Do Age Gap Relationships Stand a Chance? Experts Weigh In

If you’ve ever been on a bad first date, swiped left on Tinder for hours on end, or found yourself going out with someone you don’t even really like just to pass the time, you know how difficult it can be to find a partner whose company you enjoy. The dating pool can be shallow and unforgiving, so when someone comes along whom you have chemistry with, who makes you feel good, and whose presence ultimately improves your life, it feels like a breath of fresh air.

But what if that person isn’t your age? What if that person isn’t just outside your age range but outside your generation? It’s 2024, and society has largely de-stigmatized relationships that bridge race, religion, and sexual orientation, but somehow, age-gap relationships (we’re talking 10+ years) are still relatively taboo. So much so that pop culture still explores the subject in both non-fiction (Leonardo DiCaprio, anyone?) and fiction.

After watching The Idea of You, starring Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine, where a 40-year-old single mother gets swept up in a whirlwind romance with a 24-year-old lead singer of a popular boy band, we started to wonder why age-gap relationships cause so much controversy. To get to the bottom of it, we spoke with relationship experts to learn more about why people care so much about age gaps in relationships and how, if at all, they can work. While you might not be running off to the south of France with a Harry Styles-type who is 16 years your junior, this expert insight can shed light on any age-gap relationship you might find yourself in or encounter in the future.

Why are age-gap relationships so controversial?

If you’ve ever been hesitant to date someone based on what people might think, then you understand the pressure social stigma can place on a relationship. The opinions of family and friends can be a huge factor in deciding whether or not you choose to be with someone, and not feeling supported or validated by the people you love most can often be a dealbreaker. When it comes to large age gaps, it can be difficult for outsiders to understand the dynamic between two people in a relationship, which leads to negative controversy and assumptions.

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Gayane Aramyan

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Gayane Aramyan is a Los Angeles-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Through individual and couples therapy, she empowers women and couples to build healthy relationships and navigate conflict so they can build fulfilling and satisfying futures.

The media portrays age-gaps negatively

Because the media has so famously accused older people of dating younger for things like sex and looks (like the aforementioned Leo, who famously dates younger women) and accused younger people of dating older for things like money and power (such as Anna Nicole Smith, who married J. Howard Marshall II, 63 years her senior), the cultural outlook on age gaps in relationships is relatively bleak. According to LMFT Gayane Aramyan, “The media portrays age gap relationships in a negative way, which shapes how we, as a society, view them.” Because of this, when someone goes against the social norms, they often experience social stigma or isolation from friends and family, Aramyan added.

Ill-intentions are assumed

“Age gap relationships have a unique power dynamic in that the older partner may have more stability (financial or emotional), life experience, or a better social standing,” Aramyan continues. In other words, these relationships are often seen as transactional, which implies that there are underlying factors, outside of love, respect, chemistry, romance, attraction, and shared life goals keeping the relationship intact. When people outside of the relationship can’t understand how two people of different ages could have common interests, romantic feelings for one another, and complementary plans for the future, it can easily seem as though there are ill intentions at play.

“There’s often concern around how the couple manages the power dynamic, their finances, and their emotional maturity. But these are concerns in all relationships and are not unique to relationships with age gaps,” added Ronald Hoang, Registered Clinical Counselor and Psychotherapist. Irrespective of age, no couple is on exactly the same page all the time. With differences coming by way of salary, education, property, savings, and familial support (among other things), even two people of similar ages can enter into a relationship in different places and with different things to bring to the table. However, not everyone understands that, which further leads to the disapproval of these relationships.

A healthy relationship, regardless of the differences between its partners, is one to celebrate, and unless there’s a major struggle of power, coercion, or one partner is under the legal age of consent, there is likely nothing to be worried about.

Age-gap relationships can be successful if…

In order to make a relationship work, two people need love, respect, honesty, communication, and common ground, regardless of how old they are or what generational differences they might encounter. While it might be easier to find common ground with someone closer to your own age, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that two people with an age gap can’t have a flourishing, successful relationship. With that said, there are a few things that help age-gap relationships thrive, which experts are helping us explain next.

Couples confront judgment from others

According to Hoang, “Relationships with age gaps are no different to any other relationship, and they have the same problems as relationships with little or no gap.” But as mentioned, there will always be people who just don’t understand that. Confronting this stigma and the judgment from others can help get rid of the noise and allow couples to focus on their relationship. For example, in the movie, Soléne and Hayes decided to ignore everything being said about them in the media. They knew people were negatively viewing their relationship, and for a while, they accepted that and chose to just be happy. In doing this, they were able to create a very strong relationship. After all, it doesn’t matter what others think about your relationship—it’s yours, not theirs.

Couples have shared interests

LMFT Sophie Cress adds the importance of similarities and shared interests and values. “While couples may have different life experiences due to their age differences, finding common ground in hobbies, values, or aspirations can help bridge the generational divide.” Like with any other relationship, if you don’t have much in common, it probably won’t work. “Shared activities and interests foster a sense of partnership and unity, creating a strong bond between partners.” Maybe you love to play tennis together or you both love to go to concerts. You can create a strong bond through shared interests that benefit your relationship and have nothing to do with age.

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Sophie Cress

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) & a Certified Gottman Therapist (CGT)

Sophie Cress helps her clients navigate even the most complex challenges through both individual and couples therapy. Cress offers the resources and assistance needed to tackle issues and promote a happier and more fulfilling connection.

Couples effectively communicate

Just like in any other relationship, communication is key. Being open and honest with your partner about what you want, no matter how unique your pairing might be is always important. Cress says, “Partners must be able to openly discuss their expectations, fears, and long-term plans. This transparency helps address potential conflicts arising from the age gap, such as different career goals or family planning.” For example, if you are dating someone who wants to retire soon and travel, but you want to stay put and focus on your career, conversations around how you can both be happy are vital. Through effectively communicating (and compromising), especially in the areas that pertain to life planning, you can make an age-gap relationship work.

What causes age-gap relationships to end?

Wanting different things, having different visions of the future, being in different places, and growing in different directions can lead any partnership to the end, regardless of age differences. But age gaps do usually make it more likely for situations to arise. According to Aramyan, “It is true that we value different aspects of life and mature at different ages and stages in our lives, and consequently, these things can cause people to grow apart.” For example, Soléne and Hayes had their first argument after a conversation with some of his younger bandmates, where maturity and the inability to relate to people younger than her heavily factored into her frustration.

There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that two people with an age gap can’t have a flourishing, successful relationship.

There was a lack of communication in this scene between Soléne and Hayes, which Cress also notes can aid in the downfall of age-gap relationships. “Age differences can mean that partners have different communication styles, interests, or cultural references. If they cannot overcome these differences, misunderstandings and misinterpretations may arise, leading to a lack of intimacy and connection.” Like with any relationship, if there’s not enough common ground, it can be very challenging to stay together.

Between wanting different things, being in different places in life, and not being able to communicate, couples in any relationship will have a hard time succeeding. Unfortunately, age-gap relationships are highly susceptible to all of these things.

So, are age-gap relationships worth pursuing?

Experts agree that couples will always have differences they have to work through—whether they are due to age or other common differences like race, religion, culture, political affiliation, or upbringing. So, don’t not pursue a potentially happy, healthy relationship for fear of running into a conflict. You will experience that no matter what.

Ultimately, a healthy relationship, regardless of the differences between its partners, is one to celebrate, and unless there’s a major struggle of power, coercion, or one partner is under the legal age of consent, there is likely nothing to be worried about.

“The success of any relationship depends on the extent to which couples are able to resolve conflict in constructive ways, navigate their differences, build trust and commitment, support one another, and work as a team—all of which have little to do with age,” says Hoang. If you are willing to do all of those things and ignore the noise, there’s no reason to avoid love because of age. After all, it’s just a number.

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