Dear Love Rabbi,
I’m seeing someone 20 years my senior. We feel like peers on so many levels that it’s easy to forget the massive age gap between us. I’m nervous to tell my parents – he’s closer in age to them than to me. I’m also wondering about other warning signs I should look out for around this; or on the bright side, ways the age difference might work to our advantage.
Anxious About Age
Dear Anxious About Age,
Society has trained us to think that a normal marriage is when the man is older than the woman, but not too much older. I believe it’s important to look at a person as an individual, and not as a number – within reason.
A study came out of Emory University a few years back about age gaps and marriage. The researchers collected data from 3,000 people and used, as the baseline rate, the odds for same-aged couples getting divorced. According to the results, a one-year age gap is three per cent riskier. Insignificant, right? A five-year gap is 18 per cent riskier. Still manageable! A 10-year gap is 39 per cent riskier. This is starting to sound serious. And a 20-year gap? 95 per cent riskier! In your case, if you and your partner get married, your chances of getting a divorce would be, statistically speaking, almost double those of a couple that is same-aged.
Since you asked this question of a rabbi, I’ll have to go back to my own rabbinic mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, for guidance. The Rebbe advised people who had been matched up with a much older or much younger person to veer away if the age difference was more than 10 years. If one still wanted to proceed with the dating process, the Rebbe wanted some questions to be asked and answered.
‘Is he with a younger woman because he’s not mature enough for his peers?’
By that same token, here are some questions I think you should consider before taking things further with this man:
Why was he never married before? If he was previously married or in a long-term relationship, why did it end? It’s really important that you look into his past. You don’t need to become a private investigator. You just need to do enough digging so you understand who it is you’re dating.
Is he with a younger woman because he’s not mature enough for his peers? As you mature, will you surpass him? Is he with a woman half his age because of your looks? That’s an important question to ask, because when you’re 40 and he’s 60, will that affect your relationship? And on the other side, are you prepared to be in your prime when he starts slowing down?
Is he “daddying” you? Some women really like the sense of security and comfort that older men bring to a relationship. Sometimes he’s the father they never had. I’m not going to judge it. But if that’s what’s going on, you need to ask yourself, “Am I OK with this?”
I think it’s important for you to really think it through and not be blinded by love. If you’re nervous about telling your parents since he’s closer in age to them than to you, that may also be a telltale sign. I assume you are nervous because you value their opinion. Maybe take the time to speak to them and ask them what they think about it.
There are plenty of happy relationships between people with big age differences. It may work for you. Just make sure that you think it through, perhaps with the help of one – and not more than one! – friend or relative that wants only the best for you.
Wishing you much success. Remember, only you can make the choice, and once you make it, own it.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath is the rabbi of Chabad NDG and the Jewish chaplain at Concordia University. He lives in Montreal with his wife, Sara, and their four children.
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