Nothin' but a number



A girlfriend of mine recently went on a date with a guy 11 years her senior. She is 28. He is 39. Or as she likes to say it: Thirty nine.

Blinded by his youthful good looks, she didn’t realize he was much older until she asked him the year he was born.

“1970 as in … ’78? ’79? Oh, ’70 as in seventy. Just ’70. Right. Gotcha.”

She saw his house filled with beautiful things and learned he was in the market for a second one. It was precisely this moment when the crisis began: I’m almost 30. Am I ever going to grow up? How would he feel dating someone who is nowhere near this level of “adulthood”? If age really is nothing but a number, why do I still feel like a kid?

In your early years, there are obvious problems with dating someone too far outside your age group. He’s heading out to a frat party; you have to be home for curfew. You have an exam in the morning; he’s giving a presentation to his CEO. He’s buying a vacation home; you live at home.

But we’re beyond that. We’re all adults now. Right?


Even though we’re past the obvious generational differences of our late teens and early 20s, “adult” is still a relative term. What counts now is not so much your numeric age, but your level of maturity. Forget “half your age plus seven.” Relationships are about growing together, and you can’t do that if you’re in two different stages of development. And we don’t all develop at the same pace.

Fortunately, as we approach and enter our 30s, our mental age begins inching toward harmony with our physical age. The brain isn’t even full developed until 26, which probably explains the refreshing dose of clarity that accompanies our ascent into this new phase of our lives. At this point, we all have jobs and homes (or are working toward one) and, most importantly, we seem to finally have similar wants and needs as our partners, allowing us to date a bit more comfortably outside our age group.

Although my friend felt inferior dating her older man, I think she may have been confusing age with material success. What was in their heads mattered more than what was in his house (or how many he had). And fortunately for her, there was good stuff in both. The only thing that could have been potentially disastrous in that scenario is a story that begins with “When I was in high school …” And at this stage in life, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little humor.

— Alison Henry

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