Whether singles are thinking consciously about it, we all fall into the trap of making assumptions around age. Many have their minds set on exactly who they are looking for and don’t want to stray from that image. And as the years go by and the number of first dates increase, singles tend to align with, “why should I settle?”.

It is easy to make a preconceived judgment on whether you want to date someone based on their age before even meeting them. But not so fast. There are several factors at play here making age (and ageism) in dating a thing. That’s why it’s worth looking at what is influencing our decisions to date (or not date) based on that number — and whether it’s holding us back from genuine connections and happiness.

1. We want to date singles at our same developmental stage

Developmental stage is a psychological term that describes both what our brains are capable of and how we interact with the world socially as we grow and age. In truth, our brain functioning and our ages don’t exclusively overlap. Yet, it can be a helpful jumping-off point for understanding why we tend to want to date people who are, well, in the same boat.

As we navigate through life, different themes come at different stages, so it makes sense that singles instinctively want to date people who are encountering similar experiences, therefore making it easier to relate to the people they’re dating!

2. We want partners who are in similar places in their lives

This can be a bit of a cliché, as we often hear going through breakups: “I think we’re just in different places in our lives.” Being in the “same place” or on the “same journey” is a valid desire, and an important factor to many singles with active and full lives. It prioritizes wanting to date people who are at that same stage or with similar lifestyles as there is less to compromise or change, allowing things to easily align.

3. We’re fetishizing people based on their age

Ageism can play out as a fetish: an obsessive desire for people of a certain identity, based largely on that identity itself and the stereotypes associated with it. Fetishization spans identities, and presents itself in dating with age.

Our cultural obsession with youth can lead to the normalization of this kind of fetishization, which can show up in our pursuit of people younger than us, or even older than us. Yes, it happens both ways; need I say more than dating a Cougar?! Dating older or younger as a stereotypical fantasy can be considered ageist too!

What we need to look out for is reducing people to aspects of their identities without considering their full complexity and autonomy.

How to think deeply about the way age affects your dating life

Most of the time, we haven’t learned to think deeply about our age preferences in dating, especially when they fall in a range that encompasses one’s own age. So, before you go on your next first date, here are some self-reflection questions to engage with:

  • What is my age range preference in dating and why? Having a preference for people of similar ages or for people who fall outside those limits, isn’t inherently a bad thing. But it’s helpful to consider where those preferences come from. This isn’t about shaming those preferences! It’s about being aware of their existence and understanding why they exist.
  • What prejudice do I hold about younger and/or older people that may impact those limits? It’s worth asking yourself what stereotypes you might believe about age groups and whether they determine whom you’re open to dating.
  • Am I reducing people to their ages? Or am I seeing their full, authentic selves? We can all benefit from asking ourselves where and why we get stuck on age. What do you believe about people in your age range preference? What are you looking for specifically? Can you find that in people of other ages too?

Sure, there are lots of reasons why age might play a role in whom we want to date. Yet when both men and women allow themselves to get over obstacles they have created for themselves, the world becomes their oyster and so many new opportunities present. Just because the ideal love doesn’t look like what you dreamt it to be, doesn’t mean it will be any less real or profound. When singles are more open to meeting people and not ages, it increases the chances of finding love.

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