People put a lot of limits on themselves when it comes to dating. They may want someone who looks a certain way, who makes a certain amount of money, or who likes certain hobbies. Age is one of the biggest reasons people have for rejecting someone. There are people who only like to date people their age and won’t budge no matter what.
I confess to having a preference in this department as well. I will not date women who are more than six years younger than me or women who are more than ten years older. Years of dating experience tell me this is the right age group for me. However, I also try to be flexible. Dating is hard and if your preferences are carved in stone, you could miss out on a lot of great people. Therefore, if someone seems really fantastic I will usually waive my strict age requirements. (Though as a 36 year old, I’d never date someone less than 25 or over 50. That, I can’t see ever working, no matter how charming she may be.)
Here are my thoughts on what to consider if you decide to date significantly above or below your age:
I think the biggest challenge with dating young people is that they are not always so mature, and also they are in a different place in their life. If you are 45, can you really relate to a grad student? Do you really want to go out with them every weekend, clubbing and dancing? Will you really have a meeting of the minds? These are all things to think about and mull over carefully. I think it is particularly a bad idea to date a young person who has just come out, when you are an older person. The younger person is really not sure of herself or her sexuality at this stage, and you will wind up playing “teacher.” I think this kind of relationship only works if the younger person is extremely mature, or if the older person is slightly immature. Some of us may be 45, but act 25, and vice versa. But if the maturity levels are too different, this won’t be a relationship that succeeds in the long term.
If you are dating an older person it may work—but only if you are in your late twenties and beyond. Anything younger than that I think is just asking for trouble. As a young person in your late twenties or early thirties, you may not relate to others in your age category, and you may do better with someone older.
Whichever direction you go in, one thing you can’t worry about is what other people think. Friends, family or strangers may see fit to comment on your relationship—or even make fun of it. In the end, that doesn’t matter. All that matters ultimately is what you think of each other.
For a heterosexual couple, public displays of affection are usually no big deal. Nobody is going to get upset if they see a man and woman kissing on the street. But with gays and lesbians it’s a different story.
This is something I realized right after my first relationship. My first relationship was a heterosexual one, and back then, I never felt uncomfortable showing affection in public. But when I entered a lesbian relationship it became much more complex. I felt like all eyes were on me whenever I made any move towards my partner. Even kissing my partner in a deserted part of town by the water where no one was watching felt unsafe. After all, anybody could come upon us at any minute and discover what we were doing. And who knows what would happen then? (Yes, I do admit to being a bit paranoid.)
You may think I live in the Midwest but actually I live in New York City, and even in this liberated city, it is a very rare sight for me to see two men or two women being affectionate with each other, unless it’s at a club or other kind of gay event. Turns out it’s not just me—a lot of other gay men and women are paranoid too. And it’s understandable why: you simply never know the reaction someone is going to have. Just because you live in New York, it doesn’t mean everyone is pro-gay.
And then there are some gay people who don’t like being lovey-dovey in public, and it has nothing to do with fear. They don’t want to be put on display. They believe love is for the bedroom. That’s understandable as well. Just because you are gay doesn’t mean you are comfortable with public displays of your sexuality.
If you feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection, for whatever reason, discuss it with your partner. Don’t just reject him or her without giving a reason. That’s the worst thing you could do and will lead to major tension within your relationship.
Explain why you feel wary about it. Some gays and lesbians are afraid of public displays of affection because they’ve been harassed before while kissing a partner. If that has happened to you, tell your partner about it. It will help her to understand your fear better.
In addition, it can be a problem even if both of you like PDAs. You may not mind a public display of affection once in a while, but the girlfriend who constantly wants to grab your butt in public is a problem. She is trying to say to the world: “This is my possession and you can’t have it.” Do you really want to go out with someone like that?
Whatever you do, don’t let your partner pressure you into doing something you are uncomfortable with. Don’t let her make you feel guilty, or make you feel like it’s your duty as an activist to showcase your relationship in front of straight people. It’s not your duty to do that; it’s only your duty to be happy.
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