In loving memory of my maternal grandpap, who left the material world 13 January 2017.
I originally posted about this topic on 17 March 2011, in a 1,132-word post. (I really was way too wordy in those days!) Why not revisit it, without all that rambling and those way-too-long paragraphs?
By and large, my fictional couples are within a year of one another’s age (i.e., in the same graduating class), or only a few years apart. Two main reasons so many of my couples are matched up so young:
It behooved couples in the pre-Pill era to marry very young and quickly. You couldn’t just cohabit out of wedlock in those days, even if there were no accidental pregnancies.
The modern concepts of casually dating around, and delaying marriage and parenthood, were completely foreign to me. I expected to be a married mother in my early twenties. I seriously compromised my values by dating my ex for almost five years, instead of walking when marriage wasn’t forthcoming after the first year or two.
Some of my ancestors at a 1907 wedding. The bride’s name was Julie Hoffman.
My couples who aren’t in the same graduating class are usually no more than 4–5 years apart. Since I’m all about equal opportunity, either partner can be older, not just the guy. I also make sure the age differences aren’t illegal. Things to keep in mind for your characters:
In some jurisdictions, minors and legal adults can be sexually involved, IF the age difference is very small and the older partner is below a certain age. E.g., 16 and 19, 17 and 21.
Just because someone is the age of consent doesn’t automatically make a giant age difference totally cool. It’s about differences in maturity, expectations, and life experiences, not just numbers. There’s a huge difference between, e.g., 18 and 21, or 20 and 25, and 18 and 28, or 16 and 35.
Some people are more mature and experienced than others. Compare a 23-year-old marrying a 43-year-old after living independently and working since 16, and shouldering lots of adult responsibilities for years, with a sheltered 16-year-old hooking up with a 40-year-old feeding her lines about how much he loves her, how he thinks she’s so beautiful and special, and how she’s so much more mature than other girls.
One of obnoxious SJW Milo Stewart’s few vlogs which I actually agreed with discussed how deeply creepy it is when adult men tell underage girls they’ll wait for them to turn 18. I was also skeeved out when one of the survivors at the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive said her 22-year-old father was so besotted with her 12-year-old mother, he told her he’d wait for her to be old enough to marry.
When there’s a minor age difference, and your story is set over many years, it adds a lot of expectant tension as the younger party gets older. That makes it so much better when they finally get together. I did this with Allen Troy and Lenore Hartlein, who met at 18 and 15, and with Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov and Inga Savvina, who were 23 and 18.
Someone who’s not just lusting after a quick roll in the hay will respect the age difference and move slowly, even after they’ve gotten together. My paternal grandpap was 26 to my grandma’s 19 when they met. He was afraid to reveal his actual age, since she might not like him anymore.
Age differences do level off eventually, but the half-plus-seven rule is a good measuring stick. You divide your age in half and add seven to get the age below which you shouldn’t be dating. E.g., 17 and 20, 20 and 26, 22 and 30, 15 and 16.
While many May-December relationships are healthy and respectful, there’s also the danger of a skewed dynamic. The older person views the much-younger partner as more of a child than an equal, not to mention the generational gap.
Minor age differences seem immense when we’re younger. Compare, e.g, the difference between 5 and 10, and 25 and 30. A 16-year-old may view her 20-year-old crush as an unattainable fantasy who’d never develop special feelings for her, only to be happily surprised a few years later.
People in bygone generations matured quicker. An 18-year-old of 1914 marrying a 25-year-old would be a more equal relationship than today, with these more and more extended childhoods.
Finally, The Time Traveler’s Wife creeps me out. A thirtysomething guy should not be kissing a 16-year-old, nor should a 41-year-old be bedding an 18-year-old. They’re 20 and 28 when they meet in real time, which still skeeves me out.