Do May December Relationships Actually Work?

couple embracing on a hike

Clarisse Meyer / unsplash

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas; Amal and George Clooney; Beyoncé and Jay-Z. None of these killer couples have let age stand in the way of a relationship that they knew was right. And neither should you.

What Is a May-December Relationship?

A May-December romance is a term for a romantic relationship between two people with a considerable age difference.

That doesn't mean that a May-December relationship is all that easy, though. Between societal pressures and differing milestones, a couple that is made up of two individuals from differing decades might just have to try a little harder to make it work for the long haul. Our experts believe that if you put the work in from the beginning, however, it might actually make for a happier and healthier relationship than many couples with no age gap.

Experts often try to identify the ideal age gap between romantic partners. And while a May-December relationship might raise a few eyebrows, specialists believe that, though not always ideal, they can absolutely work when the match is right.

To get to the bottom of the relationship ingredients and to learn about what helps those with a larger age gap make it work, we spoke with social worker Ruschelle Khanna and psychotherapist Matt Lundquist to learn more. According to Khanna, a one- to five-year age gap between partners is ideal. But, as we are told time and time again, love is blind. It is certainly not an exact science.

Meet the Expert

  • Ruschelle Khanna is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist. She has over 20 years of experience working with couples and individuals on a wide range of issues.
  • Matt Lundquist, LCSW, MSEd is a psychotherapist with more than a decade of clinical experience with individuals, couples, and families. He is the founder of Tribeca Therapy.

Lundquist offers an additional perspective, adding, "There are certain obvious criteria—raising children, growing older together, how different career and life transitions align—that can pose challenges." But when prepared for, they are challenges that can not only be overcome but might actually work to the benefit of the couple overall, according to our experts.

Lundquist cautions that individuals shouldn't get bogged down by rules and expectations, however. "People can make all sorts of relationships work. There's a good deal of talk about having a lot in common as an asset in relationships, but differences can be just as sustaining with the right attitude and effort," he says. So what are the challenges facing relationships with large age gaps and what can couples facing these challenges do to reinforce their bond?

Ahead, our two relationship experts give us the lowdown on May-December romances.

Can Relationships With Large Age Gaps Work?

Our experts believe that May-December romances might actually be beneficial to laying the groundwork for more stable relationships later on. "In some ways, relationships where there are obvious differences can benefit from the fact that they require thoughtfulness and attention early on," explains Lundquist. "Couples with these differences must learn how to navigate things earlier in the game than others." 

There may be judgments from others, including friends and family members, that can cause a rift in your relationship. Make a pact with each other to not let those opinions bother you as you work toward a happy, healthy relationship.

Despite age-gap challenges, Khanna also believes in the power of May-December relationships. "Age is one of the least likely factors to happiness in a relationship," she says. "Relationships are made happy when they are based on trust, commitment, and understanding and respecting the other person's experiences." Khanna says that relationships with age gaps present may actually be happier than similarly aged couples, as they've often taken more care to put in the work, and their work is thus rewarded.

And, beyond a relationship with a large age gap, even similarly aged individuals can benefit from this extra care. Finding points to connect on and find interest in one another's lives, past what you might know a lot about yourself, may be a great way to build a strong bond from the get-go.

Does It Matter Who Is Older?

While May-December relationships can encompass multiple different situations, from an older man dating a younger woman or vice-versa, there's not much that matters on who is older. Depending on the age difference, one partner may be more interested in focusing on growth in their career, whereas another may be more interested in travel and experiencing the world.

Stereotypically, an older woman dating a younger man can be seen as a power play, with the woman offering more experience. An older man dating a younger woman may come with more of a need for navigating gender stereotypes. Overall, it's important to be open and honest with each other to establish a level of comfort that works best for both of you.

What Challenges Do May-December Relationships Face?

While our experts agree that relationships with large age gaps can work, that doesn't mean they aren't without challenges. "Perception of friends, family, and strangers is by far the biggest challenge," says Lundquist. Khanna also believes that May-December relationships can face challenges of social disapproval, which can put a strain on the relationship. "Blending families can be a challenge for couples with large age gaps," she notes. "Navigating the integration of siblings of vastly different ages can present many problems for which families may need to seek help."

Outside of the disapproval of others, our experts also agree that the couple may face challenges related to life changes, such as career paths and chronic illness due to aging. These are all factors to be aware of when entering relationships with large age gaps.

Be sure to have an honest conversation when it comes to career goals early on so it doesn't cause turmoil later in the relationship. Discussing each other's personal goals will help to ensure you're on the same page.

Those in May-December relationships must both prepare for those obstacles as well as use them to their benefit. As stated earlier by Lundquist, the building blocks might, indeed, have been stronger from day one, and it's a foundation that will have to be relied upon later on. Don't allow others to deter what you know you've worked hard to achieve.

What Can People Do to Strengthen Their Relationship?

"There are multiple things couples can do to strengthen the bond in their relationships, starting with being curious about one another. Proactively seek out common interests," says Khanna. "Work on building memories and experiences together that support a relationship from growing apart." Lundquist agrees: "Learn to have discussions about all the things that need to be sorted," he says. "It's incredibly important. Ignoring awkward stares and critical comments is also a big one."

Social pressure may take its toll on a May-December relationship so overcoming that challenge should be at the forefront of priorities. Khanna recommends you "find support to overcome social pressures as well as to improve the integration of your families."

Related Stories