I was casually scrolling through articles from Phycology Today and came past one that I couldn’t NOT read called: Why People Don’t Trust Couples With a Major Age Difference
With a title like that, how could I not read it?
Brandon and I talk a lot about building trust. And how to do it as quickly as possible so that you can move past the “getting to know you” phase and move into the “let’s talk about real shit” phase. Building trust takes intentionality and consistency but it starts with first impressions. I’ve always said that our age gap is an immediate trust deterrent in new friendships. It doesn’t make trust impossible – but it does make it more difficult than it would be if you were with someone who looked like a more age appropriate fit. And as it turns out, the research says the same thing.
According to researchers from Oakland University, the reason “observers of age gap relationships find them to be less acceptable than age-matched relationships is due to the assumption that there is an aspect of exploitation in the relationship (e.g. sex for a certain lifestyle) rather than a care-based partnership.”
This makes perfect sense to me. If you see yourself through a stranger’s eyes, I’m sure it makes sense to you too. Something immediately feels off. Why are you not with someone your own age? Why isn’t he with someone his own age? How are you taking advantage of the situation? Who is getting played?
These are the initial questions that arise upon meeting you. And if I’m brutally honest with myself, I am certain I’d think the same thing. But just because people don’t immediately understand, it doesn’t mean you have to give up all hope – you just need to be prepared.
We might be in age gaps, but we are no dummies. If you KNOW people will be skeptical beforehand, and can recognize where they are coming from, why not prep yourself to handle it head on? With grace and a little humor – I might add.
Check out these posts, for my 5 Ways to Be More Confident When Meeting New People and how to handle the dreaded question: Is She Your Daughter? for my go-to tricks on addressing the age gap and building trust from the start.
Next up: the researchers also found that an aversion to “age-discrepant relationships might be an outcome of self-serving moralization: Saying that large age-gaps are “wrong” might protect the interests of those who don’t benefit from such an arrangement (e.g., older women, in the case of older men preferring younger women).”
If you’re in an age gap relationship, I’m certain you have had an experience or two where it was clear that someone blatantly was rude or judgmental because of the age gap. In one particular instance, I remember really wanting to impress a woman I had recently me who ended up not giving me the time of day. I was crushed afterwards because I thought it was me. I smartened up a bit and realized – people have their own issues and insecurities. Being a younger woman with an older man can certainly be threatening to a single woman in her 40’s or 50’s. But other’s insecurities about their age isn’t a reflection on you. Don’t take their issues on or be sad they don’t want to be your friend. Find other friends and don’t take the opinions of strangers on as the barometer of whether or not your age gap is acceptable.
The final finding in their study was particularly intriguing and really resonated with me. They found that younger people are far more critical of man-older age-gap relationships than older people. I have found this to be true in my own relationships, especially early on with my friends and when I meet people my age, even today.
I want to be clear here: my friends were very supportive on me initially. They never tried to break us up and completely let me do my thing to figure out if Brandon and I could work. They were beyond supportive but it was clear that they didn’t fully understand why I was making this choice. I was the only one dating someone significantly older and initially I didn’t feel comfortable letting him hang out with my friends. It either felt too formal or too casual. I wasn’t going to invite Brandon to college parties but I equally didn’t think getting dressed up for a steak dinner downtown with Brandon and my besties felt like a fit either. It took a year or two before we found our groove.
But my friends are a different story from meeting new people who are my age. And I have certainly found that they are more critical: there is certainly a barrier that comes from a lack of understand and a smidge of judgement. I remember being in a nightclub once with Brandon and this guy came up to us, in the middle of the dance floor and started cussing Brandon out. He was asking Brandon if my mom knew about our relationship and told him that he was a nasty person. This guy came out of nowhere! But had such a strong, visceral opinion about us. Now this is an extreme example but it highlights the findings of this research: younger people tend to be more critical and less open minded about the intentions behind our age gap.
I’ll leave you with this little closing thought:
“About 7 percent of heterosexual couples in the United States are defined as male-older age-gap relationships with men at least 10 years older than their partners (Census Bureau, 2013), meaning that many, many couples are potentially subjected to negative bias by strangers, friends, and outsiders simply because of the age discrepancy in their relationship.
The ways in which age-gap relationships differ from age-matched relationships are only beginning to be studied, but the assumption of an exchange-based relationship isn’t necessarily reflective of reality. As in many cases, the couple themselves understand their dynamic better than an outsider, but this research suggests that age-gap couples should be prepared to encounter negative bias, particularly from younger people.”
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