lots of female friends of mine in college dated guys in their 30s and survived.

The only warning she should have is that people in their 30s often want to settle down. Make sure she's thinking consciously about what she wants to accomplish in the next 5 years or so (graduate school? travel the world? ....?) because dude might be more interested in buying a house and getting married once she graduates college as oppose to, say, living in Thailand for 6 months.
posted by auto-correct at 2:55 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't see the problem here, in that it seems to be a mutually respectful relationship. Sure, dating coworkers can cause problems, but in the long run it's no big deal. As for parents who may kick her out of the house, this is a separate issue.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:55 PM on February 14, 2011

One of the great things about being a 20-year-old woman is getting to date 20-year-old men

as a counter to this - i found the closer a guy was to my age, the more disrespectful and crappy he was. some of us just gel better with the older set.
posted by nadawi at 2:55 PM on February 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

As long as there isn't a significant power imbalance I don't see anything significant wierd about the relationship.

Regarding parents: I'm guessing they would kick her out if they found out she was having sex with anyone, so the age thing is almost irrelevant here.

Regarding work: dating coworkers is always a minefield, again the age difference is secondary.

So, that being said I guess the only thing to base the relationship on is... the relationship, which includes power structure, attitude, maturity levels etc.

20 is young... but 10 years difference for many couples is not uncommon. My in-laws (who married latter in life) are about 20 years difference. My first gf was 9 years older than I...

Yeah you said it isn't an option but... she should move out of the parent's home, find roommates whatever... That is a lot of power/influence they have over her right there.
posted by edgeways at 2:57 PM on February 14, 2011

I was 22 when I met my then-30-year-old boyfriend, now my husband.

As with other posters, the only thing that concerns me is that they work together. That could get weird fast, or it could be the source of a bad power dynamic. None of us here can know that, though.

Whether or not this is a mistake isn't something any of us can know, either. I dated a LOT of older men - When I was 18 I had a boyfriend in his mid 20's, I dated another guy who was probably 34 when I was 21 or 22. In retrospect I understand why both of those relationships didn't work out, but on the other hand, both were good for me in their own way and I learned about myself. So, as long as she's not being played by an older dude for sex, she's fine, and even if she is being played by an older dude for sex, she's fine, since being played by dudes for sex is basically a round the clock risk of dating.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:58 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't see a problem. The only problem I would see would be if he didn't have an education, had financial problems, or some drama in his life. I know women who married guys who were more than ten years older than them, and frankly, there was a big benefit to being with someone already financially established, chiefly, being able to have kids younger rather than waiting until there's more income.
posted by anniecat at 2:58 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was a 20 year old dating a 28 year old. Now I am a 27 year old happily married to a 35 year old. In our case, it worked out beautifully and things are pretty great with us. I am so, so glad I ddin't reject him just because of his age. Just a data point.

But, I would not have dated him while living with my parents or while working with him. Too much pressure - if things go wrong and your parents find out and she has to move in with you, would she have to switch schools and jobs? There is so much on the line here; I think the age difference is not the biggest concern.
posted by beandip at 3:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm much more concerned about her living under your parents' roof and risking her living situation than I am about the age difference. Them being coworkers is also a concern. Both of those things can lead to a lot more drama and strife than anything related to age differences. Dating someone your parents don't approve of while you live with them, and that person also being a coworker is a horrible idea. Pretty sure no good can come from any of that.

When I was 24, I very briefly took up with a 38 year old. To no ill effect, and in fact we're friends to this day. That said, that was a different situation because this guy was by no means my "first" anything - I'd definitely been around the block by 24 - and also, we broke up very quickly because the age difference made him uncomfortable (the fact that at 24 I looked barely legal probably didn't help, either). It was very obvious from the get-go that this was not "meant to be" in any significant sense.

How long have they been together? That's another concern - I would feel less sketchy about this if you hadn't said that things were "moving very quickly". But that's another thing I tend to distrust no matter what the ages are.

Why not meet the guy, see them together, and get a sense of what they're like as a couple?
posted by Sara C. at 3:01 PM on February 14, 2011

30 isn't really very old, by the way. There are plenty of immature 30 year old men in the US.
posted by anniecat at 3:01 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

6. I know at 20 years old I still had a lot of growing up to do. She is more mature than me than I was at that age though...

I'm in my late late 20's and I simply cannot imagine dating a 20 year old under ANY circumstances.

So what? You're you, and she's her. You need to take care of yourself, and let her do for herself, unless (or until) some sort of actual harm enters the situation.

And even then, you need to remember that there's only so much you can to for someone else when romance is concerned, even if they're someone you love and feel protective of.
posted by hermitosis at 3:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beginning when I was 25, I was in a relationship with a 40 year old for two years which started out by moving very quickly. There were a lot of personality issues and personal problems that made the relationship not work (on both our parts), but age itself wasn't one of the factors that made it difficult, and we are still friends now. Four years later, I can see that I got a lot out of that relationship, difficult as it was.

The only (possibly, though maybe not) age-related issues I can think of that arose had to do with expectations. She had certain things that she expected because she was used to them: random gifts, more formal dates, not splitting the bill.

Also, as a 31 year old I can say that I've known a number of 20-year-olds at or near my level of maturity. If they're both treating each other well, I wouldn't worry about the age difference. I'd be more concerned about the prospects of a failed relationship with a co-worker than anything else.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:24 PM on February 14, 2011

I was 18 when I started dating my now-husband, who was 27. It's now 13 years later and we are still perfectly happy together.

I'd be more worried in her case about the potential getting-kicked-out-of-home thing. But since she's working, she could presumably afford to rent a place, yes? Maybe she'd have to share with people, but that's kind of normal for someone her age.
posted by lollusc at 3:37 PM on February 14, 2011

I haven't read the other answers, but I have thought about age differences in dating a lot. Mostly because I am 21 and have dated people much older than me before - pretty much the same spread as between your sister and her guy.

The issues that I stumbled into were:
- having kids. 30s are when people start having kids, 20s are less so. Be prepared to have that conversation earlier.
- cultural touchstones. Things that your older boyfriend remembers from childhood are different than yours. This can be a big deal or not.
- it comes up a lot, especially at first. Either make a joke of it or don't acknowledge it, but it is still going to come up a bunch and both parties have to be okay with it to deal with that.
- career decisions. Who's career will take precedence in regards to things like moving - it might end up being th person more established in their which would tend to be the older partner. This is particularly relevant if they work in the same place!
- friends. It is important to integrate, at least to some degree, your friends and your partner. Do they get along despite an age difference? This is a good indicator as to whether they are the kind of person your sister might otherwise date, just older.

Basically, get ready to have a lot of conversations sooner than you might have had you not dated up a decade. It can go great, and in twenty years be of no notice to them anymore as their kid graduates high school. Or she might get burned, like any other relationship. There are just different questions to ask and risks to be taken.
posted by hepta at 3:41 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know a couple of Mormon marriages with this age spread. After all, the Young Single Adult program is for ages 18 to 30, and late-blooming RMs dating freshmen at BYU can easily have a five or six year age gap (for that matter, some grad students date freshmen and sophomores at BYU, simply because so many girls get married young there, and the pool of 25-year-old single women is quite small.) Your parents will be more mad about the sex and the lying than the age thing, I bet.

Incidentally, it's probably a lot healthier for her to not be living with your parents if she's choosing to live her life this way. She's heading straight for unnecessary heartache and conflict - the kind/smart/adult thing here is to defy your parents' most significant expectations about your life only once you're not leeching their resources anymore.

As for the bottom-line question: I'd be concerned if this was her first at-all relationship; that it's her first serious relationship and he's so much older is a bit of a warning sign. It might be a little too much rebellion and danger and not enough "this is really right for who I am," but that's the sort of thing that people have to sort out for themselves. It doesn't sound like you're worried about her safety, so.
posted by SMPA at 3:44 PM on February 14, 2011

Long before I ever met my wife, she was involved in a similar relationship, age-wise. She was about 20 and living with her boyfriend who was about 30. Eventually they broke up, obviously, but she turned out ok. She's now happily married to me, we have a nice house, she's pregnant with our first child. We went sailing in Greece last year. Are any of these things relevant? I don't know, how are you going to judge damage done by this age difference?

What's my opinion of the guy? I don't know, I never met him. I'd have to guess he's not the most mature person for his age (or wasn't 10 years ago, anyway). What did her family think? I don't know, does it matter now? Would that have changed anything?

I also lived with a girlfriend when I was about the same age as she was. My girlfriend at the time was 6 months younger than me, which would apparently be a lot less alarming. Like you, I had a lot of growing up left to do (so did my girlfriend). The thing is, when I was doing my growing up, *I was doing it*. My own inexperience in life had very little relationship to my girlfriends age. If she was older, I would have had the same amount of growing up to do. If she was younger, same thing. If I need to grow up, it's a personal thing that affects me, not my sexual partners.

My parents are six years apart and have been married for ~30 years. Yeah, it's less than 10, but I can't really come up with a way it's significant.

What are the bad things you think are going to happen here?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:48 PM on February 14, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
"Thanks for the responses. I'd like to state that I am NOT trying to
control her in any way. I was just worried about the age difference. I
am pretty sure if this guy were 40 a lot more people would have felt
the same apprehension. The trouble is I didn't really know what was
reasonable here, hence the question. I was honest about this with her
and she was not offended by this concern. Because we were raised in a
posoinous culture, I was trying to figure out what the common wisdom
is about such age disparities. In our church culture, I often saw much
older men marry much younger women in a way that seemed creepy and
exploitative, in fact the prophet joseph himself was quite fond of
younger women. We don't want to emulate that. Thank you all for your
responses, which have helped me learn more about what is considered
healthy and normal by average folks.My little sister herself gave me
her full blessing to post this because she too was curious how
concerned she should herself should be.

Thanks for the input, and I can say that my mind is much more at ease now!"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:49 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

hmmm.... Well, I dated a 29 year old when I was twenty and the relationship lasted a couple of years. It didn't work out well, but I'm not sure the age difference was really our biggest problem. I do think at 20 I didn't really have the maturity and independence to handle an "adult" relationship. I let the relationship go on far longer than it should have because I was afraid of being alone. It's not necessarily a bad idea, but here are some things to think about

1. Use condoms. You may be in love, etc., etc., but there's too much risk for disease especially if he's older and has been with other women.

2. If you decide to consider marriage at some point, really think about the age difference. My friend's parents were married when her mother was 22 and her father was 32. They are now 64 and 74. It's likely that he will die a decade or more before she does. Maybe that period of being alone and elderly is worth it, maybe it's not, but it's definitely something to think about before you get married. Also, her mom retired early in part to accommodate her Dad and she's spent the last decade or so being pretty bored.
posted by bananafish at 3:50 PM on February 14, 2011

According to her, everything is brilliant and wonderful and he is a prince who treats her with respect, love, and affection.

Therein lies your answer.
posted by turducken at 3:52 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

My first instinct was to think "The age difference, not such a problem. The fact that they're working together is a red flag though." That kind of thing can go really badly if they break up.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This -- 20 dating 30 -- is healthy and normal.

I am not totally sure that "I'm in my late late 20's and I simply cannot imagine dating a 20 year old under ANY circumstances" is...normal, though. Seems unnecessarily limiting? Late 20s and 20 may feel far apart but that will seem silly when at 30 and late 30s. But that's not the question. So, yeah, your sister's fine.

I don't think "I am pretty sure if this guy were 40 a lot more people would have felt the same apprehension" is true. I don't think the average grown-up takes a lot of interest in the age of another grown-up's partner, and these things are just not outrageous, wrong, or otherwise bothersome or unsettling for most people.
posted by kmennie at 4:02 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depends on the guy. I dated a guy 8 years older than me at that age, and he was great. No problems there. (On the other hand, after dating me he swore he'd never date younger again. Once I hit his age, I was all, "Why the fuck did he date a 20-year-old?")

This is probably not a red flag situation as far as I can tell, though, other than the "don't date where you work" thing that was already mentioned. As long as he follows Dan Savage's campsite rule and all that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:08 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think this has to be a big deal, assuming the following:
- the work situation isn't one where he's directly supervising her
- they're on the same page about what they want out of life over the next few years and she isn't going to compromise her own interests and ambitions for someone who is in a huge rush to settle down
These things could be an issue at any age, of course.

My boyfriend and I are 12 years apart (mid-20s/late-30s) and we're doing ok so far. However, as a caveat, I do think that age differences are more significant when the difference is high school/college or college/post-college, and less significant when you're either both in the same stage of school or both living independently and working full-time. Every couple is different though, and it depends more on the individuals' maturity levels than anything else.
posted by naoko at 4:09 PM on February 14, 2011

I was 28 when I started dating my then 58 year old boyfriend three years ago. We've been married since last November. It's amazing, and none of anyone's business.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, when I started dating Mr. Ipsum I was 23 and he was 34. My parents were concerned about the age difference, but they didn't really have a say in the matter, and he eventually won them over anyway. He admits now that he himself was a bit concerned about the age difference. But he soon found out that I was, in his words "not some silly little girl" (as in, I didn't act immature) and that we had a lot in common. In fact, during our first year together, he once made the comment that I was "23 going on 40" so I think these things are more of an issue of compatibility than chronological age.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:19 PM on February 14, 2011

To expand jenfullmon's appeal to Savage's campsite rule about age-gap relationships: he should leave her in better shape than he found her.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:22 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not totally sure that "I'm in my late late 20's and I simply cannot imagine dating a 20 year old under ANY circumstances" is...normal, though.

It's also normal. There's nothing abnormal about wanting to date someone who in your exact age cohort.

My sister-in-law is 9 years older than The Brother, and his ex-wife and ex-long-time-girlfriend were similarly older. Dating with an age gap works great for some people, not so great for other people.

I think there can be issues when people are dating people because of a big age gap. (Especially when the younger party is looking to work out issues with a parent, or when the older party wants to use their age and experience to bully or control younger partners.) But those red flags turn up in the relationship dynamics, not in the simple difference in age.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:34 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Speaking from personal experience - just don't go there. They will always be in two different places in their lives, no matter how mature one or the other might be.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 6:34 PM on February 14, 2011

I also do not think the age thing is a big deal in and of itself. However it sounds from your post like you haven't actually met this fellow. The best way to ease your mind would be to spend time with them both and see how they interact.

There can be subtle signs that a less experienced person may not pick up on when assessing someone-- or a person that's all hopped up on lovey feelings wouldn't notice. . .

I mean you don't have to be formal about it, just a getting to know the new guy get together. I think this is totally sibling territory, I mean it may not be your business, but you can still butt in a little, with a lot of care.
posted by abirdinthehand at 7:06 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't think the age difference itself is a problem. However, a 20-year-old (who was a virgin) living with her parents and going to school is in a hugely different place than most 30-year-olds. Keeping it secret from parents and employers may make it seem more mysterious and appealing than it would be if they were able to have a "normal" relationship.

This is said with some experience - I was 18 and living on my own; he was 31, divorced with two kids. I think at the time we may have been equals in maturity but then I grew up. However, everyone is different. I don't see any huge red flags but think there's maybe an orange one (for caution).
posted by nelvana at 8:25 PM on February 14, 2011

A thought for your sister. I tend to date older people, so far up to the 10 year age gap your sister is experiencing (when I was 18, he was 24; now I am 24 and she is 34). When it doesn't matter is when you and your partner don't talk or worry about it. If it comes up between the two of you, it's going to be a problem--if it's coming up, one party is having a problem respecting another because of age, or is uncomfortable because of it, or whatever. Age was a much bigger issue in my 6-year-gap relationship than it is in my current 10-year-gap relationship.

Who knows whether these things will work out--10 years is a lot in terms of life stage, when to settle down, etc. But your sister sounds prepared for that. I'd just add that if he thinks it's a big deal, or she thinks it's a big deal, thats probably an orange flag. (Not a red flag... just proceed with caution.)
posted by equivocator at 9:55 PM on February 14, 2011

Being a big sister, I'm concerned with all of my little sister's relationships so I'd say there's cause for a little concern, but in the end it's her choice. I dated a guy fourteen years older than myself, and when anyone - sister, friend, parent - told me he was too old for me I'd just push back against it and their (ultimately well-founded) concerns went in one ear and out the other. If she's handling it well, great! If she isn't or if he turns out to do something really wrong then just listen to her and keep doing what you're doing - listen to her and give the best advice you can.

I'll second what equivocator said - if one or both of them are already concerned about the age gap, they should both probably try to slow down a bit and deal with it before going any further.

Twenty is a little young to be taking on a serious relationship with someone that has, in all likelihood, already gone through the highs and lows of sexual relationships, but age itself isn't a big concern at all when compared to other issues that you'll get by having a serious relationship with someone else regardless of any age difference; personality clashes, irreconcilable differences of opinion and so on.
posted by neewom at 10:35 PM on February 14, 2011

Almost all my relationships have had this kind of age gap (or bigger) and I'm fine.

There is one downside I can think of that's worth being aware of:

If you're a woman dating a much older guy, you can easily end up in a very slightly parent-child-like dynamic, where he makes more decisions (after all, he has much more life experience!), where you take your lead from him a lot of the time, or you conduct the relationship according to his expectations because he has more experience of relationships.

If you were a young person dating someone of the same age, it would be much easier to just both go out discovering the world together and working out how to get along.

I think anyone young in a relationship with an age difference like this needs to be particularly careful to stand up for themselves, to be an equal partner in decision-making, and to make sure to spend plenty of time around other adults so that they get a balanced view of how different people handle life.
posted by emilyw at 1:32 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Opinions from a content single: I used to be quite concerned over the age difference, however my views have changed. Mostly. I'd think more about compatibility, life goals, ability to communicate as more important aspects of any relationship.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:13 AM on February 15, 2011

The thing with 20 - 30 is not so much the age gap as the experience gap. It's much, much bigger than later twenty-year gaps. For example, a 35-year old with a 45-year old is not going to seem such a big deal.

It can work, though. My mother married when she was 19 and my dad was 30. That one lasted 55 years, until his death in 2007. Not saying they were a super match (they weren't), but they made it.

Bottom line: she should be careful and not rush into marriage, but it's her call.
posted by Decani at 3:32 AM on February 15, 2011

Unless the guy is a choad, it'll probably be fine.

Something to think about: Nietzsche commented that both men and women would benefit from having romantic relationships with much older members of the opposite sex, at least once in their youth.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:30 AM on February 15, 2011

A lot happens in 10 years. She hasn't seen the world, he probably has. My biggest concern would be that he won't want to do what she wants to do since he has done it already. Plus there is a also a huge "I know better than you because I've lived it" factor IMO.

I personally don't know how a 30 year old would want to date a 20 year old.
posted by darkgroove at 6:13 AM on February 15, 2011

My youngest sister was married in August 2009.

Her husband is 14 years older than she is.

My younger sister was married in August 2008.

Her husband is 7 years older than she is.

Both are happy. The relationships are healthy. And there is no strange life experience power-balance of any kind.

The mark of a good relationship is how well does he treat her? How well does she treat him? And are they both happy?

I won't say age is irrelevant, but as I told my mom when she first had doubts about my younger sister dating a man 7 years older than she and then my youngest sister dating a man 14 years older than she, if age is the only concern or issue, then it's not much of an issue.
posted by zizzle at 6:23 AM on February 15, 2011

Eep, Mefi hates brackets.

Creepy math works like this, where X is the older individual and Y is the younger.

If 1/2x + 7 IsGreaterThanOrEqualTo Y, it's creepy. So...maths...

An 18 year old
18/2= 9 +7 = 16. An 18 year old may date as low as a 16 year old. They may not date a 15 year old.

A 50 year old
25+7= 32. A 50 year old may date as young as a 32 year old, anything less is creepy.

Some circles debate that the 7 should be a 5. However, This means that a 16 year old may date a 13 year old, and I'm just not OK with that.
posted by TomMelee at 7:09 AM on February 15, 2011

The age issue doesn't make me blink. The fact that they work together has the potential for disaster. There are really three possibilities. 1: They stay together happily forever. 2: They break up completely amicably and with no difficult feelings. 3: They break up in a difficult way and it becomes a wound that takes forever to heal because they can't get space from each other. I speak from experience.
posted by the jam at 8:12 AM on February 15, 2011

I think the age difference is fine. If I were your sister, the main thing I'd be concerned about is not letting the relationship stand in for my own process of growing up and being more independent. I definitely understand not being able to afford a place on her own, which is why I, and most people I know, had roommates until we were around 25 or so. So if she considers living with your parents restrictive and harmful, or even if she'd just like some experience at managing her own bills, groceries, etc., she might want to start thinking about how to move out into a place with a few roommates while continuing to date this guy. Because if it's a relationship that works out in the long term, she might learn some valuable things from not going right from living with your parents to living with a boyfriend. 20 is when everybody's trying living on their own for the first time. She'd have a lot of support from friends and roommates who are learning all this stuff at the same time. Whereas if she waits and the relationship doesn't work out, then it will all seem a lot scarier when it seems like everyone else her age has already had those experiences.

Basically, there's no way to know at 20 if you'll still be with the same person at 25. It may very well work out, but there's no harm in stretching yourself and becoming as independent as possible while continuing the relationship.
posted by MsMolly at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2011

The age difference is the least of your worries, if it is a worry at all. My husband is 16 years older than I am and we're as well matched as two peas in a pod. I was 33 and he was 47 when entering the relationship, so, perhaps, more mature, but it was my first real relationship. We've been together over 11 years and there's no end in sight. My family has a lot of these age gaps in it; the longest is 30 years. Not one relationship has ended except for the passing of a partner. So, I may be biased.

The concerns I would have are the job and the parents. The job depends on the company's rules about employees having relationships with co-employees. Some are fine as long as one person is not the supervisor (direct or not) of the other. Other companies don't allow for it at all. And as for your sister still living at home - it's her parents house and she should live by their rules. If she wants to come out to her parents about her relationship, she will have to be prepared for the consequences.
posted by deborah at 1:20 PM on February 16, 2011

...My husband is 16 years older than I am and we're as well matched as two peas in a pod. I was 33 and he was 47 when entering the relationship...

Although your point is well taken, age is not necessarily relevant, there seems to be an issue between old math and new math.
posted by AugustWest at 9:52 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, make him 49.
posted by deborah at 1:01 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

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