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He Said-She Said: An Acceptable Age Difference in Dating Relationships

  • Cliff Young & Laura MacCorkle Contributing Writer & Senior Editor
  • Updated Sep 24, 2008
He Said-She Said:  An Acceptable Age Difference in Dating Relationships

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a reader with responses from a male and female point of view.  If you’ve got a question about anything related to singleness, please CLICK HERE to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).

QUESTION:  Should a woman in her late twenties pursue a godly relationship with a man in his early twenties?  Is there an acceptable age difference?

HE SAID:  In a way, this is like asking “How much money do I need to retire?”  Many thoughts, besides age, should be considered in answering such a question. 

Age alone is not a determining factor of the compatibility of two people.  The emotional, mental, and spiritual maturity of each individual is much more important.  In general, males mature at a later age than females.  (This is probably the excuse many older men use in order to “chase” younger women.)  Although you may think your circumstance is different, take the time to observe a person over time and in different situations.  First impressions can be misleading.

Along the same line, does a man in his early twenties have his priorities, focus, and career in order?  Many guys at that age think they do—I did.  However, at this stage, a man is just beginning to experience life, he’s starting to see what is in the world, and he’s finding out who he is and what he wants to do. 

Spirituality plays the greatest role in a godly relationship.

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).

Is the man pursuing righteousness and ready to be the spiritual leader in a relationship?  Is he ready to sacrifice some of his freedom, time and desires in order to reciprocate in a relationship?  Will this relationship bring you both closer to God?

Just for fun, I Googled “woman pursue a man” and received over 17 million results!  This seems to be a popular question.

What is your definition of “pursue”?

  • Does it mean letting him know that you are available?
  • Does it mean walking up to him to initiate communication?
  • Does it mean acknowledging you have interest in him?

If this is true for you, then there is nothing wrong in letting someone know you are unattached and interested.  In this busy world we live in, sometimes we (I’m speaking for some guys, including myself) miss signals that are right in front of us.  I would be flattered to know someone is interested in me and had the forthright to initiate contact.

However, if your definition of “pursue” is this:

  • Does it mean tracking down his phone number and calling him? 
  • Does it mean asking him out on a date? Or dates?
  • Does it eventually mean asking him to marry you?

Then, I would caution you.

If the man knows you are available and interested in him, but isn’t pursuing, this is an indication of how he feels. 

  • Maybe he thinks the age difference is insurmountable or something he isn’t ready for.
  • Maybe he isn’t interested at all.
  • Maybe he isn’t ready for a relationship.
  • Maybe he doesn’t have the guts to ask you out (not a good sign).

Most men want to be the “hunter.”  It is in our blood to see something we desire and to go out and get it (Ok, conquer it … I said it).  When pursued, the flattery that was felt earlier quickly changes to questions of:

  • “Why is she asking me out? 
  • Is she desperate?
  • Is there something wrong with her? 
  • Does she feel as if time is running out for her?”

As a long-time single, my hope for a mate is in God’s hands.  He has shown me through His continual faithfulness that He knows what is best for me.  Although I have experienced some disappointments along the way, I have been protected from relationships that were not right for me; I just see it as God’s grace.  Several Scripture passages have helped me often throughout the years.

He that finds a wife finds a good thing (Proverbs 18:22).

With God’s help, I will be the one who finds a wife (not the other way around) and when I do, it will be amazing!

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?  She is worth more than precious rubies.  Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.  She will not hinder him, but help him all her life (Proverbs 31:10-12).

Wow!  I want to look for and find this kind of wife.  Why wouldn’t I want to wait for the right one?!

There are verses in the Bible where women take the lead, but they are not the type of women I would want to be with.

He was walking down the street near the corner on the road leading to her house. … Then the woman approached him … So I have come out to meet you; I have been looking for you and have found you (Proverbs 7:8, 10, 15).

I empathize with you.  I really do.  What I have found to be true in my life is that God’s plan and design never feels contrived or forced.  If you have to ask if there is an “appropriate age difference,” then I believe you already know the answer in your heart.

SHE SAID:  I’ll have to start out my answer on a personal note, since I know a thing or two about age differences when it comes to relationships. 

I’ve had dating relationships where there have been significant gaps in age and ones where there have been differences of only a few years or less.  Some men have been older than me, while others have been younger.  I guess you could say I’m an “equal-opportunity dater.”  Well, as long as no gold medallion necklaces, pointy boots or mountain-man beards are involved (sorry!). 

In hindsight, the closer in age I have been to those I’ve dated then the easier the relationships have seemed to go.  Surely, there were other factors involved to determine the success and duration of each relationship (faith, maturity, interests, values, goals, etc.).  But I think that a significant age difference can also make or break a relationship. 

As believers, we don’t really find a clear answer for your question in Scripture.  Thus far, I’ve only found references to relationships or marriages where the man is older than the woman.  And to my knowledge, I don’t think that there are any biblical examples of older women in dating or marital relationships with younger men.  So I am left with the world around me (and perhaps a little common sense and hopefully some divine inspiration) from which to draw. 

I suppose a significant age difference in a relationship (with the woman being older than the man) is more culturally acceptable these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.  You would have to investigate on a relationship-by-relationship basis to see what works for some and what doesn’t work for others.

The more I think about this, though, I’m drawing the conclusion that an age difference is more of a “red light” factor when two people are younger.  If one partner is 20 and the other is 28 or 29, that can be a problem.  Considering how men and women mature at different rates, will a 20-year-old man be able to lead in a relationship with a woman who is pushing 30? 

Another consideration is upbringing.  Some are taught to be responsible, while others are coddled.  So it’s likely you could have a very mature 20-year-old man who was raised to lead and do his part.  Or you could have the opposite:  A 20-year-old man who has more of a “victim’s mentality”—meaning his problems are always identified as the fault of others and no personal responsibility is taken whatsoever.  In this type of individual, you’ll usually find someone who is floundering (and maybe always will be).  If you date or marry him, you will likely end up being his mother. 

So, where am I leading with all of this?  Well, assuming that there are about seven to nine years between you and the young man in question, I am saying that you have a lot to evaluate before going forward (assuming he is the one who will be pursuing you). 

If you have considered the compatibility of your maturity levels and if you have been able to observe this young man in various scenarios and you are at peace with what you’ve experienced, then I would proceed with caution.  Remain friends until you feel certain that he is mature enough to lead a woman such as yourself in a godly relationship.  And then, perhaps, proceed to dating.

But before you do, spend some time chewing on this …

  • What do your friends and family think?  Are they sources of accountability and do you seek their counsel? 
  • Do you think that this young man is mature enough to lead a late twenty-something woman in a godly relationship?  And beyond that, in marriage?
  • Have you observed this young man enough to witness his speech, his actions and how he treats others?
  • Who are his friends and how do they treat one another?  Are they people you would want to spend time with, too? 
  • Is he a man of his word?  Does he have a good reputation?  Has he made a life for himself and have something to show for it?
  • Does he hold leadership positions either at work, in the community or at church?
  • If he is just starting out in his career or finishing up school and you are already established in your career, will this be a source of tension when it comes to respect?  And submission?
  • Should you decide to marry and if you are ready to begin a family, will he be ready to have children as soon as you are? 
  • Does this young man respect the elders in his life (family, supervisors at work, church leaders, authority in general)? 
  • What is his relationship like with his mother?  Does he honor her and treat her with kindness?  Is his relationship with his father healthy?   
  • Is this young man a respected leader in his family?  Does he contribute to “the drama” or does he help to bring resolution to critical family situations?

These are good starter questions to get you thinking about various issues.  An age difference doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but it can certainly contribute to a relationship not being successful. 

You will have to determine if this is the path down which the Lord is leading you.  Or if this is a path down which you are taking yourself.  There may not be any cautionary red lights for you right now, but if there are then please don’t ignore them.  And don’t try to force something into being that is not of the Lord.

He will show you (and give you confirmation through prayer, the godly counsel of family and friends, study in the Word) if this age difference is acceptable in his sight for you.  

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).

HE is … Cliff Young, a contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades.  He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.

SHE is … Laura MacCorkle,’s Senior Entertainment Editor.  It is possible that she has never had the chicken pox, has definitely chowed down on some locust shells, has auditioned for a role in a Lou Diamond Phillips movie and once shook the hand of legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.

DISCLAIMER:  We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals.  We’re just average folk who understand what it’s like to live the solo life in the 21st century.  We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life’s questions, and it’s where we’ll go for guidance when responding to your questions.

GOT A QUESTION?  If you’ve got a question about anything related to living the single life, PLEASE SUBMIT HERE (selected questions will be posted anonymously).  While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that He Said-She Said will be an encouragement to you.

**This column first published on September 4, 2008.