Man eight years younger than woman. Will this work?
December 7, 2011 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Relationships in which the woman is older (8 years). Will this work for us? Do you know any couples like this? Advice? Please share.

This spring, while working temporarily in Beijing (I'm Canadian), I met a Hungarian woman. I am a 23 year old man. She is 31. She was my roommate in a rented apartment. We became friends and began to date after two weeks. It was a fairy tale romance, a three month honeymoon. She is beautiful, intelligent, honest, and loving. When it came time for me to leave at the end of April, I swore to her I'd see her again. We communicated daily over the summer and there was no doubt that we wanted to continue to date eachother.

In August, I graduated from university. We spent a two month holiday together in Hungary and eastern Europe, bicycle touring. Not everything was perfect. There was a lot of uncertainty ahead of us. She had been be Beijing for five years, and now runs a small, sometimes struggling, but promising business. I had just graduated from architecture school and the whole world was open to me, but I'd always dreamed of moving to San Francisco. We didn't know how to proceed after the trip, and the uncertainly caused some conflicts arising from insecurities in both parties. It was a difficult situation no matter which way you looked at it.

In October I returned to Canada and she went back to Beijing. Since then we have been deliberating on how to proceed. In the end, we decided that it would be best for me to move to Beijing, because I have much more flexibility at this phase of my career. This is fair enough, and I am happy to do this.

I booked my ticket for next week. Yesterday she emailed me and told me she's having cold feet. Immigration, even if temporary as we have planned, is serious commitment. Although she has been with many men in the past, she has never been this committed with one before. She said she is worried about the age difference. Specifically, she says that she finds it hard to feel good about herself when she is dating a man eight years younger. She doesn't feel safe about the future, and she says it will be easier to break up now, rather than to do it after I've moved.

We have been speaking about this over the past day and are both quite confused, so I am turning to all of you for help. Before I ask my questions, I need to give a little bit more background about us.

She is looking for a man to settle down with.

I had not been planning to settle down until around 27 or 28, but since I'm dating someone older, I am happy to compromise. I have dated enough prior to this relationship to have confidence in the soundness of my judgement. I have lived in six countries on four continents, four of them on my own, working. I am no stranger to relocating to unknown cities. Last summer I spent 16 weeks cycling 7600km solo from Shanghai to Singapore. I am intelligent and mature enough for this kind of commitment.

We both want kids. I am willing to have them soon, so she can be young when it happens.

I know what I want in a woman. She knows what she wants in a man. I am a good boyfriend. She is a faithful and loving partner. Her only flaw is her fear for commitment. She did not grow up in a stable family, and she is terrified of making the wrong choice in marriage. She is scared of being hurt, and she feels that the age difference will cause this in the future.

On my part, I have no such concerns. I grew up with a single mother. I've learned from my parents' mistakes. Once I've committed to someone, I'll not change my mind. I don't cheat and have a lot of faith that this thing between us can work out in the end. Ofcourse, nothing I can say will satisfy her, because she can say, "when you are older you may change your mind."

As you can see, the only way out of this situation is for the both of us to have faith and confidence in the potential of this relationship. We'll have to be brave enough to make the leap, so we can continue exploring eachother.

As such, I am looking for the following. We will both be reading this.

1. Do you know any couples in which the man is much younger? Did it work out? Please share your stories with us.

2. Do you have any insights or advice about our situation?
posted by BeaverTerror to Human Relations (55 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My sister is about 10 years older than her now-husband, and she had two kids already as well. They've been quite happy together for 10 years now. They did not have a long-distance relationship though. I have had a long-distance relationship where we had to commit to marriage in order to be in the same hemisphere. It did not work out. Had nothing to do with an age difference and everything to do with the real day-to-day world not matching the vacation-world we had shared for relatively short periods.
posted by headnsouth at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

As to your second question:

This stood out for me:

She is looking for a man to settle down with.... I had not been planning to settle down until around 27 or 28, but since I'm dating someone older, I am happy to compromise.

This seems like a bad idea. Compromising and settling down on her schedule, is a recipe for dissatisfaction on your part.

When you factor in the different ways in which men and women age, I just think you should think very carefully about making big commitments with this woman.
posted by jayder at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in a relationship like this, but apart from a similar age difference, most of our other circumstances are completely different, with the most important differences being that neither of us wants children and we never had to do a long-distance relationship.

It sounds like you've got a lot of things to think about and a lot of potential issues, but I don't think that the age difference is the major one except in the fact that she sees it as possibly having an effect on your willingness to commit for the long term.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:39 AM on December 7, 2011

I know a couple with almost exactly your age gap who were married at around your ages, perhaps seven years ago now, at a time when she had a serious case of Ticking Clock. They have two lovely kids and seem very happy.

Both of them are religious people who take marriage and commitment very very seriously; that may help to mitigate any age gap problems.
posted by emilyw at 11:41 AM on December 7, 2011

the deck is stacked against every relationship. I know couples who are decades apart and doing fine, and last month I watched two of my friends break up their long term relationships where their boyfriends were within a year of each other.

Saying "forever" at twenty-three is tough- but it's not like it hasn't happened before. If you want it, go for it.
posted by Blisterlips at 11:43 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

My brother-in-law married a woman 13 years his senior almost 20 years ago. They're still together and happy.
posted by cooker girl at 11:45 AM on December 7, 2011

Can it work? Sure. But the relationships in which I've personally seen it work usually involve adding about fifteen years to both of your ages. The difference between 23 and 31 is a lot bigger than the difference between 38 and 46. Even so, the standard rule says half-your-age-plus-seven, and you're right at the lower limit of that for her.

The reason is that, as you've noted, you're not really done coming into yourself as an adult yet, and she, even if she hasn't finished that process, is way, way further along than you are. If you were 33 and she were 41, even though there'd still be the same age difference, at that point you'd have been on your own, as an adult, making your own decisions and leading your own life, for more than a decade. Right now, you've just finished school.

All of that being said, each relationship is unique, and lemme tell you, the problems you're talking about here are far from the largest problems I've seen people deal with. Any two people can, theoretically, have a healthy, positive relationship, if both approach it with the right attitude and the situation otherwise permits. So yeah, the age thing is a red flag, but I'm not aware of any relationship that doesn't have any red flags.
posted by valkyryn at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Best friend and good friend - she is in her late thirties, he is in his late twenties. They have been together for several years, live together and seem likely to stay together - it's a serious relationship in which both seem very happy. She had dated a lot before this relationship; he had dated less. Funnily enough, my best friend grew up in a less stable family and has had to work through a lot of stuff about men, commitment, etc.

I've known some other folks who have had these types of relationships, but most were long-term-not-permanent - ie, your standard youngish adult several-year relationships where, although marriage had not been ruled out, it was not a priority for either person. These relationships were like any other relationship; the age difference didn't seem like a big thing.

Eight years really isn't that much if you're at similar places in life, but twenty-three is pretty young.

Are you in general a serious and focused person who is ready for a family? Are you someone who inclines toward fidelity (or toward a stable open/poly arrangement)? When you meet other attractive women, do you seriously consider them as prospects (even semi-consciously) or do you just notice that they're attractive the way everyone does?

What are your relations with the other women in your life? IME, the guys who have the most successful long-term relationships (and the guys who are good friends with or date older women) have grown up around strong/interesting women, spend a lot of time in environments where women are treated pretty equally, have no trouble dealing with women as mentors or bosses.

How heavily do you weight youth and appearance in general? Are you freaked out by the idea of growing old? Do you have friends who are older than you? How big a deal is appearance? Again, the guys who have the most successful long-term relationships are guys for whom emotional and intellectual compatibility are the more important parts of a relationship - they're physically attracted to their partners, but in general they need emotional and intellectual compatibility in order to want to have a serious relationship - in their past dating lives, they were not drawn to beautiful but stupid women, or beautiful women with diametrically opposite values to theirs.

Do you - even semi-consciously - rely on your partner as a source of status? Do you feel like you need to have a beautiful woman on your arm to be at ease with other men? No matter how lovely your partner is, if you're this type of guy you will one day be in a situation where it's high-status to have a much younger partner. Will you still care for your current partner at that point, or will you want to replace her so that you can fit in?

These are some things I'd ask myself.

If you have a history of knowing yourself and making good decisions, and if you feel confident in your heart, I don't think age is a serious concern.
posted by Frowner at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2011 [15 favorites]

My former supervisor was 7 years older than her husband, who moved from western Canada to Connecticut to marry her (they met on vacation in the Bahamas and did the long-distance relationship for a couple years). Aside from the huge headaches they've had with INS (I'm amazed that someone with transferable, marketable skills moving to the US from CANADA has to go through all this s***), they've been very happy for close to 13 years now. They have no kids (she married in her mid-30s, I think, and felt she was "too old" to have them) but they have lots of nieces and nephews and pets.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2011

I don't think the age difference is a problem. I do think her failure to commit to you is a problem. Perhaps she fears the age difference as she says - or perhaps she doesn't think you are the right one for her and she is making a convenient excuse. You've been together for almost a year now. Give it as much time as you feel the situation warrants. Time is certainly on your side. At some point you will need to make a decision to move on to someone who will commit to you. Make that clear to her and go on with your life.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2011

I am 11 years older than my husband. (I'm female, despite my username.) We met when he was 23 and I was 34, married three years later after spending our first year apart while he was deployed. I can tell you that age has nothing (well, very little) to do with it. It is all about maturity and communication skills. My husband is mature for his age and the first year of our relationship was spent solely on the phone. We did nothing but verbally communicate and it was a great way to get to know each other really well. He was not a typical 23 year old (much like yourself) and was ready to settle down.

I think the key here is for both of you to understand that your moving to Beijing is just another step in your relationship. You say that you'll compromise by settling down earlier than you had planned. I don't think that's a good way to look at it. You will want to settle down when you meet the right woman, regardless of how old you are. Long distance relationships are extremely difficult and it's hard to know the day to day person until you live in the same city. My husband returned from his deployment and despite being on the phone constantly while he was away, we were together for six months before getting engaged, and then another six months before getting married. Ask her to please just let you take this leap of faith for the two of you and don't make any future plans beyond that. Not saying to plan on it failing, but take it one step at a time.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I have a friend who married a woman some 6-9 years older when he was about 24. At the time we age-peers raised eyebrows at the match because 30 seemed "old" (oh, how dumb we were), but they have been married for about a decade now, and she gave birth to their second child 6 months ago. Their first daughter is about 8 years old. They seem very happy.

I'd wait for marriage until you're 25, though. 25 seems like when people really get their footing. I wouldn't date anyone younger than 25 because, though adult, they haven't truly grown into themselves yet.

Make sure you have lived on your own for at least 6 months before you start talking moving in/marriage. It will make you a better partner. The people I know who jump from living-with-parents to living-with-SO (no solo experience with responsibility) have the worst time. The older partner with more adult life experience may become frustrated with the younger, who has not had the opportunity to learn those lessons.
posted by griselda at 11:50 AM on December 7, 2011

Also, the only time I think about our age difference is along the lines of "gee, I've been driving for 23 years now and he's only been driving for nine." And it's funny when he doesn't know about music from when I was in high school, stuff like that.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:51 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think an 8 year age difference is a per se a problem. I am 8 years younger than my girlfriend (I am also a woman), and it has never caused even a slight problem. We tease each other about it occasionally - but it's really a total non-issue.

However, we started dating when we were 26/34, which is quite different from 23/31. I know I wasn't ready to make a life-long commitment at 23, and the vast majority of people are also not ready at that age. You may be different, but that would make you an outlier.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:53 AM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: She might be afraid that you will move to Beijing and resent her if it doesn't work out, or if things are difficult for you. That can be a pretty hard fear to work through. My (younger) current partner made a huge compromise in order to be with me, and while we are very happy now, there was a really tense period of insecurity when I was afraid that any piece of misfortune or a particularly bad argument would confirm for him that he made the wrong choice. This is probably what she's worried about. And as the product of an unstable childhood myself, I can tell you that the fear of disapproval and then abandonment by the people you love is real and runs deep no matter how together you may look or feel.

You sound extremely mature and adaptable for your age, but you're right that this is a big move for a relationship. This could be great, but before you think about settling down and having children:
-Are you going to live together?
-Do you have a plan for what to do if it doesn't work out?
-Will you easily be able to move back home or away from her?
-Will you be relying on her for money if you can't get enough work?
-Will she have to rely on you if her (struggling) business fails? Are you okay with that?
-How quickly do you both expect things to progress if all goes well? At 31, she likely has a time frame for when she would like to start a family. Ask her to communicate this with you, and then for the love of everything let her go with plenty of time to move on if you're not feeling it.

These are some of the things you two need to work out together before you make this move. Maybe talking through the worst case scenarios will reassure you both that you're willing to take the risks as long as your eyes are open. It sounds like you love her and you want to be with her. If you're in a comfortable enough position to make this move, then I say go for it on a trial basis.
posted by swingbraid at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Age is part of it, though at the risk of sounding condescending, you come across as a smart and wise 23-year-old or at least a whole lot smarter and wiser (and more accomplished) than I and a lot of people were at the age of 23... so in this situation, doesn't sound like the age difference would be a problem.

Can you do fine professionally in Beijing or if things with her do not go well or leave relatively quickly (and take the financial hit) and do fine elsewhere? If so, hard to see what's lost in giving it your best shot. Me thinks you'd always regret it if you don't.

Those things aside, I know of plenty of successful relationships with a younger man/older woman.
posted by ambient2 at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bid red flags that have nothing to do with who you are:

1 - She said she is worried about the age difference. Specifically, she says that she finds it hard to feel good about herself when she is dating a man eight years younger. She doesn't feel safe about the future, and she says it will be easier to break up now, rather than to do it after I've moved.

2 - She did not grow up in a stable family, and she is terrified of making the wrong choice in marriage. She is scared of being hurt, and she feels that the age difference will cause this in the future.

3 - Ofcourse, nothing I can say will satisfy her, because she can say, "when you are older you may change your mind."

There are very strong indications here that despite how great a guy you are (and I have no doubt that you are a great guy and are taking this as seriously as you should), perhaps she is not ready for you. You may be great together. You may well be great together again when she works through some of these things.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a wonderful time in your life being left as just that...a wonderful period in your life. A good situation needs not achieve its maximum potential to still be fulfilling and a positive in both of your lives.

I would give it some time. You owe it to both of you. And if you end up being together in the will both have that much more respect for each other in knowing that you took it at the pace it required.

As you know, it's a big fascinating world out there. You will probably encounter lots of great pieces of it. Good luck.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Almost all of the issues you bring up are definitely potential problems. They don't have to be deal breakers, but they do need to be addressed honestly and openly between the two of you.

I think the "when you're older you may change your mind" is something you probably shouldn't dismiss out of hand. You probably should admit it to yourself, at least, that yes, this could be a possibility -- and what if? That goes into the list of "things we need to address honestly and openly". (Consider this: no matter how old a person is, they can't really say how they'll feel about a thing in twenty or even five or two years.)

Back when I was single and dating, I used to date almost exclusively older women (as in, 10-20+ years older). My now-wife (of 15 years this past October) is a year and a half older than me.

Also, keep in mind there's nothing that says you absolutely have to get married next week or next month or next year. Age in relation to childbearing for her may be an issue, but.... another thing to address honestly and openly.

Age can be an issue, but as issues go it's almost certainly not the most important one.
posted by no relation at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2011

From her point of view, it's not how you feel now that matters, it's how you will feel in 5 or 10 years. From a 31 year-old's perspective, 23 is still an age where you're figuring out who you are. If you get to 27 and suddenly decide your life's ambition is to be a merchant marine, she doesn't want to left feeling like she invested 4 years for nothing. You may not see yourself that way, but that doesn't prove anything.
There's also the issue of relative aging. When you're 35 and she's 43, will you still be attracted to her? Idealism says yes, paranoia says probably not.
I tend to think these things can work. I had a 3 year relationship with a woman 14 years older than me. The things that drove us were not age issues and we are still very good friends.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:58 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and please don't say "trial basis" because it sounds cold. "Let's give this our best." is more what I was thinking.
posted by swingbraid at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2011

The age difference isn't the problem, but your youth might be. Based on my experience:

* The difference between 23 and 30 is not unlike the different between 12 and 19. There's a LOT of growing that happens there.
* The difference between 30 and 40 is negligible.

In 7 years, you will be an utterly different person from who you are now. She will likely be a very similar person to who she is now. This might mean that it doesn't work out, or maybe you'll be an even better fit.

Either way, no one knows the future: Go for it.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2011

You say that you'll compromise by settling down earlier than you had planned. I don't think that's a good way to look at it. You will want to settle down when you meet the right woman, regardless of how old you are.

Completely true--if she's the one, do it; at 22 I didn't want to settle down for ten more years, and then I met my older wife and wanted to be married and have babies with her, like, yesterday. One bit of advice: Don't live together. That's taking it to another level that already presumes a serious commitment, makes you have to deal with more issues than you should have to right away before the relationship's cemented (and she's somewhat older and likely more set in her ways and flexibility is a key to sharing a home together successfully), and might make breaking it off harder than it needs to be if it's not working out (i.e., gotta find a place, gotta pay two rents, whatever). The uniqueness of living in a foreign city ought to keep you pretty well together enough as it is without having to share a house together right away.

Have fun!
posted by resurrexit at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

My wife is 9 1/2 (NOT TEN! DON'T SAY TEN!) years older than me. Happily married 14 years with a nine year old child she had at age 42.

The only time it's an issue is when I make a pop culture reference and she doesn't get it. I've long since stopped expecting her to catch my Simpsons quotes and she knows I'm not going to recognize any John Denver lyrics that aren't about sunshine on shoulders.

As some others have said, I would be more concerned about the age you're at now. I was 27 when I got married to her. 23 and 27 are very different places, though you may not believe it right now. If you're a mature 23 years old and you're absolutely sure what The Rest Of Your Life means, go for it.
posted by bondcliff at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2011

The age difference is not the problem. What she is saying she feels is the problem.
"she's having cold feet. Immigration, even if temporary as we have planned, is serious commitment. Although she has been with many men in the past, she has never been this committed with one before. She said she is worried about the age difference. Specifically, she says that she finds it hard to feel good about herself when she is dating a man eight years younger. She doesn't feel safe about the future, and she says it will be easier to break up now, rather than to do it after I've moved."
She is breaking up with you now.

The breakup may take another 6 months or a year to complete, but she started it yesterday.

That said, the progression of your relationship (2 weeks to serious dating!) is really fast. Not impossible to maintain fast, but, well, Really Fast.

Check out this TED Talk by Scott Stanley called Sliding vs Deciding, and it might give you some perspective on how this relationship has unfolded so far. (I'll give you a hint, she is correct that breaking up before the big travel happens is much easier than after, in many ways.)
posted by bilabial at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

I don't think the age factor is actually the main issue here (for what it's worth, I've seen older-woman-younger-man relationships go both ways; one couple I know is happily married and I often forget that they are not close in age, while another couple is constantly fighting because they are obviously at very different stages in their life and do not seem to want the same things).

The main issue seems to be that you're compromising everything for this relationship (she seems to be compromising nothing at all). If you truly want to make these compromises, great! But if it feels like a compromise, rather than a decision your are making happily, then odds are good that you will eventually come to resent her for "making" you change so much of your life plan.

Sure, relationships require a lot of compromise, but they also require approximately equal give and take. It doesn't sound like your relationship is equal in this regard.

Plus, there is the fact that, as bilabial points out, it doesn't particularly sound like she wants to be in this relationship anyway, even if she hasn't explicitly said so.
posted by asnider at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: I'm 10 years younger than my wife, and the age hasn't been much of an issue besides gentle ribbing over what was popular culture when we were kids.

You start by asking about the age-difference, but then describe a whole lot of problems that exist in couples regardless of age. Put the 'age difference' in your back pocket, as a nice clean thing to blame if the relationship fails; if you want to address the real situation at hand, look at the actual issues causing you to both rethink your future plans together. You can get over them, but if you treat it like age is the issue -- something neither of you can control -- you're not going to fix or recognize the true problems.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:19 PM on December 7, 2011

My 28 year old cousin met and married her husband when he was 22 and they've been together for 15 years now and have three kids. So the age difference in and of itself isn't necessarily a problem.
posted by MsMolly at 12:24 PM on December 7, 2011

I'm not sure "you might not be interested anymore in a few years" has to do with how she feels about you personally so much as you in the abstract. It seems totally reasonable for her to be acutely aware that women in general have a much shorter window in which men in general find them attractive. Whether she's going to continue to be anxious about it could be an issue, and it would indeed be a good idea to subject yourself to some serious and (potentially painful) self-examination on this subject, as Frowner suggested. But I'm not sure she's going to be able to get over it either. I think she's thinking about everything she's asking you to give up, and how she would be giving up nothing, and she's afraid that you're eventually going to resent her and/or realize "what you're missing," maybe at the point at which she's afraid she won't be attractive to anybody anymore. Or maybe she's afraid she'll never be able to break up with you because you've invested so much.
posted by Adventurer at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

She's afraid and the only way you can reassure her is to act steadfastly as you say you will. It sounds like you want to do that but make sure you do.

And make sure she actually wants you, not just a guy now that she's 30.
posted by fshgrl at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

to be acutely aware that women in general have a much shorter window in which men in general find them attractive

But please be aware that this is a political statement - not an inherent truth. It's one of those internet observations that goes from being "this is sort of true a lot of the time mostly because of [SOCIAL FACTORS] and there are lots and lots of exceptions" to being "this is an iron-clad rule that derives from our biology and applies to everyone so suck it up ladies". And the more it gets repeated as if it were an inherent truth, the more "truthful" it becomes - it acquires the force of a truth because everyone decides to believe it.
posted by Frowner at 12:32 PM on December 7, 2011 [11 favorites]

Totally agree with AzraelBrown. Based on her history and beliefs, she wants an older guy because that means that there's a higher chance that he'll want to settle and is ok with settling (which is not always true of course). You can try to convince her otherwise until you're blue in the face, but what she believes is what she believes.

I think the question for both of you right now is, are you at a point in your lives, and in your relationship, where you are ready to commit to each other, for life? It sounds like no, based on what you say here: "As you can see, the only way out of this situation is for the both of us to have faith and confidence in the potential of this relationship. We'll have to be brave enough to make the leap, so we can continue exploring eachother." You talk about the potential of the relationship, and exploring each other. She wants to settle down. For her, you're not it, and possibly, the relationship is not it. Age might be one of many reasons why she's having doubts, there might be other reasons maybe having to do with you, maybe having to do with her. So talk about these issues and try to find some solutions/compromises. Put aside the age gap in your conversations and see where you land at the end of those discussions.
posted by foxjacket at 12:33 PM on December 7, 2011

Mr. Adams is eight years younger than I, and when we married (17 1/2 years ago) he was 24 years old. We originally met when he was 18 years old and he was attending a fan club convention that I was co-hosting. At that time I remember thinking he was nice and seemed very intelligent and more mature than most 18-year-old guys I'd known, but nevertheless I still thought of him as a "kid." We kept in touch over the years via phone and at annual conventions, but strictly as friends interested in the same band. Then four years after we'd first met we went together with three other friends on a trip to England for a fan club convention. During that trip he and I often sat and talked late into the night over coffee or a few beers about stuff other than the band we both liked and it turned out that we had a lot in common. He was a pop culture junkie, like me, and remembered many of the toys and such of my youth because his older brother had them. We started dating shortly after that, even though he lived in Cincinnati and I lived in Detroit. After a few months he mentioned he was thinking about moving to Detroit to be closer to me, what did I think? To be honest, I didn't have to think twice - I was all in favor of it. (Unlike your girlfriend. I had no hesitation, second thoughts, etc, even though Mr. Adams was two years younger than my youngest brother, the age difference no longer concerned me. Oh, and neither one of us wanted to have children, so that's another consideration.) We were married in 1994 and are still extremely happy.

However, I don't get the same "he/she is the one!" vibe from your story, particularly from your comments about your girlfriend's concerns. If she's the least bit hesitant, you don't want to force her hand by moving to Beijing and making her feel obligated to marry you despite her reservations. A cooling-off period might be best right now, giving her time to think about things and see if she ends up deciding that you ARE "the one" after all, that no one else measures up no matter what their age.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:43 PM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: "I had not been planning to settle down until around 27 or 28, but since I'm dating someone older, I am happy to compromise.

This seems like a bad idea. Compromising and settling down on her schedule, is a recipe for dissatisfaction on your part."

I disagree. Clearly, you're not a young kid with no independence, and no basis for knowing what you like. We're talking about you getting more seriously involved maybe 4 years earlier than you would otherwise do, because you've met someone you're obviously compatible with? And, despite that fact, you're happy to compromise?

Love isn't a sure bet in the future, no matter how you slice it. It's all about today. You have heard nothing here that's a compelling argument that your love is any more or less likely to last than anyone else's... because *everyone* has potential reasons for future incompatibilities.

People change. And you know... that's not always bad. Oftentimes, it's for the better. And that can be the case, even if it fundamentally changes your relationship, or even leads to the two of you deciding not to spend the rest of your lives together, as a couple.

In my case, I tend to find myself in relationships with younger women more often than not. I like adventure and new things in my life, and find that my interests are generally more compatible with those who are younger than I am anyway. My last relationship had about a ten-year age gap, but what ultimately caused it to fail after seven years was that she wanted to have kids, but didn't really want to take the steps to advance her career to help support them... whereas I wanted to move to the city, be more of a pedestrian, appreciate the art and culture, etc.

And so, we broke up. But the good thing is, she is finally taking steps to advance her career and her ability to have a family. I live in the city now, and have a more artistic, cultural life, and I'm around more people I relate to. I don't regret having been with her, though. If it hadn't been for my last partner, I wouldn't be where I am right now, and wouldn't be the person that I am, living with my current partner... who also younger, but who doesn't want kids and is far more compatible. By and large, though, I loved the time I had with my last partner, and I would've been a poorer person without it.

The simple fact is, you two have a finite amount of time on this planet, and can quite possibly make a lot of that time really, really good together... and perhaps even help each other to grow and develop as people along the way.

So, rather than second-guessing your future and wondering whether the odds for the two of you are more or less than anyone else... why don't you live together for awhile and see where that takes you? And if you like who you are and where you're going when you're together... keep going there.

But I think you also have to try to identify the potential sticking points early and rationally... and take practical steps to deal with them. Her second-guessing? And feeling bad about your relative ages, as if she were taking advantage of you? That's something you need to convince her is absolutely not the case. And the way you do that is by making it very clear to her that what you two are doing is your informed choice... and a choice you're very, very, very happy to make.

Likewise, you may have some things you would like in life. Obviously, you're willing to move to Beijing. But you need to be sure that your personal goals and needs are being met, and that means working with her to outline, realistically, what you think those goals are. And if that means you have to travel thousands of miles or spend a couple months away from each other at a time, well... you should do that. And if you love each other, I think you'll be strong enough to do that, too.

It's especially important in relationships with age differences to understand that both of you need to work your own personal plans in life. Neither one of you should live in the other's shadow. So make detailed plans... and stay really, really focused on working them together. (This is what I do with my current partner, btw, and it's been a great thing to share. We motivate each other, and both of us are advancing in our personal goals more rapidly than we would likely do apart.)

So, by all means... get together. And if it feels right, stay together. Just be sure to work with her on independent goals, so that neither of you lose yourselves along the way.
posted by markkraft at 12:47 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The age difference is not the problem. What she is saying she feels is the problem.

Exactly. Her being ready to settle down and you not is more of a factor than her being 31 and you being 23. Because that "settle-down-or-not" would also be a factor if you were both 23, or you were both 31.

Some people do indeed get hinky about age differences (I was in a brief almost-dating situation with someone where that was our age difference, and ultimately he couldn't shake being creeped out that I was old enough to have been his babysitter), but I think it's more the difference in "life" than it is the difference in "calendar years" in your case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I booked my ticket for next week. Yesterday she emailed me and told me she's having cold feet. Immigration, even if temporary as we have planned, is serious commitment. Although she has been with many men in the past, she has never been this committed with one before. She said she is worried about the age difference. Specifically, she says that she finds it hard to feel good about herself when she is dating a man eight years younger. She doesn't feel safe about the future, and she says it will be easier to break up now, rather than to do it after I've moved.

This is the salient aspect in what you wrote. She is having second thoughts about your arrival, and the reasons she states don't matter much (in fact, they may not be the whole truth). This isn't the time to present all the evidence to her as to why age differences don't matter because MeFi says so. If I were you, I'd back off.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:50 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think the age difference is fine, but the 'compromising on when to start a family' is a larger compromise than you may realize. The difference between your age now (23) and the age when you think you'd like to have a family (27 - 28) is much greater in terms of change and growth than I think 28 - 32 would be. And starting a family as the basis for a relationship again seems like a one-sided thing.

So, I think the age difference is not an issue, but the difference in goals and timing for this relationship, were you to each have the thing you expected rather than a compromise, is pretty large.
posted by zippy at 12:51 PM on December 7, 2011

why don't you live together for awhile and see where that takes you? And if you like who you are and where you're going when you're together... keep going there.

This is spectacularly bad advice because the woman in question has advised that she doesn't want to live together for a while. She doesn't want you to go to her. She Doesn't trust that you are in this for the long haul. Whatever her reasons for not wanting this and for not trusting this, telling her to ignore those desires and concerns sends the clear and direct message that you don't care what she wants.

You'd be saying, "you're the woman for me! I want to spend forever with you! And it doesn't bother me in the least that you don't want to spend the next three months with me (let alone forever!)".

So I leave you with a question that I was asked as a teenager when I was bereft at the end of a relationship.

Why do you want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with you?
posted by bilabial at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "She is having second thoughts about your arrival, and the reasons she states don't matter much (in fact, they may not be the whole truth). This isn't the time to present all the evidence to her as to why age differences don't matter because MeFi says so. If I were you, I'd back off."

He's already an ocean apart. How much further would you like him to go?

The fact is, he's bought his plane tickets. He should go there, meet with her, and the two of them should decide for themselves whether what they have should be pursued or not, at this moment.

Seems to me that she's not saying "no"... but that she does have fears and concerns. Pretty understandable ones, frankly. She would like to settle down soon... but let's be honest... what do you think the odds are that someone compatible is likely to pop up in her life a year or two, in order to start a family on the same timeline that she's currently looking at as being possible with him?

It's not that likely... and they have a bit of time to work with, in order to make sure that everything is right. It doesn't have to be perfect right this second... and love, frankly, is very rarely a perfectly convenient thing. It can be incredibly disruptive. But for love to even have a potential to grow and develop, it helps to, say, have the people involved on the same continent together.

It's not as though I have never had concerns about age differences in my relationship, which I've voiced.... but that hardly means that the other person involved should back off, especially when they're at a great distance already.

Most often, it means that I am second-guessing my own feelings, and that I need reassurance from my partner. I need to see that they're thinking about our relationship, are serious about the commitment and plans involved... and I need to be able to look in their eyes, see their dedication and love.

Basically, I need, in those circumstances, the kind of proof I need to realize that I am just spinning my wheels and overthinking the whole thing.

If you're working your plan together day-by-day, you really don't need to worry too much about the destination, because you're going to get there. But first, they need to decide to get their plan together, and start working it.
posted by markkraft at 1:17 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

"This is spectacularly bad advice because the woman in question has advised that she doesn't want to live together for a while."

Take a look at the post again. It says nothing about a woman who has advised that she doesn't want to live together, or doesn't want a relationship. It says everything about a woman who is a good person, but who is scared of relationships -- whether they're healthy or not -- because of her own prior history.

Specifically, she says that she finds it hard to feel good about herself when she is dating a man eight years younger. She doesn't feel safe about the future.

That's kind of hard to hear when you're the other person involved, thousands of miles away from someone you love, after not seeing them for over two months. But she does have doubts and fears.

I think at minimum, he needs closure, if that's what she really wants... which I doubt. And that needs to be done face-to-face. But really, I'd hope she'd at least consider going on a few dates first, to see if things between them really were some kind of passing fancy.
posted by markkraft at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2011

markkraft, in reading the OPs responses, I agree with your recent assessment. (If I were the woman in question, I'd be much more direct in saying "don't come here" if that was how I was feeling, but maybe she's just nervous and wants him to visit but not expect to settle in for a long time....) We can't know, and I think he's received a lot of solid advice here. I'm glad to see that they have talked about the situation, and I hope they both end up with what they need.
posted by bilabial at 2:08 PM on December 7, 2011

Long distance is tough. You’re going to have a hell of a hard time moving on if this ends without you seeing each other.

So, see each other. Don’t look at it as an engagement yet, look at it in terms of testing out your long term, day to day compatibility (you already know that your short term, holiday compatibility is amazing). Spend time having a normal, routine kind of life with her without requiring each day justify marriage or engagement. Just be with each other. In time, perhaps you’ll fall even more in love and the question of age will cease to be an issue because neither of you will even consider the possibility of a life without the other. Perhaps you’ll find that living together hasn’t been as easy as planned, and you’ll work through that to one end or the other. Perhaps you’ll find that she’s already decided (or at least some subconscious part of her has) that it won’t work, and despite the time together she still doesn’t feel that it’s something she can commit to. This will be awful, but it will be something you will take on board in time.

I can understand her reticence to commit to something this big. I think you should just approach this as wanting to spend more time together, wanting to share your regular lives with each other, rather than a brief stage on the way to FOREVER COMMITMENT.
posted by twirlypen at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2011

My parents were 21 (my father) and 32 (my mother) when they first met. They had a relatively happy marriage for 24 years, but I do think that age played a small role in their eventual split. I say small, because my father also has bipolar disorder and only takes his medication sporadically, and I think that was a bigger stressor than the age thing. But age was also relevant, I think, since it eventually turned out he had been having an affair for 10 years with a woman 15 years younger than my mother, and now he is happily married to her instead.

Honestly, I think the biggest lesson from their experience is that every couple is different. If it hadn't been for my father's illness, perhaps they would have been fine.
posted by lollusc at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2011

One more datapoint. 27-year age gap here. Together 7 years. I was 27, he was 54 when we got together. It's NOT you, I'm not laughing at you at all, but when people say to me, "ooooh, skbw, should I go for a beer with him? He's 42!!!" I cackle.

My mother is 5 years older than my stepfather. He was 25 when they met. Dated 8 years and got married. From what I gather, he was more a typical 25-year-old, while my mother had already been through a lot.

Do what you feel like. Age is an issue, but not any worse than other stuff people overcome.
posted by skbw at 5:01 PM on December 7, 2011

As for the "hard to feel good about herself"...I'm not dissing her at all, I don't know her, I don't mean to criticize...but really. A younger man? What if Bill Gates was the younger man in question. Externals are what you make of them. Geez. No need for me to comment more.
posted by skbw at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2011

I'm 8 years older than my husband, and we've been happily married for 12 years. We don't even notice the age difference any more. Everyone who knows us thinks we were made for each other.

People who don't know us are always surprised when the age difference comes up, they generally think we look about the same age. I realize that may not hold true as the years pass; 46 and 38 may be different than 66 and 58, if I don't age well. But I am not too worried about it... my husband is more interested in being with someone compatible who "gets" him than in being with someone super-hot or of having the status symbol of a pretty trophy on his arm.

Even though we have an 8 year age difference, he and I are growing and changing together, in similar ways. In contrast, my ex-husband and I grew seriously apart over the years in spite of only having a 2-year age difference.

My cousin's grandmother was ten years older than her grandfather. They stayed married their whole lives, and I never even realized there was an age difference until my cousin told me. They were just your basic senior-citizen couple like any other.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:40 PM on December 7, 2011

My wife is 10 years older. Before we were even dating I remember agonizing over the knowledge that if I were to go for it, it would mean total commitment. Talk about pressure even before the first kiss. At the time I was 24 and living on the opposite coast, and it felt like a roller coaster on the way up, where you start thinking, hmm, maybe this is a bad idea but when you try to turn around you're just strapped into this destiny. So I made the leap and soon after moved to her city (since she was more established in her career) and found a new job, and accepted the fact that since she was older the timeframe was more compressed. So here we are married 5 years with 2 beautiful kids and yeah, I always get shit for not knowing any 80s music, and we're always working on the relationship, but the one thing I know - there are so many other things to worry about besides age difference. The thing about love, you can't rationalize your way out of it. You can commit, or you can't. And you probably already know the answer.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 6:18 PM on December 7, 2011

The age isn't really a deal breaker, IMO. I have been the "few years older" woman who broke it off in my early twenties because we weren't in the same place in life, and the "few years younger" woman who broke it off in my mid twenties because, guess what, we weren't in the same place in life either.

The things I find problematic here are her fear of commitment and the fact that you are uprooting yourself for her. My experience has been that when you do these sorts of things for other people, the danger of failure, disappointment, and even resentment is rife. I'm sure that's at least part of what she's thinking of. As far as the age thing, perhaps she is concerned that you would tire of her and want after someone your own age. It's possible, on both sides, really. You may find that you hate living permanently in Beijing or are unable to find the kind of employment that makes you happy there. You may get tired of being "settled." Et cetera.

Success or failure stories of other people are not what the two of you need. What you both need is a plan - both as individuals and as partners. Why can't you move to Beijing, get a job, get a place (or move in to hers, whatever), and take the relationship one day at a time? I think the problem is that you two seem to be looking for something concrete when you are really still in the stage of the relationship where you're exploring and learning about each other.
posted by sm1tten at 6:41 PM on December 7, 2011

Another woman 8 years older than my partner here. Five years now, long distance for the first two, living together for three. We are 31 and 39 now. He didn't / doesn't want kids, so that helps. (I have a twelve-year-old, and one is enough). We are compatible on so many levels, and get along in an easy (and when starting, immediate) way. Also, bonus: his college roommate was really into 80's music, so he is well-versed in it and loves it. When I catch myself saying something like "You were into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? But that was for little kids --- OH WAIT" it's cause for amusement, not resentment. I also get to joke that I'll die before him, so he has to wait on me in the nursing home and bring me brisket and beer.

The years are not the issue. Your lovely lady's doubts are the issue. I don't know if you can sway her, though. It *could* be that she is using age as a deal-breaker because she has other reasons you might be successful at arguing her out of. I don't know how you make it work when she thinks less of herself for being with you because of the age difference. I am not sure how you argue someone out of that.

Good luck regardless.
posted by marble at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The answers you are marking as "best" seem to be reinforcing what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear, and what she's already telling you: this relationship doesn't have a future and breaking up now will be easier than breaking up later. The age difference doesn't have much to do with it.
posted by 6550 at 7:05 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was in an 8 yr. difference relationship which recently ended. The age difference had nothing to do with the relationship disintegrating.

We met at a later point, he was 38 and I was 46. Initially I was a little insecure about the age difference, but that quickly disappeared. At first children were a concern - I was probably too old for a first pregnancy. I made it a point to bring this up and he was fine on no kids.

Later I went through a very, very difficult surgical menopause. It was a lot for him to deal with and none of his peers had experience to help him. He was a trooper and rose to the occasion.

Once into my '50's the age related situation arose of me being aware of retirement in the next 10-15 years while that was not on his radar at all. Not a big thing, but it does create tweaks in your orientation/world view.

Pop culture was always an area that was difficult to bridge. He is very aware of it, me not so much. The age difference did create a bigger gap here.

Eventually the relationship ended due to issues unrelated to age: how he handles financial matters, his mother and his inability to discuss "big things" which eventually led to a great deal of pent-up anger on his part.

To sum it up, you appear to have a good handle on the areas where the age difference may cause potential issues. Her insecurities may subside once she sees that you are only interested in her - warts and all. If you can agree on the children/biological clock issue then I wouldn't worry about the age difference. Most times you won't even remember the age difference if the relationship clicks.
posted by cat_link at 7:10 PM on December 7, 2011

The age gap alone isn't a problem. You not being ready might be.
posted by ead at 11:28 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We broke up. I offered all that I could with honestly and sincerity. I made sound plans and addressed her concerns with care and attention. My words were lost to her. She could only see the dangers and unideal circumstances. She doesn't share my optimism and belief in life. Maybe I am naive. I can't know for sure. For all the couples who shared their stories, who have similar age differences, and are happy despite their "issue", I am so happy for you.

I'm very sad that she chose this, but am ready to move on. I have learned a lot and am a better man for it. I'm grateful for the memories we shared and would do it all over again if I could.

I want to thank everyone for your comments. Many of you were so encouraging, and all were thoughtful. At these moments of weakness it's hard not to fall for cynicism. I'm trying so hard.

I'll be moving to San Francisco to start the next part of my life. If you believe in prayer, please do so for unfailing courage and hope. I am down but not out.
posted by BeaverTerror at 9:16 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Another update, for the sake of future readers:

We have been speaking a lot since the breakup and have been able to resolve some past misunderstandings and alleviate many of her fears.

As such, we have decided to keep the status of the relationship open while we continue the discussions. I'm not sure how I feel about this. In any case, this can only be a learning opportunity and we have nothing to lose.

I will post another update once this whole thing is settled for good, no matter which way it ends.
posted by BeaverTerror at 12:41 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Final update: we're going to keep dating. We've worked through a lot of our concerns and have decided that what we have is too valuable to give up. I'll be moving to Beijing. We'll see how this goes. Thanks everyone for your very helpful comments.
posted by BeaverTerror at 6:19 PM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
It is now Feb 2014 and we are still together. We've dealt with some much greater issues during the past two years and have pretty much forgotten that we are 25 and 33.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:28 AM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

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