We Spoke To 10 Couples With Large Age Gaps, And Yes, They Know You're Judging Them

Age-gap relationships, those with a significant age difference between partners, are controversial. While some feel they create an unhealthy power imbalance, others argue that age is just a number. Celebrity couples, like Aaron and Sam Taylor-JohnsonBillie Eilish and Jesse Rutherford, and (as rumor has it) Leonardo Dicaprio and Eden Polani, have brought discussions of age-gap relationships into the mainstream. But these relationships have been around for much longer than they've been a trending topic.

To get a look at the dynamics of age-gap relationships from the inside, The List spoke to 10 couples with significant age gaps. Although the couples we spoke to come from different walks of life, they have shared experiences in their age-gap relationships. The couples opened up about the challenges and the perks of their partnerships, and they dispelled some of the big perceptions of age-gap relationships. Because their relationships aren't the norm, they frequently face assumptions from the outside, but according to the couples, there's more to their partnerships than their age difference. And while their age gaps might present some difficulties, that doesn't mean they don't have supportive and healthy relationships.

Note: Some participants' last names have been omitted to protect their anonymity. 

Is the younger person in the relationship for money?

Every age-gap couple we spoke to said they encounter many misconceptions about their relationship. People often believe one or both partners has ulterior motives for being together. Jon, 28, and Brian, 62, for example, have been together for five years, and as the younger one in their relationship, Jon said people tend to think he's in a "'sugar daddy' situation." He told The List, "People think I'm with Brian for financial security. I think this type of stigma has been around for a long time, and I'm sure that type of relationship exists, but that's not the case for us," Jon said.

David, 56, and Christina Rodriguez, 36, encounter the same assumption frequently. As a result, many people think "Christina is a gold digger or married for money or status," David said. "Also, that I'm unable to impress girls my age, so I had to look for a younger and more impressionable woman." However, they clarified that this is not the case. Christina pointed out that they both have successful careers, so their partnership didn't come from any desire to get a leg up.

A couple with a 35-year age gap, Batya and Jerry, told us that they deal with similar misconceptions. "My husband and I both find it somewhat offensive that anyone could assume that he has nothing more to offer me than money, or that I'm nothing more than some sex toy," Batya said. "Both are so far from the truth."

Are there unhealthy power dynamics in age-gap relationships?

Another frequent assumption about age-gap relationships is that the older partner has more power in the relationship and is thus manipulating the younger partner. While this may be true in some situations, the couples we spoke to made it clear it isn't always. Aaron Conley, 45, has been with Katrina Pietraskiewicz, 34, for 12 years. He told The List that people often see the older person in an age-gap relationship as "some kind of creep out there searching for young babes." But this wasn't true with him and Katrina. "Sometimes you just meet someone, and it clicks," Aaron said.

Similarly, Amy, 51, told us that she and her 24-year-old partner James clicked in a similar and surprising way. "Neither of us were seeking to date out of our age range ... so when we organically met and fell quickly in love, we just had that instant feeling people are always talking about," she said. 

Willow, 21, and Brandon, 30, have been in their age-gap relationship for eight months, as of this writing, and said people often accuse Brandon of being a "groomer." "Multiple times [we have] shared our ages and have had people try to convince Willow that she was a victim," they said. Denisa Ioan, 22, and Vlad Ioan, 36, said people typically have this attitude when the younger partner is equally or more financially stable than the older partner. In that case, it's clear money isn't the motivation, so the next conclusion is "that the older partner is manipulative." 

Age-gap relationships are often rejected by friends and family members

While it's one thing to feel judged by strangers, many people in age-gap relationships also struggle with their friends and family rejecting their partnership. For Alex, 26, and Rachel, 48, this has been one of the biggest obstacles in their relationship. Although Rachel's family has been more accepting, Alex's family is not okay with him dating a 48-year-old. "My family is not happy about this. They don't understand," Alex said. "At first, part of me understood it, but we've been together for two years. They should be more open to it." Rachel added that this has been difficult for her because she can't be a part of those aspects of Alex's life. "I can't go with him to events. I can't be with him at Thanksgiving," she said.

Due to their 20-year age difference, David and Christina Rodriguez have experienced similar reactions from people in their lives. "David's lost a lot of friends, and being with me damaged his relationship with his children as well. His daughters couldn't understand him choosing to be with someone the same age as them," Christina said.

However, not all age-gap relationships will face this hurdle. Despite being 27 years apart in age, James and Amy tell us they've "been surprised by all the support and acceptance from both family and friends."

The partners can benefit from different life experiences

Although age gaps present differences, not all of them are a disadvantage. Many of the age-gap couples we spoke to said there are benefits to being in a relationship with someone of a different age. Willow is the younger person in her relationship and said her partner Brandon is a great support to her because of his life experience. "Whenever I'm struggling, he's been through it, so I have someone o can constantly go to for advice and won't judge," she said.

Speaking about his relationship with Brian, Jon said, "I think dating an older person means that you're dating someone who has lived long enough to know themselves, and self-awareness is a valuable tool in any relationship." 

However, the older partner can also benefit from the relationship and be introduced to new ideas and experiences. As Katrina Pietraskiewicz said of her 11-year age-gap relationship with Aaron Conley, "Our age difference benefits us each in almost opposite ways. I tend to push Aaron out of his comfort zone, but he helps me relax a bit and put things in perspective." Batya, 35, appreciates that she and Jerry, 69, can bring different perspectives to the relationship. "We guide each other," Batya said. "We'd be the blind leading blind through life if the same age."

What's in it for the older partner?

Although the older partner in an age-gap relationship is often accused of having sinister motives for dating someone younger, the couples we talked to said there are many perfectly healthy reasons for their relationships. Rachel, 48, told The List that her lifestyle and personality fit better with her younger partner, Alex. "I've just always been very energetic, very youthful, and very active," she said. "So, being with a younger guy has suited me better because he can keep up with me more than a lot of guys my age."

Some of the older partners also pointed out ways they've learned and grown from their relationships. Allison, 45, and Ben Hornsby, 71, have been married for 21 years. Being married to a younger woman has motivated Ben to stay in the best physical shape he can to be there for her. "[She] has taught me how to stay healthy and take better care of myself. She keeps my life interesting and fun," he said. Outside of physical health, Aaron Conley said he's learned and grown as a person from being with Katrina Pietraskiewicz. "[She's] kept me hip to the times, I'm glad I don't walk around not understanding TikTok or Harry Styles, but I guess I still say 'hip to the times,' so maybe she hasn't helped at all," he joked. "On a grander scale, she has made me more socially conscious and open-minded."

In lots of ways, it's just a normal partnership

Although being in an age-gap relationship comes with unique elements, in many ways, it's the same as any other partnership. As Rachel put it, "It's a regular normal relationship; it's just that we happen to have a larger age gap than most people."

Despite the years between them, Amy said she and her younger partner James don't feel disconnected because their personalities make them feel closer in age. "James has the old soul, and I have the young spirit. It bridges our age gap, which miraculously makes us the same age, or reverses our ages," she said. "Often I am told that I'm 51 years young, not 51 years old, but I have felt that my whole life. James, [24], is emotionally mature, which is something I need in a partner."

And although all relationships will face challenges, Katrina Pietraskiewicz and Aaron Conley said those hurdles haven't come as a result of their 11-year age gap at all. They face issues that any couple might, but their age gap is rarely a factor. "It helps, I guess, that Katrina is a far smarter person than I am," Aaron said. "I have never had the thought, 'She is acting her age.' If anything, she probably thinks, 'Why is he acting my age?'"

They don't connect on some things

As Christina Rodriguez told The List, "[A] misconception I've had mentioned to me is that we can't possibly share any interests. People assume we can't have conversations because I won't get certain references." While she admitted there are often times her husband David, who is 20 years her senior, will reference something that she doesn't know, it's never been a big deal — and they have more important things in common. "We share so many interests, which is why we got together in the first place. We have built a life together and have children, so there is plenty for us to connect over."

Many couples mentioned having similar disconnects in pop culture knowledge. Jon said, "I can't sing along with Brian to the 'Grease' soundtrack when a song randomly pops on the radio. Or perhaps name the star of some random 80's TV show that I've never heard of when we're watching 'Jeopardy.'" In some ways, this can be a challenge because, as Vlad, 36, and Denisa Ioan, 22, put it, age-gap couples don't share the same "feeling of nostalgia" for periods that couples of a similar age would.

For the most part, though, the couples we spoke to didn't seem to see these differences in backgrounds as anything too serious. Katrina Pietraskiewicz, 34, summed up the experience by saying, "There are times when I understand a meme Aaron, [45], doesn't, or he has heard of a TV show I haven't, but it's all little stuff, and we are both pretty good sports when it comes to teasing each other about those things."

Age may not be a big deal, but aging is

Perhaps the biggest challenge to age-gap relationships comes later in life. For example, Jef is 73 and retired, and his wife Michele, 58, is still working. Being in different stages of their lives is difficult for him. "She is my best friend, and I wish we were retired together," Jef told us. "It's hard seeing her go to work every day."

As those stages of life change, there will also be changes in health and lifestyle. Jon and Brian love traveling together, but Jon worries it might not always be possible. "As we age, I know that Brian's body is more likely to fail in doing all the traveling and outdoors activities that we love." However, they're hopeful they'll make it work together. "All relationships have challenges; it's a matter of how well-suited you are as partners to overcome them," Jon said.

For Christina Rodriguez, her and David's 20-year age difference gives her a lot of anxiety about her husband's health. "I think about what comes next much more than I would with a younger husband. I lose sleep over the 'what if's.'" Batya has the same worries about Jerry. "Based on our age gap, I'm going to have 30ish years on this earth without him," Batya said. "It's always in the back of my mind, I worry about every little thing – a hiccup, a fever, crossing the street, getting in a cab when it's icy out. I don't want anything to happen that'll lessen our time even more."

Most challenges come from outside the relationship

Although the age-gap couples we spoke to have all faced challenges, most of those difficulties came from outside the relationship rather than from each other. Willow put it simply when she said, "I don't think we've had too many challenges with our age gap except for people judging us when they find out, and they will try to convince one of us the other has bad intentions."

Allison and Ben have also faced a lot of criticism for their 26-year age gap. "People are offended they don't understand there can be an emotional connection between two people in an age gap relationship," Allison said. "We get along great and are very compatible. The main challenge we face is the judgment of others. ... We have received rude comments online and in private messages." Ben said they've had to learn to live their life regardless of what others think. "We have learned to ignore anyone who stares," he said. "We've had to explain I'm our children's father, not grandfather to teachers and occasionally at the grocery store."

The misconceptions about age gaps have pushed Alex to be more open and share his relationship with Rachel on TikTok. "At the beginning of our relationship, both of us felt a little weird being out in public. I just stopped caring," Alex said. "I'm proud of my relationship; I'm not ashamed of it. I'll just show off Rachel and show off us."