I'm struggling with my age-gap relationship, help!

Question:

I've known my mate for 8 years and been with him officially for 6 years. We had our first sexual encounter a year before we were official while I was in an abusive relationship looking for an escape. At the time of our first sexual encounter I was 16 and he was 23. When I was 17 we officially started dating and soon after started living together and have ever since. We've had a pretty loyal and loving relationship but it's been rocky along the way.  

Recently I feel he treats me like a kid and it's becoming a lot more frequent now that he's turning 30 and I'm in my early 20s. When I went to pick him up from work one day an employee got him and told him his "son" was here. He didn't correct him while I was there and it feels like he's ashamed to tell people we're an item. At the start of our relationship I he took a while before he told his parents (totally understandable) and he did so when I wasn't there. But apparently his sister called him a cradle robber and his mum said to understand we're at different life stages. 

It doesn't help that by looks we appear much further apart in age but that's something I can't help. When I ask about how he feels about the gap he says it's just been interesting basically watching me grow up but that it doesn't bother him. I'm not sure how to feel about that.

He's been spending a lot more time chatting with a 25yo+ online group from a game and we haven't been spending much time together at all. We've also been having less sex and usually that's the extent of our time together. I'm starting to feel really left out and sexually frustrated. I don't really have anyone to talk to and some of my friends just keep saying it was bound to happen with the age difference. 

When I confront him about it he dodges questions and we end up getting no where. I'm at my wit's end. I don't want to end the relationship. He's still the same kind and caring guy... but I'm fed up with being treated this way.

Received via e-mail (name withheld)

Answer:

I’m sorry you are not having a good time with your age-difference relationship of late. Unfortunately, to me, this sounds like a relationship that may have run its course. As we discuss on the podcast episode we recorded on the topic of age differences in furry romantic relationships, age-gap relationships do not always last forever, but that does not mean that they have no value, serve no purpose, are a waste of time, or can’t be fulfilling and successful for what they are.

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Your mate seems to have enjoyed the process of watching you grow and mature, but it sounds like the original spark that connected the two of you romantically may be dying down a bit, and your relationship may be turning more companionate. This isn't necessarily a problem, if you are willing to accept that sex and intimacy might be reduced from what you are used to going forward.

Although it is natural for some of that “spark” to mellow into fondness over time as New Relationship Energy (NRE) burns off, sometimes the spark is lost completely when two people realize that NRE was the only real thing holding them together — perhaps they do not have enough in common to sustain a long-term romantic relationship.

If you feel you are in the latter camp, with nothing left to sustain your romantic connection, this is fairly common. When people age through their late teens and early 20s, they change and grow substantially, as I am sure you have. It’s possible that you have grown away from your mate, rather than grown with him (and not necessarily through any fault of your own). You and your mate both took valuable things from the relationship and were there for each other when you needed it; just because your relationship no longer makes sense does not make it a failure or invalidate all the positive things you've taken away from it. As Dan Savage says, the relationship is a success so long as you follow the campsite rule — leaving each other in better condition than you found each other.

If you and your mate determine that you do indeed now need different things, there are at least a couple of different ways to handle the situation: open up the relationship, or break off the romantic component of your relationship.

If you and your mate are open to the idea of opening the relationship, you and he could maintain a primary (mostly companionate) romantic relationship while you both get some of your sexual and emotional/romantic needs met elsewhere, from people who might be more age-appropriate and compatible given the stages of life you and your mate are now in. This type of polyamorous situation offers you both sexual and romantic exploration and variety while allowing you to maintain the familiar connection you still cherish with your existing mate. You might also find that exploring away from each other actually rekindles some of the spark between the two of you, allowing you to miss each other and experience each other as new and exciting once again.

If you and your mate determine that breaking up is instead the necessary outcome, keep in mind that your breakup can be amicable, and you and your mate can remain friends. Your older mate might become more of a mentor to you, someone you care about and enjoy spending time with, but who you might not have a sexual or romantic connection with any longer. You could choose to remain roommates, either in the short-term, or indefinitely. There is no reason for there to be bad blood between the two of you if you have simply grown to want different things in a romantic partner.

Hope that helps! With any additional questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with us via our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.