Dear Dr. Chani,
I hope you can help me make a decision about dating that has been chasing me for years. Although it is difficult for me to imagine, I am already in my forties and have never been married. I still hope to find the right person and raise a family as soon as possible. Unfortunately, with each passing year, my dream of having a husband and children seems more and more elusive. I cannot even describe to you the caliber of the people who I hear about or date. It is definitely humbling. People are constantly trying to convince me to settle, but I have certain criteria that I refuse to change since they are really important to me. One of the criteria that has always mattered to me is the man’s age.
When I look around me, most of the couples I know are within five years of each other’s age. It seems logical to me that I would marry someone who has been through similar decades of life experiences. I fear that I would not be able to relate to someone who was fifteen when I was in diapers. They would have a decade or so of experiences that I know nothing about. Also, they might view me as beneath them since I am so much younger.
Also, I know that it sounds funny to think far into the future, but I am worried that if I marry someone who is in his fifties, we might not be able to have a long married life together. He would probably age way before me and need lots of healthcare intervention. I never dreamed of my marriage being about taking care of someone much older than me and running to doctor’s visits. Taking this a step further, if we have children, will it be fair to them to have a father who is already an older man? These are some of the thoughts that plague me about dating a man who is significantly older than I am.
Right now, this issue is coming to a head since I have been suggested to go out with a man who is around 55 years old. The matchmaker said that she has known him for years and he is a wonderful person. He has a good heart, a love of life, and acts much younger than his age. She said that he desperately wants to have a family and would love to have his own children. If he were only ten years younger, I would be rushing to go out with him. But I am nervous to settle for someone so much older.
What do you think about dating someone with a significant age difference? Thanks so much for your help with this huge decision!
I understand why you have been looking to marry someone who is around your own age. It is natural to think that you will find more in common with him. You are also used to dating people who are similar to your age and you notice this phenomenon in many couples you know. We often feel comfortable with what is most familiar to us. So it makes sense that you would expect to marry someone around your age.
Yet, you seem to have a deep interest in getting to know the man who was recently suggested to you even though you wish he were several years younger. I get a sense from the fact that you wrote to me that at least a part of you would love to find a way for this to work out. So let’s understand what is holding you back.
The first step is to explore what age means for you in dating. You seem to be correlating age with personality traits. Yet, a person’s age, in and of itself, does not indicate much about a person. It does not necessarily correlate with how the person thinks and behaves. A person who is younger may act very lethargic, disillusioned, and set in his ways, while an older person may be very active, optimistic, and flexible.
When you choose who to date, try to appreciate each individual as a whole person. Explore beyond the facts, such as age, that describe his status on a piece of paper. These facts often do not directly affect your relationship with your spouse. Focus on his personality, character, and values. Choose to date someone who has the qualities that will help you get along with each other and have a healthy relationship.
You mention that your hesitation to date a person much older than you also comes from concerns that he will have life experiences you cannot share. It makes sense that this approach guided you in your earlier years of dating. When you are closer to childhood, your experiences of childhood, education, and adolescence are not far behind you. Consequently, your ability to share those with someone who can relate to them can be very meaningful.
Yet, as you move away from those years, they fade in your memory. The amount of mature life experiences that you have as an adult can outweigh those early events. The more recent and more important events of the comparatively recent past can take on greater importance in your life. Those are things that you and your potential date have both lived through in the current period, as opposed to your childhoods that have not overlapped. When you were first dating, it might have made sense to date people that experienced childhood around the same time that you did. Yet, now that you are seasoned with many more adult experiences, you might find much overlap between you and someone several years older than you.
You are also concerned that he will look down on you. The way a person treats you and makes you feel has little to do with age. It has a lot more to do with personality traits and a life perspective. You might have even experienced these negative feelings with someone you dated who was around your age.
Your mind naturally makes assumptions and generalizations about a factor such as age because of an image or idea you have in your mind about who you see yourself marrying. It is helpful to recognize when your mind leaps to conclusions and to reexamine your initial reactions. The man you heard about may prove you right or he may prove you wrong, but you will never know if you do not give him a chance.
Another issue you raised about dating a man in his fifties is that he might encounter health issues and your quality of life will be different than you imagined. You also worry that your children will be at a disadvantage by having an older father. You are concerned for them. These are very logical concerns. You may choose to hold off and hope to find someone who is just as wonderful and is also around your age.
Yet, keep in mind it is hard to project what anyone’s health will be like in the future. We do not know what life has in store for us. Regarding your children, you may decide you will do your best to help them through any challenge they will encounter. It is certainly better than the alternative until now, which is for them not to be born altogether.
One of the reasons you did not mention but may be a significant cause for your hesitation about dating someone much older than you is a fear of what other people will think or say about you. It is amazing how many of our choices in life are affected by how “they” will react. Let me be the first to agree with you that you are absolutely correct. If you do get engaged to this person, “they” will undoubtedly talk about your unusual age gap. “They” will marvel at it and draw their own conclusions. Yet, once you are married, after you are “old news,” they will find something else to talk about. And you will go home and enjoy your life with your new husband.
Try to reframe your concerns about potential challenges with marrying someone older against the background of your past dating experiences. You have been dating for decades and have never been married yet. You have a choice to open yourself up to a new way of choosing who you date. You are being given a new opportunity to create a life for yourself. A life that includes a loving and devoted husband and possibly your own children.
I encourage you to give yourself a chance to get to know this person. If after a few dates, when you get to know him, you decide that he is not for you or you still feel uncomfortable with the age difference, then you will move on. You never know how you will feel about him after you get to know him. You may decide that age really does not matter to you and you have finally found your match.
Wishing you much success,