Age Difference Part II: Historical vs. Paranormal

As I mentioned earlier, my recent email exchange with Robinjn following her re-examination of LaVyrle Spencer’s Years got me thinking generally about age differences in romance, and how reactions can vary depending on sub-genre, character, and conflict.

In historical romances, the age difference is often expected, or at the least not worth noticing as a potential conflict. In many historicals, the women are younger and possibly virginal, and likely looking or staunchly not looking for a husband (except for that steaming attraction to that guy) (and maybe at some point she wears a pelisse or some boy’s trousers) (or both).

Book CoverMeanwhile, the men are older, lordlier, and *ahem* experienced. Case in point: Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series starts with Daphne, even though she’s the fourth-oldest sibling in the family, because her older brothers weren’t going to marry first. The other males in her family were paired off after she was. She’s eight years younger than her eldest brother Anthony, and married the year before he did – which is not very startling in historical romance land.

Then there’s books like Kate Noble’s “Follow My Lead,” which I read last week and enjoyed immensely.

Book CoverThe heroine, Winn, is thirty, and the hero, Jason, is thirty as well. Because Winn is thirty, she can go many places unescorted because she’s considered well past a likely marriage, but she’s also limited in her options as a spinster. Winn is determined to be recognized for her own intellect, and her stubborn dedication to that goal is troublesome and difficult for those around her because she’s a woman, and because she doesn’t fit neatly into the existing categories for older women who are not married. Jason, meanwhile, is rolling up to the age at which he figures he ought to get married and start doing married lordly things, precisely on proper schedule.

The similarity in their ages and the differences in their present positions and their futures is a theme through the book. In one scene, one of my favorites, Winn is calling Jason out on his propensity to treat her as both a naive innocent stumbling headfirst into trouble and a bothersome spinster who should go fade in the nearest strip of wallpaper:

“[T]he world has different expectations for us. And I’m well aware of how the world sees me. A spinster, whose life is in a library, who missed my window for happiness by caring more for old men than young ones. My life is over.”

“But you, the world sees as young and virile – your life is laid out before you. You can do anything you wish. Even if you contemplate marriage, you are just beginning.”

“Winn” – Jason sighed wearily – “what are you trying to say?” …

“Why, if we are the same age, am I considered done and you just getting started?”

The idea of Winn’s life just beginning at age 30 in an historical romance, is fascinating in the story, and remarkable because it is not a plot I’ve read much of in the past few years.

This is not to say that all differences of age are barely worth a mention. Some historical romances do play with age difference, particularly when the plot conflict is derived from “May/December” tension, as Robinjn mentioned in the previous entry. In our email exchange, she brought up Heyer’s These Old Shades:

I re-read These Old Shades with a different viewpoint as well, but I don’t think it hit me as much in that book because there was really very little introspection on Avon’s part. He mentions in passing that he knows he’s too old for her but it doesn’t bother him much or really affect much of the plot.

I remember that Anne Mather used to do a LOT of May/December and when I was reading them in my teens the age difference meant nothing to me at the time….

I mentioned that in historical romances, a young lord in his early 20s might not be much to read about, and Robinjn said, “Well it’s kind of hard to do dissipated and cynical with a 21 year old face, isn’t it? And with historicals it’s somewhat easier to kind of dismiss it since girls DID marry very young, and often older men.”

Contrast that with paranormal romances, where the heros could be hundreds or thousands of years older than the heroines, and the age difference isn’t worth much of a scandalous twitch of possible impropriety. More often it is a source of maudlin ruminations or unintentional humor.

Book CoverIn Patricia Briggs’ Alpha-Omega series, which I adore and re-read last weekend, Anna is a young woman, while Charles is hundreds of years old. Their age difference isn’t an issue of propriety for some for an assortment of reasons, I think. First, they’re not human. Second, they are exceptionally long-lived, if not immortal, and third, Charles, as well as the men who are even older than he is, all look about as young as Anna. Charles’ father, the Marrok, is described as very young looking:

Charles’s father, Bran Cornick, looked for all the world like a college student, a computer geek or maybe an art major. Someone sensitive, gentle, and young – but she knew he was none of these things. He was the Marrok, the one all the Alphas answered to – and no one dominated an Alpha werewolf by being sensitive and gentle.

He wasn’t young, either. She knew Charles was almost two hundred years old, and that would necessitate his father being older yet.

Cry Wolf, 2008

Millennia of age difference aren’t that uncommon in paranormal romances any more than age differences of ten or more years in an historical romance.

And really, the aged and ageless paranormal hero is quite a model. It’s quite the hot male, if you think about it: young, virile, and sculpted on the outside; aged, wise, and incredibly mature on the inside. RWOR.

Book CoverBut not every supernatural creature is immune from the age- difference commentary. Nalini Singh’s last book, Kiss of Snow attracted a good bit of reader commentary about the age difference between Hawke and Sienna. When I interviewed Nalini Singh a few weeks ago while she was in New York promoting Kiss of Snow, one of the questions I asked came from a reader named Mouna: “Your fans have carried on ad-infinitum/ad-nauseum about the age gap between Hawke and Sienna which by my calculation is around 14 or 16 years (if he was 30/32 when she was 16).  Traditionally in romance, heroes in most genres, are at least a decade older!  Why do you think there has been this drama about their ages?  Is it because she was 16 when it started or is it that the younger generation of readers are no longer attracted to such a large age gap?  No one mentions the thousand plus years Raphael has on Elena – so why the icky factor when it is 14?”

Nalini said that part of the commentary was based on the fact that readers have been watching Sienna grow up and come of age through the Psy-Changeling series, and because she was so young when she first met Hawke, after leaving the PsyNet with her family. I also think it’s because the Psy aren’t explicitly described as having millennia-long longevity, so they are perceived by some readers as human-like, even though they are not. When one’s lifespan is only a little bit more than a normal human’s, age becomes more important.

When one’s lifespan can stretch into the hundreds of years, age really is nothing but a number. And when one is a smoking hot angel in charge of a few major cities and some hard-core smoldering, age difference is expected: Raphael is probably older than just about everyone, other archangels aside.

Robinjn’s re-reading of Spencer, and my own experience talking to readers about Kiss of Snow has given me a lot to ponder as to why age differences in some sub-genres is remarkable, and in others it’s expected or not important. I honestly don’t notice it unless it’s The Reason For The Conflict. If I encounter an age difference, I usually trust that the author will address any concerns I might have by either incorporating the age difference into the world building, or addressing it some other way. But I confess, I’m sort of used to it as a commonality to romance.

When do you notice age difference? Is it a plot device you enjoy? Do you see it more of an obvious conflict in one sub-genre than another?


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. Rae says:

    I never noticed it as a younger woman (especially since I had a tendency to date 30-year olds in my late teens).  Now that I’m one of those 30-year olds, age differences squick me mightily.  I very much prefer protagonists who are close in age, and although I love historicals I shy away from ones that play up the age difference.  I also really hate them in paranormals—oh, here’s this wise, all-knowing man to help the little lady get things straight.  UGH!  I much prefer pairings such as in the Jill Kismet series (Lilith Saintcrow doesn’t write romances, but her paranormals always have strong romantic elements)—Jill and her Were are roughly the same age.  I actually stopped reading Nalini’s Archangel series because Raphael was such a gross know-it-all jerk.  Let’s have more people growing and learning together in romances!

  2. Kris Bock says:

    There’s a saying that you shouldn’t date anyone younger than half your age +10. So a 16-year-old can date a 15-year-old, a 20-year-old can date a 17-year-old, a 40-year-old can date a 27-year-old, and so forth. It works reasonably well, and acknowledges that the younger people are, the more a few years makes a difference.

    Age difference in novels doesn’t bother me much, unless one of the characters is under 20, and I’ll accept that for historicals. I’d like to see more novels with an older woman, though—not where the man is a hot young early 20s stud making her feel young again, but simply where there’s a few years difference and the woman is older. I’m 10 years older than my husband. I have a friend who is 16 years older than her husband (they started dating when she was 40 and have been together over 20 years). I’ve read articles that list the couples’ ages where the woman is 5 to 10 years older than the man. It’s not that uncommon in real life, so why don’t we see it more in novels? Or have I just missed it?

    Hmm, I’ll have to consider this for some of my future work, though thus far I think I’ve avoided listing specific ages and just had the couple be within the same age range.

  3. HeatherR says:

    I don’t mind big age differences when there appears to be an equivalency in the life that has been lead. With Sienna and Hawke, yes, there’s a big age difference, but Sienna had never had a sheltered childhood (far from it), and so had assumed adult duties and an adult mindset. She was far older than her years. Same thing with Raphael and Elena. Elena brings something to the table. (Although occasionally she does has a WTF? moment when thinking about how old Raphael is.)

    The Psy/Changling book that actually bothered me the most with the age difference was Caressed by Ice (Brenna and Judd). Brenna, IIRC, was only 19 or 20 in that book, while Judd was closer to 30. And Brenna, far from being someone who was older than her years and going through lots of stuff, was obviously very sheltered. OK, granted she was tortured for a week. But if you torture a very sweet innocent, you don’t magically get an adult, you get a screwed in the head sweet innocent. Whereas Sienna had gone through the crucible of Ming’s training for YEARS, Brenna had a really, really, REALLY bad week. Sienna and Brenna were obviously at far different points in their life, regardless of the fact that they were the same age in their respective books.

    The one interesting development in the paranormal age difference question is in the Carpathian books by Feehan. In the first several books, huge age differences were not a problem. (2000 years? SCOFF!!) But gradually other characters started coming in and saying that 25 year-olds are basically children, and that they shouldn’t marry until AT LEAST the age 200. It was apparently scandalous to others in those books that Gabriel had married the Prince’s daughter when she was in her 20s. (When added a speck of realism to an otherwise exceptionally silly series.)

  4. Big age gaps between partners have always given me a major case of the heebie-geebies. Witnessing such in real life puts a different spin on things—had a coworker at my last job who was in his mid-thirties and dating girls who hadn’t even graduated high school yet (dude has issues, and I can’t say I miss him much). That was just a little too much ick factor for me even then in my early 20s.

    Had some friends in my own age bracket back then too who dated the occasional high schooler. Finally had to tell one guy that if she couldn’t buy her own alcohol he shouldn’t even look—mainly because I was sick of the bitching and whining going on about how “immature” their SO was.

    I can ignore it on occasion with the odd paranormal – but only if it’s not presented as “I’m better because I’m so much older and wiser than you”—because that tends to translate to “I’ve just had longer to perfect my asshole ways”.

    Really don’t like those much, unless it’s stated up front in the beginning that the character is a 200 year old asshole. And only if they stay an asshole through the entire book. Because I don’t see someone who’s been around for centuries changing overnight just because of some flirty little thing they’ve rescued or whatever.

    But I’m a little weird, so yeah…

  5. Abby says:

    I think I’m interested in this because I just finished rereading Pleasure for Pleasure by Eloisa James, which includes a main plot where an 18 year old marries a 35 year old man, which is discussed extensively, and where a 33 year old woman marries a 27 year old man, which causes her great consternation.  I think age difference is something that varies by levels of cultural acceptance, and I am aware that historically, age difference wasn’t seen as the same issue that is now.  Obviously, there’s a maturity question, but at a time when people didn’t have the same age-related major events, it’s hard to parallel it to the current time period.  A family I’m working on for a project includes a man who, in the mid-1800s took his fourth wife, and she was 20 years younger than him.  they were quite happy together, by all accounts.  If today I met an 18 year old who was marrying a 35 year old, that would definitely give me pause- how much could a grown man have in common with a girl who hasn’t been to college and can’t even drink or rent a car?  I mean, good for them, but it’s hardly the same situation if we’re talking about the 1800s.  Women don’t go “on the shelf” anymore at the age of 24, so it’s more unusual to see dramatic age differences.

    At the same time, I find myself sort of startled by my own age (27 on Saturday!) in the sense that it suddenly doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to date a 35 year old man.  So yeah, that’s my two cents!

  6. Cass says:

    I tell you what I’ve noticed—at least in the authors I follow, the heroines tend to be older the longer they write. 😉 You stop seeing the fresh-on-the-market 18-year-old debutantes and get more and more of the shelf-approaching or solidly-there ladies—though still, anything past mid-twenties seems to be a rarity. When a heroine’s 30, it’s notable enough to be part of the book’s marketing (I’m thinking of Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Suddenly You’).

    Personally, I’d love to see more of the flip side—a young bachelor just down from university, just finding his feet in Society. (I’d also like to see more non-virginal heroines, but that presents certain challenges in historicals—still, it’d be nice if some more authors would give it a go).

  7. dick says:

    One’s age tells us only how many years that person has been alive, but it tells us little else.  Differences in age, whether great or small,  are no more important than differences in hair color, IMHO.

  8. Venetia says:

    A bit OT: regarding the Nalini Singh interview, will you be posting a transcript of that? I was very interested in some of the questions.

  9. Elaine says:

    @Kris Bock
    Mary Balogh’s Seducing an Angel features an older heroine/younger hero.

    Time will always change text interpretations, from a couple’s (un)seemly romance to humor to just simple understanding. I read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in my early teens, and thought it horrible. Now, after taking college and graduate classes on 17th & 18th century literature, it’s easily one of the best comic novels of its time. How can anyone truly see it’s depth of satire/humor without reading The Mysteries of Udolpho? So little time, so much to experience!

  10. Sarah W says:

    I’m with Kris Bock—- I’d like to see more romances where the woman is older.  Jennifer Crusie wrote a great one in Anyone But You, and Pleasure Me by Monica Burns was wonderful, too.

    Having said this, perhaps the hero shouldn’t be in his teens or early twenties—I’d prefer a marriage HEA, not an adoption.

  11. Maya S says:

    The first time I was ever really bothered by an age difference was when I first read “Rebecca.”  It still bothers me, especially at the beginning, mostly because I still do feel that Max IS taking advantage of her youth naivete and bringing her into a situation far beyond what she expects because she loves him.

    I think for me it’s a question of maturity more than age.

  12. Abby says:

    I just started going through Loretta Chase’s backlist and discovered Miss Wonderful. I don’t remember the exact age difference, but I loved that the heroine was older than the hero!

  13. James Lynch says:

    I don’t think age is a factor in paranormal romances because the older characters don’t really, er, act their age.  The smokin’ hot 200- or 300-year-old dude is passionate and energetic, not yelling at kids to get off their lawn or complaining about the younger generation.  (This may be ‘cuz they don’t suffer the downsides of aging, like hair loss and lower back pain.)  So seeing a preternaturally older man with a mortal woman doesn’t seem that creepy.  (Back on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Angel was in his 100s and Buffy was 17 when they started dating, but because they both looked and acted young, it wasn’t creepy.  Unless you thought about it.)

    As for the “half your age + 10” rule, I’m coming up on 41, but if Taylor Swift or a 20-year-old Victoria’s Secret model made herself available to me, my response would not be a denial due to age.  Shock, maybe, but not passing.

  14. Cät von J says:

    @ Kris Bock: Try some Suzanne Brockmann, she has some plots were the woman is older (e.g. Ladies Man, Into the Night,…)

    Personally, I’d love to see more of the flip side—a young bachelor just down from university, just finding his feet in Society. (I’d also like to see more non-virginal heroines, but that presents certain challenges in historicals—still, it’d be nice if some more authors would give it a go).

    Agreed! I would at least try the “young bachelor” thing although I don´t think it could become one of my favourite plots…
    But the non-virginal heroines could be really interesting. I see several possibilities to create a plot around that. The questions is: would there be a market for that, or would it be just Cass and me buying it?

  15. LG says:

    For me, age differences are most noticeable when the woman is older than the man (physically older – paranormals where the physical age is the same don’t count, in my opinion), primarily because this is so rare (in my experience). The first one that comes to mind is Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie.

    I also notice age differences more when I’ve gotten to see the younger character grow up. The first example that comes to mind is Anne McCaffrey’s Damia (again, not a romance, but with a strong romantic subplot). The reader gets to watch Damia grow from a child into a young woman. She ends up with Afra…who had an unrequited love for the Rowan, Damia’s mother. I think the only reason I was never totally grossed out by this is because Afra wasn’t there for a large part of Damia’s “growing up” period – he babysat her when she was very young, but then wasn’t a part of her life again until she was an adult (in her early 20s? I can’t remember, it’s been so long since I read the book). I should really reread this – I wonder how I’d feel about it now that I’m older?

    Then there’s Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate. Much smaller age difference – 16-year-old heroine, hero (Gabriel) who I seem to remember is 24…who I also seem to remember was at least heavily flirting with the heroine’s mother prior to getting matched up with the heroine. Again, the age difference between the hero and heroine didn’t bother me – in fact, I wanted her to leave the guy she thought she loved *faster*, so she could end up with Gabriel sooner.

    I definitely don’t seek out books where the heroine is older than the hero, although if I happen to hear about them they end up going on my TBR pile just because I’m curious. I’m in my late 20s, so I’m still fairly close in age to a lot of romance heroines – I could see myself more actively seek out books with older heroine, younger heroes a decade or two from now.

    As a teen, I LOVED books with younger heroines, older heroes, but the only ones I really sought out where ones where the age difference was smaller, like in Blood and Chocolate – old enough to be more mature than guys my age, but young enough not to make me think “wait…that guy is the same age as my dad’s younger brother (or worse, my dad).” Damia still managed to work for me, because 1) I liked Afra and felt bad for him after more than a book’s worth of unrequited love and 2) he wasn’t there for every step of Damia growing up.

  16. In historicals, the age difference is something I really dislike, especially when the female is 18 or even younger. Those of us who write the genre breathed a sigh of relief when Amanda Vickery discovered that the average age of marriage for women in mid Georgian England was around 26! That was on a limited sample, but Lucy Inglis is currently doing extensive work on the 1730 London poll tax records, which also appears to bear this out. The whole “on the shelf at 21” trope doesn’t seem to have much bearing on reality. If you were rich enough, and of childbearing years, then you were fair game. Research is ongoing, but the recent trend in historical research to personal letters and ephemera is proving a goldmine to those of us who write novels based in the period.
    Marriages like Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (she was 17) were remarked upon as unusual.

    Paranormals, I don’t mind so much. I’ve just written a story where the hero is 170 and the heroine is 26, and they’re both vampires. It bothers him a bit, but he gets over it. I think it’s because paranormal beings don’t usually show their age, and they have a long life to look forward to.

    And then there’s the cougar romance.

  17. SB Sarah says:

    @Venetia: BN taped the entire Q&A and is going to post it on their website. As soon as I have a link, I will post or embed it, whichever I can do!

    @Sarah W: “not an adoption.” BWAHAHAHAHHA.

  18. Jennifer Armintrout says:

    I really enjoy older man/younger woman pairings, because I have admitted and clear daddy issues. But I can’t get into books where the heroine is older. I think this ties in with my own fear of aging, and also the fact that I bristle when I read about these old lady spinsters who are 25. While it may be historically accurate, I find myself irrationally offended at being called old, even by the standards of a historical period where life expectancy was shorter.

  19. Heather says:

    I think that there are a few reasons that a noteworthy age gap can be bothersome. I just finished Megan Hart’s “Collide,” and while it’s more of a romantic novel than a romance, the 26(!) age gap between our heroine and hero disturbed me. He is her father’s age. On one level, there’s a bit of an ick factor, but secondly – we as romance readers hope for a HEA, one that we hope lasts a very long time. But you know that won’t happen when there is a 26 year age difference, because the older man (or woman) will die long before their partner. And that’s sad. I don’t want sad with my romance. If this was a PNR, then you’d have your HEA – and he’d still be handsome, and she’d be beautiful – and no matter their “age,” they’d live together forever.

  20. Robin says:

    One age-difference I often notice and which often annoys me is in paranormal where the century old vampire is going after the teenaged girl and declaring her the love of his life. I actually would like to see someone in the novel comment on that and asking him why he’s going for a teenager and not interested in a grown woman and point out the issues with dating a teenager.

    If she’s older and more expierenced like Anna from Alpha-Omega I no longer have such issues with it, although it would add an interesting twist to things if it the age-difference and maybe even the different expectations would be addressed. How does a man who was raised in the 18th or 15th or 7th century deal with a 21st century woman?

    I also sometimes wonder why a century-old vampire would find a teenager all that attractive. Even attractive enough to go back to high-school so that he can spend time with her. I think I’m not really part of the target-audience for novels like that.

    Interestingly enough I’ve never seen it done the other way around: a century old female vampire falling for a teenaged boy and attending school so she can be with him. Would that even work? Or would we in that case expect her to be interested in a man who’s far more her equal, meaning adult, sure of himself, grown. 

    In historical novels I’m surprisingly not so bothered by it as the times were different, women had to grow up much faster and were often married young, some were even married as babies.

    But I also have to say that none of my heroes and heroines are very young. The youngest is 19 and he had to grow up quickly.

  21. Heather says:

    And that’s not to say that I don’t like my heroes a little older than my heroine, because I do. I think it gives the men a bit more complexity.  But I think that there are some age gaps that cross some subconscious line I’ve drawn.

  22. AgTigress says:

    I think that people tend to be far more disturbed by wide age discrepancies these days than they usually were in the past, for a variety of reasons. 

    In modern Western urban societies, young single people usually have quite a wide choice of potential partners, and possess the independence to seek and meet them without family interference.  Considerations such as social class and background, wealth, inheritance and procreative ability tend to be far less important in choosing a life-partner than mutual affection and common interests, and most people want a relationship in which both partners are as far as possible equal. 

    In many times and places, inequality was assumed to be inevitable, and the list of potential partners was often very circumscribed indeed, by both social considerations and because most inhabitants of small settlements seldom had reason or means to travel very far afield.  This was also why cousin-marriage was far more common in the past than it is today.

  23. Jennifer says:

    I notice a young heroine if she FEELS really young. There’s age and then there’s maturity and I don’t like an immature-feeling heroine, no matter her age. It’s hard for me to quantify what an immature-feeling heroine is like, other than being like porn and I know her when I see her. The newest Julia Quinn heroine is an example, she just feels younger than her 21 years and I think it’s in the way she interacts with her friends.

    Then there is Carla Kelly’s Marrying the Royal Marine where the heroine is FAR younger than the hero (possibly into squeamish territory) but she has a quiet maturity about her and I believe that relationship will last. I’d probably have a hard time with that age match-up in a contemporary romance though.

    I always notice when the heroine is older than the hero, because it interests me so much. I enjoy romances but I’d like to believe love is possible at any age and so I like older heroines. I don’t remember much about Nora Robert’s The Villa, but I do remember the secondary romance between the older woman and younger man. Oooh, and The Older Woman by Cheryl Reavis. Everything about that book was memorable.

  24. Isabel C. says:

    My comfort depends a lot more on life stages than on the numbers: in RL and most contemporary stuff, this is high school v. college v. real world. There are some transition stages there, where a senior with someone who graduated a year or two before could work, but it depends very much on what you’re doing with your life and what you want in the immediate future.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m more okay with age differences in historicals and paranormals. It’s not just that the older people don’t act older, but also, largely, that the younger people don’t act younger: if someone’s slaying demons or managing her brother’s household at eighteen, she’s taking a level of responsibility that (most) eighteen-year-olds in the modern U.S. don’t, and is thus probably better able to relate to a somewhat older guy.

    And vice-versa on the gender thing, of course—although I think some of the discrepancy, at least when the younger person’s in the late teens/early twenties comes from the different average rates of physical maturity. From what I remember of college, and see in the campuses nearby, the average eighteen-year-old girl could probably pass for twenty-five with the right wardrobe/hairstyle/makeup/attitude. The average eighteen-year-old guy doesn’t have an entirely formed *face* yet.

    Also, I would absolutely read more romances with non-virgin heroines. Yes and furthermore hell yes.

  25. robinjn says:

    I made Sarah think and come up with not one but two posts! Squeee!!!

    Okay, now that’s out. I told Sarah when we were chatting back and forth that yeah, when I was young I just did not see the big deal with older men because let’s face it. For a teenager, the older, sophisticated, powerful man is often way, way more sexy than the pimply guy next to you in social studies class with more testosterone than common sense.

    I’m interested in how many of you who have commented that you do NOT have a problem at all with May/December romance are in your 20s or younger? Because when I was that age, I didn’t either. Now, from the perspective of being older, I find it lots more skeevy.

    And being a horribly logical person, I wonder with the paranormal stuff; what happens when she gets old and he doesn’t? Does he take care of her in the nursing home, he still looking like a young man? Does he dump her for another 18 year old? Some novels solve that by somehow making the heroine immortal as well, but some do not. And if you think about it, that’s just, well, yucky.

    submit word longer49. As in, I am no longer 49 and thus think 18 is pretty childish and has a lot to learn and grow towards, for both sexes.

  26. Liz says:

    the first time i noticed an age difference in romance was in a when I was about 20.  The heroine was around my age while the hero was in his mid-30’s.  Maybe it was because she was my age or just a little older, but i couldn’t get over the age gap.  I think i lasted about 30 pages into the book before giving it up.

    I really think that there is a difference between regular (for lack of a better term) books and paranormal books when it comes to age.  I am re-reading Nora Roberts’s Circle Trilogy, and i have absolutely no problem with the romance between Cian and Moira.

  27. Jennifer says:


    I don’t have a problem with May/December romances and am in my 30s. I did have a May/October romance when I was in my 20s. For Isabel C’s comment on life stages, we were also in different life stages. Maybe that affects my views. I’ve dated younger men (a bit younger), older men (quite a bit older), and am married to a man 1 year older.

  28. LG says:

    @Robin, re: centuries-old paranormal woman and teenaged boy – I read a self-published book called Forever Fifteen that had a centuries-old vampire fall pathetically in love with a teenaged boy. I can’t recommend the book, because it had so very many problems, but it’s been done. I can’t think of a traditionally published book right now that has the same setup, though.

  29. KiriD79 says:

    Speaking as a woman who married a man 5 years (not much) younger than herself, I don’t mind a bit of difference in age.  I will say that when a man or woman is 30+ and going for a teenager, I question their sanity.  Some of my husband’s friends are still in College and I have a hell of time relating to them at all. 

    In Historical’s it makes sense.  Women and men were given more responsibility in the past than now.  Even my grandmother was running a farm and farm house in her early 20’s. 

    Paranormals, are a whole other animal, some times literally!  Usually the characters involved are immortal or at least long lived.  At that point age really just is a number.  “Oh, I can’t date her she is 25 and I am 4534.  She is way too young for me.”  0.O

    I love the concept of Kate Noble’s book.  So much in fact that I darted out of my office on my lunch break and ran to the library.  I am on a waiting list to get it. 

    I also sometimes wonder why a century-old vampire would find a teenager all that attractive. Even attractive enough to go back to high-school so that he can spend time with her. I think I’m not really part of the target-audience for novels like that.

    Unless I am dense, I know which novels you are referring to.  I think the crux in them is that said antique Vampire was turned when he was little older than the girl.  While he is way up in years, he does not look any older than a normal highschooler.  It would be very squicky the other way for him to be hitting on 80 and 90 year olds to get closer to his age. Also, like you said, target audience.  Who, at 17 or 20, didn’t want an older guy to sweep them off their feet.  But then I am the girl that had a crush on Sean Connery when I was 12.

  30. Jrant says:

    First age-gap that stuck out to me was Mary Ann and Colonel Brandon in “Sense & Sensibility.” Mary Ann made fun of him for being old, and when they finally got together I remember thinking, “wait, couldn’t he be, like, her dad? Doesn’t he have a daughter close to her age? This doesn’t make sense.” No specific other novels come to mind, but I do remember thinking “something is off here” about the age match-up in several older/classic novels.

    I’m surprised at the lack of older heroine novels, especially in the contemporary genre. The “cougar” dynamic was such a popular cultural trope over the last few years, I don’t know why the older woman-younger man setup hasn’t exploded in romance. It would be fantastic because it could potentially reverse ALL the standard power dynamics: the heroine would have more sexual experience, more money, more social “prestige” and influence, etc. Think female law firm partner vs newly minted male law grad. Oooo, or powerful female executive hires handsome but impoverished liberal arts grad as a tutor for her kids. 

    The more I think about it, the more this idea seems unoriginal. The “sexy female boss” routine has certainly been done to death in mainstream and adult entertainment. And most of this discussion has focused on the historical or paranormal genre. I haven’t read any contemporaries for a while: is this theme more prevalent in that genre? (And if so, I would love recommendations!)

  31. rebyj says:

    I refused to read the “twilight” series because it’s just creepy for a centuries old being to be hanging around a high school. Assorted other vampire romances I read with some scorn, thinking good thing they’ll turn her into a vampire so she’ll be forever 20 years old because in real life a lot of older men who marry younger women trade them in every ten or fifteen years for another youngster.

    Even in Kenyon’s “Acheron” I’d hoped he’d fall for someone closer to his eleven thousand years and was only slightly appeased that the heroine in that was close to or maybe even slightly over 30 years old.

    I don’t personally know any real life May / December romances that lasted. In the ones I can think of once the woman grew up she changed and he was set in his ways and having a grown up adult wife just wasn’t what he signed on for.

    I can read about them in historicals and it doesn’t bother me but in contemporaries it does. I expect young women these days to have more sense, er.. I mean more options. lol

  32. henofthewoods says:

    I’ve just been on a Brockmann binge and she has the age-difference problem done from a few perspectives. She uses it very much the same way that she uses the difference in relative hotness – an extremely beautiful character falling in love with someone that is ordinary. That can be a similar: strangers make assumptions, friends and relatives comment.

    the Admiral’s Bride – Jake saves Zoe’s father’s life before she is born. The characters get over this but I can’t quite get over it. The characters are drawn well and it is believable that they would be together as they are written but if I knew them in real life I would be bothered. He doesn’t meet her until she is an adult, but there is still this relationship through her father that makes the age difference more disturbing to me. I think I would be better able to accept them as a couple if he had not made her entire life possible by saving her father.
    in the Troubleshooter’s series – Izzy and Eden (she meets him the day before turning 18) – 18 and 33 – this didn’t bother me although the characters have as hard a time with it – Eden has been through a lot of difficult times and Izzy is trying to help her. But I am glad that he makes some attempts not to immediately sleep with her: if he didn’t mind the age difference, I would mind it more. If he blithely fell into bed with this 18 year-old with no consideration for how young she is and how many people have taken advantage of her previously, it would bother me.

  33. emptycalories says:

    But wait.  What is that Madeline Hunter one where the guy is the guardian or benefactor or something, and he goes to visit his ward at school and he’s all, hang on, she looks older than I remember!  Still young enough to be in school, but I guess old enough to have boobs or something?  For me it was the age coupled with the power dynamic (guardian/ward) that icked me out.

    I think it is called The Seducer. 

    On a side note, I frigging love Madeline Hunter, but these are like the worst titles EVER.

  34. Donna says:

    I remember the sad day when I realized that not only were 40 year old men not too old for me, they were actually younger.
    That being said, my perspective has changed with time. Back in the “Sweet Savage Love” and “The Wolf & The Dove” days it was barely a blip. The closer I got to 30 the more it sceeved me out especially in contemporaries. Outside of historicals, I’m still not fond of the decade+ age difference.  I do find the Raphael/Elena thing and now the Dragos/Pia (“Dragon Bound” -read it!! You will not be sorry.) thought provoking. Eons old beings mating with what seems to be a child – well, a fetus in comparison. Now there’s an experience gap sure to cause a few misunderstandings.

  35. DreadPirateRachel says:

    It’s interesting that you mention These Old Shades. because it was my first introduction to romance, and when I first read it, I wasn’t bothered by the age difference. When I reread it years later, though, it really squicked me out. I think I’ve gotten more sensitive to it as I’ve gotten older.

    When I was a teenager, I liked to think that I was just as mature as people ten or fifteen years older than I was, partly because I had a lot of friends who were older and I got along fine with them. Now that I am ten or fifteen years older, I realize that those friends must have had a mountain of patience to put up with me at that age.

    Also, now that I am an older reader, I find myself looking for older heroines. I just can’t find much to relate to in a seventeen-year-old virgin any more.

  36. Alex says:

    It hasn’t ever really bothered me.  In fact some of my favourite books feature couples with age gaps.  I loved Daine and Numair in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet when I was in my early teens and I really enjoy the way authors such as Suzanne Brockmann and Erin McCarthy have dealt with it in books I’ve read recently.

    I suppose it’s all about how well the characters and the situation are written.  I’d find it very hard to believe that an innocent 18 year old and a world-wise 30+ year old could have a proper solid relationship but something like the Izzy/Eden relationship completely works for me because Eden is written as mentally a lot tougher and older than her age might otherwise suggest.

  37. DreadPirateRachel says:

    I don’t personally know any real life May / December romances that lasted. In the ones I can think of once the woman grew up she changed and he was set in his ways and having a grown up adult wife just wasn’t what he signed on for.

    I know a couple who are seventeen years apart. They got married when she was eighteen, and now she is in her mid-thirties. Whenever I see them, I think, “Holy shit, he is old enough to be her father. Their children are young enough to be his grandchildren.”

    They seem happy, but one day we were discussing it (for some reason; I don’t remember how it even came up), and she told me that it had been fine for the first ten years or so, but then they hit the stages of their lives where he was ready to slow down and spend all his time at home, while she wanted to go out and find adventures.

    For them, the issue wasn’t that he wanted a child for a wife; it was that she had no idea what she was getting into when she married a man in his prime. She hadn’t ever had a chance just to live her life, while he had already gone out and done it all.

  38. JaneyD says:

    I find this to be a great discussion because I’m addressing the age issue in a YA urban fantasy I’m brainstorming. The MC is16, attracted to one of the heroes, who is at least 100 years older, though he doesn’t look it.

    He’s going to be clear with her that she is “age-inappropriate” to him and should be dating guys her own age, his great-great-great grand nephew perhaps.

    I was squicked out by the Smeyer foray into young-girl-is-love interest-of-100+ y.o. vampire.

    I mean, EWWW!

    If Eddy Sparkles looked his age his hotness factor would take a stake in the heart, and women would rightly call him a pervert.

  39. JamiSings says:

    The only time I notice it/am bothered by it, forgive me ladies, is when the woman is older than the man. I think that’s because I have always been attracted to much older men. So I just have a preference for the Older Male/Younger Female. Even though I know some very happy Older Female/Younger Male marriages in the real world, I just don’t care for them in books. Even paranormals. (For instance while on a trip recently out of desperation while in WalMart I picked up this book called Vampire Mine, which apparently is part of a series – the heroine is an angel who’s been around since the world began, the hero a vampire who’s only 499 years old – he’s a short time away from being 500. Even though with her former angelic nature she’s very innocent to the point of almost being a child, she was also very mature as she was an angel of death. It just didn’t work for me. Women are suppose to mature mentally faster then men after all. I just can’t see them matching up enough on the maturity scale for it to work.)

    Even then I prefer it when she’s over 18. For instance, I have zero problem with a 30+ year old woman dating a 60+ year old man – she’s more likely to be more mentally mature than her 18 year old counterpart. Therefore that 30+ year old is more likely to be a mental and emotional match for that man then the 18 year old.

    Or maybe that’s because I’m going to be 35 in September and with people taking better care of themselves I’ve seen some really smoking hot sexy 60-70 years old men.

    Yeah, I can be shallow too.

    All that being said, I could not finish Years. I’m sorry, but the hero seemed so stupid compared to the heroine. Okay, so she’s book smart and he’s smart in other areas, but I just could not see someone who could never really be mentally stimulating to the heroine making her a good husband.

    After years of working at a public library I’ve got a low tolerance for stupidity. (“Where’s the DVDs?” “You’re standing in front of them.” “Which is the children’s side?” – Mind you this is after I clearly pointed them to it. “The side with all the stuffed animals.” And that’s not counting telling them things they should have learned in elementary school. When I was in school you could not move up a grade until you showed you could use the dewey decimal system. So many people my own age come in not knowing how to use it that I want to cry. And no, they’re not from another country so it’s not a language barrier thing.)

    With all that, I just could not see them having a happy marriage. She’d always be making him feel stupid. She’d always be frustrated because she’d have to explain things that he should know. She is, in fact, mentally older then him.

    It just didn’t work for me.

    Anyway, that’s my 52 cents. I don’t care if people disagree with me, that’s how I feel about the subject.

  40. robinjn says:

    @JamiSings, I did not see Teddy as at all stupid. He was not booksmart but that is a far, far thing from stupidity. You know, living in Missouri, which is a mostly rural state, I have met a fair number of “Teddy” types; people who did not go to college, that many educated people would sneer at, but who are deeply interesting and intelligent, just in a non upscale academic way.

    Be that as it may, back to the May/December, @Dreadpiraterachel I know exactly what you mean. And one reason why the May/December thing doesn’t work is because okay, at the bottom end, when she’s a teenager and he’s in his 30s, it’s really sort of pitiful that he falls in love with this immature little girl (and I’m sorry, but 18 is NOT mature). It speaks to me in some ways that he is not capable of dealing with a fully mature woman. But then, for awhile the gap gets smaller. She grows up and he’s still in his prime. How about when she reaches 35 and he’s in his 50s though? The older they get, the more the gap grows again. At some point she’s going to still be active and wanting to do lots of stuff and he’s going to be an invalid. If he even lives that long, because men die earlier than women anyway.

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