JULY 25 — Do we foresee issues if we date someone who’s older (or younger!) than us by about 20 years or so?
How many relationships with such huge age-gaps do we know of which are flourishing or otherwise?
Given that relationships are already difficult, will such age differentials make things worse or better? Or is it even a factor at all?
One of my talking points with friends after watching Mission Impossible 7 was, of all things, the age gap between Tom Cruise and his female co-stars.
We were chatting about the stunts (not least the base-jumping one), the fancy tech, the AI “entity” in the movie, the (rumoured?) off-screen romance between Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell and — out of the blue — the fact that Cruise and Atwell “look the same age” despite there being an age-gap of more than 20 years!
Throughout all seven instalments of the Mission Impossible film franchise, the difference between Cruise and his female leads hovers around 20 or more.
It will also not be lost on anyone that Cruise’s ex-wife Katie Holmes is 22 years younger than him. Incidentally, the current President of France, Emmanual Macron, is married to a woman more than 30 years his senior.
To many people, those are remarkable numbers. Putting aside the celebrity factor, huge age differences like these can certainly be an issue.
Let’s be real: If your daughter of 20 brought home a guy aged 50 years you won’t just brush it off. You are going to ask questions of a different nature than if her date was her 21-year-old classmate (see note 2).
In Malaysia, at least among people I know, I almost never see such huge age-gaps (also known as age heterogamy as opposed to age homogamy, (see note 1) between spouses.
In my generation, practically all my friends, cousins and relatives (and myself!) are married to people not more than five years younger or older. I personally know only two age heterogamous couples, one with an age-gap of 17 years and another with more than 20 years; the former appears happily married while the latter broke up last year.
Which leads to the original question: How critical are these age disparities?
The good, the bad and the unknown
On one hand (or at first sight), it would seem that huge age-gaps pose unnecessary problems.
If he is 50-plus and you’re in your 30s (or perhaps you’ve recently graduated), wouldn’t both your priorities be different on account of the divergent “life-stages” the two of you are experiencing?
One side is near retirement, the other wants to boost his/her career — how much do you have in common? And, assuming the guy is the older one, what about issues of patriarchy, equality and so on (see note 1)?
On the flip side, if the woman is the older one, would you be concerned about your (much) younger spouse giving his attention elsewhere?
However, the counter-perspective would insist that “same-age” couples aren’t exactly bastions of stability either, are they? How many divorces among friends and acquaintances have we witnessed in the past decade?
Among my circles of friends, I know at least five couples who’ve split in the past 20 years. None of them have huge age-gaps.
Some would suggest that rising divorce rates (or break-ups) render big age-gaps even more problematic because relationships are already hard.
Others, perhaps those in such relationships, may say divorce rates prove that age is hardly a factor at all. In fact, having a spouse who’s much older may provide a measure of stability and maturity not available in a younger age-homogamous relationship.
Perhaps, instead of age differences, the personalities and attitudes of the people involved matter more. Maybe an age gap (and other factors) won’t matter if one side is an asshole or a cheater or can’t provide for the family.
Likewise, it may be hard to circumscribe this “crazy thing called love”. People fall in love and out of it for all kinds of different reasons, so talking about things like age-gaps is pointless — or is it?
Note 1: Interestingly enough, there has only been one recent study on the topic within an Asian context (which, weirdly enough, doesn’t even mention Malaysia), Dommaraju, P. (2023). Age gap between spouses in south and south-east Asia. Journal of Family Issues, 0192513X231155662. Dommaraju concludes that bigger age-gaps among spouses represent lower gender egalitarianism.
Note 2: In all these cases, it’s always the guy who’s older. I suspect, but cannot confirm, that it’d be extremely rare to find couples where the woman is the senior by many years.
• This is the personal opinion of the columnist.