6 Tips for Surviving a Big Age Gap
What to do when cupid pairs you with someone years apart.
via Edward Tenney
I was 26 years old when I first laid eyes on my wife. We were in two different places in our lives, yet found ourselves in the same smoke-filled suburban gay bar on a cold winter evening.
As I lit up a cigarette and ordered a beer, I noticed an older woman dancing around the front stage while belting out the lyrics to Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About”. It was Sunday karaoke night. The woman had poofy gray hair and wore a plaid blazer with blue slacks. I was mesmerized by her energy.
Although I didn’t have the chance to meet her that night, her blue smile-worn eyes and toothy grin remained etched in my mind as I headed home that evening.
A few days later, I returned to the bar, as did she. She was hunched over a billiard table, pool stick in hand, when I arrived. I grabbed a beer from the bar and then made my way over to her table. She asked, “How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?” I replied sheepishly.
She reached for my hand and examined my chubby youthful fingers. “Thirty?” She crossed her fingers, hoping I wasn’t as young as I looked.
“Nope! I’m 26,” I beamed. “How old are you?”
“I’m 49,” she answered, looking disappointed by the 23-year age gap. She returned to the pool table to make her final move.
Then I made my move. I picked up a pool stick, racked the billiard balls, and asked her to break. That’s how our relationship began.
We’ve since been through cancer, a hysterectomy, menopause, family death, job losses, home remodels, relocations, retirement, business ownership, and numerous other hurdles, but ten years later and happily married, we are more in love than ever before.
Rachel's wedding via Edward Tenney
People ask us the strangest questions about our relationship. How have you survived so long with such a big age gap? Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose her since she’s so much older? Aren’t you afraid she’ll leave you for someone younger? Are you worried about sex ten or twenty years from now?
We are often assumed to be mother and daughter, to which my wife warmly replies, “Although I’d be proud to call her my daughter, I have the honor of calling her my wife.”
So, here are our tips for surviving a long-term relationship with an age gap:
- Realize that age is just a number
Yes, I am very likely to outlive my wife, but nobody really knows what tomorrow will bring. All I know is that any day lived with her is better than a day lived without her.
- Focus on what each of you brings to the relationship
I see in my wife a charismatic, beautiful, and stable woman who keeps me grounded and mentors me through life’s most challenging times. She sees in me a passionate, smart, and creative entrepreneur who fills her life with adventures and reminds her where she left her keys.
- Find common interests
Regardless of whether you are one, five, ten, or over twenty years apart, all couples experience differences in interests. So, make a commitment to spend time together doing things you both enjoy. Make a list of those activities early on and agree that if you ever feel a disconnect, you will use your shared interests to reconnect.
- Stop focusing on age
The more you obsess about age, the more of an issue it will become. So, stop talking about it, mentioning it to your friends, or wondering if anyone will notice how much of an age gap you have. Focus instead on how happy you are together.
- Communicate. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations
Talk about retirement, pensions, health concerns, estate planning, long term care, concerns over sexual intimacy, life insurance options, and burial desires. Get the ugly stuff out of the way early on so you can focus on more important things - each other!
- Enjoy life sooner
Don’t wait until you both retire to take your dream vacation, travel the world, or move to a beach resort. Build your dreams into a plan that includes both of you being healthy. When my wife retired, I opened my own business so I could work remotely. Together, we created a schedule that included travel, time together, and time for our own personal interests. I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed retirement with her, even if we never fully retire together.
When I look back on my life, I realize that I am a better person because of the years I’ve spent with my wife. I can’t imagine sharing this crazy life with anyone else, regardless of their age.
Rachel Stevenson is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, an organization that creates safe spaces for the Chester County, PA LGBT community, and Publisher of OUTCOAST, an online LGBT editorial marketing and media platform along Florida's Gulf Coast. Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.