If you’ve been actively dating for a while, you’re probably familiar with all the standard first-date questions. You want to know where your date works, if they have kids, maybe you want to know their hobbies, and you likely want to know their age. All of this is a means of testing your initial compatibility. For example, if your potential partner has children and you don’t want children, that could be an immediate deal-breaker. However, what happens when the difference isn’t as concrete? What does it mean if your potential partner is significantly younger or older than yourself? Is there a valid reason for avoiding relationships with vast age differences, or is it just the fear of social judgment that might deter us from pursuing that relationship?
According to the experts, the answer is complicated. To simplify the matter, they’ve created a formula to help establish socially acceptable age parameters for potential partners. According to the formula, you should divide your age by two. Then add seven to find the minimum age for your partner. To calculate the maximum age of a dating partner, subtract seven from your age, and then double that number. Using this equation, a person who is forty years old would have a socially acceptable dating age range of twenty-seven through sixty-six years of age.
These limits may be useful in preventing society’s judgment, but they’re actually a bit more useful than just stopping some gossip. According to relationship expert David Bennett, this rule helps “keep you within an age range that will ensure more common interests with your partner, and also likely allow for better communication.” Couples who are similar in age grew up in the same generation. They likely have shared cultural and historical experiences that can generally lead to a better understanding of one another. However, Bennett also concedes that the rule isn’t a hard and fast one. He says, “If you meet someone outside of the rule that makes you happy, then I say don’t turn down someone you have a good connection with over a rule.”
Relationship expert Carol Roderick, Ph.D., encourages her clients to think carefully about the upper and lower age limits when considering potential partners, particularly when utilizing on-line dating options. Roderick believes that there is more flexibility in age gap rules when meeting in person. She says this is because “you are usually able to assess someone’s maturity, vitality, and dating intentions at roughly the same time you are discovering their age – filtering them in or out.”
According to Roderick, the inherent risk in dating someone vastly older or younger than yourself is that while you may have a lot in common right now, you will both be moving through different stages of life. This may lead to some disconnect in your relationship.
This dating age calculation, while helpful, is based on what is perceived as a ‘socially acceptable’ age difference. Of course, social norms and ideals vary from person to person and region to region. So, the formula doesn’t always keep society from being judgmental regarding age differences. Writing for Psychology Today, Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D. says, “At times it is too stringent, but most often it appears too lenient, condoning age pairings with which most people are not comfortable. So, if you are following the half-your-age-plus-seven rule, know that it may not be perfect or truly mirror age-related preference.”
In addition to the pressures of societal judgment, a 2014 study in Social Science Research Network discovered that the larger the age gap between married couples, the more likely they were to divorce. The study showed that couples with just a five-year age gap were 18 percent more likely to divorce. The rate jumps to thirty-nine percent more likely to divorce with a ten-year age gap, and it hits an astounding ninety-five percent with a twenty-year age gap.
So, while the rule shouldn’t stop you from forming a meaningful relationship with someone to whom you feel a genuine connection, it can be a helpful tool when considering your future partners and creating a solid and long-lasting relationship.