What is a May-December Romance?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many people pursue romantic relationships with partners who are within a few years of their own age. There are those, however, who choose to pursue a romantic relationship in which there is a significant age gap, at least ten years or more. Such a relationship is known as a May-December romance. The younger partner is said to be in the Spring or "May" season of his or her life, while the older partner is in the Winter or "December" of his or hers. This can be a relative comparison, however, since the older partner may only be in his or her 40s and dating a person in his or her 20s. Some modern social etiquette experts suggest substituting the expression "May-December romance" with the more politically correct "age gap romance."

Woman posing
Woman posing

There have been a number of notable May-December romances throughout history, especially during times when marriages were arranged more for political or social reasons rather than the relative ages of the betrothed couples. An older monarch, for example, may have married an adolescent heir to a particular nation's throne.

Poor parents may have promised their young daughters to older suitors in order to guarantee their financial or social futures. These types of arranged marriages, however, were rarely based on actual physical or emotional attraction. A healthy May-December romance often involves two people who feel very compatible and share a number of mutual interests.

On the positive side, a healthy May-December romance generally succeeds because both partners defy social conventions associated with their own age groups. The younger partner, for example, often demonstrates more maturity than his or her peers. The older partner is not necessarily less mature than his or own peers, but he or she may still be interested in activities typically associated with a younger group. A young but mature person can find it difficult to date within his or her own age group, and an older but vibrant person can find it difficult to relate to his aging peers. The older partner in a solid May-December romance can share his or her life experiences with a vibrant younger love interest, and the younger partner can benefit from spending time with a more stable and intellectually compatible life mate.

There are some negative connotations associated with an unhealthy May-December romance, however. An older person may target a younger, less experienced romantic partner in order to gratify his or her own selfish needs. He or she may not be able to form healthy relationships with people closer to his or her age, so he or she will seek out a person who can be more easily manipulated or exploited. A younger person may have some emotional issues which leads them to pursue a much older partner for unhealthy reasons. He or she may be seeking the acceptance or approval of an older parent, for example, and pursue a romantic relationship with a much older partner. An older person may be seeking to recapture the emotions associated with his or her youth, so he or she may pursue a May-December romance in order to feel vital or youthful again.

There are a number of celebrities and other public figures who have had successful May-December romances. The late actor Tony Randall, for example, married a very young co-star while he was in his late 70s, and even fathered a child with her before his passing. Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones married actor Michael Douglas, who was over 20 years older than her. The onscreen and off-screen romantic couple Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy also maintained a strong May-December romance over several decades. Actors Nicolas Cage and Kevin Costner have also married much younger women, while actress Demi Moore married much younger model/actor Ashton Kutcher. When two people from different age groups are emotionally, physically and intellectual compatible, the age gap often become immaterial.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@calabama71: A cougar is a new term in our pop culture language. Cougars are considered to be older women who date younger men. Another definition for a cougar is “when a mature, sophisticated woman prefers to date and be in the company of a younger man”.

It is said that the term came to be because of the baby boomers being healthier and looking well below their actual age. Cougars are considered to be confident and successful women. They may be in their 40’s and 50’s but are very comfortable dating younger men because it makes them feel younger.


What exactly does a cougar refer to? Not the animal, but in reference to an older woman.

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