I'm plotzing! My 24-year-old daughter is dating a 37-year-old man! His parents are thrilled that he's dating a nice Jewish girl. What's wrong with this picture?? He's never been married and is self-supporting. What could he possibly see in my beautiful YOUNG daughter? He's practically my own age!
She's had previous courtships with young men close to her age. But this? She met him at work and he's very nice. But if he's as nice as he appears, then why isn't he already married??
Dear Robyn ,
We've seen enough May-December marriages to know that they can be happy and enduring successes. Nevertheless, we can understand your concerns, because large age gaps between daters, as well as spouses, are not that common. And from a parent's perspective, you cannot understand why an attractive, well-functioning man in his mid-30s is not yet married.
Let's answer your last question first -- why this man isn't already married with children. Today, adults tend to "launch" married life later than in previous generations, because they focus on finishing their educations, embarking on careers, and building a financial base before they consider themselves independent and ready to settle down. It often takes today's adults longer to reach these goals than they did in the past.
Contemporary culture exerts a strong influence on the decision to delay marriage.
The traditional Jewish outlook encourages individuals to marry in young adulthood and complete many of these goals during marriage. However, contemporary culture exerts a strong influence on the decision to delay marriage. These expectations extend beyond late launching dates; they also include the views held by segments of society that self-fulfillment can be maximized as a single, that a person should focus on himself above all others, and that marriage is just one of many acceptable lifestyle choices.
It isn't surprising, then, that many well-functioning men and women first consider the idea of getting married and raising children when they feel they have reached a comfortable level of independence and maturity, and/or they're tired of living a largely self-absorbed lifestyle.
There are many other reasons why well-functioning people in their thirties are single. Many people who have been "dating for marriage" have encountered difficulties in their dating. The difficulties are as varied as not knowing what one is looking for, looking for the wrong qualities in a date, resistance to opening up to a dating partner, having unrealistic expectations, being a social "late bloomer," always looking for someone better, not knowing how to network properly, trouble moving on after a break-up, and not addressing emotional blocks, and many other reasons too numerous to mention here.
It's natural for a parent to be concerned that their child's dating partner will be able to build a relationship that can lead to marriage, has dealt with any emotional blocks that kept him from marrying in the past, and will be able to make a commitment if the couple turns out to be right for each other. While these concerns may be heightened when a person is in his mid-30s, they should be legitimate concerns for any courtship. The same issues that can keep a 35-year-old "perpetually single," have the potential to cause relationship problems for a 25-year-old single. We encourage anyone who has been dating for a number of years without success to take a closer look at themselves to discover what unproductive dating patterns and thought processes may be keeping them from getting married, and to change them. Many times, a dating mentor or therapist can help them accomplish this.
Meeting at Work
Let's assume that the man your daughter is dating has addressed whatever issues may have contributed to his single status, and that he and your daughter are both dating with the goal of finding the right person to marry. You asked us what could they possibly see in each other? Plenty. Thirteen years isn't as large an age gap as one might think -- technically, they're still in the same "generation," and in many families there are even greater differences in ages between older and younger siblings. And there's no reason why a woman in her early-20s and a man in his mid-30s can't have values, tastes, and expectations for the future that are in sync.
What more telling is that your daughter and this man met through work. We've observed that most couples with a large age gap decide to date after they meet through work, in a group setting, at a friend's Shabbat table, or while volunteering together. They might have been inclined to reject the idea of a blind date with someone much younger or older, but once they actually meet, make an initial connection, and find out they have a lot in common, they may decide to date and see if they can develop a serious relationship.
At work, they've observed how each other acts in stressful, non-date situations.
Clearly, your daughter believes that this man has qualities that were not present in the younger men she dated. And because they've gotten to know each other through work, they may have already observed a lot about how each other acts in non-date situations -- i.e. aspects of their personalities that they don't put "on display" for a date, such as how they act when they are under stress. This is fortunate, because insight into each other's ways of dealing with the world is something many people don't give themselves enough time to acquire when they are dating.
Our own belief is that as long as a couple is comfortable with their ages -- no matter what the age gap, and no matter which of the partners is older -- they should be thankful that they found each other. Yes, there can be issues they'll have to deal with, such as the fact that one of the partners may have health issues, or will think about retiring, long before these are issues the other partner will have to confront. Also, it may be harder for someone who has been single for a long time to make adjustments to married life. Yet, all of these issues can be satisfactorily addressed.
While a couple can be comfortable with their age differences, it may be harder for their families to do so. In your case, it sounds like you were a young parent, making this man closer to your age than to hers! Or, it may be because you find it difficult to accept something that is very different than your own expectations. Whatever the reason, we hope that you will be able to focus more on the true concern in any courtship: Whether the couple will be able to develop the qualities that are the foundation for an enduring life together.
Of course, be on the lookout for any "red flags." But on the other hand, be careful not to create a problem where there is none.
We hope this has been helpful,
Rosie & Sherry