Sexy Time: Age Is Just a Number?

older man. introI have nine months to grapple with my disbelief over dating a 30-year-old before my boyfriend actually celebrates his third decade of life. At 21, I’m young enough to lack the proper shame for being broke, have neither a bachelor’s degree nor any discernible expertise, and occasionally cheat the public transportation system by paying youth fare. My boyfriend shares none of these qualities and certainly couldn’t pull off the latter, but we are remarkably compatible despite a seven-and-a-half-year age difference.

I could list a litany of reasons why we’re an amazing couple (and alienate a large portion of readers while I’m at it), but the ultimate factor in the success of our relationship is not communication, trust, or any other idealized attribute. What it comes down to is something quite practical: similar expectations. It might not seem romantic, but if you’re going to date a 30-year-old at 21, it matters a great deal if he wants to 1) get married, 2) have children, or 3) do anything requiring more than six-months commitment at a time. Communication goes out the window when he’s communicating his desire for you to bear his first child.

In my personal experience, I’ve also found that an age difference matters far less than a difference in lifestyle. Granted, my boyfriend and I share plenty of commonalities — similarly subversive viewpoints, a deep affection for his bulldog, a disdain for abstinence in any form — but our relationship is also aided by the fact that neither of us has 9-to-5 aspirations for the immediate future. The same can’t be said for other guys I’ve dated, plenty who were younger than my boyfriend and eager to complete 100-hour work weeks in the pursuit of corporate glory. It never would’ve worked with any of them — not just because I won’t stand for scheduling dates via personal assistants, but also because a man who interacts with Excel all day can’t possibly have anything interesting to say to me over dinner.

He may be over the hill, but my boyfriend got over cubicle ambitions a long time ago, and his current work-from-home schedule as a Ph.D student is quite compatible with mine as a freelance writer. That isn’t to say that flexible Gcals are the key to successful May-December matchups, but since it’s important for me to actually get face time with my significant other, my inappropriately old boyfriend is a far better partner than the younger guys I’ve encountered in the past.

Of course, to say that age is just a number would be naive, especially since the biological reality makes it a very pertinent consideration for those interested in children and the accompanying postpartum depression. Dating someone much older (or younger) can also be a mildly scandalous affair if you have close-minded friends or resemble a 17-year-old when not wearing makeup. But to not give a relationship a chance because of adherence to a general rule regarding age gaps is simplistic and frankly, childish. It’s as childish as my discomfort over my boyfriend’s impending 30th birthday, which — as much as I loathe to admit it — is probably just a reflection of my own attachment to my twenties.



  1. rach says:

    my boyfriend is 6 years older than me. 23/29 and at first i worried about the age difference, but i think you hit the nail on the head with the expectations. neither of us are ready to settle down with our lives yet. he still wants to go to grad school and i'm starting my career. it's been 8 months and we dont ever talk about our relationship because we dont need to. like i told my mom. i'll stop when i'm not enjoying myself anymore. i'm not trying to get married anytime soon, and neither is he. but i will probably freak out if we are still together next year when he turns 30 :)

  2. Leesha says:

    I once dated a guy who was 10 years older than me. Surprisingly, he was the person who taught me so much about myself and told me to let go a little and life spontaneously. We had several things in common and his passion for music and producing,went well with my passion for music,song writing,and event planning. We had lots of fun together and had a real good relationship, he is now living in Jamaica but we keep in touch. We are not together right now,but IF and when he does return I know we'll pick up right where we let off.

  3. Meems says:

    Frankly, I think that anything within a 10 year age difference is perfectly within societal norms, especially once everyone involved is past college age. A 7.5 year age difference is hardly May/December. Admittedly, I'm a few years older, but I vastly prefer dating men who are at least 2-3 (and preferably 5) years older than I am. We may not be at the same place in life, since I'm still a student, but the maturity level is usually far more on par.

  4. Ace says:

    My first real boyfriend when I was just 18 and about to graduate was 25. Sure some of my friends and most certainly some of my exes were mildly horrified but what did I care? It started as a simple summer fling, older guy with a car, a cool job and an apartment but it grew into a really wonderful 2 and a half year relationship. He allowed me to be me and grow and figure myself out. We work in the same industry and had an understanding because of that. In my first two years of college he was an amazing support and best friend and I never thought twice about our age difference.

    My current boyfriend will turn 30 in 6 months and though I'm only 22 we still have a ton in common. We have similar goals and views on life, we make each other laugh and he is the greatest boyfriend, best friend and roommate I've ever had. I don't feel that I relate to guys my age, many of whom are interested in getting laid and the bar scene. I grew up rather fast and once I got to college just didn't see the appeal in the college dating scene. Having someone who has been through it, understands and supports me 100% because he loves me matters so much more than age. It ain't nothin' but a number baby.

  5. Kate says:

    This is great that you're in a wonderful relationship, no matter what age you are. However, in defense of the (probably majority of) Americans who work office jobs: just because someone might work in front of a computer all day doesn't mean that they don't have anything to contribute in discussion. Many people (especially in today's economy) would take any job to support themselves, and some people actually enjoy those types of jobs. They may not be right for you, but don't completely discount the worth of those who might have those jobs!

  6. Kate: Point well taken. I do think there's a difference between a typical post-grad job (which is likely in an office) and the crazy finance gigs that some of my former beaus signed up for despite the major work-life imbalance. I work in front of a computer all day myself, so I can't exactly criticize others for choosing to do the same, but my personal experience has taught me that it's extremely hard — for anyone — to be in a relationship with someone who spends over 70 hours a week at work.

  7. Stacey: Based on my experience with many, many friends and acquaintances who work in finance, I can assure you that the sacrifices one makes in order to be "rolling in money" are often not worth it. Besides, if salary were truly commensurate with responsibility, then the credit crunch would just be a bad dream. Ethical concerns about the way banks are regulated aside, I find it extremely troubling that Ivy League graduates used to view (and still view, to some extent) finance as the default career option when there are plenty of other opportunities that are infinitely more fulfilling. People come out of Harvard and comparably expensive institutions to do Teach For America, freelancing, non-profit work, and other incredibly under-paid gigs not because they want to waste their education but perhaps because they're interested in something beyond making money.

  8. beth says:

    When did 30 turn into over the hill? Just wondering…

    My husband is 31 and I'm 24- a 6 year and 10 month age difference and it's perfect. I'm a firm believer that women mature more quickly than men, (at least in some aspects) and the age difference helps balance that out.

    It is also possible to work 50+ hours a week, in a non-finance job (OK I work for a bank, but he is the head store manager of one of the Wal-Mart's here in town with over 500 employees under him, and he is who I am referring to), make a great salary (I mean over 150K a year at that level, and they're recruiting him for district level) and still have a fabulously balanced work/home life. He is usually home by 7 or 8 each evening (I'm home by 6), we spend the evenings together, and we're fortunate enough that he gets Sundays (and occasionally Saturdays) off (at least for now), so Sunday is our date day.

    I doubt you intended it to, but your article sounds more than a little condescending to those of us bust our asses at a 9-5 job.

    Personally, I am thankful for the financial security his job provides and for the fact that we do get to spend so much time together.

    PS. my father works with excel all day long at his 9-5 job, in finance, no less, and he and my mother have a 27 year, fantastic marriage- and he is far from boring.

    There's nothing wrong with a 9-5er if you enjoy what you're doing and have a companion who is supportive of you as well.

  9. Beth: I definitely think it's possible to have a fulfilling career with long hours, but in the case of my classmates, I think that too many of them are signing up for these jobs without knowing what they're getting themselves into and because they desire the prestige associated with XYZ firm. Sure, some may really belong in finance, but HALF of the graduating class used to enter the industry before its collapse and I just don't believe 50% of us have been dreaming of i-banking since we were tots. Most of my friends are entering 9-to-5 jobs and I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing it, but when it comes to who I date, I'd rather that person have a flexible schedule like mine. And not that I have anything against Excel, but I'm sure your father is doing far more interesting work with that application than entry-level analysts.

    (Over the hill was a bad joke.)

    Stacey: I don't have a problem with people working hard nor do I have a problem with people making a lot of money, though you clearly have a problem with people who choose "slacker" jobs like writing (ironic, given that you're reading it). My problem is with people who work tremendous hours at the expense of their interpersonal relationships and their own interests. Even underpaid writers are capable of overworking themselves; it's just that it's much more common in an industry like finance.

    Also, I find it ridiculous that salary is the way you determine whether a career is of any value or whether a guy is of any value. Though I agree that "working hard" is a lovely attribute in moderation, I don't agree that "earning a high salary" should be on the list of considerations for potential mate.

    By the way, your classism is embarassing. People who hold low-paying jobs at gas stations or fast food chains aren't there because they didn't work hard enough. More often than not, educational and occupational opportunities have been closed to them due to their socioeconomic background.

  10. Stacey: Let's first clear up a few facts:

    1. I'm not graduating from Harvard until next spring, and my education is going to cost a grand total of $20,000 since Harvard has a financial aid initiative to promote class diversity.

    2. Ad hominem attacks are a bad way to distract from your own classism.

    3. You need to look up a new definition for "freelance writer". It doesn't mean unemployed.

    Judging from your ridiculous assumptions about what Harvard kids are like, I'm almost certain you're not a Harvard student. However, you're surprisingly defensive about these coveted cubicle monkeys we call bankers. I can only assume that you're the neglected girlfriend of some overworked finance guy who you barely see, but idolize from afar. Because he went to some elite school (definitely not Harvard, maybe Penn) and uses words like "problematic", you believe he's a genius. Like, a real one. Unfortunately, your relationship is collapsing along with the market, and those lonely evenings are becoming more unbearable and harder to justify. And so, you're taking this column personally. Not as a banker, but as a girlfriend of a banker. That's a special brand of pathetic.

    I know you'd love an opportunity to point at an example of a disappointment at Harvard since it might make your existence a little less meaningless, but honey, even I WERE a disappointment, I still went to Harvard. The entire point of the school is that you could do absolutely nothing afterward and still be vastly superior to everyone else. See this YouTube clip.

  11. Linda says:

    What is with the hostility? There is no need to put down someone's career or path they're taking. And just because someone studied in Harvard, doesn't mean he or she has classism…judgmental much?

  12. Charlee says:

    To distract commenters from talking about finance jobs (which is getting a little too directed), I want to ask a question about age gaps and dating, which is what this article's about, isn't it?

    My roommate and I were talking about dating and age gaps a while back, and she believes that, while two people may love each other despite the age gap, the younger one is still at a disadvantage because of a lack of life experiences, especially if the younger one's not out of school yet. She also feels that a majority of younger women who are dating older men make the assumption that their maturity can cover the age gap on emotional and mental sides.

    I'm not sure how I feel, but I know I certainly thought about our convo when I was reading this article. What's your take on age, maturity for men and women, etc? Do you think the older one in the relationship unwittingly uses their years of experiences as an advantage within a relationship? Is it really just about compatibility and honesty?

  13. Kristina says:

    Stacey…back off already, the way people choose to live their lives is of no interest to you, or really anyone for that matter. Why do you care if Lena is a soon-to-be Harvard grad looking to be a freelance writer? Who cares? Stop saying that she's wasting her education. It's HER education. She does not owe it to anyone to graduate from Harvard and get a "prestigious" job, as you like to call it. If one wants to work in finance, or work as a freelance writer, they should be able to do so without having people bash them, or make them feel worthless. I understand that you may have read Lena's post and felt like she was making finance-types seem boring or unworthy of love. She was simply writing about her relationship with her older boyfriend and why they are compatible. This post was not a manifesto on why corporate America is bad or whatever. You seemed to start that argument as soon as you took offense to something that was not meant to offend. There is no need to pass judgement on Lena's choice, or of other's lifestyle choices as well.

  14. Zoe says:

    "There are 1.3 billion people in the world who look like your twin."

    Wow, Stacey. At first I thought you were just a narrowminded douchebag. My mistake, you are actually a racist narrowminded douchebag.

  15. Lauren says:

    I think that you could have made a valid point about age differences in relationship not being a big deal, without taking a jab at people with 9-5 jobs. It wasn't a truly necessary part of the article, and it just kind of made you sound a little elitist. I'm not saying you actually are, but it could be taken that way. Just a thought.

    That being said, in regards to the actual point of the article…as long as two people get along, and are compatible, I don't think age should really matter (as long as it's legal!)

  16. Tina says:

    I don't really understand why people are so quick to jump down your throat for something that wasn't even the main point of the article. RELAX people. STOP drinking that HATERADE! Stacey needs to get a grip on herself. The back and forth is like a literary form of a scene from bad girls club. Disgusting, but oh so entertaining!

  17. charlene says:

    It's 1.10am here and I'm a little tired but I think the point was that Lena and her boyfriend *both* share the thought that they do not want to have 9 to 5 jobs in the immediate future, so they have that in common. That was the sentiment I got out of reading anyway. Conversely, my boyfriend and I are both 9 to 5 (or 8.30 to 6.30) workers (or I will be once I graduate next year) – and that works really well for us as we will have the same free hours as each other. (Though he is only 2 years older than me anyway)

    There is an excellent book by an Aussie writer Lisa Pryor called the Pin Striped Prison which speaks about how high achieving students get trapped into jobs (i.e. corporate world – commercial law, investment banking & consulting) for the lifestyle and the feeling that they should be doing something (commercially) meaningful. A really interesting read which I certainly identify with, being a law student at one of Australia's top universities (a very rough equivalent to being at an Ivy League, given the different education system) – and gives an insight why a lot of people our age in the Western world have this common perception that commercial jobs means that you're successful. This review sums up the gist of the book (though it's not as relevant to the majority of the Americans here)

    So point of this comment – and coming from someone wanting to enter into the commercial world: we should all accept our colleagues choice to enter into non-commercial career paths and not equate intelligence and our value to society with a prestigious 9 to 5 job. We need all types in this world, whether they be investment bankers or freelance writers. However, a common pursuit, regardless of either path, does help one's relationship for a couple.

  18. Kat says:

    Firstly, let me begin by saying that I feel as though I could have written this article! Lena you and I have so much in common. My boyfriend and I are 9 years in age difference, he’s 29 (turning 30 in sept.) and I’m 20. We’ve been dating since I was 17 and he was 26, 3.5 years. At first I was weary about getting into a relationship with someone much older than me at such a young age but the more I got to know him and the more time we spent together I realized that his age didn’t matter to me. My family loves him, his family loves me, but most importantly of all we love each other and we have a great relationship. Lena, I totally agree with you about the being on the same page in life thing as well, my boyfriend and I both don’t want to get married any time soon (not until I’m done with college at least) and neither of us wants kids until were married and then some. We both want to travel and live our lives before we bring other lives into this world.

    My boyfriend also owns his own very successful computer business (he makes more than 250k a year) that he’s been building up since he was just out of high school and he works from home. I agree, it is really great that I don’t have to worry about scheduling something with him just to see him and I feel really lucky to have a guy like I do, he’s definitely one in a million. I am also a sort of freelance writer so I have lots of free time, especially in the summer when I’m not in classes. I’ve always been more mature for my age starting from a very young age and have always had better luck with older guys (and older friends in general).

    Now, I might not go to Harvard but I don’t think school prestige has anything to do with a mature and loving relationship or what an individual prefers from said relationships. Lena was not bashing people who work 9-5 jobs or put in rediculous hours for work during the week. I think she and I can both agree that dating someone who doesn’t have that kind of work pressure is a blessing and after having it it’s hard to imagine dating someone who we might not see as often or who has such an intense work schedule.

    I definitely can attest to age being just a number, I think I’ve defied that for some time now and could be the poster woman defaming that saying lol.

    Way to go Lena on having such a great relationship! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and don’t let society make you think it’s wrong because only you can be the judge of yourself.

  19. Casey says:

    When did College Candy start deleting posts? I have seen some pretty bad comments and pretty hurtful comments (and often been the object of them) in the past. But I would never ask them to be deleted, nor want them to be. Writing should be eternal, whether it's on the internet or not. Once it's written/said it should not be erased.

    These comments make absolutely no sense since the other side was deleted and I don't really think it's fair to deem someone else's writings/comments as offensive and delete them without deleting the entire argument. even if they were offensive, you're basically taking away the other sides voice. What if someone else did agree with the person? They get no opportunity for support since their side was deleted?

    I don't know the nature of the comments since they were deleted, so I don't know if any rules of the site were breached, but I just think it's so unfair to delete someone's argument. Just wanted to throw that out there.

  20. Casey- Not sure who deleted the posts from Stacey but it’s been suggested by other comments here and on my own blog that the last thing she wrote included a racist statement. That might be why her posts disappeared.

  21. lawgrad08 says:

    Deleting posts in a comment thread does not help readers. UGH. While I understand the main point Lena Chen was making…her sideview point was also passing (small)judgment on those who want to work 60-70/hrs a week and are happy about because they are type A. Lena Chen is happy freelancing someone else is happy fielding armageddon or whatever. That's that.

    I do think girls mature faster than boys…but that stops at a certain point. Really we are talking about a couple of years not 5 or 10. Sorry but no 18 year old girl is going to be on the level of a 30 year old man.

    The only real significant gap is the point at which either sex wants to pursue romantic exclusivity (nesting). Most women are born with a natural preference for exclusivity/nesting (I said most not all). (Most) men on the otherhand reach that point later (much later).

    SO this isnt about (emotional/experience/understanding each other) maturity this is about at what point either party is ready to be in a committed exclusive relationship. So late 20/early 30's guys are most likely going to be ready to start nesting. Choosing someone barely in their 20's – well that's male preference for getting someone as young as they can get and it still be legal. Thats not LOVE kids…thats something else all together…when you young girls start getting to that certain age you'll know exactly what I am talking about…its a whole different animal…its just that teen/young adult women arent experienced enough to know the difference. Dont you just love youth?

  22. Nina says:

    i am 21. my boyfriend is 36. 15 years. do it bother me? not one single bit. does it bother him? sometimes yes it does.

    we get along very well. he works 830-6 everyday as a sales manager and i work 2 part time jobs 6 days a week. we have many common interests, music, movies, books, we even have very similar tastes in food. neither one of us are looking to get married soon or settle down with one another, we've only been together a few months. we talk all the time and discuss just about anything under the sun, we care about each other, look out for each other, and our chemistry is out of this world. that said, we do disagree on many points as well, but it doesn't affect us at all.

    as long as two people are happy together i don't think age matters.

  23. thesinglefriend says:

    I often find myself questioning the very same issues… I think age is JUST a number but it also depends on what place you're at in your life.. 21 to 22 or 22 to 23 means the difference between college and the real world, and a lot of changes can happen. I think it depends on you, the guy and what kind of effort you're both willing to put in. Love college candy!

  24. Jessie says:

    I dont like law girl. I think a lot of 30 year old women are bitter that they are still not married and that they were too wild and stupid to get a guy when they were still young and hot. Now that they have saggy boobs and an extra 20 – 30 lbs, they are pissed that the nice guys are looking for something good looking. I mean look to the olden days were an age difference was the norm.

  25. Jessie says:

    I dont like law grad. I think a lot of 30 year old women are bitter that they are still not married and that they were too wild and stupid to get a guy when they were still young and hot. Now that they have saggy boobs and an extra 20 – 30 lbs, they are pissed that the nice guys are looking for something better. I mean look to the olden days were an age difference was the norm. Now women are getting married in their early 30s which is biologically idiotic if they want to have children. It is an insult to the 30 year old guy to say that he is skeevy and an insult to the 20 year old girl to say that she is naive. Why do you assume there is something wrong with both of them? Have you not considered that it may just be true love, that the girl knows what she is getting into, and that the guy is not trying to manipulate her in any way? Maybe the age different couples are the smart ones. Certainly sounds better to me than waiting until you are 30 and your uterus is almost dried up and then bitching because you finally just became mature enough to have a serious relationship, but now you are ugly and fat and none of the good guys want you.

    I am 20 dating and also dating a 29 (almost 30) year old who happens to be finishing his phd. I have to deal with annoying people like lawgrad08 all the time. I am not naive and my boyfriend is not using me for some perverse pleasure (he actually wishes i were older). Can you just lighten up, butt out, and stop thinking you are so wise and mighty just because you are a little bit older than me?

    You go lena for having the guts to spill the beans about your relationship on a public forum. wishing the best for you and hope everything goes great for you two!

  26. Dom says:

    My boyfriend is 12 years older than me. And it's not really that big of a deal. We enjoy eachother's company. I'm not an exploited young woman, and he's not blowing all of his savings on me. He has his career going, and I'm just starting mine, but that's our biggest difference.

    Neither one of us wants to marry for at least another 5-10 years, and we're not assuming it's going to be with eachother. Neither of us are sure if we want kids (with eachother or otherwise).

    We just work. His parents like me. My parents like him. I get some flak from some friends and co-workers every so often, but it's all in jest. I'm level headed and the people close to me see that he's making me happy right now and the people close to him know I'm making him happy. And that's all that matter right now.

    Should anything else happen later (break up, engagement, or just years of more dating), happens! We take it one day at a time and don't pressure ourselves to fit into any sort of relationship (or lack of) or role just because society thinks our age difference is weird.

  27. Yolanda says:

    my man is 80 years old and rock my world

  28. пaпa says:

    Вообще я люблю написать какую-нибудь скабрезную критику, но тут ни к чему не придраться! :)

  29. how is 21 and 30 a huge age gap? I'm 24 and I've been with a 36 and 38 year old…so what?..i know she's saying "so what" too…but that's not even a huge age gap in my opinon.

  30. Nanda says:

    Tabata intervals on the bike this mnonirg. No watts meter, but it hurt really bad. After some recovery, Helen WOD; 55lb. DB and Kip Pull-Ups- 8:13 minutes. Couldn’t run as fast as I wanted because I was running down a road with no street lights and couldn’t see a thing. None-the-less I still got a good workout in the today. Any go shopping for time today?

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