There’s a lot that can be alluring about a much older partner. Your friends may envy you, it can feel like a pass into the “cool” crowd, or even your fast track to be seen as a real adult—they might have a car and money from working a job. The problem is, if your partner is a lot older than you—and we’re talking 3 years or more—that can lead to a really unbalanced relationship. Many people who look back on these relationships when they’re older feel that they were unequal, and almost 1 in 5 teens who have a partner who’s 3 or more years older say their first sexual experience was unwanted. Of course it's possible to date someone a lot older and still have a good relationship—here's how to tell if yours is healthy:
What a Healthy Relationship Looks Like
You feel respected by your partner. When someone respects you it means they don’t pressure you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. It also means they take the time to learn what your needs, beliefs, and values are and tries to honor them.
Your partner keeps you physically and emotionally safe. Feeling physically safe means you trust your partner would not do anything to hurt you physically or put you in harms’ way (even if he or she is really upset with you). Being emotionally safe means your partner takes your feelings into account and tries not to hurt them or make you feel badly about yourself.
You both have power. In a healthy relationship, both of you have the power to call the shots—one of you doesn’t always trump the other.
You can talk openly. In order to have equal power in a relationship, you have to be able to express what your needs are, and communicate with your partner in an open and honest way. If you don’t feel like you can tell your partner things they don’t want to hear or that might go against how they think—that’s a sign that you don’t have equal power in the relationship.
What an Unhealthy Relationship Looks Like
You feel pressure to have sex. With a much older partner it may feel like you have to have sex because they are more experienced. But you never owe sex in a relationship, no matter how mature or experienced your partner may be. A full 60% of teens wish they had waited longer before they had sex, and half of teens who had sex when they were 14 or younger did it with a partner who was 3 or more years older. A partner who pressures you to do something doesn’t respect you, and that’s not a healthy relationship. A partner who really cares about you will listen to your wants and needs.
You feel pressure to have sex however your partner tells you. Again, just because your partner may be experienced doesn’t mean he or she knows what’s right for you. Stats show that having a much older partner puts you at a higher risk for an unplanned pregnancy and contracting STIs. If you want to use condoms or another form of contraception, don’t let your partner tell you it’s “immature” and that your partner knows better if he or she says “it will be fine not to.” In a healthy relationship your partner should look out for your sexual health, and not pressure you to have unprotected sex.
Your partner makes the decisions and has all the power. When you’re with someone older—especially as a teen—it may seem like they are so much smarter and more experienced than you. It may seem like they should make all the decisions in your relationship because they “know better.” But this isn’t true at all. It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is, no one is the expert in your life except for you! And that means that no matter how much older your partner is, they should never have an opinion that counts more than yours.
If you're concerned you or a friend may be in an unhealthy relationship, check out loveisrespect.org for further help.