One of my best friends is dating a man, a grownup with a successful career, all sorts of savings accounts and a house.
She, on the other hand, is in the middle of her 20s, figuring out her life and feeling imbalanced next to her partner who’s already gone through the growing pains of his 20s.
“I don't know who I am,” she confides in me.
She's in the middle of an identity crisis, trying to find her place in her relationship as well as her life.
With age comes wisdom.
The man she's with knows who he is and what he's doing with his future.
He’s purposeful and defined.
When dealing with the age gap in a relationship, how do you bridge that gap thoughtfully, both as the younger person still searching for your true self, and as the older person waiting for the other person to be on your level?
Here are four things to consider when dealing with age gap in your relationship:
1. As the older person, you cannot project your dreams onto your partner.
I dated this guy a few years older than me for a hot second. He was ready for marriage, house, kids and the whole enchilada. At first, I was excited to be with someone who actively talked about those things as short-term goals, instead of gulping a beer and mentioning them as “Oh, yeah, someday” things. But in that short amount of time, I soon found out he was unknowingly projecting the life he wanted onto me. What he was seeing in me in those first few weeks were surface-level things: I’m cute, I'm fun, I'm polite, I cook and I play well with others.
I checked the boxes.
Because he was so ready for a little wifey to make him dinner when he comes home from work, I think he was more into the “idea” of me than the real me. I say this because he didn't really understand the complexity of who I am. He didn't get my raunchy sense of humor, my quirks, my varied interests, what makes me tick and everything else that makes a person.
He didn't know me. As the older person in a relationship, I think it's natural to unknowingly start rushing your partner to grow up and be on your level. You are blinded by your own goals instead of seeing what's truly in front of you. You want your younger partner to be ready for the things you are ready for, without understanding that it takes a while to be on the same level.
2. The one thing you cannot give someone is time.
As the younger person in the relationship, even if you want the same things as your partner, the one thing the older person can't give you is time. Sure, he or she can give you perspective, advice and guidance on how to navigate your 20s. But what he or she has that you will never have is the benefit of having lived through those years. This person experienced them, learned from them and grew from them. Difficult as it is to be the older person partnered with someone younger, you both need to be patient. It's your choice to be with someone on a different level of life than you, so it needs to be part of your game plan to wait for him or her to get to where you’re at.
3. If you rush someone, it could be disastrous.
Just because you want certain things to happen someday, it’s quite another thing to actually have them happen in real life. When considering moving in together with your partner, many of us think, “Oh, whatever, I've had roommates before.” That may be true, but you weren't romantically involved with those roommates (I hope). So, it's a hell of a difference.
It’s amazing how our bodies, minds or souls can reject an idea we thought we wanted to badly happen once it actually happens. Case in point: I thought I was ready for a great relationship with a nice guy to come along. I wanted to meet someone, have him sweep me off my feet, treat me like a princess, call me regularly and want exclusivity, no questions asked. Well, that happened. But when it did, I had the most intense gut reaction to the situation that told me, “Stop!”
Suddenly, my thoughts were going a million miles a minute, and I was freaking out to my friends. Why? Because I realized I didn’t want those things from him. I’m wasn’t ready for them.
4. Communication is key.
Every relationship and situation is different. But for all of us, the best thing you can do is talk to your partner. If you are serious about each other, then you can tell him or her what you’re feeling. If you are with someone who is used to only thinking about him- or herself, then your partner is just bringing you along for the ride.
Your partner needs to understand you won’t adjust to all of these changes as quickly as he or she will. Just because your partner is ready for a house, that doesn’t mean you are. Maybe he or she is ready to get married and start a family, but you still need a few years. The older person in the relationship needs to take a deep breath and remember that, yes, you are mature and poised, but he or she can’t give you time and experience.
Nothing will replace the next few years like actually living them.
The older person in the relationship can try to teach you things, share his or her experiences with you, and introduce you to a whole new world of things that 20-somethings aren’t experiencing.
But you still have to take them as they come. As much as someone might want you to be on his or her level, you’re not, and that’s completely fine. You each have your own perspectives and experiences, and you each bring something unique to your relationship. Together, you guys balance each other out.
Just take a deep breath, talk it out and see what happens.