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Basically, all I want to know is how I can get my readers to root for a pairing where the difference in ages is about 15 years. I don't want them to spend the entirety of my novel pondering over the 'wrongness' of such a pairing; the characters involved can best be described as anti-heroes so they'll doubtless be doing a whole lot of questionable things, both to other people and to each other.

Of course I'll steer clear of things such as outright emotional/physical/sexual abuse, but they're still not going to be good people. And there's the age factor to consider. I really want to get this point across to my readers, that they'll be perfect for one another and could work really well as a couple under different circumstances but I'm having trouble thinking I'll be able to do so with such a glaring age difference, especially considering that they're not really good people.

Any tips?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Galastel, Cyn, Kale Slade, Craig Sefton, JP Chapleau Jan 28 at 20:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Why does the age of the people matter? Why do you feel you have to bring up their age so early in the narrative? How old are they supposed to be, anyway? (There's a fair bit of difference in how you might handle a couple of, say, a 20 yo and a 35 yo, as opposed to one of a 40 yo and a 55 yo.) – a CVn Jan 23 at 18:16
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    On the flip side, why do you think the age difference would be something your readers would struggle to accept? Unless one of the couple is underage? – Galastel Jan 23 at 18:20
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    There's not enough information to answer. Your real issue is that they are "not good people". You given us nothing that we can be positive or constructive with. What character traits would offset the negative impression? How is their love "tested", and what do they see in each other? We can't just make stuff up for you. What is redeeming about them, and how are they better because of the relationship? – wetcircuit Jan 23 at 19:17
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    Just as a quick comment, both my twin sister and I are engaged to men 17yrs older than us, and there's been no flak from anyone. While people are often shocked at first, once they realise that we, the people IN the relationships, don't care about the age difference and that we're happy, they don't treat it any differently to a 'normal' relationship. So, maybe a comment or some initial shock about the age difference is ok, but just treat the actual relationship as normal and good for them. Use other character traits and actions to show that they're anti-heroes – s.anne.w Jan 24 at 0:00
  • A 15 year difference may or may not mean much. 60 and 45? I'd barely notice. 24 and 9? I'd have an issue. :-) – Jay Jan 25 at 16:54
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This is not a problem; get over your own prejudices. I know people married for thirty years with a 13 year age gap, and with the woman older than the man. They started dating when he was 28, and she 41.

I don't see the problem; this is even more common with younger women and older men; there is plenty of scientific evidence that women are attracted to men with power and wealth, and men are attracted to women that are beautiful, young and fit.

In the reverse case above, the woman had been divorced a few years. I think she is beautiful, and funny, and she cracks him up. The man at 28 was a professional earning 10 times as much as her (a clerk when they met). So they are not professional colleagues, but I guess he wasn't looking for somebody to discuss his job with; and they are very compatible on the entertainments they enjoy (the shows they watch, travel, games and activities, etc) so I think they are good companions. They have no children, but I assume that was agreed upon when dating.

The only reason for age-matching in a couple is child-bearing; both older men and older women have a higher chance of producing a child with impairments. But there are plenty of people that don't want to raise children; especially those focused on a career with long hours that don't think they can both raise children and put in the hours to succeed professionally. An adult companion can understand that; a child cannot.

A younger woman might feel more secure with an older husband. A younger man might want to have somebody he enjoys having dinner with, or watching TV, that isn't a kid that knows less than him, that isn't going to pressure him to have kids, that still enjoys having sex, shares his political views, and makes his life less lonely and not a series of one-night stands. Having children isn't everything.

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So I'll first preferace that the general acceptable lower bound age range of the Younger partner (Y) is usually understood to be Y = (X/2) + 7 where X is the age of the older partner, or better said as Half Age plus 7. This means that, as pointed out, the older the older partner is, the younger the younger partner can be relatively. For example, a 30 year old would look odd with anyone younger than 22, but an 80 under this logic should not be odd with anyone as young as 47 (it's rarely treated this way, as the younger is seen as a gold digger and the older is seen as a dirty old man/couger/cradle robber). Under this model, the youngest acceptable age difference of is a 44 year old dating a 29 year old (exactly 15 years junior... beyond 44, the age tends to rise).

That said, wide age gaps in relationships are not unheard of and the junior may seem naive and the older might typically seem predatory in fiction (heaven forbid that someone actually be attracted to much older partners and prefer them to their peers!). There are some cutures where it's a bit more common (royalty back in the day, or other arranged marriages, the LGBT community (especially among men) more commonly have wider age ranges because of the small dating pool. And as said, some people are more mature than others.

It's also not uncommon if one actor is playing a much younger character and starts dating a co-actor playing an older character. The two might be closer to age in real life than their characters and while off putting to fans (especially with the bleed through in their more tender moments) it's wrong... just gotta keep reminding themselves of that. On the TV show "Heroes" for example, the actors playing the characters of Peter and Claire did start dating each other, even though the characters they played where a man in his late 20s and a high school girl (Sophmore age, I think)... and an Uncle and Niece respectively (Fans were more put off by the romance bleeding through and making the love somewhat incestuous rather than peodophilic... though neither was without comment and they had a lot of scenes that hinted at the real life relationship.).

If there is not a romantic relationship, strong intergenerational friendships are much more encouraged. The character of Wolverine has had a long history of having a teenage to early 20s aged sidekick from the X-men's pool of characters, when he's clearly in his late 40s (and is really older than that). Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Rogue, and X-23 are some examples of characters he has a sort of paternal bond with that shows they clearly care about each other, but aren't romantic... depending on the age of the younger character, they can even milk the situation of meeting the dad when taking the daughter out and it's Wolverine. It also humanizes Wolverine by giving him some emotional connections (he also seems to get paired up with the worlds worst student driver for added humor).

Similarly, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the titular character is a High Schooler initially dating Angel, a Vampire who has been alive for 200 some years, and while still young looking, he's clearly older than high school ages. Rather than ignore the problem, they steer into the skid and address the issues about the age difference in several episodes to the point that it became a major element of the second half of season 2 and was the principal motivation for their eventual break up (and the fact that he was getting a spin-off series).

A more serious example would be the film Gran Torino, in which Clint Eastwood's character teaches a young neighborhood boy of about 14 to be a man. In this case, Eastwood is steering the boy away from joining a gang by teaching him about proper work and instilling a work ethic in the kid. Eastwood's character also is quite friendly with the kid's college age sister, who snarks back at Eastwood's racism against... everyone... which impresses Eastwood and when the local gang hurt her, he takes it as if she was his own family (and even earlier notes he has more in common with them than his own grown kids and their families).

Another rule of fiction is again, since they are not the heroes, but anti-heroes, which generally can get away with a little more. To me, it sounds like it could be very well done if it's made clear early on that their relationship is very loving and respectful. To me, I would almost make it akin to the Fisk/Vanessa paring in the Netflix Daredevil series, where its clearly an awkward relationship, but beneath all the uncomfortable behaviors, they really do find each other attractive and have eyes only for them.

Another similar example is the relationship between Roger and Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" All the humans cannot believe a hot girl like Jessica would date a goof like Roger and all the Toons can't believe a Stud like Roger would just settle for a nobody like Jessica (Eddie (human, upon seeing Jessica): disbelieving tone She's married to Rodger Rabbit? Betty-Boop: wishing tone and completely serious Yeah! What a lucky girl!) and because of this both the Toons and the humans see one side of the relationship as some sort of sham marriage. Truth is, they do love each other very much and just have a bizarre way of showing it (Jessica does believe that hitting Rodger over the head with a Frying Pan and throwing them into the trunk of the car would keep him safe (Toon Logic is a well established Oxymoron at this point in the film). And both separately get violent with Eddie when he questions either one's commitment to the relationship they have to one another... You don't have to understand why it works to understand that it does work.

Let the age questions be open questions. Have characters even question the nature of a 15 year age gap... but never let the characters question either member's commitment to the relationship and their feelings for each other without an immediate rebuke along the lines of it works, even if the world says it should not. And that's good enough for them and should be good enough an answer to the naysayers.

  • While agreeing to you, I'd rather exclude all fantasy genre examples, because authors can trick age issues there with much liberty. For example, in Twilight Edward is over 100 years old, and in Lord of the Rings Arwen is almost 3000 years old, but that wouldn't stop them from having iconic relationships with much younger partners. – Alexander Jan 23 at 21:58
  • I generally hate the 'generally accepted' formula. So long as either both parties are sophisticated enough to understand the basics of dating and romantic relationships, or they have progressed a similar amount in their acquisition of that sophistication, I feel it's morally fine. I understand that's impossible to legislate, which is why our legislation has to specify age. But I still get skeeved out by stories of couplings that are fine by legal age rules but really, really not by the sophistication rule. – Ed Grimm Jan 24 at 2:47
  • @EdGrimm: If it helps, I think it's more impressed upon younger people, who have less of a range. For example, a 16 year old would date as young as 15 under the rule, but a 14 year old dates within their own age groups. Again, it's not a hard rule, just the one that comes up the most in Western Societies. – hszmv Jan 24 at 13:28
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There is nothing wrong with such a pairing - unless one is fifteen.

A cousin of mine had been dating for years and finally found the one. He called me to tell me about her, but was initially embarrassed to mention her age. He finally told me - twenty year difference and they are a perfect match.

My parents had an eleven year age difference and it was thought nothing of.

Just write the characters and their relationship and forget about age differences. Why worry about it?

The only real issue might be that you seem to think it is wrong and that will color your depiction of it.

You say they are not good people. Please let it be more than he ‘robbed the cradle ‘ or she did. My characters do some very questionable things, but never do I assign them with the role of villain. I have characters say to each other that heroes and villains are not the stuff of life, that good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Shades of grey - sometimes getting rather dark, but no judgement of good or evil.

These are my characters and I am fond of them. I hope you are fond of that couple, despite the things you will do to them. Adversity often brings people together, forming unbreakable bonds.

You might come to love these two, watching them grow together as characters both individually and as a couple.

  • "unless one is fifteen" So, one dates someone who is fifteen years older and when almost turns 35 years old, breaks the relationships? – rus9384 Jan 24 at 0:16
  • @rus9384 No, unless one is a minor aged fifteen dating a thirty year old. Both should be age of consent. – Rasdashan Jan 24 at 2:18
  • Ah, but that varies from country to country as well. But I'm wondering if that's because it might bring legal issues or is it merely because the reader can find it inappropriate? But regarding legality I guess if there are no sex scenes, there is no problem. – rus9384 Jan 24 at 2:41
  • That is true - also some old laws are still on the books permitting minors to marry, but the characters in the age disparate relationship are the OP’s, not mine. – Rasdashan Jan 24 at 4:10
  • Relationships have not to be marriages. So, it all depends on the contents of the book. – rus9384 Jan 24 at 4:12

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