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Health & Sex

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She's Older, He's Not

Age Gap Fallout

"You can end up with a large gap in understanding," says Judith Sherven, PhD, co-author of The New Intimacy: Discovering the Magic at the Heart of Your Relationship. "The older person is going to have less energy eventually and may not be interested in exploring new things. The younger person may want to rock and roll all night and hang out with younger people the older person finds boring."

The degree of discord depends on how each partner feels about the differences: Are they fascinating or frustrating? The most romantic question, according to Sherven, is "Can you teach me who you are?" Asking that can help bridge the gap brought about by the age difference. "The differences between people are always opportunities to expand psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually," she says.

Sherven recalls a man who was 15 years younger than his wife and going through a period of work-related anxiety. "His wife said, 'I remember when I went through that,'" Sherven says. "She said it with compassion. She could offer a different perspective by virtue of her seniority."

If an older woman offers wisdom and experience, a younger man offers new ideas, particularly about gender roles, says Diane Smith, 44, a registered nurse in Urbana, Ill., who is married to a man 14 years her junior. "I find men my age still looking for the wife that is supposed to take care of them," she says. "I personally wanted a man who could and would take care of himself."

Divorced with three daughters who are 20, 13, and 10 years old, Smith wasn't interested in having more children, and that was fine with her new husband, so they avoided that potential conflict. But it took her a while to believe he would choose her 40-year-old body over that of a younger woman.

"The body image thing is really a hot spot," she says. "Women just can't understand why a man would want an aging woman when there are all those fit, cutesy young bodies out there. Most men who want an older woman see those cute girls as young and dumb. They thrive on the sophistication, experience, and knowledge an older woman brings to the relationship."

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