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New research has revealed the acceptable age for who you can date

happy couple
Image credit: Shutterstock - By Peter Berni

Many people believe that love has no age-limits, but society has other things to say about that.

In fact, the question surrounding how old is too old or how young is too young has come up so often throughout modern history that researchers have conducted studies to find out what the acceptable age range for dating actually is.

For most people, they use the simple rule of “half your age plus seven years” for dating someone younger than themselves, and they use the rule to determine if someone is too old for them is “subtract seven years and double that number.”

So if someone is 30 years old, according to these rules, they should be dating people ranging from ages 22 – 46.

That’s a huge range, and you can imagine the mental states and life experiences of someone who is 22 is drastically different than someone who is 46.

So the question begs to be asked: is this formula accurate and does it really help people find love that is right for them?

Here’s what researchers have found:

The Context of the Relationship Matters

When researchers set out to determine the magical age range that is acceptable to both individuals and society as the appropriate age for dating, they found that people had different age limits depending on the context.

For example, when someone was considering marriage, the age mattered more than if someone was considering a one-night stand with a partner.

This makes sense of course because you want to ensure compatibility for the long-term success of your relationship and marriage, but researchers were surprised to find the less serious a relationship was, the younger partner someone might take.

Men and Women Were Different

It should come as no surprise that researchers concluded that men and women had different preferences for dating age ranges.

The researchers found that men typically preferred to marry someone much older than the age limit rule previously suggests.

So while most of society thinks that men – in general – would prefer a “trophy wife,” it turns out that men are more conservative when it comes to choosing a life partner than society gives them credit for.

So, what age is appropriate for a man? Men tend to stick to their own age as the maximum limit age they are willing to date, and surprisingly, tended to prefer partners that were only a few years younger.

Women are trending higher than the rule would suggest as well: for most middle-aged women, they prefer to keep their dating partner’s age closer to 3-5 years away from their own age.

While the rule says that a 40-year-old woman could date a 27-year-old, most 40-year-old women don’t feel comfortable doing that, according to researchers.

Women tend to stay much lower than the rule states is acceptable. If a woman’s maximum age range is 40, she is more likely to date someone who is around 37.

The Limits and Maximums Change Over Time

In considering the appropriate age of your next dating partner, consider that your age ranges will change as you get older.

For example, if you start dating someone who is 20 when you are 26 years old, they are within the acceptable age range, according to the rule, but it is the very limit of your minimum age range.

But when you are 30, and they are 24, your new age range is 22, and they are well above that range. The bottom line?

If you love each other, age doesn’t matter, but it is a good guideline when you are thinking about a future together, or if you care at all what society thinks.

Remember that this rule is mostly used in Western cultures and that age limits and maximums are different all around the world based on cultural norms.

Men and women get married at much younger ages in Eastern cultures, and it’s important to remember that these are guidelines, and not hard and fast rules for anyone.

The great thing about dating is that it gives you a chance to decide if you are compatible with someone else, so don’t let someone’s age be the reason you deny yourself a chance at happiness.

How to Manage a Big Age Gap in Your Relationship

When it comes to love, there is a lot out there acting against your relationship.

The statistics betting against the success of your relationship are quite high and many people wonder if they’ll ever find the right person for them.

Sometimes though, you find someone who is perfect for you in every way, except they are much, much older…or younger. So then what?

You already know that the odds are stacked against your relationship, so why would you go and add a big age difference to the mix?

For some people, it’s worth the effort necessary to mitigate such an age gap, now and in the future.

But for others, things just don’t work out.

If you are committed to making your age-diverse relationship work for the long haul, check out our tips on how to manage your big age gap with success.

1) Don’t Ignore It

No, love is NOT all you need. You also need to have things in common and be in similar places in your lives to make a go of a long-term relationship.

So rather than try to brush your age difference under the rug and forget about it, take the time to acknowledge what this age gap will mean for you at certain stages of your lives.

For example, if you are 30 and your partner is 40, what does life look like while they are retired and you are still working?

What does it look like if you want to have children closer to 40 and they are about to turn 50?

Age does matter when it comes to having a successful relationship so be sure to give it the time it needs so you can plan ahead of time for these life events.

2) Know Your Values and Cross Check When Necessary

One of the unique things about a relationship is that it is constantly changing and you need to acknowledge that two people trying to spend their life together are going to go through ups and downs, highs and lows, and of course, physical and personality changes.

The person you are with today is not going to the be the person you are with next year, five years from now, or on your deathbed.

People change, especially with age. Your fun-loving 35-year old husband might suddenly decide he is tired of the bars and big crowds, even though you are only 25 and still have lots of fun with your friends on the weekend.

Be sure to check in with one another once in a while to see what has changed and have frank conversations about the changes so that you can be honest with one another about how you are feeling.

3) Have a Game Plan for The Haters

It doesn’t matter how happy you are, there will always be people out there who are not happy for you and your relationship.

Throw a big age-gap into the mix and you’ve basically added fuel to their fire: they’ll get a lot of joy out of poo-pooing in your relationship.

Talk to one another about how what other people think may influence your relationship. If you feel the need to respond to what others are saying about your relationship, come together and decide as a unit what the response will be.

Of course, you do not have to entertain any public doubts about your relationship because it is nobody’s business but your own.

Be sure to make time in your relationship to discuss how those comments might make you feel so you can work together to overcome whatever fear or doubt that is instilled as a result of listening to people outside your relationship.

This is especially important if the haters are closer to you, like your parents. It’s hard to think our parents are wrong and even as adults we often think they still know what is best for us, so don’t let yourself get sucked into that kind of thinking.

It will just ruin your relationship.

4) Don’t Let it Rule Your Lives

While it’s important to consider what a big age gap might mean for your relationship down the road, don’t let the thoughts and worries prevent you from enjoying your relationship now.

You never know what is going to happen in life and you could end up perfectly happy forty years from now, or you could break up tomorrow.

There’s just no way of knowing so there’s no need to dwell on it too much. Give it the proper attention as needed and then get on with your lives. You’ll be better for it.

At the end of the day, a big age gap just gives you more opportunities to strengthen your problem-solving muscles as a couple.

You’ll need to be open and more honest with one another to find a way through the life events or changes that you might not have anticipated or have been surprised by.

It’s not any harder than what other couples are going through, it’s just different.

RELATED: What J.K Rowling can teach us about mental toughness

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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