Age-gap relationships are no longer an exception in society. The ‘May-December’ romance, as it is commonly called, is just one of the many manifestations of modern romantic relationships. Celebrity couples like Nick and Priyanka Chopra Jonas and George and Amal Clooney prove this.
There are people, however, who might still be uncomfortable with the idea of their romantic partner being significantly older or younger than them. The concerns they have may be valid, but are they always well-founded?
Here are three common questions that people in or contemplating age-gap relationships might have, as well as their science-backed answers.
#1. Will we ever be on the same page?
It is natural to experience some dissonance at the thought of both partners in a relationship being in two completely different chapters of their lives. Being far apart in age can also signal the possibility of different immediate goals and desires.
For example, if the older partner is nearing retirement, they may want to save aggressively, while the younger partner might still be focused on building their career.
However, do these differences always indicate a disadvantage? Research says not really. A study published in the North American Journal of Psychology suggests that May-December romances foster less jealousy and more trust and unselfish love.
There is a strong possibility that age-gap couples communicate more thoroughly and work harder emotionally to keep their relationship sailing smoothly. Age-similar couples, on the other hand, might sometimes forgo these responsibilities under the assumption that both partners will naturally remain on the same page.
Moreover, there are a number of technological (e.g, IVF and cryopreservation) as well as socio-cultural (e.g, age-gap celebrity couples and progressive public discourse) developments that have made it easier for age-gap couples to be together for the long-term.
#2. Will the stigma break us?
‘Cougar,’ ‘sugar daddy,’ and ‘gold-digger’ are some of the common derogatory slang terms used to refer to age-gap relationships, carrying the accusation that one partner unduly benefits in such arrangements.
Whether it’s due to jealousy or self-moralization, such relationships are commonly condemned, according to research published in Personality and Individual Differences.
The authors of this research, led by Yael Sela, state, “Romantic relationships with a large age difference between partners are judged to be less acceptable, more disgusting, and less likely to succeed than age-similar relationships.”
However, according to a study published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, what doesn’t break age-gap couples only makes them stronger. Couples in socially stigmatized relationships (e.g., same-sex, interracial, and age-gap) exhibited significantly higher levels of commitment compared to ‘traditional’ relationships.
In fact, the research suggests that commitment between the partners increases not despite the hurdles but because of them – that is, greater disapproval is associated with greater commitment.
#3. Is this just a phase?
Considering all the challenges (real and perceived) that an age-gap couple might expect to face in their journey, it would be easy to write off a significant age-gap relationship as a passing phase or a ‘wild oat’ for someone to sow.
However, with our society becoming more accepting of relationships that ‘deviate’ from the norm, it may not be as inconceivable for someone to fall in love and be in a long-term relationship with someone significantly older or younger than them.
The health concerns people might cite come from a well-intentioned place but are quickly becoming obsolete. Research, for instance, explains that people in age-gap relationships tend to live longer than people in age-similar relationships.
All in all, research in the area of May-December romances suggests that the mental disposition of both partners as well as material circumstances might play a bigger role in the dissolution of an age-gap relationship than the age-gap itself.
No relationship comes with a ‘happily ever after’ guarantee. However, assuming that a person in an age-gap relationship is setting themselves up for failure is unfair and paints the relationship with a very broad brush. Everyone deserves a shot at a loving, long-term relationship – regardless of your age or your partner’s.