The 2010s have turned the notion of a "normal" couple on its head: Marriage reform redefined what a legally recognised household can look like, age at first marriage continues to rise, trans couples have entered the public consciousness, and egg freezing has enabled more women to put off "settling down" and stay single into their forties and beyond. So earlier this year, when the rumour mill buzzed that J.Lo, 47, was reportedly romantically involved with Drake, 30, critics lost their collective minds, slinging insults like "cradle robber" and "desperate." It all felt so petty, especially considering she's dated younger men for years.
We talked with three different women about their experiences dating younger men to share what it's REALLY like. Turns out, age is nothing but a number...most of the time. Here's what they had to say:
Danielle, 35: The baby convo can't wait.
"Our decision to get married quickly came from us wanting to start a family," says Danielle, who was 32 when she began dating her husband Jeremy, then 24. Danielle had watched friends struggle with infertility, which "sped up our process," she says. The two were married and expecting within a year.
In retrospect, Jeremy's age counterintuitively made Danielle feel at ease broaching the baby subject early. "With him being so young, I wasn't expecting him to want a committed relationship anyway, so I wasn't so worried about what he thought of my life goals right at first," she says. "But it turned out he wanted the same things." (Still, "friends and family were weird about him at the start," Danielle says, doubting that Jeremy was a solid prospect. So much so that Danielle admits she found it easier to lie about Jeremy's age to some loved ones at that point.) The couple was smart in talking about family plans as soon as they become exclusive, says Alpert. "Discussing it can highlight differences in wants and needs, but it's better to learn those things sooner rather than realize there's a lack of compatibility when you're deeper into it."
Danielle and Jeremy's age difference does have an effect on their parenting roles. Because Jeremy is still building his career, he has less flexibility in his job and he can't spend as much time at home as he'd like. On the flip side, Danielle says, "There are benefits to having a younger husband—he has so much energy! He can keep up with our toddler."
Amanda, 38: The right guy will make you feel sexy at any age.
"He's someone who looks at a picture of Sharon Stone and says, 'Wow, she's hot!'" says Amanda of her 29-year-old boyfriend, Sebastian. "So I think his tastes tend to run toward maturity." Younger men have grown up in a society that's increasingly progressive when it comes to sexual preferences, explains Alpert. "We've become less judgmental, clearing the path for young people to pursue relationships once considered taboo."
Sure, there are moments when Amanda feels insecure about being the oldest woman in the room—mostly, she says, when that room is full of Sebastian's friends' girlfriends, who are all his age or younger. (One of them, she recalls, asked her a series of questions that were clearly in pursuit of calculating her age.) But the fact that Sebastian reassures her—"He shows me that he's proud to be with me by being physically affectionate with me in public," she says—makes it easy for her not to dwell on those thoughts.
Kim, 49: Your careers and finances may not line up.
Costume designer Kim has nine more years of work experience than her 40-year-old husband Drew, a screenwriter. "That's a big deal because time equals experience equals confidence," says Kim, who found her calling early, while Drew switched professions a few years ago, making the gap in their professional accomplishments—and salaries—feel even wider. What works for them in bridging the divide? Depositing equal sums into a shared account each year—and tapping their individual savings to surprise each other with dates and vacations. There was also a happy discovery: Kim found that being with someone professionally green has its perks. "Seeing Drew's motivation has helped me reflect on what I want to tweak in my career to recapture that enthusiasm," she says.
Early on, the couple had to overcome another hurdle: When Drew first moved in with Kim, she was living in a house she'd bought 15 years prior. She felt uncomfortable asking him to contribute to her mortgage because she'd purchased the place before they'd ever met. It also didn't feel like "their" home. So Kim and Drew decided to sell and move into a new place that they found together. They were smart to "take a future-focused perspective," says Koblenz. In cases of financial disparity, whether it's a recurring money fight or an investment that doesn't serve the partnership well, "try not to get caught up in what has already happened and address what you can do moving forward to avoid the same conflict."
This article originally appeared on Women's Health Mag