Mind The Age Gap In Dating: One Older Guy’s Perspective On Doing The Math

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When I was eighteen, I was sure I’d know when I was forty. Some switch would click on in my head and I’d feel old, some perception of my status as a forty-year-old-man saturating my everyday experience. I’d wake up with a little internal time clock going You’re forty now, you know that, get up.

In reality, my perception of my age is a surprisingly erratic experience.

Because when I was twenty, my memories of myself ten years ago were foggy, and strange; everyone spoke to me in an entirely different way, and I understood so little of the world that my memories of me as a ten-year-old kid were clearly timestamped. And if that wasn’t enough, every year I was placed into a new environment with new teachers and new classes that was also timestamped – third grade, fifth grade, seventh grade.

Every year my world was reset, so I could clearly say: There I was ten. There I was thirteen.

Why wouldn’t my future memories be that clearly regimented?

And so I thought when I was forty, every memory I had would be striated: I would remember my twenty-seventy birthday with the dull, smeared comprehension of an event that took place thirteen years ago, my every recollection placing me firmly in a timeline that centered me at forty now, as it did when I was twenty.

Here’s the secret, though:

Past a certain point, all your memories become equally vivid.

Both my wife and I have become unstuck in time, because we’ve been married for eighteen years and we’ll recall something that happened last year, except it wasn’t last year, we’ll do math and realize that it was fifteen years ago and oh shit mentally that feels like yesterday. I’ll be talking about my old job at Borders Books and Music, which closed down in 2008 and I haven’t worked there since 1998 and how the fuck was that twenty years ago when I recall it like the trip to Italy I took in 2015?

I don’t feel younger in those memories. I still feel like me – partially because I never feel like I’ve quite mastered being a grownup. I thought at some point I’d graduate from “fumbling teen” to “mature, educated adult,” wherein the knowledge of things like “how to file an insurance claim” would be downloaded directly into my brain and I would know all things.

But here I am, older, and I know nothing about insurance claims. If my house burned down, you know what I’d do?

I’d fake it.

That’s all being a grownup is.

So yes, there are days where I have a twinge in my knee and feel old, but most days my internal clock is set to around my mid-twenties, when I got out of college and entered the free-form world of jobs. I talk to my wife and my other forties friends and we all could swear we’re sorta-twenties most days until we do the math and realize that whoah, it’s been decades since then and how did that happen?

Which brings me, very roundabout, to my point.

Galia Godel has an excellent, nuanced post called It’s Time to Talk About Age Gaps – and they make some excellent points in how the dynamics of older men with younger women often don’t benefit the younger women in the long run.

But I think there’s a subtle pressure they missed, because it’s a concept that only an older person can get viscerally.

Because I was literally sitting around with friends the other day, and we were discussing dating, and they were looking at OKCupid for new partners and mentally checked the “30s and up” range for acceptable dating rounds.

Except we did math. Because we thought people in their early thirties were our age.

We’re in our late forties, creeping into fifty. There’s almost a twenty-year difference between us and people in their early thirties.

But we had to stop and do the math to make that happen, because we fucking forgot. Internally, that seems unreal to us because it took fucking forever for us to get to thirty, and here we are in our fifties, and it doesn’t seem that long ago.

(Or, in the case of my wife – because I married a woman eleven years older than I am – someone who’s turning sixty this year.)

And we are baffled because what the fuck, when did that age gap creep in?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are people who have had their lives clearly demarcated by life, particularly people who got out of school and then promptly had children so their entire lives have been marked by one grade or another. And there are definitely dudes who feel the specter of gray coming on, and decide to find a younger woman to convince them that they’re not old.

And oh my God are there are dudes who seek out younger partners who are inexperienced in order to take advantage of them. That’s endemic (and not confined to age, because there’s fortysomething novices coming into the scene who have also been manipulated).

There are definitely people who feel that distance, and seek it out for various reasons, most of which can be negative.

But for me, and for a lot of my older friends, sometimes we’ll be at a convention and we’ll be flirting and we’ll just connect with someone. And we won’t realize there is a significant age gap because this person and I are getting each other’s jokes and there’s a pretty person touching our arm and internally, we’re not looking at a grizzled dude with a salt-and-pepper mustache, we’re looking at someone we find attractive.

(Just as my wife and I – again, eleven years separated – don’t feel that distance until we do the math.)

And it all feels very natural to us because internally, we don’t feel that this is An Almost Fifty-Year-Old Guy flirting with Someone Who Is Under Half His Age, but two people connecting in a natural and organic way.



It’s your job to do the math, man.

Because just because you’re not aware of the dynamics doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and Galia (whose piece you really should read) outlines the reasons why an older man in particular can often be appealing to someone who’s younger. You’re often benefiting from things that only life experience can give you, but that also means you can transparently, and accidentally, give people the wrong impression about what you can deliver.

If you’re a caring and considerate person, it’s your job to do the math. To be aware of those invisible dynamics, and to think about what sorts of harm those dynamics might do to someone.

This isn’t to say that you don’t flirt, of course, or that you never have a relationship with someone younger. As both I and Galia have stressed, it’s not automatically bad to have an age gap. Some of those dynamics work out fine.

(In part because age does not equal experience; there’s some fifty-five year old “mistresses” who have been making the same mistake for forty years, and some twenty-three year old submissives whose instincts make them inherently smarter than I am. As mentioned, the primary skill of “being a grownup” involves “faking it when you don’t know better,” and some so-called “grownups” never mastered the relevant skills. So anyone who says that a fifty-year-old man automatically knows more than a twenty-five-year-old man has consistently met all the wrong men.)

But I like to think that these dynamics work because the people went into it thoughtfully, and pondered on some level how to counteract the negative influences that can result, and not to just LEEEEROY JENKINS charge their way into every cute thing that crosses their path.

Because if they are attracted to you in part because you’re the more experienced one, then be the more experienced one. Be responsible. Be considerate. Be knowledgeable about what taking this flirtation to the next level might mean in the long run.

You may not feel that age gap internally, not consistently. But you don’t consistently notice gravity, either, until you trip and fall.

Try not to let anyone fall through that gap, is all I’m saying here.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Mar 19, 2018

    I’ve been having a lot of those sorts of you-need-to-d0-the-math moments, lately. A benign example: I saw a commercial for the “Roseanne” revival that pointed out that the original show started 30 years ago. Had to stop and do that math.

    I am assured by my parents (who are, of course, considerably older than I am) that this does not get any better later in life. You still feel like a 20-30-ish year old person, but the gap between that and reality just gets wider.


    • Deep Blue Chris
      Mar 21, 2018

      My mom used to say she “never got past 17 in her head”, which made no sense to me until I was well into my 40s. (I think in my 20s and early 30s I could still remember the reality of 17 and notice the difference. Now it’s more blurry and it all just feels like “me” all the way back.)

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