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It's All Relative: It's Just A Number

 by Stephanie Berger
 published on Thursday, April 6, 2006



When I was in high school, we had a name for younger girls who dated older guys. They were called "sophomore sluts" -- those brash and bold 14-to-16-year-old girls who went out with the 17-and-18-year-old guys.

Back then, a two-year age difference was just too big -- rumor had it that seniors only dated sophomores because they were easily impressed, and even easier to get into the sack.

Obviously, things have changed since high school. But the question still remains -- how big is too big of an age difference when it comes to dating?

I've heard a lot of different opinions on the matter, from a 19-year-old friend who didn't think it was a good idea to date a 21-year-old because he could drink legally and she couldn't, to an acquaintance who told me my hesitance at age 20 to go out with a guy who was 27 was ridiculous.

While most people will say that it's your compatibility with your partner that really counts, everyone agrees that at a certain point, age matters. Consider the 63-year age difference between Anna Nicole Smith and her billionaire husband, who was 89 when they got married.

Then again, there are other Hollywood cradle-robbing couples whose differences in years may or may not be a little bit icky. What about the quarter-century age difference between 36-year-old Catherine Zeta Jones and 61-year-old Michael Douglas, or as a more recent example, crazy, couch-jumping 42-year-old Tom Cruise and his Scientology-convert princess, 26-year-old Katie Holmes?

I must admit that although I do personally believe that Cruise has lost his mind, and I suspect that his relationship with Holmes is a drawn-out publicity stunt, I never considered their age difference to be the problem with the relationship.

Then again, I am biased by my own personal connection to an age-gapped relationship. My own father is 17 years my mother's senior, that's one year more than the difference between Cruise and Holmes.

So what is it that causes younger women to fall for older men (although as in the case of Ashton and Demi, it sometimes happens the other way around)? My mother says it was all about my father's personality, but I suspect it had something to do with her being interested in a man who was more mature, self-assured and established in his career than the men in her own age group. And by the 27 years they've been together, I think it had a little something to do with love, as well.

It's hard enough to determine what creates chemistry between two people close in age, let alone those with generational gaps.

And even if you're a Freudian-type who would say that younger women who date older men are looking for a father figure, one has to wonder, even if this is true, is it necessarily a bad thing? In some way, we're all probably searching for qualities in a mate that we've noticed other people in our lives lack, especially ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.

In the end, there are more important factors for us to consider when getting into a relationship. Do your goals and ambitions match, or at least compliment, your partner's? Do you have enough in common that you can get along, without being carbon copies of one another? How much money do you have? Wait, scratch that one -- that's just the question that Anna Nicole asked her husband-to-be.

In all seriousness, maybe these personality-probing queries are the type of questions we should investigate before "How old are you?" even enters the conversation. After all, it's possible to be an "old soul" in your mid-20s -- or "young at heart" long past your prime.

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