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Column: Does age really matter in a relationship?

While an age difference doesn’t matter initially it can eventually cause problems, writes Tony Moore, who says being in different stages in our lives can be difficult to deal with.

Tony Moore

WE ALL DREAM of finding the ideal partner. One of the myriad of problems we face is how to know whether we have chosen the right person. The separation and divorce statistics seem to tell us that we are not very good at choosing a partner.

At Relationships Ireland, we meet many single people who want to be given the sure-fire formula for the perfect partner. There are, as you know, many agencies that will, for a fee, filter out those who do not suit your particular needs and profile and then come up with your ‘perfect’ match.

The ‘age gap’ is of particular interest to many because of, not to put too fine a point on it, the sex interest (more on which later). If the woman has a younger partner, often described as her lover, he is also described as a ‘toy boy’ – a plaything. If he is older by a good few years she is described as a ‘gold digger’ and he is described as a ‘dirty old man’.

Cracks begin to show

So what is the gap that could produce problems? I can only tell you from my experience. Anything wider than about 10 years could produce problems in the future. For a start, we are at different stages in our lives, jobs, education and ambition. This age difference doesn’t matter too much initially because we, at the start, are mainly into the physical attraction stage, ie the sex stage. Once this stage has passed cracks start to appear. At this point many couples in relationships with an age gap wider than 10 years will be howling in protest that this isn’t true; howl away. I can only give you my experience.

Those in these ‘age gap’ relationships must also face some prejudice from society. The gossip mongers and those who are jealous will lay poison to break this relationship. There will be lots of sniggers in the background (back to the sex issue again). It is also frankly very difficult as years go by to find a social outlet for people from different cultural eras. One partner will have grown up in the 80s, the other in the 90s. Neither quite understands the other. That misunderstanding increases with age.

Of course there is some understanding and appreciation but there will always be some ‘gap’.  This also applies to clothes styles and fashion for example. This bone of contention isn’t just limited to this type of relationship. We know our own style and what suits us and what makes us feel comfortable. The age gap in fashion can be stark.

Different ideas of fun

Health, energy and vitality are also issues that emerge over time. Our energy levels do reduce over the years. Many people will use ‘energy levels’ as a euphemism for sexual activity. Can he keep her satisfied and vice versa. Many younger partners do complain that they are forced to become ‘old’ before their time and they want to go out to night clubs and enjoy themselves.

This is where problems come to the surface. The difference between someone aged 35 and another aged 45 can be huge. It doesn’t matter that much if you meet on holiday for two or three weeks. But coming back to real life is difficult. If you wish to continue the relationship and it becomes serious, meeting the parents and family can be very troublesome.

Why we choose who we do is a source of theoretical debate in the psychology world. But, as interesting and richly rewarding as that may be to academics, we are still faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to go ahead with this ‘age gap’ relationship. We convince ourselves we can make it work, we will be different. The odds are that we won’t make it work and we are not different.

How we choose a partner

We choose a particular person at a certain time in our lives. At a different stage we may choose a different person. We have different needs at different times. Yes, we may be very sexually frustrated and it may have been a very long time since someone showed any interest in us sexually and we find this both surprising and flattering. We may have a penchant for someone older or younger – no problem.

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However, think carefully about the long term ramifications of such a liaison. Opposites do attract for lots of different reasons, sometimes unconscious psychological reasons. However, when those needs are met the relationship can fall apart.

If possible, we need to link in with someone who is similar to ourselves. Even with this seemingly harmonious compatibility, problems can and do occur. We need as much going for us as possible in the minefield that is relationships of the heart, and age compatibility is an essential component.

Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland provides affordable confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or email:

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Tony Moore

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