Where Do You Stand on Dating Someone Older?
Originally Published: February 2, 2016
Revised: February 2, 2016
Picture it: freshman year, you’re only 14 years old and you just joined marching band. You love playing the drums. There is a super cute girl who plays them, too. She seems nice enough, and one day she talks to you, and before you know it you’re dating. You really like her, and she seems to like you a lot. The only problem is you’re 14 and she’s 17. That doesn’t seem to bother you or her, but some of your friends don’t approve.
Age Isn’t Just a Number
When I ask Alexis Karpf, 18, of Edison, NJ, about people dating when there is an age difference of three or more years, she says, “I think age doesn’t matter after both people are at least 18. If one person is younger than 18, then it becomes a little more complicated.”
When there is a three-to four-year age difference, depending on the ages of the partners, you can have a lot in common or there can be too many differences. For instance, if you’re 14 and your partner is 17, it’s OK because you’re both in high school— maybe only two grades apart—and probably have similar rules and lives. But you can also be only three years apart and have very different lives. For example, if you’re 15 and your partner is 18, the 18-year-old can live alone usually and not have the parental supervision that most 15-year-olds need. So sometimes there can be a maturity gap.
In no U.S. state is 14 or 15 the legal age of consent, so if you’re dating a 14- or 15-year-old, he or she is not legally able to consent to sex
“To be honest, I feel like if you are still in high school and want to date someone in their twenties you shouldn’t because in high school you are still developing and may not be all that mature,” says Katherine Zenteno, 18, of Ellenville, NY.
I agree. Someone who is 18 may like things that someone who is 14 years old may not like or even truly understand. The 18-year-old has more freedom than the 14-year-old. At 18, you usually have a later curfew, answer to parents less and drive. This can give the older partner power over the younger one. In a relationship you want to be equals, but when someone is four or more years older, he or she may tend to feel more in charge in the relationship.
Another problem that arises is when sex becomes a part of the relationship.
“With sex comes responsibilities like condoms, birth control and STD testing,” says Alexis. “If those things aren’t handled then pregnancy and STDs can ensue. Most 14- and 15-year-olds aren’t ready to make those decisions or aren’t educated enough to know what they mean. Sometimes you can’t plan everything so you need to be in a position where you are old enough to handle it.”
Plus sex is illegal when one person is legally an adult and the other is legally a minor. The age when someone is an adult or minor varies from state to state. In no U.S. state is 14 or 15 the legal age of consent, so if you’re dating a 14- or 15-year-old, he or she is not legally able to consent to sex. Some states have age gap laws, which specify how many years apart underage teens can be before sex is considered illegal.
What About Love?
Some people feel as long as each partner feels comfortable and the balance of power is healthy, you shouldn’t break up because of an age gap.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with power but knowledge and experience,” says JoiAshanti Watkis, 18 from Brooklyn, NY. “I think it depends on the person underage and whether or not they are mature enough to be in a relationship with someone [older].”
Some gaps in age can mean gaps in maturity and that can lead to problems. Differences in age of more than four years can be tricky and may not be legal. If you love someone who you think is too old or young for you, I think you should just wait a while. Once you and this other person are 18, there is no limit on your relationship. To me, waiting until you’re both 18 is the smartest time to date someone when there is an age difference because then you both get to make the rules.
Visit Sexetc.org’s “Sex in the States” to learn more about the age of consent in your state.
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