If you’ve been on the dating scene for a while, you’ve likely heard about the classic calculation that advises you, based on your current age, how much younger you can date. Relationships with large age gaps are often a point of contention in society, and this rule attempts to solidify specific parameters for daters depending on their age, in accordance with societal norms. According to the rule, you divide your age by two and then add seven to calculate the “socially acceptable” minimum age for a partner. Keep reading to find out why the rule is actually useful, and for more on creating healthy partnerships, If You’re Not Doing This, Your Relationship Won’t Last, Study Says.
For example, if you’re 32, you can date someone as young as 23 while remaining in the realm of “socially acceptable,” according to the calculation. Conversely, to find your ceiling for dating, you would subtract seven from your age and then double it. So, per the rule, a 32-year-old could date a 50-year-old. While this rule has been widely cited, many experts suggest it’s used as helpful guidance rather than anything concrete.
The rule helps “keep you within an age range that will ensure more common interests with your partner, and also likely allow for better communication,” says relationship expert David Bennett. “However, if you meet someone outside of the rule that makes you happy, then I say don’t turn down someone you have a good connection with over a rule.”
Dating and relationship expert Carol Roderick, PhD, says she doesn’t advise clients to follow the rule to a T, but she does “encourage them to think carefully about their upper and lower age limits, especially on online dating sites and apps.” She feels that adhering to the confines of the rule is less necessary when meeting someone in person, because “you are usually able to assess someone’s maturity, vitality, and dating intentions at roughly the same time you are discovering their age—filtering them in or out.”
Roderick points out that the riskiest part of dating someone significantly younger or older than you “is that while you may have much in common right now, five years down the road, the differences in your goals and lifestyle may diverge.”
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The calculation focuses on what is considered “socially acceptable.” And, to be fair, it doesn’t seem to always get it right. “At times it is too stringent, but most often it appears too lenient, condoning age pairings with which most people are not comfortable,” Theresa DiDonato, PhD, writes for Psychology Today. “So if you are following the half-your-age-plus-seven rule, know that it may not be perfect or truly mirror age-related preference.”
It’s also worth noting that a 2014 study in Social Science Research Network found that the larger the age gap, the more likely the couple is to divorce. Couples with a five-year age difference were 18 percent more likely to divorce, and the divorce rate jumped to 39 percent more likely with a 10-year age gap, and 95 percent with a 20-year difference.
So while you don’t have to completely adhere to the rule, it could help guide you toward someone with whom you can form a more sustainable relationship. And to find out more about how aging changes relationships, This Is the Age When Married Men Are Most Likely to Cheat.