UPDATED: Jan. 4, 2021 —
I recently had a realization: all of my good friends are in relationships with men that are five to seven years older than they are. All of them. And I’m not talking about couples who are just casually dating or only a year in. All of my good friends are either married or have been with their partners for at least three years—many of them seven years. They live together. They have pets together. They are basically members of one another’s families. Things are going well. I’ve also seen these friends through their previous relationships—they tended to choose partners that were only one or two years older than them before, and the occasional adventurous friend would date a man 12 to 15 years older than her.
None of those relationships stuck. Could it have been the age gap? I have a theory: five to seven years is the ideal age gap for couples. In fact, according to a 2019 study in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, cross-culturally, women report wanting partners who are (on average) 3.5 years older than them. That same study reported that age is an integral marker for heterosexual intimate attraction as males seek out women with “healthy reproductive’ qualities.
Here’s why five to seven years is the ideal age gap in relationships:
Men can take on a caretaker role
Men like to feel like protectors of their female partners—it’s just how they’re biologically built. When they’re five to seven years older than us, they can feel that way. It’s the perfect age range that lets them feel a little more experienced in life and capable of taking care of us.
Without the dad jokes
But they aren’t so much older that they’ll face the, “You could be your girlfriend’s dad” jokes. Or worse, the “You could be your girlfriend’s grandfather” jokes. It’s an age at which they can feel protective without feeling paternal.
They can teach us something
It’s nice dating someone five to seven years older than myself because he can teach me things about…all sorts of things! I’ve had to ask him questions about taxes, my health insurance policy, what’s appropriate to bring to a bridal shower and so on.
But still understand our generation
But he isn’t so much older that he is totally out of the loop on the happenings of my generation. In fact, our two generations have overlap. I don’t ever find myself thinking, “What the heck is he talking about?” nor does he think that about me.
We’ll always feel young and cute
I always feel young when my boyfriend is five to seven years older than I am! Whenever I find myself comparing myself to women ten years younger than me, I go, “Stop that. You will always look like a spring chicken to your boo.”
Without it feeling creepy
But I don’t feel so young that it’s creepy for my partner to be with me. We don’t get looks that suggest, “Cradle robber” or “Gold digger” when we’re out together. Nobody bats an eyelash at our age difference.
We can relate to each other’s friends
Since my boyfriend is around five years older than myself, I can relate to his friends and they can relate to me. We don’t have some odd situation in which I’ve connected with a man 15 years older than myself, and then have to try to bond with all of his peers.
But still enjoy a large age range of friends
I have friends three years younger than myself ranging to five years older than myself. He has a similar range of ages in his friend group. So when we all get together, it’s very interesting—there are a lot of perspectives—but people can still relate.
There’s the lag in maturity
The truth is that, emotionally and mentally, men mature slower than women do. So as a woman near 30, I need a partner who is at least in his mid-thirties. A man my age still acts like a 25-year-old.
But we’re still down to party
All that being said, I still love to go out, party, and stay up late. So, too, does my slightly older boyfriend. But women of his age aren’t really up for that anymore, so we’re a good match. We’ll probably slow down at the same rate.
Men like to feel settled in their careers
It’s very important to men to feel settled in their careers before getting into a serious relationship. They like to feel they’re in a place where they can provide. They just don’t feel that way when they date women of their age—they like to be a little more advanced in their careers.
But not like our mentors
But that five to seven year age gap doesn’t put my boyfriend in a place where our careers are in uncomfortably different places. It’s not like he owns a company that’s already been franchised, and I’m an intern somewhere.
Their female friends aren’t jealous
His female friends are around his age, and so they aren’t so much older than me that they are jealous of me. This can be a real issue: if a woman is 15 to 20 years younger than her partner, it’s hard for his female friends to accept her. And that’s hard on everyone.
We can wait on the marriage/kids thing
Since men mature more slowly than women, they are usually older than we are by the time they’re ready to get married and have kids. And that’s okay with me, because I’m not quite there yet myself.
We don’t need “nice things”
Look, everybody likes nice things, but the definition of nice things is different from generation to generation. For me, if my partner takes me to a groupon getaway that cost under $300, I still think that’s really exciting and luxurious. And that’s what he can afford right now, so it works out. If he were with a woman of his own age, she may be in a place where she needed nicer things than he could provide.