How young is too young
May 23, 2006 11:04 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine who is 19 is dating a 16 year old girl. He is getting a lot of negative comments about him and keeps trying to confide in me. I think if the chemistry is there and they are cool with it why not. Any opinions?
posted by isopropyl to Human Relations (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's definitley weird.

Short version, the maturity gap between a 19 and a 16 year old is pretty large. That's what usually prevents these relationships from working out. If there's not a similar gap here, or they don't care about it, you need to question why the relationship is still going on.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:09 PM on May 23, 2006

There are 3 major aspects to this question:

What is culturally acceptable?

In the US, this isn't really very 'acceptable' but it is fairly common practice. Usually an older boy dates a younger girl because they're easier to locate and date than girls his own age. He appears mature to her.

What is legally acceptable?

In the US, this isn't legally acceptable if it in any way involves sex. Your friend could get in a lot of trouble. Does he want to be in a sex offender database down the road?

What is acceptable to your friends?

Many things which are not culturally or legally acceptable can be acceptable to your friends, who are important in these kinds of situations. For example, your friends might like doing coke but that's not publicly or legally acceptable. But often they reflect the opinion of the culture as a whole, which (IMHO) basically says:

No, it's not really OK, it's just barely OK. If she were 18 and he 21, things would be different. And as you age the gap closes rather quickly, at least in my experience.
posted by fake at 11:21 PM on May 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

He's, what? A year out of high school? And she's about to start her junior year? Seniors date freshmen all the time; here, the age gap is smaller and they're both older. Just warn him about statutory rape laws. Even if he trusts her, even if she loves him — you'd be amazed how quickly these things can turn south and go somewhere you'd never imagined.
posted by cribcage at 11:22 PM on May 23, 2006

I don't think3 years is that big. I think the variance in individual maturity per age is greater then 1.5 years at the point, so it's not improbable to find a 16 year old with +1.5 years relative maturity, and a man with -1.5 years relative maturity making them at roughly the same level.

Especially if it's a younger girl with an older boy, since my teacher friend claims that her girls are a year or two ahead of the boys on average when it comes to how they seem to behave.
posted by Jezztek at 11:22 PM on May 23, 2006

This sounds like a bad idea. I have heard too many bad stories involving statutory rape issues (not that I'm saying your friend is having sex with the 16 year old, but I can't assume he's not.)

I second the maturity difference between ages. She's still looking forward to junior prom and he's maybe either in college or starting his life as an adult. Huge difference in experiences and priorities.

At this age, there is absolutely no harm in dating someone closer to their age or if they're somehow completely committed, waiting a coupole years for her to get out of high school.
posted by like_neon at 11:25 PM on May 23, 2006

In the US, this isn't legally acceptable if it in any way involves sex. Your friend could get in a lot of trouble

Are you sure, I know my state (and I thought most states) explicitly state that the statutory rape laws only apply to relationships with a difference in age greater then 3 years.

I thought the 3 years rule was a pretty standard maximum legal limit for relationships that straddles the +/- 18 years line.
posted by Jezztek at 11:26 PM on May 23, 2006

No, there is nothing wrong with it at all. It's not weird.

Age (for the most part), is just a number. It has to do with maturity. Hell, she could be more mature than he is.

No, it's not really OK, it's just barely OK.

3 years? It's as ok as ok can be.
posted by justgary at 11:26 PM on May 23, 2006

AS long as they are "mature" enough to forgo sex for two years BFD. And the sex thing is primarly... ok almost completely legality concerns. It is impossible to know the level of maturity of these two indivduals, so almost impossible to give any other answer than that
posted by edgeways at 11:26 PM on May 23, 2006

Age of consent by state (AS OF 2001)
Generally, when someone of or over the age of consent has sex with someone below the age of consent, it is considered statutory rape.
posted by edgeways at 11:30 PM on May 23, 2006

In the US, this isn't legally acceptable if it in any way involves sex. Your friend could get in a lot of trouble. Does he want to be in a sex offender database down the road?

This is simply not true. Age of consent varies state by state. Here in Iowa, it's actually only 14. here is a state by state (and country by country) guide, and the first hit on google...
posted by delmoi at 11:36 PM on May 23, 2006

You should ignore every statement made here telling you it's flat-out illegal, and go look up the laws for your state (those of you making comments like that should know better). More than just Iowa pegs it at 14, and even if it is higher, the age gap also factors in--it's not a simple "she's underage: illegal!" judgement.

As far as it goes ethically, I'd only presume the guy couldn't find anyone closer to his own age to date. Then again, maybe they are equally matched on the maturity side of things, and it's a great pairing...
posted by hototogisu at 11:41 PM on May 23, 2006

Age doesn't always correspond to year in school - I was 17 when I graduated, not 18. She could be a senior, or she could have been held back a year and be a sophomore.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:42 PM on May 23, 2006

Don't be a teen getting involved in teen BS.

The best advice you can get.
posted by sourwookie at 11:57 PM on May 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Definitely check the state laws if in the US. I'm almost sure I dated a 16 year old when I was 19 but that was a long time ago. Age is just a number but no one wants to come up against "the man" if they can help it. There are situations where it is inappropriate for a 19 year old to date a 16 year old and others where it isn't (Unless the 16 year old is my daughter, if I had one. In that case it is always inappropriate.).
posted by Carbolic at 11:57 PM on May 23, 2006

I know a 16 year old girl dating a guy with a similar age gap. It's somewhat long term, and they both seem to be responsible about it. It was a little strange at first, but from what I can see (and it's admittedly from some distance, as I'm friends with the girl, but we're not particularly close), they seem to be in a pretty healthy relationship. The parents know about it. Had quite a shock when they first found out I hear, but I think they've warmed up to it. Overall I'd say it isn't completely unreasonable, but I'd have apprehensions upon first hearing it.
posted by phr4gmonk3y at 12:03 AM on May 24, 2006

If it's my daughter, it's not okay with me because the life experience and power base is unbalanced, that is, it is probably easier for a 19yo man to convince a 16yo girl to do things (sex, drugs, that sort of thing) she might not otherwise. Luckily, it's not my daughter. What do her parents think? She's a minor where you live, right?
posted by b33j at 12:05 AM on May 24, 2006

I was 16 when I started going out with my partner, she was 19 at the time. Tomorrow we celebrate our 10 anniversary!

I totally agree with the people saying age doesn't matter, the maturity level of both parties is key. Tell him to ignore the negative comments about him and be a good friend.
posted by X-00 at 12:08 AM on May 24, 2006

If it's my daughter, it's not okay with me because the life experience and power base is unbalanced

You don't know that. At 16 I had been all over the world. I had friends who at 19 had never left their home town. Life experience at that close an age can be all over the place.

And power balance? She could be a strong willed senior in high school, out going and confident, ready for college. He could be a shy guy in his first year of college who hasn't dated much. You're assuming and dealing in old stereotypes.

it is probably easier for a 19yo man to convince a 16yo girl to do things (sex, drugs, that sort of thing) she might not otherwise.

What about 18, would that be better? 17? They're just numbers. If you have to depend on a guy being 17 instead of 19 to keep her off drugs or out of bed, you're in trouble.

Look isopropyl, your question is screwed from the beginning. There's not enough information. Is she mature at 16 or just starting dating? Is he in college or did he just graduate high school? So none of these answers are answering your situation. They're useless.

But is it wrong for a 19 year old to date a 16 year old on age alone? No. My mother and father had a 17 year difference and were married 27 years until he died. Don't listen to the naysayers. There are far, far more important details than a 3 year difference.
posted by justgary at 12:39 AM on May 24, 2006

I would tell this guy to be verrrrry careful.

In a normal romantic relationship, a disagreement or meddling parent might lead to arguments, fights, threats, a breakup, rotten things that you none the less all get over. In a 16-19 relationship (which is made abnormal by the law), you could get all that and the older one could go to prison, and the younger one get a convicted sex offender for a partner, and the older one's parents get a convicted sex offender for a child, and the legal fees could bankrupt the family, and so on. It's potentially very messy for what could be (and usually is, at 16 or at 19) a quick fling.

But even if he now decides to back out of it, could it be too late? If she's illegal (or was when he first started having sex with her) and he now leaves her feeling hurt and angry because he abandoned her, she and her parents will be dangerous to that bastard ex-boyfriend (child molester, rapist, whatever they want to accuse him of). Maybe he's trapped.

He should ask a lawyer -- "In my situation, in this jurisdiction, can I go to jail for dating and having sex with this girl?" -- and then decide what to do. He may be stuck with her, even if he does want out.
posted by pracowity at 1:10 AM on May 24, 2006

It's fine, relax. I'm assuming you're talking about yourself, albeit in a veiled way.

You sound genuinely hurt by the negative attention that your relationship has attracted. Posting this question shows that you are capable of reflecting about your relationship in a critical way, which immediately gains my trust. It's usually not the abusive, manipulative partners that ask for public approval.

I agree with justgary absolutely. Don't mind the naysayers.
posted by ori at 2:47 AM on May 24, 2006

Good lord. Three years isn't a noteworthy age gap. My parents-in-law have 42 years between them, and have now been married for 26 years. I dated a 27-year-old when I was 15 (and I corrupted him! and we both turned out just fine).

Follow your heart, and don't let the doom-mongers grind you down.
posted by goo at 3:22 AM on May 24, 2006

I dated a 16 year old when I was 19. We broke up, then got back together a year later and stayed together for almost 4 years. She's still one of my close friends to this day, almost 10 years after we first started dating. Ignore all the people saying it's wrong. If the maturity levels are a match (and the parents don't mind, and you don't have statrape law issues to deal with), then let your (friend's) freak flag fly!

It is probably easier for a 19yo man to convince a 16yo girl to do things (sex, drugs, that sort of thing) she might not otherwise

Your daughter is not the angel you think she is. Seriously, she's not. And it doesn't matter WHAT age the boy is - a 16 year old boy can be just as persuasive at getting her pants off as a 19 year old boy.
posted by antifuse at 3:23 AM on May 24, 2006

I've been that 16 year old. I've actually been that 13-17 year old dating somone anywhere from 18-26. At the time I (and everyone around me) thought I was oh so mature for my age. Some of the age differences were more acceptable than others. Sitting here as a 24 year old, I wish I had left most of them alone as most of them were creepy or just plain bad for me.
posted by nadawi at 3:27 AM on May 24, 2006

I'm 7 1/2 years older than my husband. Age difference by itself is not wrong. It's the fact that one of these people is a minor that gives me pause.

You haven't given us enough information.

Ask yourself these questions:
- Do their parents know about the relationship?
- Do others know about the relationship? Do they try to hide it from anybody?
- Does he ever tell her she can't understand something because she isn't old enough, or assert his authority based on his age?
- Does he habitually date people who are +1 years younger than him? If so, is it because he can't handle adult women, or because he likes to exert control, or is it because he's shy, or just the way things have worked out?
- Does she habitually date people who are +1 years older than her? Does she have daddy issues? Does she expect her partners to, to some extent, parent her?
- Are there extenuating circumstances that make her more mature and/or him immature?
- Do they have similar ideas of where the relationship is going? (I.e., do they both want to settle down together or are they both just having a good time, or does one expect a much different level of commitment than the other)

And find out about the statutory rape lies in your state.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:31 AM on May 24, 2006

posted by joannemerriam at 3:31 AM on May 24, 2006

I’ve been on both sides of this.
When I was 15 I dated a 19 year old. She was a Mormon and in our third week of dating she decided that we should get engaged. I was in no way ready for that, being happy just to be fooling around with someone regularly ran for the hills.

When I was 21 I dated a 16 year old girl. She turned 17 about a week into the relationship. She was smart, mature, strong willed and our personalities meshed well together. None of our friends thought our age difference was important once they saw us interact with each other. Her parents and I even got along well, they trusted their daughter.

That being said there were probably some legal issues with these relationships but it never became an issue. As to how young is too young I think it really comes down to maturity levels rather than an arbitrary number. If he’s not taking advantage of her immaturity I don’t see a problem with it.
posted by Tenuki at 3:49 AM on May 24, 2006

Jesus, everything in the US is about legal ramifications these days - pathetic.

There's nothing twisted about your friends relationship, just the world around them. I was 18 when I met my Girlfriend and she was 15. 13 years later we are still happily together.
posted by twistedonion at 3:54 AM on May 24, 2006

It boils down to this: the relationship can definitely work and be good for the people in it, depending on the people, but a but like a lite version of being a gay couple, they'll have to deal with stress put on the relationship by the frequent disapproval of others.

Is it worth that stress and disapproval?
Is it able to withstand an unyeilding barrage of that stress and disapproval without going bad?
Is it a good thing?

If all three answers are yes, then... yes :)

If it's a long term thing, the problem will go away - a 21-year old going out with a 18 year-old is less scandelous. And no-one would blink at a 29 year old going out with a 26 year old.

I was going out with a 17 year-old at 21, we would have been more shocked than any when we found out, but it wasn't the slightest problem. I guess if we didn't realise, not many others did either :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:23 AM on May 24, 2006

x / 2 + 7 = 19 / 2 + 7 = 16.5.

He might just be okay.
posted by jon_kill at 5:46 AM on May 24, 2006

When my wife and I met, I was 16 and she was 19. She was worried about the age difference and asked a few people what they thought. She was told she "had to" break up with me. She didn't.

Lucky us.
posted by louigi at 5:56 AM on May 24, 2006

I love it how the 19 year old guys supposedly have these super powers to corrupt and lead into sin 16 year old girls.
They'll get them hooked into drugs and sex and oh my all sorts of other things.
So females at that age don't pursue or want sex or relationships? The 19 yr old guy seems to be painted like he's a predator.
and since everyone here is relating the question to personal experience, I had a few friends in my late teens who were relentlessly and agressively pursued by girls usually 2-3 yrs younger. These guys were so into sports, videogames, their cars, and drinking and they were the prey. A problem I wished I had more times than I wished to remember.

The naysayers here that have answered the question have painted such dark inferences and generalizations and have jumped to nightly news sensationalistic conclusions on it.

Let the kids have fun, as long as she's of age. But even then the 19yr old is not in the wrong as long as she's mature and ok with it. The only problem of course is legally according to their local laws. But morally I think they are ok, here's to hoping a potentailly successful realtionship doesn't get derailed because of these wet blankets.
posted by stavx at 6:03 AM on May 24, 2006

I know a 23 year old man who dated a 16 year old girl -- she pursued him. After two years, they got married. Six years later they had their first kid. 35 years later, they're still married. He's 58, she's 51. Was this wrong? They don't seem to think so. At the time, they got a lot of flack. Today, though, they seem to think that sticking it out was the best thing they ever did.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:25 AM on May 24, 2006

Forget the flack, as long as they aren't sheet surfing. Three years isn't that big of a difference. My dad started going out with my mother when he was just out of high school and she was a freshman (19 and 14). They're still married, and had their first kid (me) at age 23 and 28, and another 4 years later. What matters is the individual maturity level of each, not the statistical maturity level.
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:38 AM on May 24, 2006

It depends on the couple. The girl I dated for a long time was much younger than me (5 years), but she had the maturity of someone older, and I the wisdom to take things slowly.

Dan Savage, who writes the "Savage Love" advice column, once wrote of the "campground rule". Namely, "Leave it in better shape than when you got there." If you think your friend has the maturity to obey this rule, let him proceed advising due caution. However, should you think he does not have this maturity, advise due caution on a regular basis.

In the end, it's up to him.
posted by BioCSnerd at 6:47 AM on May 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Let me throw my voice in with the chorus of 'it's not number, but maturity levels that matter (in all ways that don't involve the laws, where it's the number that matter, and not the maturity levels)'.

This might be fine, and it might be icky, and which of the two it is depends entirely on whether the two of them are maturity appropriate for each other. If the negative commentors are default condemning it because of the numbers, you can probably ignore them, but listen carefully to ensure they're not also commenting on the larger issues.

The high school / out of high school line is an absolutely huge one in terms of maturity levels, regardless of the age of the graduates / students. A 16 year old in school and a 17 year old who has graduated vs. a 14 year old freshman dating an 18 year old senior vs. a 17 year old graduate dating a 24 year old graduate - all very different scenarios, and it's the one where they're closest in age that would make me worry the most (assuming, that is, that they started dating after one of them graduated, carry over relationships from high school are a little different).
posted by jacquilynne at 6:51 AM on May 24, 2006

The "why not" is the potential legal problem. And the law is not very simple on this matter: consider the two following Q&As from concerning the state where I live, Texas:
if a 17 year old male is dating a 15 year old female with parental consent on both sides what if any crimanal consequences could result?

Because the female is over 14, and they are less than 3 years apart, there aren't any criminal consequences that can result from consentual sexual activity.
In Texas, is it considered statutory rape when a 16 year old female is with a 21 year old male?

If there were any type of sexual contact between the two people at those ages, the male would be guilty of indecency with a child, a second degree felony. This carries a 2-20 year sentence, and up to a $10,000 fine, as well as mandatory registration as a sex offender upon release.
To be honest, I don't know how authoritative those answers are (and the misspelling in the former answer raises my eyebrow). But it's clearly a minefield, and your friend should find out where he stands legally. Being a registered sex offender must suck rocks.

Also according to, in some states, statutory rape charges can be brought by the parents or even the state over the objections of all other parties involved.
posted by adamrice at 6:52 AM on May 24, 2006

When my parents married my dad was 23 and my mum was 17. They're still together.
posted by lowlife at 7:10 AM on May 24, 2006

Eh... Once you're out of high school, dating girls who are still in high school is kinda skeevy. As is dating someone who can't drink when you're over 21. It's not so much maturity levels as cultural problems. It can work, but those are the exceptions and not the rule (despite the skewed sample here at MeFi).
posted by klangklangston at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2006

It really depends on the parents. It does depend on the state as well, though three years difference is so little that some places make exceptions to their laws for it. If they're in a state with an age 16 age of consent, no worries -- if it's 17 or 18 in their state, better watch out. I've been the 19 year old dating the 16 year old, and it only worked at all because I made a point of being on good terms with her parents -- it would have just been too trivial for them to make my life miserable otherwise (even if Age of Consent laws are on your side, there's always the ever popular "corruption of a minor" charge, at very least).

That said, 19-16 age differences are dirt common -- heck, up in Houghton where half my family lives, the ratio of boys to girls at Michigan Tech is so poor that it's just assumed by everyone that -any- desirable high school girl will be involved with someone from the U.
posted by Pufferish at 8:01 AM on May 24, 2006

My parents married when my Mum was 19 and my Dad was 29 - they're still together after 20 years of marriage. Both their parents were pretty okay with it, working on the basis that they were old enough to make their own decisions, and if you try and prevent it then it will just make them want it all the more.

Therefore I don't think 3 years is too much of a gap - yes, there could be maturity issues, but girls are usually more mature than guys at that age, so I don't see any problem, other than the relevant statutory rape laws that people have mentioned.
posted by philsi at 8:25 AM on May 24, 2006

I dated a 19 year old when I was 16. He was definitely going by Dan Savage's campground rule (er, years before Dan Savage had a column, but the same idea.) Just previous to him, I dated a 19-year-old whom I dumped on his ass when he not only tried to pressure me into sex, but then turned around and propositioned my 14-year-old friend at a party. Same age, two very different ideas about what's okay.

When I was 19, I was involved with a 17 year old. Yeah, it was a bit weird that he was in high school and I was in college, but ultimately moot -- inevitably, he went off to college in a different town.
posted by desuetude at 8:31 AM on May 24, 2006

My friend George is a nice guy. He started dating his girlfriend when he was 17 and she was 14. He graduated and sort of drifted, didn't go to college. Her parents decided he lacked ambition and wasn't good enough for their daughter, and tried chasing him off. But he refused to be chased because he thought he loved the girl. At 19, her parents pressed statutory rape charges after finding a used condom in her room.

He's thirty now, and has to register as a sex offender. It doesn't matter that he's not a predator. No one cares about the story behind his conviction. They just know he's a registered sex offender and they assume he's scum.

Tell your friend to be very careful. Something like this can shape the rest of his life in a bad way.
posted by FunkyHelix at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2006

My girlfriend is nine years younger than me, and she's much more mature than I am.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2006

Wait, wait, wait . . . goo writes: Three years isn't a noteworthy age gap. My parents-in-law have 42 years between them, and have now been married for 26 years.

Can you really mean that, goo? 42 years? So let's say Mother in Law was, to be generous, a blushing bride of 18. Daddy in law was 60? And 26 years later they are still going strong though Daddy is 86? Well. Good on 'em.
posted by The Bellman at 12:43 PM on May 24, 2006

I'm 16 (female) and I would not necessarily feel uncomfortable dating a 19 year old. It would, however, be really dependent on the guy and the situation. And um, I have some friends who might pressure the guy, if you know what I mean. Would people feel less freaked out by 16 and 18? This is basically junior dating graduated senior. Not too weird.
posted by MadamM at 12:43 PM on May 24, 2006

He may be able to date her in some states; He may be able to sleep with her in some states; but if he ever takes a picture of her in even a semi suggestive pose, he could be on his way to a federal child porn investigation. Minors are too much trouble, just find an adult to sleep with, or wait 3 years.
posted by Megafly at 6:23 PM on May 24, 2006

When I was 20/21, I dated a guy that was finishing highschool. He was my first steady boyfriend. I dumped him when I discovered he was fooling around. The dynamic was fascinating in our case. I was far more worldly-wise, yet had never been through the highschool thing (I still am, honestly, boggled that people put up with the BS that entails).

IMO this is all perfectly reasonable, assuming reasonable motivations. And it is only fair to begin with an assumption of reasonableness. To do otherwise is uncivilized.
posted by Goofyy at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2006

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