(In photo: Marion McEachrane and Nolan Smith)
By Tim Smith
Dating brings its own set of challenges for any couple – but there’s an extra set of hurdles when an age gap is involved.
So, while it may be comforting to tell ourselves age doesn’t matter as we embark on a new relationship with somebody significantly older or younger than us, it’s crucial we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.
The first test, according to relationships expert Dr Nekia Walker, will often be to tackle a stigma applied by friends, family, colleagues, peers and society at large.
“It seems that when people encounter couples with wide age gaps, they go into detective mode to try to figure out what is the attraction between the two,” Dr Walker explained. “As much as we would like to think so, we do not live in a protective relationship bubble, so the attitudes of people will have an impact on the relationship. Therefore, if we choose this path, we need to be prepared for the judgment and gossip of others.”
Dr Walker, a counsellor and intimacy therapist in Bermuda, advised couples to set a solid foundation based on a sense of personal security.
“Each partner must build individual confidence in their reasons for wanting to be in the relationship as well as confidence in their role in the relationship,” she advised.
The couple should also build a “combined relationship confidence”, she said, and ensure both can openly share experiences and comfort each other when threatened by outside opinion.
Another task is accepting that your partner is at a different developmental stage in their life.
“They may very well have different interests, goals and an overall understanding and outlook on life,” Dr Walker cites. “But even if our partner does have much in common with us, they most likely will be at a different achievement benchmark in their goals and interests.
This will result in us needing to have tolerance, patience, understanding and a willingness to honour their journey and freedoms of choice to prevent us from becoming judgmental, frustrated, resentful and taking on more of a parental or subordinate role rather than the intended romantic role in their life.”
Yet if they can navigate through these potential difficulties, couples with an age gap can enjoy a fruitful and prosperous relationship.
Marion McEachrane was 28 when she met Nolan Smith, 39, after the death of her previous husband, Michael Cann. They were married for 26 years, until Nolan died in his mid-60s.
“At the time, I was praying that the Lord would send me a husband – someone who was so much like my deceased husband that there was nothing outstanding that would be disappointing,” Marion remembers. “The Lord answered my prayers. It was absolutely amazing how the Lord worked it out.
They both were born in March, both had three brothers, loved music, and played an instrument. Both worked out at the gym and were in good shape. They both had good jobs; Michael was a school counsellor at Whitney Institute and the president of the Big Brother Big Sister Association, and Nolan was a senior electrical engineer and an on-call engineer for BELCO. Both were very spiritual minded.
Nolan and I enjoyed 26 years together.”
There was no stigma, because Marion’s family and friends appreciated Nolan was patient and mature, with a good job, his own home and, like Marion, a God-fearing Christian.
However, they were at different stages of parenthood. Marion had a one-year-old daughter, Michelle, while Nolan’s children, Daniel and Sherri, were aged 14 and 12.
“One challenge was that he didn’t want any more children, so by the time we had two more children he was weary,” Marion reflected. “He enjoyed them, though, and enjoyed seeing me happy.”
Marion also benefitted from Nolan’s maturity over finances. They were able to sell his house and buy another one together.
“He felt ‘rent money was spent money’,” Marion recalls. “Nolan was very responsible. He took care of business. Together we shared the bills. I didn’t have to worry if any bills were left unpaid.
We even had life insurance and investments should anything happen to him because he travelled quite a bit for BELCO.”
Many people, of course, prefer to date someone their own age.
Dr Walker identified relatability as one of the key factors and points out that: “We tend to see things from similar points of view and can recall things of the past without much explanation of what or who we are talking about.”
But she added: “There tends to be more competition between the partners. We will most likely face scenarios where the blind will be leading the blind due to a lack of experience on both parts. This can bring about much contention and arguing as neither partner wants to give in.”
Dr Walker said that the best way of overcoming the challenges of an age gap is to form an honest bond, based on communication, realistic expectations, and empathy.
“These are important relationship pillars for all romantic relationships, however even more so for those which are overly scrutinized,” she emphasized.
She highlighted financial security as a possible benefit of having an older partner.
“In general, older people who are successful in life tend to be more financially secure which affords them the ability to impart invaluable advice while providing income or investment stability which together can help us improve our personal financial situation,” she said.
“We literally can directly benefit from their hard work and mistakes without having to fall victim to the same pitfalls.”
Older people also tend to be more emotionally stable.
“They have entered into the later stages of life where they are seeking a more settled, peaceful, consistent lifestyle, as opposed to when we are younger and seek thrill, adventure, passion, excitement, and instant gratification.
As a younger partner we can experience a partner who is much more likely to be emotionally available, supportive, committed and faithful.”
Being the senior partner also brings plus points.
“Financially, a junior partner can provide us the legal and banking privileges of being younger which could reopen doors to financial ventures that would otherwise be closed to us just because of our age,” Dr Walker justified.
Meanwhile, younger partners can also share with us their youthful energy which can make a significant difference in our stress levels, perception of success versus failure in life, motivation to fulfil lifelong dreams, daily energy and excitement for life.
“We can gain a sense of refreshed hope in ourselves, humanity, and life in general while reaping the physical health benefits that come from having such an active and positive mental wellbeing.”
As for Marion, she has married again after Nolan passed in 2015. With her new husband, Dr Hollis McEachrane, she has started a ministry in Michigan called Reconciliation to God.
Her best advice to any woman thinking about dating an older man?
“Take time to get to know him. Take note of how stable each of you are financially and in your job situation. Make sure he treats you well. Watch how he treats his mother.
Life is a real journey. Consider making preparations should he die before you and vice-versa. Take one day at a time.”