The purpose of Dating For Dummies is to give you the basics on dating; think of it as the foundation for beginning heterosexual interaction — the alphabet for opposite-sex sentences. But there are a lot of situations that make the dating experience a bit different. The point of this appendix is to explain the things that can impact specialized dating situations. To use this appendix, find your special definition and then integrate those rules with the basic rules for a custom fit.
If you’re married, you cannot, must not, dare not date — or I’ll haunt you. Got it? Good. If you don’t want to be married, get a lawyer and a divorce, but under no circumstances are you allowed to date.
You are married unless you are divorced or widowed. Period. Separated? Still married. Staying together for the sake of the kids? Still married. Getting through the holidays? Still married. Waiting for the kids to go off to college (your collie to die, your parents to move to Florida, your stock option to be exercised)? Still married. If you’re married, you don’t date, and if your date is married, don’t date your date.
One of You Is a Lot Older or Younger
In theory, an age difference is the thing over which you have the least control in a relationship. It’s the given from day one and shouldn’t matter all that much. The younger one of the partners, the more any age difference matters. High school freshmen dating seniors makes parents nervous, and that’s only three years. The difference between a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old may be the difference between a jail sentence, whereas the difference between a 70- year-old and a 73-year-old is irrelevant, so part of the issue with age is the starting point.
Tradition and actuarial tables
Traditionally, in our society and many others, older men marry younger
women, which perpetuates the daddy school of relationships — that a man
should be older, wiser, smarter, better educated, stronger, more powerful,
richer, and, in general, higher on the food chain.
As women act more responsible and mature, these distinctions become less relevant and politically viable, but the tradition remains. There is a wonderful movie called Harold and Maude in which an 80-year-old Ruth Gordon is pursued by an amorous 18-year-old Bud Cort. No, that wasn’t a typo.
The woman is 80; her suitor, 18. The movie was made as satire to demonstrate how rigid our rules are for dating, and it’s as relevant today as when it was made more than 25 years ago (rent it on video; you’ll love it).
One of the major drawbacks of large age differences deals with the age-old problem of childbearing years. An older woman who is through childbearing with a younger man who decides he wants children is going to create chaos, as is a younger woman who wants children with an older man who doesn’t.
Since we know that men can procreate until their last rattly little breath, and women for the years between about 13 and 50, men who are interested in procreating should choose women in this age bracket. Of course, most states appropriately frown on dating between adults and children, so if we wipe out the lower end of the spectrum up to 18 or so, we’re talking viable dating partners between the ages of 18 and 50. Biologically we know that birth defects
are more common at both ends of the spectrum, the very young and the very old eggs (not women, just eggs), so we’re talking 20 to 40 here, more or less.
Sexually, men are at their peak at 18, women around 40 or so. So if sexual compatibility were the issue, women should marry significantly younger men. A woman named Anne Cummings, known as the Randy Granny (a Brit no less), actually advocates this kind of pairing — although not necessarily marriage — so that young men can learn about sex from an experienced partner who is less likely to get pregnant and more likely to be able to be sensible rather than lust driven.
If sex were all there was to it, maybe. (In case you’re gasping for breath here, remember that a 40-year-old man with an 18-year-old woman would be considered a stud.) Beyond sex is a wider look at biology.
These days, when people are taking better care of themselves and living longer and more productive lives, the idea of an age difference resulting in obligatory nursing duties at the end of one partner’s life has diminished. I refuse to deal with the idea of serial marriages here, the idea that you marry one person for one stage of your life and another for another. Since none of us is able to see the future, in theory, it is possible that the older person in a relationship may outlive the younger, but it is wise to at least consider issues of health, energy, and life stages when dating.
One of the often overlooked issues of major age differences is what the two of you have in common, not only in terms of life experiences, but friends, perspectives, and whether one of you thinks that the Beatles are bugs or that Nine Inch Nails refers to a Chinese emperor’s hands.
These differences at the outset of a relationship can seem charming and fun and don’t have to be divisive if the two of you can find some areas of community to share that are likely to last the length of the relationship. But be aware of pitfalls that can be predicted but that aren’t always initially obvious.
I know one couple with major age differences who ran into trouble when he retired and wanted to play and she was just hitting her career peak and wanted to spend a lot of time at work.
Issues of control and crushes on mommy figures or daddy figures are going to enter into the age equation. Obviously, all other things being equal, similarity of ages probably makes the most sense, but all other things are never equal. People are as individual as snowflakes and likely to be just as flaky when it comes to matters of the heart. Be aware of the advantages and disadvantages, the potential fun stuff and pitfalls of major differences in birth years. If one of you is ten or more years older, you’re talking half a generation here, but at 80 who cares? At 18, everyone will.
Fortunately — or maybe unfortunately — we don’t fall in love with birth certificates but with flesh and blood individuals. If you’re looking to date someone who is significantly older or younger than you are, ask yourself why and does it make any long-term sense. Are you looking to shock or advertise, brag or control? As long as you know what you’re doing, you’ll get no argument from me, but make sure you’ve taken your own emotional pulse here; I don’t care how old you are.