What is an acceptable age difference for dating?

A common dilemma when it comes to dating is the difference in ages, and what society considers to be acceptable. While this social norm changes from group to group, it is wise to have a general understanding of what an acceptable age gap is. More traditional cultures are usually less progressive and accepting of different marriage arrangements. Whether or not this affects you is your own choice, but it is important to at least be able to predict your relatives and society’s response to the arrangement. Luckily for you, this guide will try to answer the question, “What is an acceptable age difference for dating?” for a variety of cultures and situations. 


There is a theory with an unknown origin that prescribed that this age difference is not a matter of choice, but is engraved into society itself. Scientists call it the “rule of seven”, which states that the younger partner’s age has to be, at minimum, seven years plus half the older partner’s age. For instance, if Jimmy was 40 years old, the youngest partner which would be socially acceptable for him would be 27 (40/2 +7).  Conversely, to find the maximum socially acceptable age for a dating partner is found by subtracting seven from the age and multiplying by two. In the case of a Jimmy, the maximum acceptable age would be 66 (40 – 7)*2 . However, modern research shows that this rule of seven is much more applicable in traditional households and women than they are in liberal cultures and men. A study by Dutch researches conducted in 2001 demonstrates that while women say that they prefer men around their age, men of all ages seem to fantasize about women in their early to mid 20s. This could be a product of evolution, as women are the most fertile at around that age, making men more inclined to be more attracted towards younger women, whereas older men are still just as fertile. 


In popular culture, many successful older men use their influence to date younger women. While they get some flak for this, it is normal in pop culture to “love whoever you want”, and for most people, that tends to be the most attractive people, most of whom are in their twenties. In the movie, “He’s not just that into you”, the main lead is quoted to have said “Know not, love can only be between people seven years apart”, demonstrating this rule in popular culture, which ironically, isn’t even followed by the actors themselves. For instance, JayZ and Beyonce are 12 years apart and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are 15 years apart, citing that “love has no bounds”. 


In more traditional cultures, however, it can be taboo for the age gap to be more than even 3 years apart. In others, women are arranged to be married to men much older than themselves. In most situations, it is never right for the man to be too much younger than the women in these cultures. In many Asian and South Asian cultures, children are arranged to be married in their teens to early twenties to someone of similar status, which includes age. It can be difficult to convince the parents of said culture of “boundless love” as religion or tradition dictates the function of marriage for them. In these situations, you must choose carefully about what you want in life, and understand the consequences.  


In general, most people do not care about moderately large age gaps. In fact, a study in 2005 found that couples with age gaps of less than 10 years faced little to no discrimination from society. However, the age gap is more than ten years, you might have to do a bit more work to prove the relationship is fruitful. While some people will be more subtle about their disapproval, there are examples of hate crimes committed against such marriage arrangements (ex. Ferguson 2005). It can often be frustrating trying to counter this societal pressure, but it can be made easier by seeking similar friend groups and talking to couples who have already gone through social discrimination. Remember, negativity is rarely good for growth and development, so you should focus on the positive feedback for your relationships.


If you find yourself in a situation where there is a substantial age gap, there are some things to keep in mind. Especially during younger years, there is a noticeable difference in monetary and societal power, which generally increases over time. A working man in his thirties dating a college student, for example, might run into issues of different societal standings in group situations. To mitigate stigma, try to stay with groups of people who are between the ages of the people dating. For example, if Brittany, who is 20 is dating Brian, 35, they should hang out with people between the ages of 20-35. In addition, as the older person, try not to assert too much power over the younger one, who will naturally feel like they have less of a say.


Another important point of contention is the difference in sexual maturity between the people dating. Again, this is much more prominent when talking about relationships with younger people, since not everyone is as comfortable in the bedroom right from the start as older people. Keep in mind that it may be their first time, or that they may not willing to do it at all, and this is something that you will have to accept in such a relationship. Ensure that there is a clear line of communication between the two of you to make sure both you understand what the other is comfortable with from the beginning. Overall, through there are challenges in relationships with large age differences, most age gaps are completely fine as long as the love is mutual.


So, what is the answer to, “What is an acceptable age gap?”. Well, it depends. It depends on the culture, the individual and even the status of society at the moment. You can subscribe to the rule of seven as a general guideline, but we would like to think that love is boundless, as long as the understanding is communicated and mutual.

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