An Investigation of Age Gaps In Relationships: When Does a Number Become More Than Just a Number For a Woman?


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Curiosity is something that plagues people throughout every aspect of life. Whether it comes to what your plans are for the week, for the next five years, or even why you don’t get along with a certain person, everyone wants to know more than what you give them. This is especially true when it comes to relationships, both romantic and otherwise; something that belongs to two people becomes a magnet for everyone’s opinion. However it doesn’t stop there, and where a relationship with an age gap is concerned, those at the centre of it better prepare themselves for the onslaught of opinions that will come their way.

Unless you and whoever you are in a relationship with were born at the same hour, day, month, and year, there will always be some degree of an age gap, and with this fact comes ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ numbers that divide those in the relationship. Alongside that, age gaps are confused by the standards and roles implied by certain genders. In a very typical and hetero-normative relationship it is acceptable for the woman to be younger than the man, with him being at least a couple of years older than her. This is something that from a young age girls aspire to have, as we are fed images of older men in pop-culture, especially films, that have this Prince Charming feel about them. However, as soon as a woman is the oldest in a relationship, there comes an onslaught of harsh criticism which is always underlined by her inability to spark a romance with a man of her age or older, therefore turning her attention to younger men.

Women, generally speaking, always come off worse when they are in a relationship with a younger man, but on the flip side of this, a man dating an older woman is something often fetishised or greeted with a laddish seal of approval.  Phrases like “toy-boy” and “cradle-snatcher” are only a few of the slurs against women when those around her find out that she is dating a man younger than her. Inherent in that is a look of complete disapproval for her choice of romantic partner – why is this?

There is no regard for the real values of attraction that draw one person to the other, and instead this opinion is formed from an idea that her inability to find a romantic partner her age means that she is left with no option but to lure a younger man into her bed. This feels like a completely warped and novel idea – something that you would only see in a movie like Sex and the City. The reality is vastly different.

The issue of an age gap is something experienced first hand by myself and something that was always greeted with looks of uncertainty and, in more extreme cases, abuse being shouted at me for my choice of significant other. Whether people knew me or not, they felt my relationship was an open call for any and all opinions, but in truth my, or anyone’s relationship, is not for anyone to call right or wrong and is none of anyone’s business. Despite knowing this in an objective sense, when you are in the position where people are shouting at you and hurling abuse your way, that goes out the window and you personally become a victim. It becomes hard to stop it affecting you.

In this way, the number that separates you and your partner becomes a wall and a way to divide you. It becomes a symbol of your relationship and something that you feel necessary to hide from everyone surrounding you or something to declare when introducing your significant other. This feeling is heightened in different situations and depending on where you are in your life; my relationship started in sixth form and having an age gap in school is the perfect breeding ground for insults against you. However, when you move the same relationship forward by a number of years, it is less of an issue… That was the golden nugget of advice told to me during my time at school, and most likely others in the same position as myself.

In light of all this, age gaps in relationships, unless they are something legally wrong, should not be a target for any and all opinions, especially when those opinions transform into abuse. There is absolutely no reason for the onslaught of disapproval men and woman face when it is declared to the world, no matter how big the world surrounding them is, that two people are in a relationship. Just because a woman enters into a relationship with a younger man it does not make them a cougar, the man her toy-boy, or anything else; all it means is that two people are in a relationship.

It appears that the age-gap-issue is definitely a gendered one and pervades hetero-normative and conventional relationships – what this would look like in non-monogamous relationships or in LGBTQ+ relationships is something I don’t know and cannot truthfully comment on having not experienced it. As with many other things in today’s society, women are always the ones that come off worse and this situation perfectly epitomises that. Add this to the many things on the list women are fighting against.

No longer should we take the abuse and slurs that are hurled at us when the personal choice of romantic partners is just that – personal. The only way to assess age gaps as being right or wrong is through the lens of what is legal aside from that, it is not anyone else’s business. Curiosity is natural and instinctual for many, but it comes down to something that we are all taught as children; if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.


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