The Age Gappers

They say they’re happy. Why is it so hard to believe them?

Los Angeles couple Jessica Moss, 42, and Kevin Hardesty, 61, have a 19-year age gap. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
Los Angeles couple Jessica Moss, 42, and Kevin Hardesty, 61, have a 19-year age gap. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
Los Angeles couple Jessica Moss, 42, and Kevin Hardesty, 61, have a 19-year age gap. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects

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Jessica Moss met Kevin Hardesty in the summer of 2000 at a feature-film production company in Los Angeles. He was a 37-year-old executive; she was a 19-year-old intern. Moss first spotted Hardesty while she was doing paperwork in the operations department: He strolled by wearing a slim maroon Prada dress shirt tucked into a pair of perfectly cut trousers and had thick horn-rimmed glasses. On the last day of her internship, she followed him to the elevators as he was leaving to go home and asked him out to lunch. As the elevator doors closed, he shrugged and said, “Well, I’m listed.” Moss looked him up in the white pages, and they went out a few times after that, but ultimately Hardesty told her it couldn’t happen. “You’re too young,” he said. “You need to go live your life.”

Moss moped through her first trip to Paris that Christmas. She talked about him constantly with her friends. In 2004, she ran into him walking down Larchmont Boulevard, and they eventually had dinner. She’d just moved into an apartment with a boyfriend her age, soon to be her husband, and they shared a puppy. By 2013, that marriage had fallen apart. That year, Hardesty reached out on Facebook to wish her a happy birthday. “We’ve been inseparable ever since,” Moss said. They got married in 2017, when she was 36 and he was 54.

Moss and Hardesty are both good looking with unusual, angular faces and great hair — Hardesty’s a burnished silver sweep off his forehead, Moss’s a wild thicket of curls. They sat side by side in their office in L.A., chic and complementary in a white sweatshirt (him) and a mottled-gray sweater (her). When I asked how the age difference factored into their attraction, and whether it made their dynamic somehow more exciting, they both laughed. Moss put a hand on Hardesty’s shoulder, and they gazed into each other’s eyes. “I mean, sure,” she said. “Yeah,” he agreed. “To describe specifically what it is is a little” — they both blushed — “personal.” Later, Hardesty added that his age allowed him to play “a lot of different roles” in the bedroom. “So whether I’m a butler or I work in a business —” Moss raised a hand, laughing: “Enough.”

They are aware that people out in the world might look askance at their relationship given how young Moss was when they met. A few weeks before we spoke, news emerged that the stand-up comedian Dane Cook, who is 51, had married a 24-year-old Pilates instructor named Kelsi Taylor; the pair had started dating when Taylor was 18. On the internet, some were calling Cook a predator, implying that Taylor was an unwitting victim. “I took such offense to that,” Moss said. “It just assumes that this 24-year-old is not her own woman and that she can’t make her own choices and she is somehow bamboozled or victimized or abused. It doesn’t have to be that.” She flicked a hand toward Hardesty. “This is proof it’s not.”

Over the past several years, age-gap relationships have been obsessively scrutinized on Reddit, TikTok, Tumblr, and X. No attempt to trace the history of the trend would be complete without a discussion of a viral 2019 post about Leonardo DiCaprio. That year, a redditor made a graph tracking DiCaprio’s age alongside the ages of his successive girlfriends; as DiCaprio moved through his 30s into middle age, the age range of his girlfriends never topped 25. The phenomenon was given a name (“Leo’s Law”) and generated a great deal of ribbing along with many think pieces attributing DiCaprio’s dating record, variously, to the devaluation of aging women or Hollywood’s sexism problem or basic evolutionary psychology. One take that would set the tone for much of the age-gap discourse, if you will, was that DiCaprio wasn’t attracted to these women just because they were hot but because, though they were old enough to vote, their youth meant he could easily manipulate them. As the love-and-relationship website YourTango laid it out, “Given that DiCaprio’s cut-off point is exactly around the time that neuroscientists say our brains are finished developing, there is certainly a case to be made that a desire to date younger partners comes from a desire to have control.” Some tweets took it further; as one contended, “Leonardo DiCaprio is a nearly 50yo predator.”

For all of Hollywood’s history, Americans have flocked to the movies to bask in idealized depictions of love between middle-aged men and much younger women. Throughout her 20s, Audrey Hepburn played characters who fell in love with Humphrey Bogart (54), Gary Cooper (56), and Fred Astaire (57); all but five of the 26 main Bond girls were double-digits younger than the international man of mystery they loved. In 1979, Woody Allen’s portrayal of a relationship between his surrogate Isaac Davis, a 42-year-old comedy writer turned novelist, and Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy, a 17-year-old high-school student just past the age of consent in New York, generated such little controversy that the New York Times review of Manhattan, which pronounced the movie the filmmaker’s “most moving and expansive work to date,” barely mentioned it outside a passing description of Tracy as a “beautiful 17-year-old nymphet with a turned-down mouth.” But at the height of the Me Too movement, the film was widely reassessed. By 2018, Isaac and Tracy had become “the poster couple for exploitive relationships,” as the Times put it.

Increasingly, people engaging in online conversations about age gaps assert that any relationship between a person in their early or even mid-20s and someone older is inherently predatory. One person called out Chris Evans, 42, for marrying a “child bride” (Alba Baptista is 26). When Florence Pugh was 24, she got so much pushback for her relationship with her then-boyfriend, Zach Braff, 45, that she addressed the criticism in multiple interviews and on Instagram. “I’m old enough to be an adult and pay taxes, but I’m not old enough to know who I should and should not have sex with,” she said. In September, more than 100 people died in a fire at a wedding in Iraq’s Nineveh province. In a post on X with nearly 5 million views, a self-described feminist made the case that the real tragedy was that the bride was 18 and her husband 27. “Wedding should have never happened in the first place,” she wrote. “She lost her entire family in the fire and the only person she has left is a predator.”

The age-gap outrage, in part, represents the culmination of a shift in liberal attitudes. When Manhattan was released, it was not uncommon for feminist and gay intellectuals to argue that sex between adults and adolescents should be tolerated, even defended. In 1978, Gore Vidal spoke at a rally to support two dozen men who’d been accused of molesting children. As Jesse Walker pointed out in a detailed account of this episode in the magazine Reason this year, Vidal challenged the very idea of statutory rape and proposed that the line between young and too young should be puberty — not a claim you would see a public intellectual make today. Likewise, it is hard to imagine many second- or third-wave feminists thinking of DiCaprio’s ex-girlfriends as helpless victims just because they were in their 20s when they dated him. As Gloria Steinem once put it, “If feminism means anything, it means taking responsibility for ourselves. It is not ‘women as victims’ but women refusing to be victims.” The revelations of Me Too undercut that logic, showing that powerful men, protected by the institutions they dominated, could harm even the most capable and intelligent women. Age-gap discourse, which is aimed primarily at older men dating younger women, grew out of that movement’s concern with power differentials and with coercion and consent. But it also sits at odds with Me Too’s core ethos — “Believe women” — by raising an outcry on behalf of women who, by all available public accounts, have no complaints about their relationships. Even if they say they are happy, the age-gap critics don’t believe them.

26 Year Gap: Lynette Blake, 57, a civil servant, and Shannon Keating, 31, a writer, live in Liverpool. They met four years ago on a lesbian cruise. Shannon saw Lynette across the room and thought she was beautiful. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
23 Year Gap: Dasha Stish, 22, a college student, and Dima Pantyushin, 45, a designer and musician, live in London. They met three years ago at a mutual friend’s kids’ party. Dasha, Dima, and their friend stayed up until four in the morning finishing off a bottle of vodka and dancing to old Adriano Celentano records. Dasha thought Dima was younger and Dima thought Dasha was older. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects

Jane, a feminist writer, and Fred, a real-estate developer in D.C., started dating in September 2020, in the early days of the pandemic; she was 25, he 56. (Both asked to use pseudonyms.) They matched on Hinge, flirted over text, took a COVID test, and met. With their normal lives paused, they had the time and space to consider how they could build a life together outside the typical boundaries of heteronormative romance. Fred already had children, and he’d had a vasectomy 20 years earlier; Jane knew she wanted to become a mother someday. Maybe they could conceive of a life that would ultimately include other partnerships as well. They’d talk about Esther Perel’s observation that “there is never going to be one perfect person whose love is so powerful that it checks every box.” “We’re figuring out how we can always love each other and also give each other enough space to find people who can check those other boxes,” Jane said.

Certain challenges emerged once the world opened back up. “I had to prove to people I loved that I wasn’t being taken advantage of,” Jane said. One friend asked whether Fred pays her rent. (He doesn’t.) Her family expressed concerns, particularly early on, but those concerns faded over time. The harshest judgments came from strangers. A few months ago, they were on vacation at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; at dinner one night, an intoxicated woman around Fred’s age came up to their table with a group of her friends and asked him, “Is this your daughter?” “I turned to her and I said, ‘You don’t have to be mean about it,’” Jane recalled. “Then she went, ‘This is disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourselves. She’s way too young for you.’” Her friends had to pull her away. Jane went into the bathroom and cried. She felt as though she’d been “slut-shamed,” she said. “I feel so confident this is love,” she told me, “and like I’m doing the right thing by finding love in any place.”

I interviewed more than 50 people in relationships with age gaps from ten to 40 years and heard many variations of the same theme: Their relationships were deeply satisfying, and they saw their age differences either as irrelevant or as beneficial. Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and researcher at the Kinsey Institute, began studying age-gap relationships of ten years or more in the aughts. As with gay and interracial couples, he found that people in these relationships suffered because they felt judged. Societal unease around age gaps coincided with the feminist movements of the 20th century, as women entered the workforce and marriage was increasingly idealized as a partnership of equals. “The push for equality in all ways has led us to this moment,” Lehmiller said. When people see an age gap, they tend to imagine there is something intrinsically unequal about it — that the older partner wants someone they can control and the younger partner has daddy issues or is just out for money. Our judgments can also reflect our personal histories. If you worry men won’t find you desirable as you age, seeing DiCaprio with his latest model girlfriend might feel like confirmation of that. Sometimes we instinctively dislike what other people do just because it’s different from what we have chosen for ourselves. “People look for simple pieces of information where they can make a judgment without considering all the nuances in that situation,” said Lehmiller. But exploitation can happen in any relationship, regardless of the partners’ ages: “Just because somebody might be older and might have more money does not mean that they’re the one calling all the shots.”

And even if the older partner is calling all the shots, or some of them, that isn’t necessarily abuse. While Me Too made us all too aware of the way power dynamics can be and have been exploited, it didn’t do away with the fact that desire for these dynamics continues to exist. (Daddy, for instance, was the most-searched term on the porn site xHamster among women in America in 2018.) Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, who is seven years older than his husband and 22 years older than his boyfriend, has found much of the conversation about age gaps to be fundamentally unrealistic about what human relationships are. “We are status-obsessed, power-obsessed primates always jockeying for control — socially and also in our interpersonal relationships,” he said. “There’s no interpersonal relationship without power differentials, without advantages or disadvantages on both sides. And if you want to correct for that, or eliminate that, you have to eliminate human relationships.”

Morgan, a 30-year-old massage therapist in New York, is a regular visitor to Reddit age-gap forums, where she writes about her attraction to older men. Growing up, she told me, she met her father only a handful of times. Her desire for a father figure, as she has come to see it, explains why she has always been attracted to men around her dad’s age. She got into her first age-gap relationship just after she turned 21; her boyfriend was 54. They met online while she was still living at home in a small town in North Carolina, and he helped her move to New York, where she began to rely on him to tell her what to eat and what to wear, to make appointments for her when she felt anxious about talking to strangers on the phone. At first, she said, this felt wonderful, but after several years it became stifling. “I wasn’t growing as a human being,” she said. Still, when she looks back at the relationship, which lasted a few years, she doesn’t feel exploited. “I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted, whether it was healthy or not,” she said. “The fact that people hate it makes me like it even more, to be real with you.” Today, she’s in another age-gap relationship — with a 20-year-old woman who also grew up without a father around. “I know I’m fulfilling something in her that she grew up missing,” Morgan said. “And I don’t mind being that because it makes me feel important.” It also turns her on:
“I love the taboo nature of it.”

Other younger partners talked about the comfort, stability, and wisdom an older partner could provide. Tom Delavan, 60, an interior designer and the design editor of T magazine, recently married Max Ries, 33. They met at a yoga class in the Village when Ries was 24. “I never want you to miss out on something,” Delavan told Ries the other day. They were lounging on a plush white carpet in the living room of their apartment in the West Village. Delavan has lived there since the late ’90s. Ries already had some things figured out when they met: He had a job in corporate finance; he was in therapy. Still, Delavan said, “I ask Max sometimes, because my life is all set up in a certain way, ‘Is our life giving you what you want? Do you want to be doing this differently?’” Ries sipped his wine and tucked his feet under Delavan’s legs. When they first started getting serious, he recalled asking Delavan if he wanted to have kids: “I was like, ‘I don’t even want to go another day if that’s not a possibility.’” Delavan said he was open but suggested they wait until Ries was a bit older. “I was so intense about it at 24. Now, I’m 33. I don’t want kids right now. He’s been supportive no matter what,” Ries said. A year and a half after they began dating, he started an event-production company: “Imagine being young and then having such a lovely support system behind you while you’re building a business. He’s given me guidance all along the way over the last ten years.”

21 Year Gap: Janice Mehlman, 65, an artist-photographer, and Ron Mehlman, 86, a sculptor, are retired college professors who split their time between New York and Pietrasanta, Italy. They met 46 years ago. Ron was Janice’s professor of sculpture at Brooklyn College. They liked each other from the start but didn’t start dating until a year and a half later, when she was no longer a student. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
14 Year Gap: Rosie Mae Turner, 39, a sustainable swimwear designer, and Andre Hirschler, 25, a writer and independent filmmaker, live in Brooklyn. They met two years ago through a mutual friend at Fashion Week. They bonded over their love of cats, vintage fashion, film, and old books. Their matching curls immediately made them feel cute together. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects

There are certain corners of the internet where men who prefer younger women admit without embarrassment that they want partners who are innocent and moldable. In one viral TikTok, a burly 29-year-old looms over a petite 19-year-old as he tells an interviewer he “likes them young” so he can “train them to be the perfect woman.” Andrew Tate, the YouTube personality and alleged human trafficker, is a notable proponent of this school of thought. Tate has a rule that he won’t date a woman older than 25. “The younger a girl is, the less bullshit she’s been through with men and the softer she is,” he once proclaimed. “When you get a girl who’s 30, how many dicks have been through her?”

Alan, a former investment manager, said he finds younger women desirable in part because they lack “baggage.” He was 56 and had recently separated from his first wife when he met his current wife, Carrie, then 23, in 1998. He’d tried dating women his own age, but he’d found that “they were either damaged because a husband had dumped them and run off with a younger woman or they had issues with their children.” Some had to care for aging parents: “I felt badly about the situation these ladies were in, but I didn’t want to assume a responsibility like that.” He felt his desire for someone younger was simply human nature. “I have not in my entire life ever met a guy who was in the market, so to speak, for a relationship or a date or whatever who would not prefer a younger woman,” he said. “It’s endemic, inbred, lock, stock, and barrel.” Today, he and Carrie host a podcast, YouTube show, and Facebook community group, all called Age Gap Love Story. One of their goals is to push back against what they view as widespread hate speech toward age-gap couples.

The age-gap critics, meanwhile, worry that perspectives like Alan’s or Tate’s are shared by all older men who pursue young women. One of the most prolific of these content creators is Jocelyn Alice, a musician in her late 30s who calls herself the “Age-Gap Girl” on TikTok. Alice has made more than 100 videos about age-gap couples in Hollywood. In a typical post, she appears in front of a photo backdrop of the couple and says something like, “This is another edition of ‘You think you’re looking at a supercute, super-fashionable couple, but really it’s a 17-year-old girl dating a 29-year-old man.’” In one video, she features Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In another, she talks about Céline Dion and her late husband, René Angélil, who were married for 21 years, until Angélil died of cancer. “Even though Céline doesn’t agree that this is wrong, I’m going to bring it up,” Alice says before noting the two met when Dion was 12 and Angélil was her 38-year-old manager. (The pair said they began dating when Dion was 20.) Some of the hundreds of commenters urged Alice to leave Dion alone and accused her of making assumptions, but more applauded her. “I’m just pointing out that this is very normalized, and it bothers me,” Alice told me on a call.

In posts like these, the author will often reveal that she herself was a victim of abuse at the hands of an older man. When Alice was 14 and a junior-high-school student in Calgary, a teacher molested her. As reported in an investigative story last year, the detective looking into the teacher’s alleged crimes estimated that he had sexually, emotionally, or physically abused as many as 200 students. After months of grooming her, Alice said, the teacher invited her on an unofficial school camping trip where he forcibly removed her top and exposed her breasts in front of several other students. Nothing else happened between them, but she remained close to the teacher for years and continued to visit his classroom after she’d graduated. Years later, in the midst of the Me Too movement, she and another of the teacher’s victims went to the police. In February 2021, he was arrested, but a few days later he committed suicide. Some victims were relieved they’d never have to face their abuser in court, but Alice was devastated. “I was very much looking forward to looking him in the eye as an adult woman,” she said. She began making the TikTok videos six months later. “If I can’t call out the man that directly abused me, I’m going to call out other ones,” she told me.

If there is an anthem for the age-gap opponents, it is Demi Lovato’s song “29,” which is allegedly about her relationship with actor Wilmer Valderrama, whom she met when he was 29 and she was 17. Last year, the song became a TikTok trend, prompting thousands of people to create videos of themselves singing along to her lyrics (“Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy / But was it yours, or was it mine?”) while sharing the details of their own age-gap relationships. Michelle, a 30-year-old wellness editor who asked to use a pseudonym, said the song helped her process a past relationship. She was a 20-year-old college junior when she started dating a 30-year-old man; looking back, she came to feel he liked her because she was naïve and impressionable; she hadn’t had much experience dating and was quick to go along with whatever he suggested. Two months after they met, they were spending six nights a week together and she barely saw her friends. When she had an opportunity to study abroad, he convinced her to turn it down. When they fought, he’d use her age against her. “You just don’t understand what the world looks like,” she recalled him saying. She never knew how to respond to that, in part because she wondered whether he was right. This experience, she told me, made her feel apprehensive any time she heard about an older man dating a woman in her 20s. “I just think it’s always concerning, no matter what, when there’s someone whose brain hasn’t even fully developed dating someone whose brain has developed,” Michelle said.

This is a common refrain among age-gap critics. The legal age of consent varies by state, from 16 to 18. But as Michelle and others see it, just because someone is technically of age does not mean they are invulnerable to exploitation. Exactly how old is old enough is a matter of debate. “Women in their twenties lack the ability to consent to sexual activity with men in their thirties,” one widely discussed tweet contended. For Alice, the cutoff is 25. “Generally, I kind of have a frontal-lobe rule,” she says in one video, referring to the theory, frequently cited but infrequently understood, that the brain is not “fully developed” until a person reaches the quarter-century mark.

It is true that research in recent decades has shown that parts of the brain continue to develop into one’s early 20s, particularly those parts that govern impulse control and risk assessment. This idea has been deployed for a range of political ends. On the left, some have argued that no one under 25 should receive the death penalty; on the right, conservative lawmakers insist that young transgender people are incapable of comprehending the risks involved in transitioning. But scientists who study brain development stress that people’s brains develop at different rates. Adulthood, in any case, is a socially constructed concept that varies across places and times. Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, told me “the transition to adulthood is not like a switch being flipped.” Researchers in his field generally define that transition as the juncture at which someone achieves the traditional benchmarks of middle-class stability: financial independence, marriage, renting or buying a home. By that definition, people do become adults much later than they used to. In 1950, the median age of marriage for women and men, respectively, was 20 and 23; today it’s 28 and 30. But does that mean a 20-year-old today is less mature than your average 20-year-old in the ’50s? “I would say no,” Steinberg said. He believes that people are taking longer to reach the traditional milestones of adulthood not because their brains are developing more slowly but because they have to contend with rising costs and a tightening job market. In his view, there is “no scientific basis whatsoever” for believing that a person over 18 is incapable of consenting to a sexual relationship.

Steinberg was skeptical that anyone could accurately judge the health of a relationship between, say, an 18-year-old and a 30-year-old without intimately knowing the people involved: “For all we know, the 30-year-old is immature and maybe they’re perfectly matched to each other.” One friend of mine, a 41-year-old woman I’ll call Claire, admitted she was drawn to dating a younger guy precisely because she felt less grown-up than her peers. She met her boyfriend on Hinge a year and a half ago, when he was 26. “I had this fear of being with dudes who were really adulting,” she told me. “I see myself as somebody who is completely dysfunctional in romantic relationships and in terms of my career direction.” She currently works in communications at a museum, but for years prior, she’d been drifting from profession to profession, never sure what she wanted to do with her life. She has accrued a lot of debt. “I could not imagine not feeling self-consciousness about those things in an intimate relationship with somebody my own age who seems to be on track,” she told me.

Savage, the sex-advice columnist, said the most common questions he gets about age-gap relationships come from older partners who are worried they might be inadvertently exploiting their younger partners or who don’t know how to address the concerns of friends and family. He advises them to take these concerns seriously. “If you’re the older partner in an age-gap relationship, you should welcome a higher degree of scrutiny,” he said. Savage uses himself as an example. His husband, Terry, who is 52, also has a boyfriend, who is 29. They all live together in a house in Seattle. One day, Terry’s boyfriend’s mother came to visit while Terry was out of town. While she was there, she told Savage she had concerns. “I immediately looked at her and said, ‘I would have concerns if you didn’t have concerns,’” he recalled. They sat on the porch for two hours, and Savage answered all of her questions. Her primary worry was that her son would become dependent on them. He wasn’t working at the time, and, in essence, she didn’t want him to be a “kept boy,” Savage said. He assured her they weren’t wealthy enough for that — and anyway, they were conscious of the type of economic coercion that could affect his choices later on. “The scrutiny is not an insult,” he said to me. “It’s deserved. There can be abuse. And if you’re not abusing that power, you should be happy to answer the questions from people who love the person you also claim to love.” To guide well-meaning older partners, Savage invokes what he calls “the Campsite Rule”: “Tell no lies; make no outsize promises; transmit no infections. Ideally, everyone would leave everyone in better shape than when they found them.”

39 Year Gap: John Mutter, 75, an earth- and environmental-sciences professor, and Lauren Mutter, 36, a fundraiser for a university, live in Manhattan. They met six years ago at a bar. Lauren realized it was cash only, and she only had her credit card on her. John offered to pay for her drink. They got to talking and went to another restaurant, where they kept drinking and talking all night. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
20 Year Gap: Iain Nash, 29, a software engineer, and Shii Ann Huang, 49, a real-estate broker, live in New York. They met four years ago at a loft party in Soho. Nash liked that she initiated a conversation; Huang noticed him because he is tall and his head literally stood out above the crowd. She also thought he was the oldest guy at a party full of young people. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects

Long before there was an outcry against older men dating younger women, Valerie Gibson, who was a sex and relationship columnist for the Toronto Sun, observed that “older women who date younger men are scorned.” The term cougar, which was popularized by her 2001 book of that name, reflected our culture’s tendency to perceive such women as predators even as it glamorized them. (An older man who dates or marries a younger woman has no special name — that’s just a man.) Today, something of a reversal has occurred. Some celebrate Madonna and Cher for having boyfriends half their age and argue that any criticism of these relationships amounts to misogyny. “It’s just about the most rock and roll move these two female icons can possibly have made,” cheered one writer in the Independent. In his research, Lehmiller was surprised to discover that older women in relationships with younger men are the most satisfied of all people in age-gap couples. Some social scientists theorize that these relationships, which upend patriarchal expectations, may be more egalitarian. Or maybe the women were satisfied because they could engage with men on their own terms for a change. “You know, when you reach the zero-fucks stage of life and you can finally unburden yourself of the concerns of what other people think,” Lehmiller said.

Shii Ann Huang, 49, one of New York’s top residential Realtors (and a two-time Survivor contestant), split up with her first husband, with whom she has two children, six years ago. When she started dating again, she wasn’t thrilled by what men her own age seemed to offer. “You’re either getting a divorcé who’s incredibly bitter and wants to talk about his ex-wife the entire day or you get an old fuckboy who has a roommate,” she said, laughing. “No, thank you.” Then she met Iain Nash, a 25-year-old programmer for a media start-up, at a party. He’d never considered a relationship with an older woman before; on Bumble, he’d filtered out anyone more than two to three years older or younger than he was. But he liked Huang’s suggestion for their first hang — a morning excursion to a camp fashion show at the Met. “He’s a ‘yes and’ kind of guy, and that’s what I need,” Huang said. They’ve since gone to Burning Man together twice. In September, they were engaged. “My ex-husband was what I needed when I wanted to have children and lead a family life,” she told me. Nash didn’t want children: “He’s not a family man. He’s an adventure man. That’s what I want for the rest of my life.”

Early in their relationship, some of Huang’s friends had expressed skepticism, asking what would happen if Nash decided he wanted children after all. Huang found the question insulting; as she saw it, this implied that a woman can bring value to a relationship only “if she can breed.” Huang’s mother often asks her, “Why would he want to be with you?” “She’s very concerned about him leaving me and that I’ll be lonely when I’m old,” she said. Every time they discuss it, Huang says the same thing: “Look, Mom — someone my own age could also leave me. He could also die. You never know what the future can bring.” Still, she is not without worries of her own. For now, as she put it, they “look pretty good together,” but she wonders how long that will be true. She likes to read interviews with Brigitte Macron, who, at 70, is 24 years older than her husband, Emmanuel: “Whenever she talks about their age gap, she says something like, ‘I come down every morning with my old face. And he comes down every morning with his youth and beauty. That’s just the way it is. And we’re happy.’”

37 Year Gap: Semie Atadja, 25, a real-estate agent, and Claudio Spilatro, 62, the owner of a ski and snowboard store, live in Bedminster, New Jersey. They met seven years ago on the dating site Seeking. (Previously called SeekingArrangement, it is known for so-called sugar dating.) Atadja had just gotten out of a relationship with someone who was stealing money from her. On her first date with Spilatro, they went to a sushi restaurant. The conversation flowed, and he paid the bill. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects
15 Year Gap: Dan Cleland, 60, and Alex Cleland, 45, live in Vancouver and work in the music business. They met 21 years ago on a blind date set up by their mutual boss’s wife. They went to Starbucks for a coffee but didn’t officially start dating until two years later, when she went to see him play guitar at a show in upstate New York. Photo: Courtesy of the Subjects

Hardesty, the former film executive, says one of the biggest regrets of his life was telling Moss she was too young for him. “My instincts told me she was going to be the one,” he said. But he felt the world might judge him. “I was a coward,” he said. “I really ruminate about that because of the time that we lost.” Sometimes their friends tell them they needed that time apart before they could come together — that Moss needed to finish growing up for the relationship to really work. Maybe that was true, Moss conceded: “I mean, we’ll never know.”

What they do know — what all age-gap couples know — is that their age difference means they likely won’t get as much time together as a couple of the same age might. “There is a level of sadness in our relationship,” Hardesty said, “but there’s an honest companionship we have of appreciating what it is.” The general public cares less about age-gap relationships that begin when the younger partner is middle-aged, but that’s often when an age difference begins to feel like an issue for the people in those relationships for the long haul. “My only input,” one friend in a 12-year age-gap relationship told me, “is that it’s a lot different when you’re 51 and he’s 63 than when you were 38 and he was 50. Time really is the revelator.” Suddenly, there was an urgent need to talk about end-of-life, final directives, and Social Security. If a couple has children, these issues can feel more pressing. Ashley Bergstrom, 36, and David Guard, 52, have a 5-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago, at bedtime, she asked them, “Daddy, aren’t you older than Mommy? And doesn’t that mean you’re going to die before her?” Guard said, “She’s figured things out.” He added that he feels driven to work out and stay healthy so he can raise his daughter for as long as he can.

If it’s the older partner who can offer the promise of care at the start, it’s the younger partner who will do the caretaking in the end. Vitza was 55 and a widow when she met her third husband, Norman, at a tennis tournament in Sun City Center, Florida. He was 83, but she didn’t know that. She was impressed by his game on the court, and when he called her up to ask her out to dinner, she said “yes.” He was a retired Air Force colonel, and she was struck by how intelligent he was, how precise, how consistent. She wasn’t worried when she found out his age. Growing up in Romania, she’d been close with her grandfather. “So my respect and love was coming naturally,” she said.

They got married a year after they met. On the morning of their wedding, they played tennis, took a shower, then went to church. They liked going to the opera and watching TV together, holding hands on the sofa at home. She always knew he would probably die first, and when he turned 90, she held a huge celebration and invited all of their friends and relatives. “It was a fantastic day,” she said. He surprised everyone by living for 13 more years. He was himself until the end, she said: “From the time I knew him until he died, there was not a part of his body or his intelligence that was lower.”

One day, when he was 103, he was lying in bed and didn’t respond to her. She called for an ambulance. When they got to the hospital, she told the doctors she planned to stay with him day and night. They had been together for 21 years, and it was a wonderful marriage, Vitza told me. She takes pride, she added, in the feeling that she may have helped him live longer.

The Age Gappers