by COSMY PELLIS
Q: Can a relationship with an age gap be healthy? My boyfriend and I have been dating for several months and have been hooking up for over a year, and I often wonder if our 8-year age gap is healthy or not. I’ve always been told I’m mature for my age, and while I like that sometimes, I’m not sure if I should embrace it. There are such mixed reviews on social media from people also in this situation and I feel like it’s healthy, but I also am biased since I’m so close to the situation. How do I know if it’s healthy or not?
A: To give a short answer to your question, I think that yes, a relationship with an age gap can be healthy. The keyword is can. Like all relationships, there are components of an age-gap situation that are necessary to assess whether it is healthy. I’m not here to judge at all; if this age gap works for you and your partner, and you’re in a mutually respectful, communicative, loving relationship, I support it, but I also hear your concern. Here’s the thought process that I would go through if I were in your situation.
How do you feel about the length of your age gap?
Eight years is a lot of time. When you’re young, eight years encompasses massive amounts of growth and learning. It’s important to consider the stages of life you are in. Since you’re writing to this column, I can assume that you’re in college, and doing some quick math, that means your boyfriend is reaching his 30s. College comes with a very different mindset than someone might have post-graduation. Your days probably look pretty different from his, and you probably have different worries and dreams. There’s nothing wrong with this—it can even make conversation really interesting to have two different perspectives—but it could be an issue if you feel unheard or disconnected from him because of the different points you are at in life.
You don’t want anyone to rush you or make you feel like you want college to be over already. It’s a unique time in our lives when we really get to focus on ourselves and our studies and fully embrace academia. Make sure that being with someone who’s older doesn’t take away from experiencing your undergraduate education.
Do you feel like you have open, honest communication in your relationship?
I will never stop bringing this up in these columns. One of the major signs of a healthy relationship is the strength and frequency of communication between partners. This is crucial in an age-gap relationship because he might not intuitively know where your thoughts lie as much as someone who is in your same age group might. Definitely explain your feelings and be receptive to his.
This is also important in terms of your sex life. Do you feel like you have open communication about sexual topics? Does he take you seriously and prioritize you during sex? Does he know what you like, and does he focus on that just as much as he focuses on his own pleasure? Make sure you feel heard and supported in this realm.
How do your loved ones feel about your boyfriend?
You mentioned that you feel biased because you’re so close to the situation, which I understand, and I think that is almost always the case in our personal relationships. It’s a lot easier to give advice to a friend than to confront the idea that there might be something wrong in your own relationship. I would advise you to ask your loved ones—family and close friends—how they feel about your boyfriend.
Do they think the age gap is too much? Do they think you two are compatible? Does he treat them with respect? This one is really important—I always pay attention to how my significant other treats my friends and family. For me, they have to make an effort to connect and get along with the people I love. It can be a red flag if the people closest to you don’t like your boyfriend or if he doesn’t treat them with the respect and care that you expect him to treat you with. Pay attention to what trusted people in your life say about him.
How do you feel when you’re not around your boyfriend?
This is an important question to ask in any relationship. It’s easy to feel happy and lovestruck when you’re around your significant other, but a telling sign of an unhealthy relationship is feeling upset when that person is not around you.
How do you feel when he’s not around? You should feel secure in the relationship and excited to see him again, not anxious, worried or angry. Fights happen in every relationship, but they shouldn’t be the norm.
Does he encourage you to have fun outside of the relationship, like going out with friends? If he doesn’t, or if he tries to keep you from your friends, that’s a red flag. This is a typical manipulator move to isolate you from everyone but them.
Does he support you in your everyday endeavors? This is a very vital part of a healthy relationship, but especially one with an age gap. Like I said, you’re likely in different places in your lives, so it’s important for him to have an understanding of what matters to you.
You absolutely should embrace your maturity. I can tell from your question that you are thinking deeply about what’s right for you. Remember that maturity and age are not always on the same level, and even though he’s eight years older than you, he could still be less mature. Make sure he’s on your intellectual level.
With maturity comes careful consideration of all of our relationships, and I hope that my advice helps you come to a conclusion about how you feel about your current relationship.
If you decide that it is healthy, I wish both of you the best and I hope you’re happy together for a long time. If you decide that it’s not healthy, don’t fret. You can work on the relationship together or break up with him. Being single is just an opportunity to get to know yourself better and maybe find a new, super cool significant other when you’re ready. Either way, you are doing an amazing job of asking important questions and considering all facets of your relationship.