Somehow, somewhere, someone created a dating rule that is still discussed at brunch tables and bars across the country. This mysterious rule goes that the largest age gap you can have with your partner is determined by dividing your age in half, and adding seven. Therefore, if you’re 30 years old, the youngest age you should date is 22. To determine the oldest person you can date, you subtract 7 from your current age and then double the total. If you’re 30, your maximum age is 46. And there you have it! That’s the rule, and subsequently the end of this article–just kidding.
While finding our own numbers can be a fun activity with friends, it’s important to remember that this is not a genuine rule. It is impossible for a simple calculation to determine the emotional maturity, interests, and goals of each individual person in a relationship! In a study conducted by Buunk and colleagues, they found this rule doesn’t hold any genuine weight, and most people only feel comfortable dating those closer to their age than the rule allows. “Curious outsiders are quick to judge when they can see a wide age gap between two romantic partners,” says Theresa E DiDonato Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today. “Maybe this is why the rule is so appealing. In a world in which many social norms are often unspoken, the half-your-age-plus-7 rule concretely defines a boundary.”
It certainly seems like this could be the case, as age gaps still tend to be socially stigmatized. A 2018 study conducted at Oakland University found that people have a subconscious bias and suspicion, with a concern that the older person is exploiting the younger person.
To this, we say: It can be difficult to break a subconscious bias that has been heavily influenced by societal norms, but in 2019, it’s time to put an end to age gap stigma between two partners who are both consenting adults. While couples with age gaps may be less common, it doesn’t make them less genuine or worthy of respect.
If you are entering a relationship with an age gap, it may be helpful to think about how you want to be treated by others outside of the relationship as well as your partner. A few ideas to get started are below:
Be clear that your relationship should not be fetishized.
Relationships with age gaps can be the subject of blatant fetishization, like calling the older woman a “cougar” or older men “sugar daddy.” Establishing healthy boundaries with friends and family from the beginning can help avoid any inappropriate and suggestive language that demeans your status as a couple.
Establish what jokes are okay and what are not.
Jokes can be helpful to ease any potential tension that could come from an age gap. Perhaps her favorite movie is Steel Magnolias, and you answer that you were too busy watching Ninja Turtles to catch a screening (lolz). Applying some lighthearted humor allows you both to be self-aware about your situation and cut through any potential awkwardness. And you don’t have to be Dr. Ruth to understand that laughter is important for a healthy, long lasting relationship!
Be clear with each other about wants and needs.
An age gap might mean that you’re in different phases in your life, and therefore, may have different goals, interests, and personal needs. Even if you don’t have the same priorities on your checklist, the most important thing is supporting each other to achieve their goals. You don’t have to be on the same step to be on the same stairs, you know what I mean? Does this metaphor work? You be the judge!
What does the future look like for you both?
While you may be in different places, establishing a healthy, long term relationship benefits you the most when you are aligned on the future. Whether you’re both looking to have kids and a home in the burbs, or you’re both content to keep the future wide open without any definitive plans, being open and honest about what you want will help you avoid any pressure to change down the road.