Nick and Priyanka make an 11-year age gap look so easy….By Ashley Ross
I once thought I’d fallen in love with an adorable lawyer who started chatting with me while we waited at a crosswalk in Manhattan. I felt an immediate spark, and after we exchanged numbers, we planned our first date without ever bringing up our ages. A week later, somewhere between one and four glasses of wine, he told me I looked “quite young” and asked how old I was.
“I’m 25,” I said, trying to seem proud of the number even though I’d just celebrated this birthday with a bit of dread about growing up. He nodded in surprise and didn’t offer his age until I asked for it. “You’ll never guess,” he said, which is when I tried to examine his face for wrinkles and his hair for salt-and-pepper grays—there weren’t any.
“I’m 38,” he said. Thirty-eight. I wouldn’t have guessed, I told him. Then he excused himself to the go to the bathroom while I sat wondering what our relationship age gap meant: Would he want to move faster in a relationship? Would he be thinking about children already? Would he be appalled by my tiny studio apartment, which I could barely afford?
“So I know what you’re thinking,” he said, upon returning. “Why isn’t this guy married with kids?” He launched into an explanation about not finding the right woman yet and managed to quell all of my concerns—at least for the time being. I continued to find myself smitten, gushing to my mom about him, telling her that 13 years wasn’t that big of an age difference because we got along so well and it just didn’t matter.
We continued to date until, eventually, our lifestyles proved drastically different. His career and financial situations were a far cry from mine, and the idea of things getting serious felt rushed and scary to me. He was closer to 40 than I was to 30, and I felt like he’d inevitably want marriage and children much sooner than I would. So I let our connection slip away, allowing my concern over our age difference to overshadow our passion.
It was ultimately the right call, I felt, and experts seem to agree. The truth is that age is not just a number, says Seth Meyers, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve. A relationship age gap bigger than 10 years often comes with its own set of issues. “While there are always exceptions to rules, a good rule to remember is that dating someone more than 10 years older will present challenges now or later that add to the preexisting challenges any relationship has,” he says.
Couples with a big age difference need to think things through or risk finding themselves at conflicting stages in their relationship. “You can see varied cultural references, disapproval from family and friends, and perhaps community disapproval, as well,” says Rachel Sussman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York. “It might be hard to relate to each other’s peer groups too.”
Since dating the lawyer, I’ve capped my ideal man at about five to seven years older than me, especially on dating apps, where you can filter out those in a specific age group. But at the same time, I still keep an open mind—a big age gap doesn’t have to be a nonstarter. “The unhealthy individual either has a type that is too specific and narrow—’I want someone between 30 and 35 who loves the outdoors, is really close to his parents and siblings’—or, conversely, too broad and vague—’I just want someone nice,’” Meyers says.
Instead, be realistic about what you want in someone, not what you want from their age. Think of 10 years as a general guideline, but be open to other ages as well—and don’t limit yourself to dating only someone older. “‘Cast a wide net’ is what I tell all my clients,” Sussman says. “Men should date older, and women should be OK experimenting with dating younger. And we should all be more open-minded.”