READER’S QUESTION: "Hi Evie, I’ve been dating an older man for almost two years – I’m 25 and he’s 42. He’s never been married, no children, has a great career, great social circle, is a practicing Christian, he’s in good shape and constantly trying to better himself. We get along great and overall have a strong relationship.
We’ve had issues with conflict resolution, and are currently seeing a couples therapist together, which has already helped quite a bit with our communication. He’s been talking about getting married and starting a family together and could potentially be proposing sometime soon. I love him and definitely see a future with him, but I have had a couple of friends advise that I shouldn’t marry someone so much older than me. Is this something I should consider more? I don’t want to regret my decision in 10 years, or have children with someone who’s “too old.” But also in the time we’ve been together so far, age hasn’t been much of an issue at all. Am I being naive to think it could work out with a man who is 17 years older than me? Or is age really just a number?"
EVIE’S ADVICE: This is a really tough situation, and our advice has a few layers to it. To begin, let’s unpack the large age gap. Seventeen years is nothing to brush off as it is significant in several different ways. Right now, you might not feel like it’s that serious because he’s still in his 40s and can enjoy much of the same things you can in your 20s, but consider the long-term impact of this decision. When he is 85, you'll be 68. He might need a full-time nurse assistant while you still want to travel and be active. Do you want to spend your early retirement years potentially playing nurse?
Starting a family and bringing children into the equation adds an entirely new layer as well. Not only is declining male fertility a factor in being able to get pregnant (most sperm banks don’t accept sperm from men over 35 years of age), but if you do successfully birth a child, keep in mind that you’re likely going to be the one chasing after him or her and doing much of the physical activities that having a toddler requires as his body will naturally be less energized than yours at his age. Depending on when you get engaged, married, and start a family, he could very well be in his 50s by the time your kids are in elementary school. If his fertility isn’t where it needs to be to get you pregnant, are you okay with not having children, or adopting or fostering, or potentially doing fertility treatments to create the family you want?
Your boyfriend probably has his life figured out, while you’re still learning who you are and what you want your future to look like.
Secondly, statistics don’t lie – marriages generally do better if couples are closer in age. For both men and women, you’re more set in your routine and less adaptable with age. Your boyfriend probably has his life figured out, more or less, while you’re still learning who you are and what you want your future to look like. He likely has a stable career he’s satisfied with, a home he’s purchased, friendships he's cultivated over the years, and a routine that feels comfortable to him. Is this where you imagined yourself living for the rest of your life? You may find yourself making sacrifices or settling in ways that work with his lifestyle, rather than forging a path completely your own. This is fine, as many of us make sacrifices for our relationships (that is what marriage requires, after all); you just need to be aware of it and accept it as a part of your relationship so you don’t grow resentful in the future.
With these concerns in mind, your decision needs to be based on your true feelings. Do you feel that, even despite all of these potential challenges, he is the one person you can’t imagine your life without? Sometimes friends, even ones who believe they have our best interests at heart, don’t give the advice that we should follow. They aren’t in your shoes, so they can’t truly understand how you’re feeling (which is understandable). Before you take anyone’s advice, assess where it’s coming from and the intent behind it. Are your friends single and simply want you to be able to continue going out with them, or want you to date someone who fits within your current friend group agewise? Is the advice coming from a girlfriend who never thinks that any guy is good enough for you? Or do these friends have rock solid relationships, or are coming at the situation with their own firsthand experience of dating an older man? What does your family think about the relationship? These are all important questions to consider as you make this life-altering decision. You may have rose-tinted glasses on, and your friends are trying to politely point out to you some flaws they’ve noticed or some of these potential pitfalls that you aren’t acknowledging yet, which can be helpful.
While it’s romantic to believe that love doesn’t discriminate based on age and you can joke about being all lovey-dovey playing nurse when he’s bedridden in his 80s, this is a very serious conversation you need to have prior to an engagement. Talk through all of the different possibilities and be brutally honest about the downsides of your age gap. Don’t expect it to be an easy conversation, though. If you’re already in therapy (which is a potential red flag this early in the relationship, TBH), this is a good place to have this discussion. Unfortunately, there’s nothing he can do to change his age, so he might feel attacked or hurt when you bring up your concerns, but they need to be addressed nonetheless. If you both feel that you can fully accept the results of your decision, then at least you’ll know that you’re moving forward without naivety. For the health of your relationship and potential marriage, it’s better to be transparent rather than worrying that you’ll look back in 20 years full of resentment and remorse.
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