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The GEM Debate: When Is A Relationship Age Gap Too Big?



Yep that was the collective sound you doubtless heard a few weeks back when it was revealed that 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison had married 16-year-old aspiring pop singer Courtney Alexis Stodden.

Think on that one but not too hard.  According to the couple, true love knows no age limit and while that may be true, the law certainly does and Doug and Courtney needed permission from her parents to tie the knot. It’s an odd pairing no doubt; she’s not even old enough to drink and by the time she is, he’ll be eligible for the senior special at Denny’s. Yep, an odd pairing indeed.

May-December romances are nothing new; there’s a 38-year age difference between embattled News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi Deng

A 24-year difference between Donald Trump and his model wife Melania

And a two-decade difference between the head of CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves and his wife, Julie Chen.

I guess I’d have to put myself in there as well, being that there is a 13 ½-year difference between Buff and myself. When we got married 17 years ago, I was 31 and never married, he was 44 and divorced. I knew that there would be things that would crop up between us based on the age difference, but in my mind, love would conquer all. Well, yeah, sort of.

Relationships are tricky without there being a lot of extraneous stuff, all things I spoke of on a CNN appearance on this very issue. In my own marriage, we make it work, but it’s not without a hiccup here and there. Most of them (like with most couples) tend to be over childrearing. As you can imagine, I’m the more lax parent, live and let live, whereas Buff is the taskmaster. Some of that is rooted in our personalities but much of it is in the way we view parenting based on our generational differences.

I’ll admit, I was one saying “Eww” when I heard about Doug and Alexis but is it our place to do that?  I’m very leery about putting legal conditions and stipulations on love and relationships between consenting adults; there was a there was a time, not that long ago, where it was against the law for African Americans to marry whites. That’s the legal issue; it says nothing of the moral one. My personal take is that though the ick factor is high on the marriage between Doug and Courtney, it’s their life and they have a right to live it how they see fit. If that means them recognizing and being willing to work through the age difference, then so be it; who am I to say anything?

But that’s my take. What about yours? When do you think an age difference becomes too great? 10 years? 20? 25? Why or why not?

Weigh in!


  1. majones9645

    July 21, 2011 at 11:40 am

    There’s is NOTHING a 16 yr old has in common with a 50+ year old – male or female. Heck, our minds aren’t fully developed until our early 20’s. But, I think a 3 year gap with either sex is appropriate. Of course, as you get older I think the gap widens but there are still philosophical differences & life experiences once it gets beyond 10 years; in my opinion.

  2. Smarty P. Jones

    July 21, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I think if the law and your mama have to step in when you wanna get married, you’re too young. When you’re 18 you can marry whomever you want no matter how old the person is.

    Last year, I had a brief encounter with a man 10 years my senior. It ultimately didn’t last because because he was a 12-year-old boy in a 38-year-old man’s body.

    I think it’s ultimately the decision of the two people involved. But, if one of those people needs signed, notarized documentation from a parent, it’s a no go.

  3. m.e. johnson

    July 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    At least we have choices in this country. If a parent says it’s okay, it’s okay for whatever reason. I think about other countries where 9-yr-olds have to marry 50-yr-old fat, nasty, ugly men, pregs at age 11, a life of drudgery and abuse and most often poverty. Well I’m pretty sure that happens in certain areas of this country too. But it doesn’t make the headlines so how is anyone going to care.

  4. "Nancy"

    July 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I also said “eww,” but as a young and vibrant 30-year-old, I’ve always been attracted to more mature men because of their stability, experience and flattery. Age really should not be a deal-breaker. But in Courtney’s case, it does appear to be a hasty decision considering she could not independently marry Doug without parental consent. That defeats the purpose of marriage, right? The whole premise of marriage is to freely marry the one you love without consulting someone.

    Dating older also means additional responsibilities and baggage. But we all have baggage; which perhaps comes in a variety of forms: financial debt, emotional pain, children from a previous marriage, etc. We just have to work through those situations in a reasonable manner.

    Renee’, I had no clue you were Buff’s better half. I met him at the 4A’s conference/Marcus Graham Project in Austin, TX. What a small world…. and what a powerful couple in media!

  5. Mimi

    July 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    The age gap is too big when the person needs permission to marry. After legal age, she can marry anyone she pleases. I saw an interview with them and she was very immature and giggling like a normal teenage girl. I was shocked that he giggled like a teenage boy. Virgin…bitch please lol. Only for legal reasons she’s a virgin.

  6. Sherilynn

    July 21, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Wow, I agree Smarty P Jones… parental & law involvement probably tells us the teen is NOT ready. I can not see “literally” giving my daughter away to someone over 50….

  7. Auntie Lisa

    July 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I’m married to a guy 10 years older. But we didn’t marry until he was 52 and I was 42. The older you are, the less the age difference matters. But when it’s a 20-year difference or more you need to take into consideration that the younger member of the couple may be left widowed (or caring for a declining spouse) fairly early in life. But it’s totally up to the couple to decide.

  8. Jennifer

    July 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Let me start by saying: A BIG ‘Ewwwwwww’.

    I also need to add that the age difference is a different dynamic as people get older. This one, in my opinion, is downright wrong on so many levels. Speaking from experience …. I once dated a man who was 15 years older than me. I was 21 at the time and he was 36. There were so many reasons why it was a good experience … and so many reasons why it would never lead to anything long-term. I was in my third year of college and he had recently been divorced and the timing of our meeting was such that he became a mentor and friend to me first and then it just went on from there. We were close for many years but only ‘dated’ for about 18 months altogether. After he ended the ‘romance’ phase, we remained close and as platonic of friends as you can get. He is and has been happily married for 20 + years. Because he met someone and got married, our friendship stayed intact over the years in a most appropriate manner. He taught me a lot of things about life and love and friendship and I am forever grateful for the experience and to have had him in my life. Everyone is different and things happen for a reason.

    Going back to my first impression of this marriage though … ‘Ewwwwwwww’. When I was sixteen, the idea of getting married to anyone was such a foreign concept and I do know that for myself, had I ever been in that situation, it would have been because I was a child of divorce and that I would only have been looking for a father figure and for someone to take care of me and probably not much else.

    As an adult, and knowing what I know now, how much of a relationship can you have with so little life experience as a 16 year old? There are some 16 year olds who are mature beyond their actual age, but nothing that could match a 51 year old’s maturity level. Do you know what I mean? It’s frightening to think about. It sounds perverted to me … but that’s just one opinion.

  9. Marissa E

    July 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Tell me why she’s 16 but LOOKS 27?! I can concede love has no age, but a nearly 40 year age gap is too much! By the time she’s 18 or 20 she’s going to get bored or realize she wants someone more her age.

    Agreed with the comments above, if your PARENTS have to get involved so you can even say ‘I do’ then that’s an issue!

  10. Jajuana

    July 22, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I totally agree with Auntie Lisa. I dated a guy for 4 years who was 20 years older than me (he 53, me 33). At first, the age difference didn’t bother me, but when we started talking about the future, I thought a lot about me having to take care of him when I’m 60 and he’s 80. With that big of age difference, we also had different views of the relationship. He was a “been there done that” and I was “I want to experience things”. Those diffeerence really were the cause of the downfall of the relationship.

  11. Arthur

    July 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I see nothing wrong morally or logistically with ten, twenty and in some cases even twenty five years as long as you have both thought out and discussed between the two of you the myriad of generational issues which WILL arise, but i believe going beyond that age gap is going too far. I will assume there is love involved, and there will always be a few issues that no amount of understanding and discussion can completely overcome but love can make you tolerate and accept them !

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