A May/December romance

In love, how big an age difference is too big?

Published April 9, 2003 7:12PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am currently seeing someone it would be very easy to fall in love with. He's funny and gentle and kind. He is interesting to talk with and a great kisser (and an excellent communicator). In short, he seems wonderful, except he is 52, 24 years older than me. In the present this doesn't bother me, but when I think about possible futures (me at 40, him at 64; me at 50, him at 74), I get worried. Also when I think about meeting his parents and introducing him to mine, I get very worried (my parents are roughly six years older than him). Any advice about age differences? I'm sure he's not a serial younger-dater, and I'm definitely not a serial older-dater.

How much of an age difference is too much?

Worried in Advance

Dear Worried,

Well, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about how much of an age difference is too much. It's more a matter of identifying the specific issues that arise from the difference. And yes, there are going to be strange moments, like when he and your parents start talking about where they were when President Kennedy was shot, and there's a pause where they all look at you as if to say, but you weren't even born yet, you couldn't possibly understand. Or -- and this gets a little creepy, doesn't it -- when you see your dad and your boyfriend next to each other and you start comparing muscle tone. So there are going to be odd moments and there are going to be issues. What you need is some all-embracing certainty that this is the right thing; if you've got that, you can approach any situation with grace and good humor. Amor omnia vincit, as they say.

Here are some issues to get out in the open:

  • When you're at the peak of your career, he's going to be retiring. That might be a good thing -- better than having two stressed-out, overworked people around the house. But when you come home after a stressed-out day to a guy who's just been out fishing and is now happily barbecuing, you might feel envy and resentment as well as a kind of forced pleasure in his happiness. He'll have to treat you right and stay interested in the world of work so you two can converse; you, on the other hand, will need an appreciation for how he spends his leisure.
  • Do you want kids? If you start now, your mate can see them graduate from college. If he doesn't relish spending the next 20 years raising them, though, that could be a deal-breaker.

  • When you're 60, he'll be 84. If you retire at 65, he'll be nearing 90. If you're looking for a carefree retirement, it might be complicated by his limited ability to get around; he might be ill, or he might be dead. It's awful to think of, but it's probably been in the back of your mind anyway, so you might as well talk about it. Ask him if he's thought about that. Just talk about it.
  • While you and he bridge the age difference well, your friends and his might feel the gulf of nearly a quarter century a bit more acutely. Try to cultivate friends who are, say, 10 years older; if he cultivates friends 10 years younger, when you're all together there might seem to be less of a divide.
  • Best of luck to you both.

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    Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

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