When you’re in your 20s and 30s, a three or four year age gap seems like it’s nothing. But if you’re a 16-year-old girl starting a new relationship with a 20-year-old guy, that age gap can seem more like the Grand Canyon.

Yet, as a 16-year-old, the idea of an older partner can be very enticing. Maybe you think it’ll up your cool factor, incite envy in your peers, or put you on the fast-track to being seen as an adult. Plus, they might have a car or a job and be able to spoil you!

The problem lies when you have a partner who is a lot older than you, and an imbalance of power develops. If they’re the ones with the car, the money, and the “authority”, your relationship can turn from dreamland into a nightmare pretty quickly.

Many people reflect on relationships they had when they were younger with older people and feel that they were unbalanced. Approximately 1 in 5 teens who have a partner that is 3 or more years older than them report that their first sexual encounter was unwanted.

This, however, does not need to be the case. You can have a relationship with someone who is older or younger than you. This can be established through mutual respect, honesty, and openness.

How to tell if your relationship is healthy

1: They respect you

Honestly, this applies to every relationship. But you’re on a good path if you feel respected by your partner. Respect means they don’t pressure you into things you’re not comfortable with. They learn your needs are and honour them.

2: They keep you safe

Physically and emotionally. Being physically safe means you can trust them to never put you in harm’s way (even if they’re angry with you at the time). Being emotionally safe means you can trust them to value your thoughts and feelings, and that they won’t belittle or guilt you.

3: The power is shared

This one is obvious, but in a relationship where one person is dramatically older, they usually call the shots. In a healthy relationship, the power lies with both parties and one person’s opinion isn’t more valid than the other’s.

4: You can say what you need to say

In order for the previous point to be true, both parties need to be able to speak with each other openly and honestly. Make sure you feel that you can share your needs and opinions. If you’re afraid to say what you think because they might disagree — or it may go against what they think — that’s a sign of an imbalance in power.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship

1: You feel pressured into sexual encounters

When you have a much older partner it can be intimidating because they likely have much more experience. However, this cannot be stressed enough — you never owe anyone anything sexual. Not a kiss, not a hug, and especially not sex.

Most teens, in general, wish they waited longer to have sex — and half of teens who were 14-years-old or younger with older partners (3 years or more) wish they waited. If your partner pressures you for anything sexual, they don’t respect you. It’s not a healthy relationship, and you should flee!

Additionally, if you’re old enough and you do consent to sex, they should not be pressuring you on how to have sex. They should listen to your needs and respect what is right for you.

Statistics indicate that having an older partner puts you at a greater risk of unplanned pregnancy and/or contracting an STI. Don’t let them talk you out of wearing condoms or using any other form of protection — even if they say it’s “immature” or “It’ll be fine this one time”.

In a healthy relationship, your partner will put your sexual health ahead of their own desires.

2: They make all the decisions

No one knows you better than you. You might be starstruck by this older person who seems so wise and knowledgeable — but they don’t know what you need and want better than you. So, no matter how much older they are than you, their opinions aren’t more important than yours.

3: You feel like you need to keep it secret

If you’re afraid to tell your parents about your relationship, that’s your own intuition telling you that something is up. Chances are if you’re being treated well, and your relationship is healthy, you won’t feel the need to hide it. It’s likely they won’t be excited about your relationship, but if you keep them in the loop they’ll feel better about the whole situation and that will most likely translate into more freedom.

Legally, the age of consent for sexual activity (in Canada) is 16. However, 12-13-year-olds can be sexual with people who are no more than two years older than them. 14-15-year-olds can be sexual with people who are no more than five years older than them (Kids Help Phone). If someone who is a lot older than you starts to express interest, consider the legal implications and ask yourself the following:

  • Are they likely to hold the power? Can I see myself being their equal?
  • What are their motives?
  • Do they have my best interests in mind?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, do not engage! Move on and consider someone who’s going to value you and respect you.


How to Tell if Your Much Older Boo is Right for You

Teenage Relationship Problems

Age gap: Things to know about dating someone older

The Older Guy