Bridging the age gap: Older guy + younger girl = trouble, right?

Though Mia Thompson (left) is eight years younger than her boyfriend Ethan Bennett, the couple’s common interests keep them from caring about an age difference.
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It’s also important that girls advocate for what they want, whether it’s sexual or not. They might be at a disadvantage because of their status. They’re younger and they’re female. Those two things carry different statuses

(Guys age)/2+7= (Girls age)

Unofficially, this formula on Urban Dictionary is used by teens to find the appropriate age cut off when it comes to dating. Based on the formula, a 21-year-old could date someone as young as 17, an 18-year-old could be with a 16-year old, and a 16-year-old with a 15-year-old.

Having a partner who is much older or younger has become somewhat trendy in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, perhaps even more so among young adults.

But are there greater risks to consider with a large age gap between partners?

Ethan Bennett, 26, and Mia Thompson, 18, haven’t been affected by an eight-year difference — two years more than the formula’s appropriate “cut off age.” The pair met on the University of Minnesota campus, which offered a free SAT prep session led by college students.

Bennett, a senior in college, and Thompson, a junior in high school, didn’t think about dating each other when they first met.

“I remember that we were paired up as study buddies for the eight-week session. In the beginning I only thought about teaching Mia ways to calm down and convince herself about her own abilities,” Bennett said.

“But as we got to know each other more, we found we had a lot in common, such as spending hours reading a book in Barnes & Noble and bowling with friends at night. Even our majors, or in her case future major, were alike. I was studying to be an E.M.T and she wanted to be a nurse. During those eight weeks, it wasn’t uncommon for her parents to see me around her, but as we began to grow closer, it was her mom that noticed first and confronted us.”

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” Thompson said about her parents’ reaction to dating a college student. “I’m pretty sure it would’ve been a different story if my dad caught on first. But (my mom) surprisingly understood.

“She did warn Ethan about what would happen if he broke my heart and what she would allow her husband to do to him if he did. She didn’t jump to conclusions like I (thought) she would’ve. Her voice was soft and calm … as she asked questions.”

The couple has been together for two years and never thinks about their age difference.

“To be honest, if (Mia) never told me her age, I would have thought that she was close to the same age as me,” Bennett said. They both scoffed at the notion of a “dating formula.”

”That’s rich, really rich. I can’t believe that someone made something like that …,” Bennett said before trailing off in a fit of laughter.

“I’d bet a parent made it,” Thompson joked. “Most likely the father. (He) probably thought that this would help keep older guys away from his daughter, or something like that.”

FEMALES MATURE FASTER

Throughout the 2000s, the longitudinal Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study by Peggy Giordano proposed that girls tend to be more mature in relationships because of the intimate bonds they commonly develop with same-sex peers. Female maturity, both emotional and physical, is often two years ahead of their same age male counterparts, the study said. Teen boys also expressed less confidence in navigating relationships than girls of the same age.

That helps explain what is fairly common knowledge — age gap relationships among teens tend to be between older males and younger females. The two-year age gap pattern also shows up in adulthood, with the average age of marriage for women at 25 or 26, and for men at 27 or 28, said Ann Meier, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.

The elephant in the room, of course, is sex. Societal expectations tend to dictate that the older male-younger female dynamic will create one-sided pressure, and perhaps, submissiveness.

“In terms of it being problematic, there are two sides to the coin,” said Meier, who studies the effects of adolescent sex on mental health. “Risks of forced or unwanted sex are higher when you have an older male partner. And risks of depression and lowered self-esteem are higher when you have an older male partner. But because teens have an older partner doesn’t mean they experience forced sex. So the risk is higher, but only to that percentage of teens who have an older partner.”

It might mean that age gap couples “need to communicate more than they would in a same age relationship,” Meier said. But it’s not a sign that the relationship can’t work.

“it’s awkward enough already to have a conversation about sex … But when the topic is broached, it’s important to make sure both voices are heard and that they understand each other well. It’s not just one person deciding and the other goes along with it,” Meier said.

“It’s also important that girls advocate for what they want, whether it’s sexual or not. They might be at a disadvantage because of their status. They’re younger and they’re female. Those two things carry different statuses. Despite how much you feel your partner loves and respects you in the individual relationship, we’re all influenced by broader societal norms.”

CAUTIONARY TALE

Jessica Murphy of Apple Valley learned a hard lesson after her relationship with an older man didn’t end “happily ever after.”

At 15, she met Devin, a 24-year-old, on a college tour. Being a naive teen, as Murphy put it, she fell for him. Hard.

As the three years they were together went by, Jessica began to see how much her behavior had changed just to keep Devin. When she finally decided to break it off, she realized her relationship was already, well, broken. Her “‘boyfriend” of three years was still with his last girlfriend and only dated her to see what someone younger was like.

Now, at 21, Murphy can laugh about it.

“I can’t believe how easily I was dragged into that! First it was just a couple of nice talks, and then somehow it escalated to me skipping school and sneaking out,” she said.

“But really, in what situation would that even work? I mean, he was nine, nearly 10 years older than me. Maybe it would work for someone, but it will end up in heartbreak. A relationship like that was doomed from the start.”

USE COMMON SENSE

Is society learning to become more comfortable with greater age gaps, especially among teens and young adults? If you polled parents, they’d probably hope that trends aren’t heading in that direction, Meier said.

Research data also shows that age gap relationships aren’t as common as most people might think. Seventy percent of teens date a partner within a year of their own age, Meier said, though 30 percent dating outside the customary range is still a “substantial minority.”

Either way, asking tough questions and allowing common sense to prevail should allow age gap relationships to be on the same footing as same age ones.

“If the couple is open and understanding with their partner, then there shouldn’t be many difficulties in the relationship,” Meier said. “And keep the parents informed about the status of their relationship. Most parents are available to talk, and most likely won’t jump to conclusions without reason.”

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