Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number Or Is It? We Talk About Age Difference In Relationships

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“Age ain’t nothing but a number” sang Aaliyah (a famous 90s R&B singer) in the year 1994. Her debut album of the same featured famous singer & actor R. Kelly creepily leaning against the wall staring at her. 

She was 15 at that time. R Kelly was 27. Yes, they were romantically involved and even got married. 

Sadly, Aaliyah died in a tragic aircraft accident six years later.  But R. Kelly still lives and recently he was alleged to have sexually abused dozens of underage girls throughout his career. In 2017, Buzzfeed reported he started a “sex cult” which involved trapping six young women under the premise of helping their music careers. Though those women were of “legal age”.

But again it just shows how extensive celebrity privilege is. If he was just an ordinary guy, he would have been jailed by now. Or he should just move to Malaysia where child marriage is unfortunately legal. 

This isn’t an article about child marriage in Malaysia however because they are already a bunch of well-documented & well-researched articles available online. Mine would only be a repetition of theirs. 

You can read some here and here

Instead this article will speak on a lighter subject which is about age differences in relationships. We will discuss whether age matters and what are the common myths surrounding this topic! 

Does Age Difference In Relationships Matter?

Souce: Jamie Elder

Referring to the Aaliyah and R.Kelly case, age should certainly matter. In a documentary about R. Kelly, which came out in 2019, closed confidantes revealed how documents of Aaliyah’s real age were forged so she could “legally” marry him and how “worried and scared” she looked during the ceremony. Years later after she and R. Kelly split, when asked if she would ever work with the producer again, she gave a short & curt answer of “No.”

The whole situation was inappropriate and it’s only because of a few simple reasons:

1. Power imbalance

Source: Rachel Levit Ruiz for The New York Times

A wide age gap between a couple introduces an equally as wide power imbalance between the two. Hol’ up, hol’ up, relationships aren’t about power you might wonder and no, it’s not! But most relationships which consist of couples of similar ages will have a more even distribution of power. 

Also realistically, there’s always going to be one partner who holds more power in the relationship, ever heard of the phrase “He/she wears the pants?” and that’s why if two dominant people get into a relationship, it usually doesn’t work due to all the head-butting and fight for power (Unless that’s what they’re into). 

Typically most teenagers tend to heed to older people. Maybe out of respect or that older people know better and have more experiences. So imagine a 13 year old dating a 35 year old. 13 year olds are going to be naive and that 35 year old can take advantage of that. We should have sex because that’s what couples in love do. You should lie to your parents if you love me. Let me control every aspect of your life because that’s what happy couples do.

See what I mean? Someone older and more experienced would go “Hell nah!” to this creep but when you’re young, naive and eager to please… Well, that’s when a power imbalance happens. 

2. Immaturity/Different stages of life

Couples of wide age gaps can actually be appropriate. Within reason. 

Compare an 18 year old dating a 13 year old VS a 55 year old dating a 45 year old; basic maths tell you the first couple actually has a smaller age gap than the second couple and yes that’s right.

So why is the second couple seen as more appropriate than the first couple? Well it’s because of the immaturity level & stage in life between these people. 

Look when I was 13, I was just out of primary school. I legit had taken UPSR a few months before I stepped into sekolah menengah. I could barely handle all the new subjects (and hormones)! VS a 18 year old who has already gone through all that and was heading to the next stage of their lives: young adulthood. They’d have probably started drinking, partying or smoking. Adult stuff. While that 13 year old is worrying about acne, homework and their grades.

Plus when I turned 18 and looked at my Form 1 juniors, they looked like children to me. Trust me if you wanna tap a child VS a fully grown young adult, you’re not any different than R. Kelly. And don’t spout BS of how some teenagers can be developed by then (are you seriously ogling the body of a Form 1 student?!). Have you seen their baby faces? No, it’s gross. Period. 

And with the second couple, they would have already experienced similar things in life. They would have established careers, kids of their own and just generally have the same maturity levels. They will probably even worry about the same stuff and share the same interests too! I guess that’s why it’s less creepy plus both parties will be fully-fledged adults who won’t be as naive as a teen. 

So yes, a wide age difference in relationships can be appropriate! But only in certain contexts when maturity levels and stages in life are aligned. 

Common Myths Surrounding Age Difference In Relationships

1. Older men are more mature

They’re all just dudes in the end
Source: Roz Chast

Many younger girls will tell you of their dream guy who’s usually mature, mentally and physically. So, of course, they’ll date older men figuring older = more mature. But that’s not usually the case. Okay, maybe a 30 year old man won’t be as immature as a 15 year old who still thinks fart jokes* are the height of comedy or making fun of a girl is a way of flirting. But I’ve met some 30 to 40 year old men who yes, were interested romantically (most probably sexually) in my 19 year old self who turned out to be actually quite immature.

Not immature in that 15 year old sense I just described but emotionally and socially. Probably why they had to stoop to such a young level, I doubt any self-respecting women of their ages would give them the time of day. Even at 19, I found them weird and boring.

*I also know many 30 year olds who still think fart jokes are the height of comedy. 

2. Younger girls are less dominant and less controlling

Source: Lolita (1997)

Maybe more naive and easily influenced but let’s apply it to a legal setting where it’s just a 1-3 years difference. Take my current boyfriend and I for example. I’m 22 and he’s 26 this year and although on the outside, he seems the more dominant one cause he’s more extroverted and is the one to speak up with strangers, it’s definitely not a situation where he has all the control. 

Because just like any introverts you know once I’m comfortable with you, I won’t hesitate to say what’s on my mind and I definitely am not afraid to speak out against him if there’s any issues between each other. Though do I back down if we have differing opinions about something but I’ll hear his reasoning out and it’ll be an “agree to disagree” conclusion.

And I know many “younger girls” who aren’t afraid to be dominant and commanding. Thanks to feminism being widespread due to the internet!

3. As long as the younger partner is 18, it’s okay because it’s legal

Again referring to the previous section, just because your partner is 18 years of age which is typically most countries’ age of consent doesn’t make it okay if you’re already in your fifties or sixties. It’s just a wide gap of maturity levels and a completely different stage in both lives

4. Only couples of the same age can relate to each other

I’m pretty sure you can relate to anyone who’s not more than 5 years younger than you. If people of different races or nationalities can date and have successful relationships despite big cultural differences, I’m sure you can date someone a year or two younger than you and still geek over the same TV series or know the same Internet slang.

Conclusion

In the end, age differences in relationships will be debated over & over again. Some might think as long as it’s legal, it’s okay while some will even be disgusted at the idea of dating someone younger than themselves. Personally if there’s no abuse involved, do and love whoever you want. Just don’t start a sex cult. 


This article is a part of The Cool Bear’s Taboo Series where we dive deep into topics most Malaysians shy away from. If you like reading this, check out our other Taboo articles on cannabis in Malaysia and online dating in Malaysia.

Katricia Lum
Katricia Lum
Will write for iced blacks and Panadols. Also if I'm not hunched over my laptop trying to meet deadlines, I'm most definitely sleeping.

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