When I was a young girl my first serious boyfriend was significantly older. How much older you ask? Old enough to break the “Age Variable Rule.” What’s the Age Variable Rule you ask? It’s something my mother should have taught me and I’ll now pass on to you. My own mother, convinced that my intended was actually much younger (but still old enough to break the rule), and being the hopeless romantic she has always believed that his intentions were pure enough (in his defense they were until my teen hormones pushed him over the edge) and our love was strong enough (it was for several years in fact) to make the May December romance work. I know my mother thought I was extremely mature for my age (I was the only girl on the block more interested in learning to read Ancient Greek than listening to N*Sysnc), but the truth is I was still, at heart, a sixteen year old girl and someone should have taught me that dating someone who broke the Age Variable Rule would ultimately end in heartache for everyone involved (and it did).
So here and now, I will teach you what I wish I had the benefit of knowing back then. Depending on your current age, there is an age span in years above and below your current age from which your dating pool should be comprised. Go higher or lower and you’re most certainly bound for disappointment, heartbreak or a possible jail term.
Let’s begin with the age when most of us start dating. Say you’re a sixteen year old girl. At this point it’s acceptable to date someone one year younger or two years older without much issue. Everyone’s still in high school, it should all be fairly legal and you’re both still incredibly stupid.
Once you hit eighteen things change a bit. You’re still pretty stupid, but you should be in college at this point and can expand your maximum range upward and onward to a whopping three years! The logic here is that when you’re in your college years you really don’t want to be dealing with the distraction of dating a guy more than a year younger who is still back in high school (do you really want to be that girl going to prom as a college freshman? Think it’s not so bad? It is. I was that girl. The shame still hasn’t subsided). You also don’t want the drama of dealing with someone who has already graduated and is just beginning an “adult” life (recent graduates tend to be self-important know-it-alls. If you’ve already been through this phase in life, think back to when you and your friends first got out into the world with your lofty career plans and your crappy grown up apartments. Now you know what I mean.)
When you get to 21 you’re still not going to want to bother with anyone more than a year younger, but the high end goes up to five years. This is often a crazy time full of change and discovery (read as lots of mistakes and starting over). The only people who should have to be subjected to you at this point are people in a similar boat and even then I have sympathy for all parties involved.
At 25, your options start to open up a little depending on where you are in life. If you’re still partying like it’s 1999 four or more nights a week, revert back to the rules of 21. If you’re starting to establish a life for yourself, you’ve reached the two below/eight above span. This gives you a lot of wiggle room. You may even be tempted to go above your max because you’re no longer some silly kid running around just looking to have a good time. You’re an adult who doesn’t need some Age Variable Rule to choose who you should and shouldn’t date. You don’t think it matters if someone is a decade or more older, but it will. A lesson I, and Monica from Friends, learned the hard way.
Remember when she was dating Tom Selleck? Everything was peachy keen for the first few months when they were in the fancy stage of new love. Remember they kept putting off the topic of having kids until it finally it became a breaking point? She was going to compromise, then he was, but they both knew neither one would really be happy in a future together. It doesn’t just happen on tv shows. Follow the rule.
When you hit about 35 your maximum range expands to three years below and ten above. You never want to go more higher than ten for the same reasons stated above. And besides, if you can’t find someone when you have a thirteen year age range to choose from you may be screwed. Just saying.
These rules apply no matter how old you get or how grown up you feel. They are meant to keep us from getting involved with people who are in completely different places in life and who want different things in their immediate and distant futures. I’m not saying you could never get on with someone older or younger than the Age Variable Rule suggests, you may and very well for quite a while, but the problem is eventually you will realize you are at two very different places in life… and that realization can be heartbreaking.
Oh, and in case you were wondering I never finished learning to read Ancient Greek.