On Dating Younger: When Does Her Age Become a Problem?

Almost every news story about Sofia Richie, 19, and Scott Disick, 34, mentions the fact that she’s 15 years younger than he is—and that he has three kids from his marriage to Kourtney Kardashian. Richie and Disick are both over the age of consent, and if they want to be dating, that’s their decision, right? (Just as it was Hugh Hefner's decision before them.) But if the word teen as part of any age is enough to gross out the internet, why isn't it enough to gross out Scott and other men?

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, is a psychologist and the author of Insecure in Love, a book on building emotionally healthy relationships. She says that while dating someone with a big age difference is a personal choice, that’s not all there is to it. “There are things you have to think about. It’s not like ‘I like chocolate ice cream and you like vanilla.’ While Richie and Disick are probably better off ignoring everything that’s written about them on gossip sites, in general, it’s worth listening to what people who know you well think of your relationship. Becker-Phelps says, “Hopefully, you have family and friends who really care about you and what’s best for you, and they don’t just mirror back everything you tell them. They’re going to have their own thoughts, their own opinions. Listen to those thoughts and opinions. They may see things you don’t see.”

A couple who is caught up in the excitement and passion of a new relationship may not be open to criticism, but any big differences in a relationship should be addressed early on. Becker-Phelps urges people not to tune out advice from loved ones, because they may have concerns that deserve your attention. She says, “In the end, if you’ve carefully considered the feedback you’re getting and you’ve weighed things out, and it turns out you want to date someone they don’t approve of, or they’re not okay with, then you have to do what’s right for you.”

According to Becker-Phelps, the reason people often say it’s best to date someone around your own age, or of your own religion, is because there’s a commonality that comes with those things. She says, “The bigger the age difference, the more there will be cultural gaps. That’s important, but you know what? That’s not always true. Sometimes people share an interest. Maybe there’s a fifteen year age gap, but you both share an interest in movies—old movies, new movies, whatever. There may be enough in that interest that you’re not feeling that cultural gap because you have a similar focus. Or maybe you find each other’s differences that you bring to the relationship interesting, and you have a way of talking about it, and informing each other, and it actually brings a stronger foundation.”

Sometimes a big age gap does present challenges, though. Becker-Phelps explains, “Let’s say it was a 20 year difference. You have to be aware that there is an age gap, and you know what? As people get older, their bodies break down. There are some people who are very vibrant in their 60s, and some people not so much. Let’s say you’re a vibrant 55 year old and you meet somebody who’s a vibrant 70 year old, and you get married. That’s fine, except when you’re 70, what you look like at 70 could be very, very different than 75 or 80. That’s true at any age, but it becomes more true as you get older. You have to really think about it—are you okay signing up for that? You may have to become the caretaker. Again, that could be true whatever your age difference is, it just makes it more likely.”

A big age gap may also affect whether you’re able to accomplish certain goals. Becker-Phelps says, “At a younger age, it might be having children. If there’s a big age split, does one person want to have kids, and the other one not?” If a 55 year old who is very active and wants to travel the world marries someone who’s 70, it may be harder to pursue those dreams.

Becker-Phelps also recommends asking yourself, “What is it that attracts you to each other? It could be that one person, the younger person, is looking to the older person as their mentor. That’s great, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, except that as time goes on, that relationship very well may change. You may not want a mentor as your partner. It’s one thing if the older person grows with you and you grow into equal partnership, but what if the older person really wanted to have their partner look up to them? Then you have a problem.”

She points out that even if a couple with a big age gap eventually break up, that doesn’t mean their ages were the issue, saying, “Maybe it’s just the age—or maybe it has to do with him, or her, or them together.”

In the end, that old “half your age plus seven” phrase is irrelevant. Instead of worrying about how much younger or older someone is, Becker-Phelps recommends focusing on whether they’re a good match for you. She says, “I think it’s very important to be able to hit pause and step back and look at yourself and the other person and the relationship, and do the best that you can to assess those things. Look at the roles that you have and the values that you have, the very real differences—maybe in age—and what that could mean, and how that might affect your life now or in the future. You don’t want to live just for the future, but it’s crazy to ignore reality, too.”

To determine if your partner is a good match for you, Becker-Phelps has a few words of advice. She says, “You want to look for someone who’s secure and mature—secure in themselves, secure in the relationship, and mature in how they cope in relationships, so they can be caring, and they can also support you as an individual and a separate person. You want somebody who can be an effective communicator, someone who appreciates you, someone who’s ready for a relationship, where there’s a good fit, where you enjoy each other’s time and each other’s company. That’s true across the board. It’s not just age related, but it certainly also applies to age.”

As we stated earlier, our founder, Mr. Hefner himself, was involved in many relationships with younger women over the years. His second wife, Kimberley Conrad, was 36 years younger than him. His third wife, Crystal Hefner, was 60 years younger. When they married in 2012, she was 26, and he was 86. After his death, she told People, “He made me feel loved every single day.” On some level, age differences matter—especially to outsiders giving their unsolicited opinions—but to the people in them, age gaps aren't always a deal-breaker.

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