Age-Gap Dating is Here To Stay. If you don't want to die alone... Adapt!

It's Valentines Day and what better topic to discuss than the one I am faced with all the time in the spaces I frequent.

It's time to admit it: you're not as young as you used to be. But that doesn't mean you're past your dating prime! In fact, it's becoming pretty common to see older men with younger women

The statistics speak for themselves. An incredible 56% of women state they prefer to date a guy older than them – and 45% of those women want their man to be between 5 and 15 years older than they are!

Celebrity news stories are filled with May-December romances. In September 2023, Chris Evans and Alba Baptista tied the knot, according to Page Six — their 16-year age difference highlighting the fact that he could have driven to the hospital the day she was born. In the same month, Josh Duhamel and his wife Audra Mari (who have a 21-year age difference) announced on Instagram that they’re expecting their first child together. Then, of course, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio, who at 49 years old is known for dating much younger women, including his current girlfriend, 25-year-old model Vittoria Ceretti, per Us Magazine.

While couples with big age gaps can certainly work (just look at Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, whose 21-year relationship almost matches their 22-year age gap), they’re often subjected to a lot of criticism. Individuals who are in such relationships are often tagged with monikers like “cougar,” “cradle robber,” or “gold digger,” and according to research, the relationships are often viewed as inequitable, with the older partner reaping more benefits than the younger partner.

But just as the staying power of any relationship can’t be boiled down to a single factor, social stigmas surrounding May-December romances don’t indicate that such relationships are doomed to fail. “The healthiness of a partnership is based on both partners having shared values, respect, strong communication, and the desire to learn, grow, and continue to be curious about one another,” says Naomi Pharr, LMSW, who specializes in relationship therapy at the New York City Psychotherapy Collective. That said, age-gap relationships may have a few extra challenges to consider — here’s what you should know.

‘Norms’ When It Comes to Age and Relationships

Factors like whether a couple is married or in a same-sex relationship affect the average age gap. Plus, outside of Western cultures, “normal” age gaps may vary, with larger gaps being more common, says Pharr.

According to 2021 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, when it comes to opposite-sex partnerships, cohabitating couples average a 4.3-year age difference, and married couples average a 3.7-year age difference. “Males tend to be the older partner in opposite-sex partnerships,” adds Pharr.

Male-male relationships tend to have larger age gaps, averaging roughly 7 years, regardless of whether the couple is married or cohabitating, according to the latest census data. Female-female relationships average about 4.6 years (for cohabitating couples) and 5 years (for married couples).

Regardless of the type of relationship or marriage status, across the board, these averages still remain less than the more-than-10-years difference that researchers have cited as the benchmark for an “age-gap couple.”

There are legitimate reasons why relationships between couples of a similar age might work more easily than those with a wider gap. “Similar-aged partnerships tend to work because people like a partner with whom they can share common values and thinking and grow alongside, as well as being in the same life stage,” says Pharr. It makes sense that an individual in their mid-twenties, for example, who is likely in the early stages of their career and still defining their long-term goals and values, might find it easier to connect with someone at a similar life stage than someone in their late thirties or early forties with a well-defined career, family plan, and life path.

What Attracts Younger Women To Older men?

Summarizing everything that younger women love in older guys would take hours. However, there are some stand-out characteristics that we older-aged guys possess over younger men, which the fairer sex finds absolutely irresistible.

Like a well-aged wine or classic car, there are certain things we can provide that the latest model never could.

Class and Maturity In Older Men

We've been through our crazy 20s and came out the other side. Wild all-nighters, booze-fueled partying, and risky business isn't our deal anymore. Been there, done it, and earned the t-shirt as proof. 

Do you really think women find wild-card 20-something-year-olds attractive? For a quick fling, maybe. But for true maturity and stability, who do you think they look to? You guessed it – us mature fellas!

In short, a slightly older man provides a level of maturity that younger guys just can't. They'll get there eventually, but while they catch up, we can reap the benefits of our years of experience.

Older Guys Can Look After Themselves

Do you think I still ask my parents for money or need their help doing my laundry or fixing a shelf? Of course not!

I'm guessing most of you guys are the same. You've had a family you needed to support, which means you had to learn specific skills to be a successful man. After a while, you pick things up pretty quickly and become the guy your family comes to for advice, support, and help.

Can you see why that would be attractive to a 30-year-old woman looking to start a family of her own? She has a choice, date a younger guy who doesn't know his butt from his elbow when it comes to DIY or date an experienced man who knows how to fix her problems without the help of his parents.

It's a pretty easy choice for her to make, let's be honest!

Challenges to Age-Gap Relationships

Not being at the same life stage is a major factor when it comes to some of the challenges experienced by those in relationships with a 10-year or greater gap. For instance, a much older partner may be more likely to experience health issues or have concerns that a younger partner might not relate to. Of course, that doesn’t mean the relationship can’t work, but certainly, to stay on the same page, consistent communication is required.

Pharr states that this internal challenge is likely one of the most difficult, as it can be hard to make room to accommodate a partner’s needs when they’re at a different life stage. “One way to work through this challenge is to build strong and consistent communication. Relationships begin to experience fractures when communication falters,” she says.

Then, of course, there are external challenges as well. The social stigma surrounding age-gap relationships can’t be ignored, and depending on the people in the relationship, may contribute to extra stress or problems. “Age-gap relationships tend to be judged more harshly than non-age-gap ones, and outside opinions can affect the relationship,” says Martha Tara Lee, a relationship counselor and certified sexuality educator in private practice in Singapore.

In the same vein, Pharr mentions that it’s common for the legitimacy of age-gap relationships to be questioned — with a younger “gold digger” partner supposedly only in it for the money, or an older “cougar” or “cradle robber” only in it for sex and appearances. This is something that may not matter for couples with a solid and secure relationship, but it could wreak havoc if there’s a lack of trust or communication between partners.

In some instances, these perceptions could also be reality, as Lee points out that power imbalances can also impact the long-term viability of age-gap relationships. “Power imbalances can lead to issues with decision-making and control,” she says. For instance, if the older partner is more financially secure, they may consciously or unconsciously try to control the trajectory and decisions of the couple, which may ultimately cause a rift.

Safeguarding Age-Gap Relationships Against Challenges

According to research, older partners in an age-gap relationship tend to be more satisfied with their relationship for the first 6 to 10 years than partners in a similarly age-matched relationship. But after the initial years? Their satisfaction declines at a more significant rate than age-matched partners. The researchers also found that age-gap couples who experienced worsening finances had a bigger decrease in marital satisfaction compared with similarly aged couples, which supported their theory that age-gap couples “are less resilient to negative shocks” than age-matched couples, due to their different life stages.

That said, while it may be a challenge to keep the love going strong, some of the other assumptions about age-gap relationships appear to be largely unfounded. For instance, there’s research to support that younger women in age-gap relationships largely have secure attachment styles, debunking the idea that they may suffer from “daddy issues.” Other research also indicates that partners in age-discrepant relationships tend to score better on measures of trust, unselfish love, and jealousy than those in age-similar relationships. In other words, age-gap relationships can be quite healthy.

In fact, the age gap itself could lend itself to more and better communication about the relationship and each partner’s expectations and needs. “Because age is such a visible and constant marker in society, it will likely have a similar role within a relationship. An age gap can encourage more conversation in the partnership because the couple’s difference tends to be at the forefront of the partners’ experience, thus they are more intentional about thinking about, and making space for difference, on a regular basis,” explains Pharr.

And truly, any solid and lasting relationship boils down to communication, trust, and support. Both Pharr and Lee emphasize that developing and committing to healthy communication is the best way to safeguard an age-gap relationship from significant problems. “Prioritizing communication, accepting that change is the only constant in growth, and making space for individual and joint needs within the partnership all need to exist to continue to grow together,” says Pharr.

Older Guys Are More Romantic

I'll be honest – when I was in my 20s, I cared a lot about what my friends thought of me. If I showed my romantic side in front of any of my buddies in my fraternity, they would tease me about it for weeks.

It's the same for most younger guys. They think that you can't be manly and romantic at the same time. Unfortunately, this often leads to them not treating their girl right and pushing her away.

As a 50+ guy, I know this from first-hand experience – as do most older men. That very fact makes older men incredibly attractive to younger women. No woman wants a man who plays games and makes her feel unloved. Date a 20-year-old, and she risks being treated like an afterthought whenever her man's friends are in town. Date a 50-year-old, and she pretty much guarantees love and respect regardless of who's in the room.

It just is what it is. Get used to it. It will be you soon.