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Can Couples in May-December Relationships Make It Work?

Cher and her 40-years-younger beau have people talking about age-gap relationships

spinner image from left to right age gap couples george and amal clooney cher and alexander edwards michael douglas and catherine zeta jones
From left: Amal and George Clooney have a 17-year age gap. Cher and Alexander Edwards are 40 years apart. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are 25 years apart.
Photo by Ian West - WPA Pool/Getty Images / Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic / Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

​When it comes to May-December pairings — those relationships with a considerable age difference — the cliché is an older man with a much younger woman. But these days, that type of coupling is an equal-opportunity adventure. ​

Consider “If I Could Turn Back Time” singer Cher and her latest beau. The 76-year-old superstar and 36-year-old music executive Alexander Edwards have been dating since November 2022. On social media, Cher has even been flashing a new diamond ring — a gift from Edwards — prompting speculation that the two are engaged.

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These types of unions, especially among the famous, aren’t all that unusual. The 25-year age difference between Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones is old news, as is the 17 years that separate George and Amal Clooney. But the 40-year age gap between Cher and Edwards has reignited the debate about whether May-December relationships — so named to represent youth (spring) and old age (winter) — are just flings or pairings that can go the distance.​

That could be a challenge. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Economics from researchers in Australia found that after six to 10 years of marriage, couples with a significant age gap have less marital satisfaction than those with spouses of similar ages. ​

Even so, “relationships with large age gaps can absolutely work,” says Michael Webb, 55, founder of TheRomantic.com, a site aimed at helping couples infuse more romance in their relationships. ​

“Their ability to last ‘happily ever after’ is usually based on the same markers of ‘traditional’ relationships: shared goals, good communication, deep friendship and the ‘spark’ you find in one another,” he adds.​

Happily married, with a 32-year age difference

spinner image carrie forrest age forty eight and alan seidner age eighty have been married twenty five years
Alan Seidner and Carrie Forrest have been married for nearly 20 years.
Photo by Amy Wellenkamp

Alan Seidner, 80, and Carrie Forrest, 48, have been together 25 years and married for nearly 20 of them.​

They hit it off over the phone while planning a work-related event, and knew upon meeting that they wanted to keep getting to know each other better. Seidner, who was dating after splitting from his wife of three decades about a year earlier, disliked that so many women his age had negative relationships with their children or were caring for aging parents and didn’t have time for a relationship. Forrest, meanwhile, had trouble finding men her age who were interested in settling down.​

Once they were officially a couple, Forrest was worried about what other people would think and hid their relationship from her family for three years. Seidner, who respected that decision, paid no mind to outside opinions. The pair, who live in Pismo Beach, California, say their lives are enriched by each other’s perspectives. ​

But they knew the age difference would present challenges, and the couple handled tough topics early on. Seidner got long-term care insurance and made end-of-life decisions known to help with aging challenges. Forrest decided to focus on graduate school and started her own business instead of having children; Seidner had two grown daughters and, while he was open to being a father again, he did not particularly relish that idea.​

They’re not as open with public displays of affection as they would be with partners closer in age because of the attention it has attracted. But they’ve been open online about their relationship through articles, videos and podcasts on their Age Gap Love Story website, which they hope brings a sense of community to those in relationships with large age differences.​

“I don’t think the issues are any bigger than with other couples who have differences with religion, ethnicities or life circumstances,” Seidner says. “I’d tell others in our situation to go with your heart and be prudent.”​

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Pursue age-gap relationships with ‘eyes wide open’

People make a lot of assumptions when it comes to May-December unions, according to Love McPherson, a relationship expert in Frankfurt, Illinois.​

McPherson, 62, explains that if the woman is older, she’s seen as a cougar trying to recapture her youth; if she’s younger, she’s either a gold digger or looking for a father figure. If the man is older, he’s having a midlife crisis or is too immature to relate to women his own age; if he’s younger, he’s either a gold digger or looking for somebody to take care of him.​

Cher, for example, has an estimated net worth of $360 million. Online articles abound claiming that her friends — all unnamed sources — are worried that her fortune is dwindling from the couple’s lavish escapades.​

However, when it comes to any relationship, age doesn’t make or break its success, says McPherson. It’s all about satisfaction. That’s why it’s important to have conversations early about topics such as how erectile dysfunction may affect intimacy or how to recognize the symptoms of menopause, and to be sure there’s respect and not contempt for the differences in perspectives that are sure to crop up.​

“Walk in with your eyes wide open, understanding what the possibilities are over the long term,” McPherson says. “And then talk about them. When you’re able to communicate openly and honestly, that’s everything.”​

If you’re in, or contemplating, an age-gap relationship, Webb suggests asking yourself these questions: “What is left in the relationship when the excitement fades? Could the intimacy you feel really be lust? The financial security you seek really be greed? Is the excitement you feel really just snubbing your nose at the status quo?”​

A typical added pressure is how family, friends and others perceive the relationship. In fact, Seidner and Forrest say judgment from family members is the issue age-gap couples face most.​

“You should absolutely listen to friends and family who might raise red flags about your age-gap relationship,” advises Webb. “Love is not only blind, but it can cause a lot of misery if one of you is in a relationship with wrong intentions.”​

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‘Love doesn’t know math’

Lisa Carley, 52, of Alameda, California, says the age gap with her 36-year-old boyfriend, Chris, comes up when they have a disagreement.​

“Because I have more life experience, have been married and am a parent, I sometimes dismiss his point of view — unfairly — because he hasn’t had these milestones that really impacted and shaped me immensely,” she says.​

“But over time we’ve found more of an equal footing,” she continues. “He is more confident, asserting his opinions and pushing back on me. This has strengthened our relationship significantly.”​

They have fun with the fact that Carley prefers to listen to rappers Post Malone and NF, while her partner favors the music of Frank Sinatra and Elvis.​

Some of Carley’s friends have cautioned her against getting too invested in a younger man who may only want to “play around.” She’s not concerned, given that she no longer is interested in marriage or even monogamy.​

“What I think people may not understand is that the very nature of partnership is changing,” she says. “Many people are questioning old paradigms while experimenting with new models.” ​

Forrest says that she and Seidner believe any age-gap relationship is valid “as long is each person is a consenting adult.”​

Cher put it this way in a social media post last November: “Love doesn’t know math.”

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