What is the ideal age gap in heterosexual relationships?
September 27, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

A growing body of scientific research suggests that the ideal age gap between a man and a woman is fifteen years, provided that the latter is younger so as to mitigate the effect of the midlife crisis. Yet, conventional wisdom posits that the half-your-age-plus-seven rule and that the three to six years rule are equally valid. What do you think?

My number one goal in life is to have a happy and productive marriage and I think that the only way I can achieve it is to select someone who will love me even when gravity and wrinkles take over twenty or thirty years down the road. I really want someone who genuinely likes me for me instead of for the way I look, if that makes any sense. Seeing the proliferation of broken marriages and cheating incidents--generally older men with their college-aged secretaries--has made me wary of men my own age (20s), so any advice or feedback on your own age-gap and status of marriage would be highly appreciated.

(If it helps, I'm 21 and seriously looking for a husband.)
posted by lotusmish to Human Relations (55 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Chronological age and emotional age do not necessarily line up. That said, I've always found it best for me when my SO is no more than eight years my senior. I don't know if it matter whether the man or woman is older, only that in my experience it's nice to be "peers" – with similar childhood experiences/references, etc.
posted by marimeko at 5:02 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Treating this purely as a math problem, if you want to marry a man 15 years older than you are, but you also believe in the half+7 rule (that is, it would be weird for a man to be in a relationship with you unless you are at least seven years older than half his age), then you must wait until you are at least 29 years old.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:07 PM on September 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: 15 year age gap is ideal in terms of what specifically? Certainly not in terms of growing old together - that sounds like a formula for widowhood.
posted by Dansaman at 5:09 PM on September 27, 2013 [37 favorites]

What do you think?

I think that that the scientific research you are citing is probably not very scientific.

I think that conventional wisdom is rarely wise.

The tone of your post makes me think that you might want to put off marriage for a few years and learn about yourself, what you want from life, what you are looking for in a partner. Then you'll have a better idea of what will make you happy, without having to refer to arbitrary and odd rules.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:15 PM on September 27, 2013 [109 favorites]

So what you're saying is that you think eventually men will cast their similarly aged older wife aside for some hot young thing, so you want to cut it off at the pass by being the hot young thing? This isn't an issue with men, this is an issue with how you view men. It's not about an age gap, it's about character. If your husband is going to cheat on you, he'll cheat on you. You're far better off going for personality to find someone who loves you for you.

Using your logic, going for someone considerably older who likes younger women actually increases your odds that as you get older with wrinkles, you'll get cast aside for someone younger.
posted by Jubey at 5:15 PM on September 27, 2013 [65 favorites]

You pick the right man.

My husband and I were born in the same year. He loves my old fat wrinkled self and is just as mushy if not more so than he was in the beginning. And he was a mushball to start with.

Age gaps will have nothing to do with it. Shallow people come in all varieties and age groups.

So I suggest you shop for character.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:16 PM on September 27, 2013 [52 favorites]

Could you link the research in question? :)
posted by semaphore at 5:18 PM on September 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

> My number one goal in life is to have a happy and productive marriage and I think that the only way I can achieve it is to select someone who will love me even when gravity and wrinkles take over twenty or thirty years down the road.

This is how I feel about my wife and she is eight years older than I am (we are both in our sixties). You are barking up the wrong tree; you need to focus on character, not mathematics.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on September 27, 2013 [49 favorites]

See, I think you need to be wary of older men, especially 40 and up. Not all dudes over 40 are skeeze, but a lot of them like to chase 21-year-old tail because you're young, dumb, hot, think that they like you for your maturity (probably not, it's more likely for your IMmaturity), and they can easily scam you with bullshit because you haven't been around the block a few times to have learned from experience. Dear god, dating older men has been a nightmare for me. Guys your age aren't likely to target you for those qualities in the same way. They may take longer to mature, but they're probably not as scammy. Maybe go for early 30's if you have to....but in general, 21 is pretty damn young to get married and you'd probably be better off waiting at least a few years before you go there.

I think you need to find someone who treats you as an equal and not worry about this "perfect age gap" thing. I actually tend to think people should stay around their own ages and not date anyone old enough to be their parent, because that seems like an easier way to find someone where you are close enough in circumstances to be compatible. None of this "oh, I was a fan of your favorite singer when I was in third grade and you were in your 30's!" stuff that makes the older folks wince and you feel kind of dumb.

Also, if a guy is gonna have a midlife crisis and cheat, he'll do it regardless of your age. It's New Cow he wants, not Old Cow, even if you are a 24-year-old Old Cow.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:27 PM on September 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

2nding request for a link to the study. If I saw the details I could probably answer this question more specifically -- like,.how was success measured? How large was the sample and what was the cultural makeup?

To answer your question, you should only date men who like you for you. They can come from anywhere. If a man likes you mainly for your looks, he doesn't like you much and you should not date him. You are free to set your age filter higher than you usually would, but I doubt it's a winning strategy.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:27 PM on September 27, 2013

So what you're saying is that you think eventually men will cast their similarly aged older wife aside for some hot young thing, so you want to cut it off at the pass by being the hot young thing?

Thank you for distilling this for me, Jubey. Not sarcastic - I was genuinely confused, but I think that's what the OP is trying to hint at? Maybe?

Yo, lotusmish, you're twenty-one and there's a lot you don't know about the world. It's not a bad place to be, but keep an open mind and look ahead at the long road that is life. I can tell you from experience that being the hot young thing with a guy significantly older often kind of sucks. You are a person, not a piece of ass. Remember that.

And if you're seriously looking for a husband, I will let you know that my friends who got married young (younger than twenty-five) married their college or high school sweethearts. Not some phantom older man, but Bobby from chem.

My parents are almost exactly the same age. They met when they were twenty-one. Mom is very slightly older. My mom was sort of vaguely complaining about her greying pattern, and my dad said to me, "You know, I look at your mother and I see her as she is now, but also as she was when I met her." Aww.

Seeing the proliferation of broken marriages and cheating incidents--generally older men with their college-aged secretaries--has made me wary of men my own age (20s)

Is this based on real life, or have you been binge-watching Mad Men?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:29 PM on September 27, 2013 [20 favorites]

Most people do not get married thinking their spouse is going to cheat on them, and yet 33% of us are unfaithful. Nobody gets married thinking their odds of divorce are good, and yet what, like 50% of marriages fail. You really cannot inoculate yourself by playing the statistical odds, though you can try by getting a college degree, waiting until you are over 26 to marry, and marrying someone of the same race and faith. I have never heard of this age gap research to which you are referring.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

There is no "ideal" age gap that will prevent a relationship from ending before one of the partners dies. I agree with St. Alia of the Bunnies and languagehat; look for a man who shares your values and treats you well. Take your time getting to know him before you get married; you are very young and there tends to be a higher rate of divorce for people your age.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:31 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

People are people. You should be open to the possibility that the scientific research you are considering to be gospel is in fact highly biased in favor of a patriarchal view of marriage, and I think you will fare better and choose a partner more accurately if you ignored it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:33 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

this research sounds like it is based on sexist stereotypes. generally, i think the best chance for healthy relationships is between people who are closer in age so that they are equals. there is a huge power imbalance that takes places when a man is much older than a woman in a relationship. it can become very parental. i say this as someone whose father (he is no longer alive) was 17 years older than my mom. there are plenty of down-to-earth twentysomething males. just because someone is older doesn't mean they are more mature.

of course there are many other things that go into healthy relationships besides age. one of the biggest factors is similarity in socio-economic and family backgrounds, shared values, life goals, good character, etc. also the divorce rate is much higher for people who marry young (early 20s & younger) so you would be better off not getting married until you are over 25 if you are going by statistics.

all that said, there really are no formulas. use your head and your heart to pick someone. someone who is your best friend and your lover. don't sacrifice one for the other in some hope of a long-lasting marriage. don't settle and marry someone you are not in love with in the hope that it will be more stable. on the other hand you can't go just by your emotions or chemistry. you have to have some compatibility too. both are needed.
posted by wildflower at 5:33 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Think of it this way: would you, at 21, date someone who was 18? Probably not because they're so immature, right? The age difference you're looking for is three times that. Do you think that is going to be a more equitable and long-term relationship?

Value yourself enough to know that you can find someone who will be into you, not your age. THAT will help you find the relationship you need, not trying to game people into not cheating you.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 5:41 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: How in the world would the "ideal age gap" have been determined by scientific research? A loving relationship between two people and all that it entails and requires has about as little to do with mathematical calculations about ideal ages as you can possibly get.

If your number one goal is to have a happy, productive marriage, make your focus happiness and productivity (and communication, and frequent expressions of care) rather than some externally imposed rules of what seems to mathematically correlate with working marriages, which have no causative relationship to what makes relationships work. You're definitely guaranteed to get old and probably get wrinkles if you don't die before you get there, and I think you are wise in wanting to be with someone who is going to like the wrinkly version of you. I'd hold on to that little bit and let go of all the rest of what you said.

You have good reason to be wary of older men leaving their middle aged wives to be with younger women, because that does indeed happen. I'd argue that the keepers, the ones you should be vying for, are the ones who are not going to do that in the first place. So it's not like you have to outwit your guy by being young in the first place - Just find one who loves you for you and not your age and the ephemeral bits of your outward presentation.
posted by mermily at 5:43 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really want someone who genuinely likes me for me instead of for the way I look, if that makes any sense.

This does make sense, and I would encourage you to prioritize looking for this, and not some supposed rule.

According to your posting history, about 3 months ago you were worried about your mom grounding you over a parking ticket. Please consider spending some time as an independent adult and learning who you are as an independent adult. I don't have research to back it up, but I bet that'll strengthen your chances for marital happiness more than the perfect age difference.
posted by tinymegalo at 5:45 PM on September 27, 2013 [30 favorites]

Best answer: My number one goal in life is to have a happy and productive marriage and I think that the only way I can achieve it is to select someone who will love me even when gravity and wrinkles take over twenty or thirty years down the road. I really want someone who genuinely likes me for me instead of for the way...

My husband falls into this category and he is 13 months younger.
posted by bananafish at 6:00 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want someone who will love you for you and not your looks...I'm not sure why you're looking for men who will give you the opposite of that (ie men who are older looking for someone young and pretty only)

Please don't take these comments as harsh I laughed when I read your question because I had the same fears you did (and still do a little...it's possible of course) so my strategy was to be the one in power and date YOUNGER men. I am on track for a high powered career so I figured what the hell I'll just flip the roles and be the kind of partner I'm trying to avoid and snap up younger hot men...If you think this is silly (and it was) please reflect on your strategy for finding a mate. There is no strategy to avoid heartache except to listen to your gut that a partner is wrong for you and find someone of the best moral character that you can. Good luck and focus on building a life of your own while you are searching.
posted by Valkyrie21 at 6:00 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't believe there is such thing as ideal. My husband and I are 30.5 years apart. Never, growing up, would I have imagined I would have fallen in love with someone who was 40 the year I went to fourth grade... but we have the most wonderful relationship. Aside from the attraction, we push each other creatively, respect each other enormously and have created a safe, supportive home. I don't think any of that has to do with age.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:03 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The ideal age gap is the age gap between you and the guy you want to be with, based on better criteria than age. (Shared values, beliefs, and/or hobbies! Attraction! Compatible life goals!)

I think you need to tread carefully here. You're 21 and in college, and maybe a little naive. The kinds of 36-year-olds who are going to be interested in you are not marriage material. If you were genuinely more attracted to older men, that would be one thing, but I wouldn't seek out older guys for their stability/marriageability, because that's not how they're looking at you.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:08 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

My number one goal in life is to have a happy and productive marriage and I think that the only way I can achieve it is to select someone who will love me even when gravity and wrinkles take over twenty or thirty years down the road. I really want someone who genuinely likes me for me instead of for the way I look, if that makes any sense.

I'm twenty or thirty miles down the road from you and there is no shortage of men young and old who want to date, screw, cheat on their younger wives with, and yes, even love, women my age.

I'm not taking this personally at all so I mean this sincerely: You seem to be under the impression that once you reach a certain age you start losing Attractive Points. I would be more concerned about marrying someone when you're 21 or 22 and growing apart (both physically and emotionally) in five or ten years.

There are no guarantees. Anything can happen. Learn to trust your instincts; this will let you know when you found someone who loves you for you.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:19 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a woman, your life expectancy is maximized by having a spouse whose age is within one year of your own. Reference. Another.

Divorce rates are not strongly correlated with age difference at marriage. Reference. It seems little work has been done on this issue. Of course, lower age gaps result in an increased probability of being married above age 65. Reference. I'd appreciate seeing the research you cite in your question.

If you're interested in minimizing your odds of divorce based purely on statistics, here's your guidebook. Briefly:
  • Be a non-Hispanic white person who marries at an age older than 25.
  • Do not suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and find a partner who does not suffer from GAD.
  • Have your first child more than seven months after your first marriage, but definitely have a child!
  • Don't be poor!
  • Consider religion as either a very important or somewhat important part of your life.
  • Have parents who did not divorce.
  • Do not live in the South (US specific, sorry).
  • Do not cohabitate prior to your first marrige.
Many others in there of course. If you want to go by the numbers.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:20 PM on September 27, 2013 [39 favorites]

Best answer: I say this in the most caring way, the fact that you are trying to pin down one quality that would make someone "marriage material" and that you are "seriously looking for a husband" at 21 is concerning. I think it shows that you don't know how relationships actually work and don't understand how marriage works.

I say this as a 23 year old female, who met her husband at 19, and got married at 22. (He is 2.5 years older than me since you asked.) I also say this because, even though I am about your age, I see most people my age and thing "Gosh they are all so young!" because I have always been more emotionally mature and settled down than most in my age group. That said, I would not recommend most people in my age group - say 20 to 23 ish - to be focusing on getting married, even though I did!

Why's that you ask? Because out of the people around my age that I have been around, most lack the emotional maturity to really stick it out. It may come down to life experiences and personal goals.

Now, I don't know you. However the way you worded this seems to me that you are not coming at the whole marriage thing from a place of emotional maturity. I mean, why is getting married your number one goal? My number one goal was graduating from college and having a good career, and I just happened to meet my husband along the way and it worked out.

So, to answer your question directly: I do not think there is an age gap that is "perfect." Someone who is 15 years older than you may be in a completely different time in their life path. However someone who is 21 may also be in a completely different time in their life path.

The best advice I got from my dad (The Deej on Mefi) on how to start a successful relationship was, don't go looking! Or more specifically, "Go on your own path, and you will find someone who is on that path to share it with you."

That is what you need to focus on. Find your own way. Figure out your own life. Then you can find someone who has similar goals and you can combine into a family unit. Age really is not a starting place to "choose" a husband. In addition, everyone gets old. If someone truly loves you, they will love you for everything, flaws, quirks, wrinkles, cellulite, smelly farts, and all!
posted by Crystalinne at 6:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

Age matters very little IRL.

First of all, and most important: Know thyself.

Second, know who you're marrying. That means communication, couples therapy, communication, pre-marriage counseling, and more communication. Make sure you're both on track for everything from where to live, to children, to religion, to animals, to budget, to alcohol and drugs, to who does chores and takes care of babies (if any.)

Third, have parity. You both need jobs, or know EXACTLY how the money and power is going to be split in the relationship. Don't assume, communicate. And if you're somewhat passive in your young age, believe me, you won't be when you're forty. Women, as a rule, tend to want more parity in a relationship when they are older. Men tend to not be happy with that.

Fourth, fifth, and sixth: figure out the money. Budget. Know what your spending habits are and what sort of weird attitudes you both have about money. Believe me, everybody has weird beliefs about money. Figure out what will work to keep you from fighting about it.

Communicate some more--how do you feel about wills, DNR, living with someone with health problems? What about infidelity? Shit happens. How committed are you? Would you both be willing to do therapy if necessary?


Did I mention communication?

Qualifications: Married for over 30 years, with several friends also married 25+ years. Every single one of us hammered this shit out after we were married, and don't think it didn't take its toll.

30+ years, and there are still days I wonder....

posted by BlueHorse at 6:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I married at 22 and we're still pretty solid and happy 12 years later. We're four months apart in age. I hope the variety of answers is showing you that compatibility isn't a number.

I don't think you can game your way into a lifelong relationship.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:24 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, BTW, read Crystalinne's comment twice, especially the part about getting your own life.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:26 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a good amount of research into what makes a successful marriage. Communication styles seem to be key. If you're interested in learning more about this, I'd start with John Gottman's work. His wikipedia page contains a very nice bibliography where you can find primary sources.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:29 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

(I'm not saying that marrying young is necessarily a mistake, just that wagering on age-based scenarios works -- or doesn't work -- both ways.)
posted by Room 641-A at 6:33 PM on September 27, 2013

My husband is 15 years younger than me. I think we are happily married, we've known each other for 10 years and married for 4 of those. We have our ups and downs, but because of the age difference we really thought about our marriage before going into it. We started out as friends first because hey there is no way we were ever going to be a couple, I mean look how young he is. That took a lot of pressure off of our friendship, until one night we very suddenly and nakedly weren't just friends any more.

The one thing you have to have is communication, if you are going to marry someone that you can't talk to and be willing to work at a relationship. The shiny happy hearts and flowers stuff is nice, but after that is the conscious decision every single day to be married. Also the cliche about marrying your best friend, to me, that's the best advice.
posted by wwax at 6:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Finding someone you like is more important than age. People are going to gossip about you no matter what you do or what the age gap between you and your significant other is, so you might as well optimize for your own happiness. And if the relationship is not working out, end it and try again. Or don't. It's up to you, nobody else.
posted by jrockway at 6:56 PM on September 27, 2013

What do you think?

I'm just past 40. I'm happily married to a woman within a few months of my age, and most people I know are happily married and there is not one of my close friends married to someone more than five years off from their age. (I can think of one acquaintance who is married to a much older man, whom she met when she was in her young 30s and he in his 50s.)

On the other hand, when we were all in our 20s, some of my friends did date older men. Those relationships did not turn into marriages.

Most people I know got married in their 30s, but the people I know who got married in their early 20s married people the same age, and are still together.

I don't think there's anything wrong with marrying a man much older than you, if you happen to meet a man in that category who's right for you.

But I'd ask you to consider one thing. If a man in his late 30s, the kind of high-education high-SES man you seem to be considering for marriage, is single, it means that either he's gotten to that age without seriously dating, he's gotten to that age without managing to commit to someone he was seriously dating, or he's already been married and the marriage failed. Do any of those options make you feel like he's more likely to be the lifelong partner you're looking for?
posted by escabeche at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: At 21, you're basically still a kid. You're going to do a lot of growing up over the next 15 years. A man who's 15 years older than you and has already done that growing up is almost certainly not going to see you as an equal. You don't want to be married to someone who doesn't respect you as his equal, even if he thinks you're pretty and likes having sex with you and you have fun together. Maybe that sounds okay to you now, but I bet it won't when you're 35. And no, you're not going to catch up to him as you get older. He's never going to start seeing you as an equal.
posted by Redstart at 7:05 PM on September 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

I have a friend who was dating a man in his 60s with terminal brain cancer. He dumped her, why? Because she has a chronic (but not terminal or even severe) illness and he wanted to only be with someone with no health problems!

Dating older men is no guarantee of what you are looking for.
posted by cairdeas at 7:13 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am a 32-year-old man. I was happily married to a woman a year older than I. Unfortunately, she passed away young from cancer. I am now happily dating a woman 8 years younger than I. If anything, her being 24 seemed like it might be a problem due to lack of maturity, though that hasn't actually been the case. I know other men roughly my age who will refuse to date women (for example) under 25, due to not wanting to deal with people who are, in essence, still children. And what I mean by "still children" is something you might not understand at your age, but if you call your parents when your car breaks down, or you're having difficulty getting the cell phone company to waive your early termination fee and you ask your parents for help, or your parents pay any of your bills, except possibly your health insurance, you're "still children" because you can't take care of yourself without your parents' help. Learn to take care of yourself before you start looking for a more mature man, because he's either looking for an adult woman to spend his life with, or a young attractive plaything that he can ditch whenever he gets bored.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:48 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If a man in his late 30s, the kind of high-education high-SES man you seem to be considering for marriage, is single, it means that either he's gotten to that age without seriously dating, he's gotten to that age without managing to commit to someone he was seriously dating, or he's already been married and the marriage failed. Do any of those options make you feel like he's more likely to be the lifelong partner you're looking for?

Or maybe he simply hasn't found the right person to commit to in the way the OP is looking for and is still looking for that person. Or any number of other reasons that don't imply there's something "wrong" with him.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:20 PM on September 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

My number one goal in life is to have a happy and productive marriage and I think that the only way I can achieve it is to select someone who will love me even when gravity and wrinkles take over twenty or thirty years down the road.

There are no guarantees in life. I know you don't want to get hurt, but just remember there is no equation and life is unpredictable.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:25 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Based on scientific research, according to health issues, you should marry someone 10 years your junior. Really. I actually went to a conference on aging and allowing especially for the estrogen and heart disease factors, women age slower. So if you both want to be in the nursing home together get a guy 10 years younger. :-)
posted by PJMoore at 9:50 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a 50+ year old guy looking for a mate, you couldn't pay me to make the decision based on age unless it was to rule out anyone over 10 (?) years younger. I like to get laid and a hard body has it pluses, but I look for someone of sound moral character, with similar sense of humor, with similar life experiences and challenges and who has similar sleeping habits. For whatever reason, I seem to date a lot of skinny gals, but it is not a conscience decision.

If I had to pick one statistical measure to try to increase my potential for a successful marriage, it would be to find someone with a similar sense of humor. Age is much much lower on the list.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:10 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I met my husband just over a year ago - he was married (but separated) with two daughters aged 5 and 9. I was 24, he was 31.

We met online (through okcupid.com, if it matters) and we knew within days how great we were for each other. I never imagined I would marry a man who'd already been married, or who had kids. I didn't really ever think about our ages, either. We met, and his personality and mine worked. When I am fifty and he is fifty-seven, our personalities will still work.

I think that if you want to meet somebody who will match you forever, think about *what* sort of person you would like to meet, not how old they are, and go from there. You want somebody who doesn't care about your wrinkles (in future), because that's not who you are, so why should how old they are now (which is not who they are, either) matter?

If you're not a mainstream, bar-and-club kinda person (which I'm not), I do think online dating is a great place to "meet" people and find out who interests you based on their personality, not how they look or how old they are. If you can talk online for a while, without the leader of sex or appearance or whatever, then it's worth getting to know them more.

Good luck!
posted by aletheianink at 10:14 PM on September 27, 2013

Uh, women cheat, too. Character does not arrive or depart based on genital configuration.

And it's not unknown for women to change their minds. Or dump their husbands. Or take advantage of the older and weaker.

And it's not unusual for people, as they age, to have a progression of "number one most important things in life". You are different people at different points in your life, strung together by the threads of your experiences, and your memory, but with goals, aspirations, and realities you cannot even begin to imagine until they sit in your lap. Like, say, breast cancer. Or heart disease. Or a major car wreck. If you think your shiny, new pristine little body won't betray you when reality wants it to, you are not alone, nor will you be alone when it finally does. Wrinkly skin is only part of it.

And skeeze? It starts at birth. If it's in a man or woman at 50, it was there at 15. The trick is to avoid it. Learning that takes experience. Experience takes age. Age is your friend in making good relationship decisions, not your enemy.

Knowing your enemy is essential if you hope to defeat it.

To steal a sadly misappropriated phrase from the Boy Scouts, "Character counts". Half the posts here at mefi are illustrations of how hard it is to assess that in one's self and in others.

One measure of it is how racist, sexist, and age-ist you are. Being discriminating is a good thing, but being unfairly so, not.

Formulas don't work that well for relationships. Counselors never pull out a calculator to see where the failure was.

What works is judgment. Most of what will make your relationship with whomever you choose work is in your hands. How will you make a mutually-satisfying and growth-producing relationship? How will you choose who you choose and how will they choose you? How can you replace wishing for something with intending something?
posted by FauxScot at 3:57 AM on September 28, 2013

Best answer: I married at your age. I don't have sufficient hindsight to explain everything since, but I believe this much: you should probably wait another five to ten years. The self knowledge, self care, self respect, self awareness and self confidence you'll have by then are likely not available to you now, no matter how precocious.
posted by ead at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chiming in on the "what 'growing body of scientific research' are you talking about?" and also pointing out that if a woman marries a man 15 years older than herself, statistically speaking she's looking at 20+ years of widowhood.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am married to a man six and a half years older than I am, whom I met (and began dating) when I was 20. We've been together for very nearly 18 years now, and while nobody can be absolutely guaranteed that their marriage is solid, we've stayed strong and on each other's team throughout mental illness, chronic physical illness, multiple pregnancy problems, children, job loss, and more. Of the factors that have contributed to our success, I'd put our age difference at the absolute bottom.

In my experience, if you want a lasting partnership, you need to look for:

1. Someone who is kind, compassionate, and respectful. Without these three qualities, you're fucked.
2. Someone who has similar values to yours, but a different kind of personality; someone who has complimentary strengths to yours. It's fine if one of you hates making phone calls or gets the heebie-jeebies dealing with a family budget if the other person is happy to take on those responsibilities, particularly if you can easily step up to take care of household DIY or doing the dishes or something that your partner really doesn't like.
3. Someone who finds delight in the same kinds of things that you do. Not a complete overlap in interests, just a handful of things that bring both of you real joy.
4. Someone who is willing to look at their own role in conflicts, who is willing to unpack their own baggage.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you yourself need to be kind, compassionate, and respectful, and willing to examine your own stuff. That's a lot to ask of a 21-year-old, but there's no time like the present to start working on it.
posted by KathrynT at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

As I understand it, the half-your-age-plus-seven thing is not meant to indicate an ideal age gap, but rather to indicate the line where the age gap moves into creepiness or May/December territory or whatever.
posted by box at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

(That's not to say I agree with the h-y-a-p-s thing, because I don't.)
posted by box at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2013

Best answer: I like to flip things around and play them out to see if my conclusions still make sense. It doesn't always track exactly perfectly, but it leads to insight for me.

15 years is a lot at your age. That's a 35 year old man. That doesn't seem so bad now, you are both sort of on the edges of the "young adult" category, but what happens when you are 30 and married to a 45 year old? You still feel young and he is careening head-long into middle age.

I suspect the research is sort of backwards-viewing. Meaning that when a 15 year gap works, it works really well. Not *because* of the gap, but because people with that age gap who make it to marriage are exceptional and have already overcome a ton of obstacles.

Work on finding someone who is a grown-up, mo matter what their age happens to be. That will be far more useful than trying to adhere to some rule.

And yes, half your age plus seven identifies the limits of the age gap. It might not be a universal law, but it is surprisingly prescient. 14:14, 16:15, 18:16, 20:17, 22:18, 30:22, 40:27, 50:32, and so on.
posted by gjc at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cultures in which it is expected that men will marry women who are significantly younger than themselves are typically called patriarchies, i.e. there is a significant power imbalance, men have more power, and they want to maintain it. Yes, sadly, there are still places in which girls as young as 8 are married off to men in their forties and older.

If you want a more equitable relationship look for someone closer to your age. As PJMoore suggests above it might even be better (eventually, when you are somewhat older) to find a man a few years younger than you since women tend to age better and live longer. This might also help with the power imbalance issue since, let's face it, men still have more power in this world in virtually every society.
posted by mareli at 4:03 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The research finding makes sense to me. The most amazing guy I've ever met is 15 years older than me. I think that guys in their early 40s are more mature, caring and know how to treat a woman with respect than guys in their early 30s. Unfortunately, they are either married or divorced and/or have children. Plus, they think that a woman 15 years younger is way too young for them.
posted by liltiger at 5:30 AM on September 29, 2013

Best answer: Not to pile on, but the age gap 100% depends upon the people involved, whether they are young/old for their age, their maturity level, etc. There is 8 years between me and my husband which is "ideal" for us because our personalities click and we have the same goals and ambitions.

Just find the right person.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:28 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

ideal age gap

Ideal for what, exactly and specifically? If the answer is "marriage" what about marriage specifically is that the ideal age gap for accomplishing?

Ideal for who, exactly?
posted by yohko at 10:50 PM on September 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you guys SO much for helping me realize that age is just a number and that emotional maturity matters so much more. He's 32, I'm 21, and stats aren't going to change the love we feel for each other. I've put my Excel file of Doom to rest and am just going to enjoy this amazing feeling without being a neurotic freak. I love him, he loves me, and he wants to spend his life with me. I may age, but he promised that he's going to love me forever and that he picks me as his first-choice over all the other girls he could have chosen. This is literally the happiest I've ever, ever, ever been in my entire life! You guys really, really, really rock.

posted by lotusmish at 10:25 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a lot of fear-mongering out there about relationships - a lot of it pseudo-science or dumbed down science, quoted because it sells magazines and page views. Some things to keep in mind:

When people say that 50% of all marriages fail, that means ALL marriages. The more times you've been married, the more likely you are to divorce. There are many of us who are still married to our first and only spouse, or who are married again because of bereavement. You don't go into your marriage with a fifty-fifty chance; if you make it to 2 years, then 7 years, then 11 years, and you're happy -- you're probably going to do OK.

Infidelity impacts many marriages. Sometimes it's women who cheat, not men. Some of those marriages stay intact anyway, and continue.

Analyze research carefully. If it was a study done at a university with a group of thirty 18-year old students, that does not mean it really represents adults. You have to consider the sample taken, where they came from, their maturity level. You also should analyze any evident bias - if the researcher is someone who tends to announce controversial, sexist ideas independent of his or her research, for instance.

Compatibility is key, and that goes beyond sexual attraction to having similar interests and a desire to grow through adventures together. That can happen at different ages, but I'm one of the many out there who happily married a guy born in the same year.

My dad, by the way, is a retired social scientist who used to buy into some of the ridiculous ideas about men ultimately selecting younger women because of sociobiology, and healthy genes, etc. He is a lovely man but grew up too late for the women's movement to impact his attitude about gender roles, but was highly influenced by people in his own field - also old white men about the same age - who were arguing that "biology is destiny". So I used to hear this crap growing up, around the same time those magazine covers would say things like, "women over forty more likely to be killed by terrorist than find new husband"... and it also made me fearful and cynical about finding a man who would love me for me, and not dump me. Well, when my parents divorced, due to my mother being a jerk, my father naturally started dating a lot of women who were younger than him. He was involved with a very difficult woman about ten years younger than him, and after hearing about his troubles with her, I suggested that maybe he'd have better luck not dating boomers. (Sorry, boomers - she was kind of a stereotypical, self-absorbed "seeker" type.) My point was that it really helps to have a common frame of reference, as well as common interests and a lively friendship and sex life. One day, after the breakup, and a disappointing date with another younger woman, he called me and announced that maybe I was right, and he needed to date women around his own age. The next woman he got involved with, he was much more relaxed with and happy with - and she is the same age. He can still look at and enjoy younger women - window shopping's free, doncha know - but for a relationship, he's sticking with his own age now.

My dad is actually a really nice man - but one thing I've noticed over the years is that a lot of the men who post on the Internet about getting submissive wives from other countries, American wimmen be bitches, I'm only dating young, nubile women etc... these guys are pretty unhappy. They're not satisfied. It's about them, not the women they're with. It's important not to conflate the value judgments of some bozos who aren't able to face their own flaws, with the fact that some marriages end in midlife because, you know - people weren't that well matched, or they grew apart. There are LOTS of guys out there who aren't bozos, who are brave enough to grow up with you, and fun to be around. Worry instead that you won't have time to date enough of these guys before you find the one you want to grow old with.
posted by mitschlag at 9:50 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait -- you're 21, and you're dating a 32-year-old, and you were freaking out because you were worried he was too young for you?

Now I've heard it all.

(But he sounds great, and you sound really happy!)
posted by escabeche at 6:17 PM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

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