She Said, He Said: May-December romance works when you are honest from the start
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
I’m 36 and think I’ve finally met the man of my dreams. He’s handsome, kind, funny, sensitive, has a great career and knows what he wants in life. The only problem is that he just turned 50 and I’m worried that our age difference is going to be an issue further down the road.
The Younger Woman
Lori and Jeff: Numerous studies, including one from Emerson University in 2014, have shown that “May-December” marriages are more likely to end in divorce, and that the larger the age gap, the greater the risk. It’s no secret that we have an age difference in our marriage, and it did require some extra thought when we were initially considering whether to pursue a relationship.
Lori: As the “May” partner in my own marriage, and from years of working with couples, I’ll say the biggest factor to consider is how well you know yourself. Age-gap relationships are much more likely to fail when the younger partner has not had the opportunity to fully individuate, meaning they haven’t had enough time on their own to know who they are. This can be the 20-something who is still discovering herself, or a 40-something who has always been in relationships that have influenced who she thought she should be. When you pair an un-individuated partner with someone older, the default is to mold into the older partner’s life. This dynamic will create resentment and dissatisfaction when one day the younger partner realizes she isn’t who she wants to be.
If you have a solid sense of yourself, there are a few life milestones and transitions that can be tricky, and are important to consider. The first, and most obvious, is if you want to have kids, what does that look like? If being a mom is important to you, you need to be honest and explore if that’s really in the cards for him. Second, as a younger woman, it was also crucial for me to ask about his plans for the not so distant future. When had he imagined he would retire, and what would retirement look like? My career is important to me and if he dreamed of living on a beach in Costa Rica in 10 years, that wasn’t going to work for me. The third reality, that could actually be the most painful, is the possibility of being alone at the end of your life. While it’s true that we never know how or when life will end, there’s a strong possibility that you will be here in old age, without your partner for some time.
Jeff: While it might not be easy for men to hear, many studies show that we tend to take a bit longer to mature than women. From an emotional compatibility perspective, the older man and younger woman dynamic could actually have the potential to benefit a relationship — it certainly has in my own. Whether or not it will in yours may take some time to suss out. Spend some intentional time talking about values and life goals and see what you have in common around what’s most important to each of you. If it feels like you’re both on the same page, give it a go.
The most challenging part for me as the “December” partner was based more on the differences in our experiences of popular culture. Our familiarity of music, movies and literature was off by at least a decade, so we had to readjust our expectations of what we each knew and remembered. This took some getting used to — especially when reminiscing about a certain song or movie and realizing I was alone in the memory. On the positive side, we each had the opportunity to learn about new things we might not have been exposed to in our pasts.
Lori and Jeff: Every healthy relationship requires the work of melding two lives. But when they’re on different timelines, a little more effort is required. If both partners are on solid ground when they meet, and honest with themselves about what they need and value, there’s no reason a May-December romance can’t be successful.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.