The Relativity of Age-Difference Relationships

I have no idea why (then again, maybe I do) but I just started thinking about age-differences in a relationship and how these age differences are perceived in today's society. Or, also, how age differences in a relationship can bring with them valuable lessons and benefits, as well as a number of growing pains and pain points.

Today's upwardly mobile youth enjoys many freedoms, financial independence, purchasing decision-making power, and accessibility to an innumerable amount of diverse people and materialistic possessions at the touch of a keyboard stroke. Nothing seems impossible anymore. It seems to me that with increased exposure to a number of lifestyles, preferences, etc., people's perception of relationships with a significant age difference have changed. These types of relationships are no longer the major moral conundrum that they once were. Mind you, in certain circles there are limits.

Why is there a presumption that the younger party is mostly always female? The older party male? Can this be construed as a sort of carry-over from traditionalist match-making criteria of ages past? Do the values during upbringing come into play? Examples? Try Elie Tahari and his wife Rory. Tony Randall. Anthony Quinn. Classic age-difference relationship connoisseurs/practitioners like Rod Stewart and Malcom McDowell. Then again, there's the odd story that pops up in the news on occasion... Joey Buttafuoco and the Long Island Lolita...or those female teachers with long-term relationships (and offspring) with teenage boyfriends…from the constraints of jail...

I wonder when an age-difference relationship hits that sweet spot that moves it from an "awkward, possibly-illegal age-difference" stage (Elvis and Priscilla, Charlie Chaplin, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen) into a "definite maybe age-difference" stage. What does the social/moral barometer say? Technically, fail-safe "safe" equals a younger party in their early- to mid-twenties. Is there an age limit for the older party? There is a decrease in mental pressure (or legal? parental?) and increased freedom to explore this relationship. The younger party should have sufficiently developed emotionally and mentally, to have a well-formed sense of self, abilities, work identity, income, social awareness, tastes and preferences, etc.

I came to the conclusion that there are three trends involved in the feasibility and success of age-difference relationships.

One factor is that the feasibility and success may depend on how long the two parties have known each other--the companionship and friendship principle that are so relevant to any type of relationship. What kind and for how long have these two been fraternizing? And what kind of depth and intrinsic value have the two parties brought to this connection? It's a fact that positive interaction over time (time and conversation) breed fondness, appreciation, etc.

The second factor is the younger party's aging/maturing process. The age-difference discomfort is somewhat mitigated by the younger party's aging and maturing proportionately (one hopes) -- if there is any feeling on the older party's perspective of potential social stigma or "moral" weight, it should dissipate. There's growing old together, and there's growing old together. People who come from different generations or cultures will bring their very unique and differing perspectives. Patience and conflict can appear and dissipate in cycles.

The third and final factor is the "agenda principle." Sometimes individuals are searching for personal or social growth and cling to individuals that can facilitate this ascension. One party looks for a younger protégé or other type of malleable personality. Some older parties look for someone to keep them young, and with the times. While the other, younger party can seek a mentor, a guide, an instructor, experience, or someone who is very well socially and financially connected. Sometimes an age difference may indicate a shared affinity for likes and hobbies that one cannot find in one's own age group. Surprisingly, there actually is a percentage of relationships that survive this somewaht more superficial approach--particularly if both parties are aware of the other's reasons for being in the relationship, and if these reasons are not sufficient to create a point of discord or separation in the near or long terms.

This little discussion does not even begin to scratch the surface of the arguments that age differences bring to the conversation table. There are some darker and more complex reasons people approach age-difference relationships: control issues, illegal preferences, cultural and social bias, and materialism and social climbing... some of these are much more visible when in the celebrity realm of relationships—but it’s important to reflect on how much of what we see is real or pre-manufactured for our entertainment. And conversely, how much more of this goes on, for real, behind those closed doors around us. Perhaps more than what we realize…

I must be having one of those spacey, new-age, stream of consciousness brain days. I just wanted to write down some of my thoughts on this topic so that I can come back to them at another time, and explore more in depth. This is certainly one of those topics that grow on you like moss, if you stand too still while pondering them.