Young People Open up About the Stigma of Dating Someone Older

April 17th 2016

May-December romances are frequently misunderstood. When you're dating someone older, people might assume that the dynamic of the relationship is unhealthy or fundamentally unequal. The 'gold digger' stigma can also come into play, and suggests that people choose older partners solely for their money.

"It's a time-honored tradition in Hollywood for older men to date younger women, and cougar couples have become all the rage as well," the New York Daily News explained, in an introduction to a slideshow on the May-December relationship trope in the entertainment industry.

To learn more about what these relationships are really like, ATTN: reached out to four people who have dated someone older than themselves via email about their experiences and relationship advice.

Here are five tips for dating someone older than you.

1. Ignore the haters.

When your partner looks visibly older than you, people might get a little nasty.

Courtney Croft, a 26-year-old Nashville-based anthropologist married to a 40-year-old man, explained that while she and her partner didn't encounter too many problems in their personal lives, other people didn't always react well to their relationship.

"Most of the issues stemmed from other people's initial negative reactions of us being together. It really weirded people out. I had some people flat out say it was gross that I was with someone so much older," Croft said. "Or that certainly he had ill-intentions, because why else would a man his age be interested in someone so young? Now that we've been together for five years, that happens less frequently, but when he lets his beard grow out, which is gray, and we're out in public together, we still get questioning looks from strangers."

These stereotypes can also be internalized. Maya L., a 25-year-old writer who declined to give her last name, told ATTN: she had dated a 37-year-old man at 25, and a 29-year-old man when she was 22.

"I try to be open-minded, but sometimes you have to wonder why they're at where they're at. Is it weird they're dating me (a child)?" she joked. "Is it weird they've been divorced, or weird that they've never been married?"

2. Just because they are older, it doesn't mean they are going to pay for everything.

"He was pretty established, had more money," Maya L. explained, describing the 37-year-old she had been with.

An older partner doesn't always equate to a sugar daddy, or mama, though—even if they have the cash.

"If they have money, do they pay for more shit? Eh, they never have for me," she recounted.

3. Open communication is key.

When you're dating someone older, it's easy to feel pressured to act older than you are. Part of being honest with one another is accepting that it's okay to have different experiences. Being younger doesn't inherently devalue your perspective.

"When we met I was 20 (almost 21) and he was 35," a 23-year-old Los Angeles native who chose to remain anonymous, told ATTN:.

"My advice is simple—be aware of the age gap. I spent so much time telling myself that age didn’t matter when in the end, it totally did," she reflected. "Whenever we fought, I would vent to my good friend who was dating someone 10 years older than her at the time, and she would constantly tell me “It sounds like you responded perfectly for someone who is 22 years old. It sounds like he’s not letting you be your age.""

She also discovered that some of her partner's beliefs differed from hers, and realized that being younger didn't mean she was in the wrong.

"Realize that your older partner grew up with different values than you, (which, [for me] proved to be a feat as a feminist dating an older man from the deep south). Be patient with one another," she explained in an email.

It is also important to be clear about what you want from the relationship, even if the conversation feels a little stodgy.

"I do think you need to be clear on what a relationship means for both of you and yes, to a certain extent, what the future means for both of you, especially if marriage, kids, etc. is an open consideration down the line because the timing can feel either rushed or slowed down depending on who you are in the relationship," a 25-year-old man in a relationship with a 29-year-old woman, who chose to remain anonymous, told ATTN:.

Croft also emphasized that communication and patience were crucial.

"Honest communication and patience is key in any relationship, but particularly when there is an age gap; misunderstandings can happen more easily, I think, because of the different places you might be in life. Be open to learning from one another," she explained.

4. You might have different pop cultural references.

An age difference can mean you don't always like—or know about—the same TV shows, movies, and books.

"Our inner-relationship issues have (fortunately) mostly been about missing each other's pop-culture references; I don't understand his 80s movies/song references, and he's never seen a 90s Disney movie. Or any Nickelodeon TV shows. Or "Boy Meets World"... come on!" Croft bemoaned.

Humor can also differ between older and younger partners.

"I guess the only thing that’s different is that I can be a lot sillier around someone my own age," the 23-year-old Los Angeles-based woman explained.

5. Experience can be a good thing.

When your partner has considerably more life experience than you, it can feel a little intimidating. But it also provides opportunities and advantages you might not encounter dating someone your own age.

I have found that being with someone older can provide a unique support system; he has gone through a lot of things that I am currently going through (i.e. being out on my own for the first time, the frequent existential crises that you experience in your 20s, etc.) so he is my rock in a way that a person my age might not be able to be," Croft wrote. "He can be extremely empathetic and/or give practical advice because he's actually "been there" before."

It's also OK to admit you have something to learn.

"I'm continually struck by my girlfriend's maturity, the strength of her values, and the way she chooses to live her life; things that, I believe, come in large part from age and experience," the 25-year-old man said.

She encouraged him to grow and be independent, he explained:

"She's had enough experience both in life and relationships to know that we need to grow individually in order to grow together and that we need to always respect each other. This is one small example, but it always means a lot that she encourages me to go do my own thing because she knows that when we are together, our relationship will be that much stronger if we're both allowed the freedom to be ourselves. It's this kind of trust that, so far, is awesome. I think it part it comes from age and experience."

"They just straight up have more life experience. This guy was divorced. He'd had like seven jobs whereas I had, like, two. He'd lived in three cities since [he] graduated high school, all for extended periods," Maya L. said, describing a 37-year-old partner. His life experience wasn't strictly professional, either.

She added, "He was good at sex."

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