Relationships: What is the ideal age difference?


Marrying someone much younger especially for women is viewed as a taboo in African societies (Net photo)

It’s an age-old question: Does the age gap matter in a relationship? The debate on age gap and ideal relationships is a puzzle that many including researchers have tried to unravel.

Marrying someone much younger especially for women is viewed as a taboo in African societies- in the western world it’s not a big deal. Celebrities in their 40s are marrying lovers half their age and no one bats an eye, but it is not the case in the conservative African setting.

For 30-year-old Davis Mugisha, a Kigali business man, when it comes to dating, age is the least important thing on his mind.

“I personally reflect on discovering and believing that one deserves a respectful, mature, thoughtful and loving partner regardless of what age they may be,” he says.

 Sandra  Uwanyirigira, a divorced mother of two echoes similar views. She says that since her divorce, she has been dating younger men and she usually prefers to look beyond their age.

“Since my divorce, the men who come my way are usually much younger, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s never about the age, but the level of maturity that one carries. If it’s great and we get along then the rest doesn’t really matter to me,” she says.  

However, for Simon Mugabe who is dating a girl his age, he is conscious of the age gap in relationships.

“For me, age matters big time. How can I possibly interact with a 20-year-old girl? For the most part, we would have nothing of substance to discuss, and most importantly, they rarely know what to do when the wining and dining is over, unlike fairly mature women,” he says.

Mariam Murerwa agrees. She says that she mostly looks out for intellectual capacity, which most of the time comes with a particular age.


“There is a level of intellectual stimulation I seek when having a conversation with someone and for the biggest part, it comes with age and maturity. Holding a conversation for longer than 10 minutes without reverting to small talk is quite something. I honestly can’t see how a 20-year-old will offer me that,” she says.

Carol Mutesi also agrees that age is a big factor when it comes to who she dates and insists that she cannot date younger men because from experience, they are a burden.

“They are insecure, clingy, attention seekers and they are also rumormongers. They give you no breathing space. If you are looking for a fling, they are okay but if it’s something serious; don’t waste your time,” she says.

What does the church say?

Emmanuel Karegyesa is a Pastor at Eglise Anglican Au Rwanda (EAR) and he says that there are several things to consider if the relationship is genuine.

“The Bible, culture and common sense should be considered. Is it common sense for a 45-year-old man or woman to marry a 19-year-old boy or girl? Not at all. Anything from an age gap of 10 years is extreme. Culturally, you are marrying your own child even if he or she is a consenting adult and the Bible talks about this either positively or negatively,” he says.

Asked whether a huge age gap should matter, Hassan Kibirango; a pastor at Christian Life Assembly (CLA) said it matters when two couples are way out of range in terms of the age gap.

“It is difficult to connect. If a 50-year-old person married someone half their age, it, in the end, would cause tremendous challenges because of their age gap, like the desires these two would have,” he says.

Kibirango, however, says that the Bible encourages Biblical marriage and doesn’t put emphasis on age.


Joyce Kirabo, a counselor who deals with relationship and marriage issues says that age is a matter of contention since society views it based on gender.

“When a young lady marries someone much older, the assumption is that she is with him for financial reasons and that he is with her because she is easy to control. It is much more difficult when an older woman is dating a much younger person. Society seems to shun her more maybe because women are supposed to be nurturers, not predators,” she says.

What researchers say

An online survey of  Elite Singles published on shows that men and women have different age limits when it comes to love. Older men desire the biggest age gap, searching for women as much as 11 years younger. Women’s tolerance of older men decreases with age, reports the survey.

While there’s “no perfect age gap, an age gap is more beneficial to men than women,” says Wendy Walsh, who runs a relationship site called

“Seven to nine years in either direction is doable without any big issues, but once you start getting to 15 or 20 years age difference, it’s naïve to think that problems aren’t going to arise,” says the relationship expert at

“For every one couple that makes it work, there are many more who don’t,” she says, adding that these pairings come with problems.

Call it what it is, says therapist, sex educator and author of Love Between Equals, Dr. Pepper Schwartz. When it comes to relationships, “the men are captivated by the woman’s beauty and energy, and the women are captivated by the men’s achievement, fame or power or more mature personality than they encounter with same-age mates.”


Age is not only a number, stresses Schwartz. “Age is having grown up in a certain culture, having certain shared experiences and also having certain kinds of bodies. While some lucky people escape the ravages of age effects, it is a very rare individual who is 60 who is the body of a 30 year old.”

Once the sex hormones die down, people far apart in age can lose their emotional connection, says relationship expert Walsh.



Does age matter in a relationship?

Of course it does. I am not a cougar. I cannot date someone younger than me. If I really liked them, maybe I can consider them if they are one year younger than me, other than that, I cannot dare. I think it would affect my self esteem.

Doreen Umwali, businesswoman

It really depends on the circumstances. If you have a mature outlook to life and share my values, I can go with the adage that says that age is just but a number. Otherwise, I certainly wouldn’t date a woman five years older than me or fifteen years younger.

Jesse Kiyingi, radio personality

Never. At least personally, it never matters for me. What matters is the maturity level and whether we understand each other. If we are compatible, then I don’t see why it should be a problem at all. 

Kamogelo Molefhe, banker

Personally, no. If a man is responsible, hardworking, caring and cultured, I wouldn’t care if he is 10 years older or younger than me. As long as the man is treating me well, age is just not relevant to me.

Claudine Utuje, makeup artist