The Soho Sex Column: Do relationship age gaps matter?
This week, our resident sexpert, Oliver Petter, gets candid about what big age gaps really mean for a relationship
Friday 19 August 2022 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Kika Klat
George and Amal Clooney – 17 years. Ryan and Blake Lively – 11 years. Jay-Z and Beyoncé – 12 years. Leonardo DiCaprio and the entire under-25 population – unknown number of years.
These are the couplings that people bring up every time someone raises the question of age-gap relationships. ‘Look, if they can do it, so can we. They seem so happy. They’re equals’ are some of the things they might add, with the exception of DiCaprio, perhaps.
The success of an age-gap relationship is a highly contested area, particularly among those currently in, or recently out of one. Given that my ex was nine and a half years older than me (I’d always round it up to 10; he’d round down to nine), I am part of the latter camp.
With this in mind, I’m pleased you asked this question, because it’s something I can speak about with some degree of authority, even if I’m still trying to work the answer out for myself.
At first, I didn’t think age gaps mattered. That’s often the opinion of the younger person in the relationship who, in a desperate bid not to be patronised or condescended, will find any excuse to assert their maturity and repeat bumper sticker aphorisms, including ‘age is just a number’.
I was 24 when I met my ex; he was 33. It really didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Sure, his friends were getting married and buying homes in the countryside while mine were tumbling out of nightclubs at 7am and spending their overdrafts on hallucinogens, but we felt aligned in so many other ways. The compatibilities between us seemed to transcend any kind of age gap.
Over time, though, as core differences between us started to emerge, it became clear that age was not actually just a number. It’s a stage of life – and we were at opposite ends. At 24, I prioritised my friendships and career. Yes, a relationship was an added bonus, but it was never going to be the sole focus of my attention purely because that wasn’t what my friends were doing at that age.
Sure, people had partners, but no one was bringing them to social occasions or trying to integrate them into our lives in any real way at that point. Meanwhile, my ex and his friends were regularly inviting each other’s partners to weddings, parties and barbecues in the way that adults do. Maybe I was just a particularly immature 24-year-old but, for whatever reason, that felt stifling to me. And it was one of the things that tore us apart.
Now, at 28, my friends are starting to mirror this: marriage, children, and even mortgages. Their partners are integral to my wider social circle, and come to most birthdays and dinners, just like my ex’s did.
Ultimately, no one can tell you whether or not an age gap matters, because it depends entirely on the two individuals in it and what stage of life they happen to be at – and that can be about age or something else entirely.
My advice is not to rush to break up with someone just because of an age gap. The differences you’re experiencing with them now might even out as you both get older. They often do. Be patient and things might just be OK.
The quick-fire round
What if my boyfriend jumps to sex without foreplay?
Dump him. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. Try telling him that prioritising your pleasure with foreplay is just as important as pleasuring his with sex. If he kicks up a fuss, stop reading this immediately and, you guessed it, dump him.
How do I date a thirty-something who is celibate?
Have a lot of open conversations about how this relationship is going to work for both of you without sex. Be honest with them but, most importantly, be honest with yourself. If this is something you can sacrifice for this person, that’s great. If it isn’t, that’s OK too; don’t waste anyone’s time by pretending otherwise.
If you want to get in touch, please email me at email@example.com. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate