Quite Frankly

Dear Frankie,

How strange is it at this age range (18-22) to date someone six years older than you? At what age gap does it get ~weird~ ?

Sincerely,

Yearning Youth


Dear Yearning Youth,

Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s, like, a single quantitative answer here. Some people use the following formula: To find out the youngest age it’s okay for your partner to be, take half your age and add seven. So to get the oldest age for your partner, you’d do the inverse: Subtract seven from your age and double it. For a 22-year-old, the oldest socially acceptable partner would be 30 years old. But I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Let’s interrogate why age gaps make people uncomfortable. It’s less math, more relationship power dynamics.

In any social interaction, particularly an intimate one, everyone involved comes to the interaction with certain experiences and qualities that give them more or less power in the situation. One of these is obviously age. It’s socially “~weird~” to date someone who’s a lot older than you because there’s a perception, if not reality, that your partner could take advantage of the inexperience of your youthful state, or that your partner is in some way immature themselves. This creates an unbalanced power dynamic, and such imbalances can lead relationships toward toxicity.

Here’s where I add that consensual power dynamic play can absolutely be part of a healthy relationship. However, a large age gap can create a power imbalance that traverses all aspects of your relationship, and not just in enjoyable ways. Perhaps even unconsciously, the older partner might start to treat the younger partner as inferior or less intelligent because of their age. Likewise, the younger partner can start to think that their older partner just can’t understand what it’s like to be a college student.

That brings us to the other reason why age gaps are frowned upon: 18-year-olds just tend to be in different life situations than 26-year-olds. A college campus, with its pressing academic requirements and social peculiarities, is alienated from the typical life trajectory of a 26-year-old person. However, it’s entirely possible that a 26-year-old is in a comparable life situation to you, if they’re still in school or otherwise moving in the same circles as you, which eliminates this additional distance between your experiences. It’s also noteworthy that relationships can thrive between people who are in different positions from each other, and this difference isn’t a death sentence for any relationship.

When it comes to relationships, there really aren’t set rules that do much better than a Magic 8 Ball. Use your discernment and ask people you trust about your particular circumstances.

Best Wishes,

Frankie

P.S. But then again, if you have to ask, it might be weird.

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