Mind The (Age) Gap: How to Do a May/December Lesbian Relationship

partners Rachel Maddow & Susan Mikula (Age Gap: 15 years) via People

Rachel Maddow and her partner, Susan Mikula, are 15 years apart. So are Ellen and Portia. My dear girlfriend and I also have an age gap of over a decade. While May-December (or even May-October) romances can present occasional challenges, they can also be awesome.

How big of an age difference is too big?

The unofficial formula is the “half your age plus seven” rule.

So if you’re 30, the rule goes, the youngest person you should date is 22 (since 30/2 = 15, and 15+7 = 22).

When you’re 44, the cutoff would be 29.

At 58, it would be 36, and so on.

And while this is a silly formula, it reveals an interesting truth: the older you get, the less age differences matter. An 18-year-old and a 32-year-old are 14 years apart, but these 14 years encompass a huge gap in experiences. Take those same 14 years, 30 years later, and you’ve got a 48-year-old and a 62-year-old. Sure, there are still some differences, but the gap has definitely shrunk.

Ex-Girlfriends Sarah Paulson & Cherry Jones (age gap: 22 years)

Age gaps tend to be more accepted in the queer community than they are in general. Maybe this is because we’re already doing something that differs from the norm, so an age difference on top of it is just icing on the deviance cake. Or maybe it has to do with the gendered tendency in age differences among heterosexual couples. Demi and Ashton notwithstanding, the “older man, younger woman” scenario is much more common than the reverse. This pattern tends to reinforce gender inequalities and stereotypes in a way that queer relationships can’t. Or maybe it has something to do with child-rearing. On average, fewer queers (especially gay men) have kids, so maybe people care less about age gaps when no little kidlets are involved.

As far as I’m concerned, barring illegality, there’s no such thing as an age difference being “too big” unless it presents problems for the couple. The bigger the differences, the more potential problems. But the key word is potential. Particular problems may or may not materialize for any given couple. Here are a few of the most common ones:

+ Differences in energy levels.
If one partner wants to climb mountains and the other can barely climb stairs, this may be an Issue. Of course, age doesn’t necessarily dictate energy levels. My mom told me recently about her 70-something friend who was complaining one day about being sore. My mom thought, “Oh, that poor thing… the aches and pains of getting old.” But then the woman continued, “I really need to avoid doing my five-mile hikes on consecutive days”(!)

+ Health problems
The older you get, the more likely you are to have health problems. This is a generality, but on average, it’s true. If you end up with someone much older than you are, chances are that your partner will face a serious health concern before you do. This worry may or may not be a deal breaker. My DGF asked me once, “Are you going to want to change my diapers in 30 years?” My answer: “If we’ve been together for 30 years, of course I’ll change your diapers.”

Wives Ellen Degeneres & Portia DeRossi (age gap: 15 years)

+ Cultural differences
Maybe you grew up on “Barney,” but she remembers “Captain Kangaroo.” Maybe you slow-danced to Color Me Badd in sixth grade, while she danced to it at her first marriage. These kinds of cultural differences can be funny, bizarre, or depressing — it all depends how you interpret them. Personally, I love that my DGF and I were raised in different decades. It gives us even more to learn from each other. Sounds trite, but it’s true.

+ Life Stages
Like differences in health, life stages are correlated with age. (But “are correlated” doesn’t mean “correspond perfectly.”) If one of you is hitting your stride in your career and the other is just starting grad school, it may take a little extra effort to appreciate where your sweetheart’s at.

Bottom line: Age is not “all in your head” — but what you make of it is. It’s a factor that may or may not have important implications. Like differences of religion, social class, or cultural background, it’s worth taking seriously to help you understand and strengthen your relationship.

Girlfriends Eileen Myles & Leopoldine Core

Six Relationship Tips for Couples with Age Differences:

1. Hang out with other couples that are both your ages. If one of you is 31 and the other is 49, make sure to spend time with couples in their early thirties and in their mid-to-late forties. This way, neither of you will feel habitually left out because of age, and you might also gain some additional perspective about your partner by seeing where her peers are at, what interests them, etc. (You might also try hanging out with people whose ages or lifestyles are very different from both of yours — it will underscore how much you have in common!)

2.  Don’t cast your own age as superior. If you’re the older partner, a “been there, done that” attitude toward your partner’s experiences is not useful. Maybe you have extra insight, but that doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about your partner’s situation. Similarly, if you’re the younger partner, don’t assume you’re inherently cooler or more savvy. Treat each other as equals. Your own experience is not better or more valid simply because it happened more recently (or longer ago). And relatedly:

Wives Chely Wright & Lauren Blitzer (age gap: 10 years)

3.  Embrace your different experiences. Talk about each others’ childhoods, music preferences, school experiences, etc. You have a lot to learn from each other. Be open to each others’ cultural preferences. Maybe this means you take turns deciding what movie to watch or what music to listen to. Try to understand and appreciate your partner’s aesthetic sensibilities, even if you don’t always share them.

4.  Talk about your goals. This is good advice for all couples, but it’s especially important for May-December (or even July-October) pairs. Do you want to have kids? Buy a house? Retire? Travel? Make sure your partner knows what’s important to you, and where you see yourself in one year, or five, or ten. Just because someone is 39 doesn’t mean her biological clock is ticking, and just because someone is 22 doesn’t mean she wants to go clubbing. Make sure your ideas about your partner’s goals and desires don’t rest on assumptions.

5.  Listen to everyone else, then ignore them. Your daughter may be uncomfortable that you’re dating someone her age. Your friends may not see why you’d be with a woman who hasn’t gone dancing since Tribe 8 was hot. They may openly question your motives, or your partner’s motives, or your sanity. Listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and completely disregard their judgments. Only you know what makes you happy.

6.  Don’t hide your partner away. To avoid people’s judgments and criticism, it may be tempting not to socialize with your partner as much as you might if you were the same age. Early in the relationship, fine: you want to make sure it’s working for you. But once you see that it is, don’t hesitate to show your partner around town and introduce her to your friends and family. If she makes you happy, the people who really care about you will eventually recognize this, and will get to know your partner for who she is.

Your turn, readers: have you ever been in a relationship with an age difference? Did the age gap bring any special perks or challenges? What do you think about big age differences in relationships?

Originally published on Butch Wonders. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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About the author
: BW is a lesbian in her early 30s who reads a lot, writes a lot, and eats more cheese than is prudent. Her other non-day-job hobbies include hiking, doing art, hanging out with her dog, and watching “Breaking Bad” with her girlfriend. BW used to be married to a biodude, and writes about that and other things on her blog, Butch Wonders, which you should totally check out.

Butch has written 2 articles for us.

144 Comments

  1. I am an almost-27-yr old dating an amazing, sexy, 40 yr old woman. I have to say our 13 year age difference initially cast her off my radar..but luckily she pursued me and I am so thankful she did. Now I think every woman in her mid twenties NEEDS to get down with a gal around her age, for so many reasons. If we are going by that “half age plus 7 rule”…I guess we just make it, fyi. She’s got it all baby.

  2. I haven’t always dated older women but things change. Life in the military and several deployments later I have been forced to mature faster than many of the just turning 30 crowd. After learning to readjust to a civilian world I met my girl friend who is 49. I am 31 (a 18yr age gap). I never been happier because I met someone who I can talk to and relate to. It’s nice to know that relationship like our’s is not original and have worked.

  3. I’m 23 and my wife is 37. We had an instant connection the moment we started talking, and it’s not like either of us stopped the conversation to ask how old the other was, and by the time it naturally came up, it wasn’t really important anymore. I initially thought she was younger and she thought I was older ha. People were a little skeptical at first, with the whole, “But what could y’all possibly have in common?” And our response was basically, “Um, everything, actually.” Then when our friends and family started to spend time with us as a couple, the questioning stopped and everyone was on board with our relationship. It’s funny when we talk about things that happened in the ’90s and early ’00s because live through the same culture shifts and events, except she was in college and I was a kid haha, but that doesn’t bother us at all. It’s just a different perspective.

    All I know is that I think she is the most beautiful woman in the world and every day with her is the best day of my life. Like we in the LGBT community always say, love is love. And it is really just that simple when it comes to age.

  4. Well…this was an interesting an article and absolutely pertains to me and my girlfriend. I see a lot of comments from the younger half of relationships so, I’m going to give my opinion and experiences as being the “older” woman.

    I am 39 (just turned that age yesterday) and my girlfriend is 23. We have been together just over a year and a half. We’ve discussed age differences and such but it is not the glaring issue to us that people seem to think it is. In actuality, we find that other people have way more of an issue with it than we do. There are other hurdles and difficulties (that come with any relationship) that we have chosen to focus on and we find that we are on the same page on just about all of those issues.

    Race is more of an issue (again…for others, moreso than us). I am a black 3/4 Jamaican and 1/4 American Indian and she is white of Irish decent. So, there are some cultural differences but they are fun to talk about. Then again, we’re both kind of nerdish so we like talking about these things.

    I believe that part of what makes our relationship work so well is that I tend to be a bit younger in my views and she is a bit older. Now…when I say that, I don’t mean to say that there aren’t moments when I’m not thinking, “I’m so much older and maybe she won’t want to be with me in 20 years” or “I can’t believe she said that…that was kind of an immature thing to say”…or she doesn’t think of equally annoying things that I may say or do to her. However, I know that we have grown up in different generations and she hasn’t experienced things I have experienced but I know she has experienced way more than someone her age should have had to experience. She is a strong individual and I see that in her every moment of every day…and I love her for her perseverance, strength, her knowledge, her willingness to learn and to be my support. I know that, around her, I can be weak when I need to be and she will be there supporting me as I will her.

    As far as where people are in their life…I think we fit each other like a glove. She recently graduated from college and is job hunting. It’s been a struggle because it’s difficult to get your foot in the door for some careers and she struggles with not being able to support herself yet as some of her friends do. I, on the other hand, am in the middle of a career transition and I believe that makes us a bit more on even footing. I am, by no means, settled. I lost my job back in 2011 and found a new one in 2012. However, it is working for a non-profit and isn’t exactly what I want to be doing but is helping me refocus my skills in the direction I want to head. In the midst of this, I am job hunting, working a 2nd job and going to school to get my MBA. So, because of this, we are both working to establish or reestablish our lives. There is no “sugar mama” or anything like that…we’re both working our butts off for what we want.

    Also, I am the one who likes to go out and do things. I like to go out dancing or out to the bar to grab a drink or whatever. She is not like that but she will go with me if I ask nicely. How did we solve this difference? We found things that we like to do together. We both like to sing and, in the future, are planning to join a choir together. I got her hooked on Doctor Who, John Green books (the older one introduces the younger one to John Green…lol…that is irony), we like to cook together and come up with new ideas for meals. We have some great ideas for a cook book! ;) Anyway, you can see that if you want a relationship to work, you can make it work…if you have a foundation with which to begin.

    All relationships are work…you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. It’s just the nature of relationships. My girlfriend and I not only love each other like crazy but we also have immense respect for who the other person is and we always remember that the other person’s thoughts, feelings and emotions are valid. We’re not going to feel the same about every situation…and that’s okay…as long as we continue to be one another’s biggest cheerleader and best support.

  5. I’ve had relationships with different age gaps. Here’s the real deal. If both parties are legal adults and both parties have an interest in each other, GO FOR IT.

    Take your “formulas” and burn them. There is no formula for love. Love is organic, it’s either there or it’s not.

    To hell with people and their judgments. To hell with lesbians who judge and shake their finger at other lesbians and other women in general, and insinuate, blame or guilt them into thinking they have “mid-life crisis” or “mother complex” or “daughter complex”. Such thinking completely feeds into taking away our power and our freedom as women.

    If a 60 year old wants to go out with a 21 year old – so be it. If a 40 year old wants to date an 80 year old – so be it. No one has a right to judge their love. No one.

    If a 70 year old man dates or marries a 22 year old woman, he might get a few sneers but mostly he gets a HIGH FIVE. If that same man fathers children with that 22 year old, he’s looked upon as incredibly virile.

    Lesbians and all women deserve the same freedom to love who they want without further anti-feminist thought.

    There are plenty of younger women who genuinely like and desire older women and vice versa, they should be encouraged. The dating pool for lesbians is small enough as it is, don’t make it any worse for other lesbians by imposing ridiculous ideas about age gaps onto two people with common interests and affection for each other. Lesbians need more opportunities to love each other, not less.

    As for me, if I like you and you like me and you’re between the ages of 21 years old and 121 years old – fair game.

    Make your move! Ask that older/younger person out! Be brave! Be bold! Take a chance!

    Stop the nonsense about age gaps in relationships.

  6. The point in the article about “don’t hide your partner” is an important one. Whether you want to live in fantasyland and cast the experience as a fling vs choosing it as a publicly acknowledged relationship should be consciously approached from the very beginning and shared with the partner. An open discussion on this may lead to a much more fulfilling relationship as opposed to “hurt feelings” later.

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