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Dating Age Rule: What’s an Acceptable Age Gap for a Couple?

Do you think a dating age rule should exist? Or do you believe age doesn’t matter? In in the end, surely love should be the only thing on anyone’s mind. 

dating age rule

So-called social norms can be enough to make you feel totally paranoid about your life, and your relationship in particular. We’re apparently supposed to have done x, y, and z by a certain age, otherwise, we’re failing. It seems that “they”, whoever “they” are, seem to know best about everything. There’s even a dating age rule that we’re supposed to care about.

Do you think that age matters? In some ways, you could say that it does. If one partner is very young, of course, they have to be of a legal age to be able to date someone who is older. But, when you’re both adults, does 10 years here or there really matter? If you’re a 30 year old woman and you’re dating a 22 year old guy, does it matter? Of course not in reality, but some will no doubt roll their eyes.

Regardless of what society says about age gaps, it really comes down to how you feel about the person you’re dating. Of course, we also know that sometimes it’s not that easy to just throw caution to the wind. [Read: When does age difference in relationships matter?]

The science of the dating age rule

So, what does science say about the dating age rule? Apparently, it is a mathematical equation that goes something like this – dating someone half your age plus seven years should give a successful, fair, equitable, and peaceful relationship with someone who is your equal on the minimum scale. Or in reverse, subtract seven from your current age and then multiply it by two to find your maximum.

Who knew that dating could be so mathematically complicated?

Yep, that is right. There is actually an equation used to calculate how many years two people should have between one another. It indicates how old or young someone should be to be an acceptable mate. [Read: Dating someone younger than you: 12 ways to make it easier]

Is the evidence real?

Many relationship researchers have gone to great lengths to figure out what type of couples make it and which don’t. Of course, just like any outliers, some couples fall outside the limits that are still happily in love and live a long and fruitful life together.

What the research really indicates is that there are several different dating age rules according to what someone looks for in a relationship. If you look for someone to have casual sex with, your dating age rule differs from if you want a serious relationship.

What a study by psychological researchers Buunk and colleagues concluded was there are all sorts of differences between males, females, preference, and maximum and minimum acceptable ages. [Read: Age gaps – Are they the new trend in relationships?]

When it comes to men, they have varying ages of acceptability according to whether it is a relationship, fantasy, or marriage. When surveyed, there is a different age men want to marry or have a serious relationship versus who they think is acceptable to fantasize about.

Even men limit the age of a girl acceptable to fantasize about. Any younger than what is acceptable makes them uncomfortable. Men are guided by what is deemed as socially acceptable, even when it comes to fantasies. [Read: 13 misconceptions about dating older women we need to dispel]

1. A man’s age matters

A strange finding was after the age of 40, perceptions of men changed. All bets seemed to be off. Of all ages surveyed, the older the man became, the more unlikely he was to follow the dating age rule. [Read: Dating a younger woman? 10 things the older man should know]

2. The minimum age for men?

Men have a different standard when it comes to relationships and marriage versus fantasizing about a woman. For both relationships and marriage, the dating age rule stayed pretty reliable.

But, when fantasizing about a woman, the minimum age remains very low. No matter how old a man is. And, as a man ages, there is a widening gap of what’s acceptable.

For instance, a forty-year-old man thinks that fantasizing about a 25-year-old is acceptable. Likewise, a man in his 60s does too. There seems to be a cut-off age where a girl is too young – of course. But the older a man gets, the more the gap widens, instead of shrinking. [Read: 5 “creepy” myths about older guys dating younger women]

3. The maximum age for men?

When it comes to a maximum age, the research shows men’s opinions do not always follow the dating age rule. The rule overestimates how acceptable a man believes it is to be with an older woman.

Men deem women acceptable at about the same age or younger until they reach about 40. After that, their maximum age begins to decrease, and they believe they should be with women who are younger than their own age. [Read: Dating someone who’s way older than you – 7 must knows]

1. The minimum age that’s acceptable to a woman

When it comes to women, the rule does not follow along with the same guidelines as for men. In general, women report their minimum age requirements are much higher than the rule.

For example, a woman in her 40s, according to the rule, considers a man 27 years or older as acceptable. Nevertheless, surveys show women are much more comfortable with a man 35 or older, much closer to their age. Even when fantasizing, their minimum age is much closer to their own age. [Read: Dating an older man: 9 reasons to do it at least once]

2. The maximum age for a woman?

When it comes to maximum age, the rule is also not very reliable. When it comes to women choosing a relationship, they prefer a man much closer to their own age than someone much older. The rule underestimates women considering someone close to their own age as much more acceptable.

If there is one true thing, no two relationships are the same. There is no scientific reason why we choose the mates we do. Sometimes they make sense. Sometimes they make absolutely none.

If you look for some magic calculation about who is either too old or too young for you to date, really only you decide that for you. [Read: The 12 qualities of a healthy relationship that keep couples happy]

Why the “cougar” label is unfair

It really comes down to what you feel comfortable with. We’re back to that old social “norms” thing again. There’s a certain stigma attached to dating someone who is considerably older or younger than you. However, very unfairly, this tends to be a lot harsher on women.

You’ve no doubt heard the word “cougar”. This means that an older woman is dating a younger man. The guy is clapped by his friends for bagging an older, more experienced woman, but the woman tends to get judged. Many people will shake their heads at her and ask if she couldn’t find someone her own age. Far too many women have experienced this and then ended the relationship because of the whispers behind her back. [Read: Cougar women rock – 13 reasons why they make really good partners]

But, is this fair? If she’s truly in love, why should it matter what age the guy is, as long as he’s legally old enough and they both care about each other?

Do you hear guys called anything when they date a younger woman? Not usually! You might get the odd raised eyebrow but that’s all. It’s such an unfair balance based around this whole dating age rule. [Read: Cougar dating – 10 rules about dating an older woman]

What about women dating older men?

You can also look at men dating younger women. We’ve said that there might be a few raised eyebrows, but that’s all. Yet, if you think about who is judged – it’s the woman again. The guy gets high fives from his buddies, but the woman has people asking her why she feels the need to date someone old enough to be her father.

Don’t you think that women get a much harsher rap when it comes to age gaps?

Do you remember Anna Nicole Smith? If you don’t, you should Google this story because it illustrates the point very well. Sadly, Anna passed away but before that point, she married a man much, much older than her. The fact that he was so much older doesn’t actually matter. How can we judge and say that she didn’t love him? Yet, everyone said that she was after his money when he died. [Read: How to be a sugar daddy – What a girl expects and what you should know]

How does anyone actually know that? Perhaps she really had a connection with him and wanted to be by his side. Yet, we always judge age gaps negatively and we normally judge the woman.

It’s a conversation to have. What do you think?

Who made the dating age rule?

A little earlier we talked about a mathematical equation that’s supposed to give you the age of someone who is perfect for you. But, doesn’t it come down to personality more than anything? You could meet several people who fall into that magical age gap but they’re all terrible for you because they just don’t click with you personality-wise. Yet, you might meet someone who doesn’t tick the equation box but you get along with them wonderfully. [Read: 20 personality traits that make the ideal perfect guy]

Who made this dating age rule? Again, we’re back to those societal norms. For sure, science can give you numbers and math and tell you that if you subtract this number or that number, you’ll find a good age. But, love has never been about common sense and it’s certainly never been about math. 

If you fall in love with someone who doesn’t tick this math equation, don’t worry. The only person you need to please in this regard is yourself. [Read: Social mores – Should you ignore them and challenge the status quo?]

If you’re happy, it’s nobody else’s business

This is an important point to remember.

As with any so-called norm that society throws your way, you need to take it with a very large pinch of salt. As long as you’re happy, as long as your partner is happy, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if you’re 55 and you’re dating someone who’s 35. If you’re 26 and you’re dating a 49 year old, forget what people say. As long as we’re not talking about too young here, as in legally too young, then you really shouldn’t care about what people may say behind your back. [Read: How to say no – stop pleasing people and feel awesome instead]

Because let’s be honest, people love to gossip. Whether we want to admit it or not, a juicy bit of gossip is something that most of us can’t help but listen to. However, if you’re the object of gossip that week, simply know that next week, another person will be unfortunate enough to take over that title. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about the age gap in your relationship – as long as you’re in love and you’re happy with one another, then forget the so-called “norms”. 

Who wants to be “normal” anyway? What is normal, exactly? Remember, rules were made to be broken anyway, so focus on yourself and forget what society says.

[Read: 17 most important things in a relationship that hold it together]

Sure, societal pressure is always going to play a role. Since no two relationships are the same, nor two people, in the end, if you are okay with your relationship, follow your heart, not the dating age rule.

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Nicky Curtis
Nicky Curtis
Having stumbled from one relationship drama to another throughout her 20s, Nicky is now somewhat of a guru in the crazy world of life and love. Telling it how i...
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