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Courtesy Daniel Wilson

My fiancé is 17 years older than me and I’m sick of the age-gap conversation

People may judge us, but I think we’re actually a stronger couple because of the conversations about aging we’ve had.

When I published an essay earlier this year about how my fiancé and I handle our finances, I expected some “troll” responses. What I didn’t expect, however, was for it to spark a public outcry over the fact that I am engaged to a man 17 years older than me.

Instead of seeing a healthy debate about career stages and retirement plans, I sat in front of my laptop watching comment after comment roll in, as my heart began to sink:

“Congrats on finding your sugar daddy.”

“Being a hospice wife is not a good look.”

“Just a woman looking for a daddy figure with a fat wallet.”

My personal favorite? Being compared to “those losers on that stupid reality show” — referring to the Bravo hit, “Southern Charm,” which is filmed in Charleston, South Carolina, where I live. 

Meanwhile, the conversation about finances — which had been my intention in sharing our story — rarely came up.

Even the people who could look past a 29-year-old marrying a 46-year-old threw in qualifiers like, “As long as you believe it’s God’s will for you AND both your parents are on board…”

The comments immediately made me feel embarrassed, like I was doing something wrong. I was frustrated that so many people felt the need to debate whether our relationship would work out without knowing anything about us besides our ages. 

I felt particularly guilty about the negative comments that surfaced about my fiancé, especially after he had been so supportive of me sharing that piece of our lives with a large audience.

Because our friends and family have always been understanding when it came to our relationship, this experience was my first taste of the strong stigma that somehow still perpetuates age-gap relationships, and it wasn’t my last, either.

Kelsey & Collin
We were remote co-workers when we fell in love.Courtesy Daniel Wilson

Despite living in a time that advocates for relationships that look differently in terms of sexuality, gender, race, religion and even the number of partners involved, it seems to me that we haven’t made the same progress when it comes to age differences in a relationship. 

In one study, couples in age-gap relationships reported experiencing more social disapproval than those in same-sex or interracial relationships.

Some people argue that it’s power and not age that divides the seas on age-gap relationships. Recent movements related to social justice and gender equality like #MeToo have, rightfully so, brought about an increased scrutiny of power dynamics. 

But there’s a perception that when you combine social and economic power with dating an older man in a male-dominated society, it can leave women like me with even less power. While that may be true in some cases, it’s certainly not in ours.

Many people believe there is at least some level of exploitation in these relationships, sometimes calling them “predatory.” And because equality is highly valued by current younger generations, age-gap relationships could become even more taboo in the future.

An interesting paradox to this belief is that women usually take the brunt of the criticism. If I date someone who’s significantly older than me, I’m automatically a “gold digger.” If I date someone younger, I’m a “cougar.” While men get targeted for these relationships as well, much of the stigma-fueled language has to do with the woman’s intentions.

I chose my fiancé, Collin, on purpose — not because of resources or networks, but because I fell in love with him. And despite the perception that age-gap couples have more trouble relating to one another, we actually have a great deal in common.

We both went to music schools in pursuit of becoming songwriters — and we both changed course when we realized how unlikely that was. We’re both immensely passionate about mental health advocacy and have shared similar mental health struggles. We have the same sense of humor and a connection that, as our close friends have told us, “just makes sense.”

We met as remote co-workers who lived more than 2,400 miles apart. Collin flew from Idaho to South Carolina for our first date, and we spent six months dating long-distance before he packed up his suitcase and moved to the east coast. 

In that time, we had 366 phone calls lasting a total of more than 267 hours, according to call logs. And that didn’t include our video chats or virtual dinner dates.

We’ve been happily engaged since November 2023 and will elope this September.

There are a few things I think contribute to the success of our relationship, despite being almost two decades apart. For starters, we began our relationship by being brutally honest. Three days into texting, I got a message from Collin that said he was only looking for marriage and never wanted kids. While we were in alignment on those things, I was surprised by his openness, and it paved the way for me to be transparent, too. I wrote back that I wasn’t about to move to Idaho. 

We stayed up almost every night having phone conversations about our definitions of love, our debt, our goals for the next 10+ years and everything in between. 

Before we got engaged, we had the tough conversations about what life would look like when we are 50 and 67 and how there could be caretaking or limitations involved. We’ve even talked about whether he would want me to remarry if he passes first. (His answer was yes.)

I always left those conversations in tears, as the last thing I want to think about is my future husband possibly dying 17+ years before me. 

Many of the judgments I’ve received from others since we started dating sound like this: “He might be active and attractive now, but just wait until you’re both older” — as if aging is something I’ve never thought about. In reality, I would bet we’ve had more conversations about the future than many same-age couples.

Instead of avoiding the inherent challenges, we look to them to pave opportunities for the present. Since we know Collin’s energy level and physical abilities might slow down faster than mine, we’ve decided to spend the next year in a remote part of the Pacific Northwest to cross hiking certain national parks off my bucket list. After that, we’ll move closer to his family so he can focus on one of his priorities, which is helping his aging mom.

We’ve built our relationship on a foundation of constant, open, forward-thinking communication and continue to prioritize that with weekly Sunday check-ins, where we discuss what’s on our minds while lounging on the couch.

Despite the unpopular nature of our relationship, the age gap strengthens our bond. I help keep Collin young and remind him to “play hard,” and he has more lived experience that can help me navigate my late 20s. While I lean into his wisdom, he never tries to “parent” me. We align on the things that matter, like commitment, love, service and faith.

Most importantly, we are dedicated to staying curious about one another. We realize that fears, habits and passions all change with time and that there’s always more to learn.

As a friend of Collin’s once said, “The moment you stop learning is the moment you get old.”