Age differences in my couples, revisited

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.

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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.

Seventeen April 1949

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.

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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.

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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.

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8 thoughts on “Age differences in my couples, revisited

  1. Things were so different back then.
    There is a huge difference today between an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year old. Sometimes not as much if the twenty-five-year old hasn’t been forced to mature either. (Eternal college student who still lives at home.)
    My wife’s grandfather was twenty-one when he met her grandmother who was fourteen. He did wait until she turned eighteen.

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    • One of the reasons I realized most of my writing couldn’t honestly be classified as YA or NA is because these young characters are going through much more adult, mature experiences than the typical teen or early twentysomething of the modern era. I also don’t think the YA classification works for certain books like Jillian Larkin’s Flappers series because she’s trying to play it both ways, teen girls and adult experiences.

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  2. In the Twilight series, I always thought the 100-something Edward falling in love with a 16 year old Bella more a pedophile thing than love! With his perspective deepened by the decades, what did he have to talk with Bella about since sex was out … at the first?

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  3. There are many differences today versus yesterday. Today it seems creepy, in the past not so much. It wasn’t necessarily out of wedlock birth per se that is the issue, but the entire purpose of marriage has changed. We define it now as about solely finding love. Love was part of it, but it was more about inheritance, promulgating the species, and expected social roles. When you hit a certain age, especially as a man, you were expected to get a job and a home. There is no societal pressure to do this, so why would anyone grow up if they don’t have to? It’s much easier to be taken care of than to be the one providing care.

    When marriage was about family and children. marrying young was important because of child mortality and how short people live. Unfortunately it’s a fact that men can foster children his entire life and women have a short window, so marrying a younger women wasn’t unusual. Today, to westerners, children aren’t the top priorities and we live longer, so large gaps in ages seems creepier. There seems to be something going on psychologically ie. daddy issues if a couple has a large age gap today. And it’s creepy if men want young women, not because it’s not obvious that they want a beautiful partner and young people are considered more beautiful, but depending on the age of the female, it’s edging on pedophile territory. It almost seems like ‘grooming’ ie. Salinger. There are not many people who would ‘wait’ for someone to grow up which is why it seems more insidious. When being a gentleman was the goal, men might wait. Now that instant gratification is the norm, I’m not sure many would ‘wait’.

    A major age difference can also greatly affect the children. It’s selfish to me that a much older parent would not have much time with their children. If a parent is 80 when their child is in high school, it’s selfish. That child suffers because they won’t have the experience of their peers. They have to deal with a declining health of a parent, and possible loss of a parent, while their peers parents’ are cheering on the sidelines. I am reminded of famous Odd Couple actor Tony Randall who had a child at age 77 and died at age 84. Would his 6 or 7 year old child have preferred playing with his dad in a park, or spending time in hospitals and going to his father’s funeral like he actually did.

    Long and short, people of similar ages, similar goals, similar ideas and similar experiences suit each other. I feel bad you wasted 5 years on a guy. I was up front right away when my spouse and I were dating that I was looking for marriage, and if he wasn’t, let me know now so I can get out. Luckily for me, everything worked out. If it’s not even hinted at after a year or two, not moving in, but a permanent relationship, it’s probably not happening.

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  4. Life expectancy played a large part in those early marriages. And I’m sure it was safer to have children at a young age. It was already dangerous to deliver a child for many women, even those in their teens. Very interesting post and the picture you chose were perfect.

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  5. Rxena’s comment made me laugh! I also wondered why Edward saw appeal in Bella, with her being so young and him 100-something.

    I agree that it’s creepy when grown men now-a-days say they’ll wait for a girl to reach the age of 18. All they usually want when they say that is sex and for them not to get in trouble.

    But…my mom is ten years older than my dad. Granted, they’re divorced and my mom now likes to say he was immature in the beginning. I still think love is love, though. Regardless of age.

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    • I love younger men, though my rule is that I’d never touch anyone under 21 at the absolute youngest. Even then, there’d have to be incredible chemistry and an intense meeting of the minds for me to even consider going that young. More practically and realistically, I probably wouldn’t want to go younger than 23 or 24.

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