Age Is Just A Number (Unless She’s Seventeen)

Holding hands, by nic snellRecently, a friend of mine started seeing a guy she met through an online dating site. They hit it off online, and then again when they met in person after a few weeks of chatting. The sex is fantastic, they share similar interests and hobbies, and they can comfortably spend hours just hanging out not doing much of anything. For all intents and purposes, they’re perfectly suited.

Except that she’s a nineteen-year-old college student and he’s thirty-five.

This is not a cautionary tale, or a moral fable! I’m very happy for her, since she deserves a great guy that she clicks so easily with. My point here is that age is not only the great destroyer, it’s a lot harder to judge in online communication than you might think. Of course, this is what tech-unsavvy mothers across the world are most afraid of, creepy middle-aged men pretending to be sixteen-year-old girls in chatrooms, which is certainly a very large and serious concern. But I’m not talking about deliberately misrepresenting one’s age to be older or younger. I’m talking about the disconnect between seeing a number on a page full of vital details, and the reality of thirteen years more life.

Does age really matter?

Popular, historical, and scientific opinion are all divided on the matter. Research has shown that the average age gap between straight married partners is one to three years; historically, men marry younger women, sometimes with a gap of fifteen or twenty years between them. All the better to reproduce with you for, my dear. But what does age mean today?

I’m going to say “very little”. One of the reasons that I am a proponent of online dating is that in most cases relationships – and here I use the term loosely, meaning more a social contact between two people – are built on conversation and not primarily on physical attraction. It isn’t age so much as social and sexual compatibility that really matters in building a romantic relationship, and a roughly equivalent level of maturity in both partners.

But D!, you say, Where’s the gay? Aren’t you all about the buttsex and lesbianism and so forth? Well, I’m getting there. There are no studies on average age differences in same-sex relationships (yet), but I’m willing to put money down that the averages are considerably greater than those of our straight counterparts. In some parts of the  gay community, a five or ten year age difference is not only accepted, it is practically required. And, of course, I am speaking in sweeping generalities, but someone in a same-sex relationship is already used to breaking the rules of conventional romance; they are far less likely to care about another one.

Relationships like the one between my friend and Hot For Teacher require a level of communication and work that would ring true with anyone who has ever tried to maintain a same-sex relationship, especially when surrounded by a predominantly straight community. Relationships take work, and any relationship which will be frowned upon by the “moral” majority takes even more. It takes a willingness to fight for the right to reasonable enjoyment of each other. My friend and her Hot For Teacher are going to catch almost as much flak for walking down the sidewalk holding hands as I do for walking down the sidewalk holding my wife’s.

You get to meet your partner’s family and friends. You get to be introduced around at office parties. Age difference, gender difference, social status difference, whatever difference that might make society matrons whisper behind their teacups because in my head we all live in a Jane Austen novel, you are no-one’s dirty secret! If you act like a dirty secret, you become a dirty secret. And dirty secrets only belong under the bed next to your special edition Edward Cullen dildo and self-warming lube.

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