Thank you for the great question. With such a late response, you’ve maybe already proceeded with a decision in this matter. Nevertheless, I will take a moment here to respond. It is an issue that comes up over and over again in questions that I receive. I have addressed it somewhat in two other answers. I encourage you to check them out. Though they come from a different perspective – they both get to the heart of the issue.
So what is the heart of the issue? Is age difference a reason to avoid a romantic relationship with someone? I don’t believe so. I believe the most important issue is that of discerning God’s will for you. Are you being called to the vocation of marriage? What are the qualities that you are seeking in a wife? Does this young woman have those qualities? Would pursuing a relationship with her present a problem for either of you at work?
I’m sure that you have asked yourself these questions already, which has brought you to considering asking her to court. My point is that if the answer to these questions still points you in the direction of courtship, don’t allow the age gap to become an unnecessary hindrance.
The key to a good marriage has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with understanding the meaning and purpose of marriage, embracing that truth and living it. The Catholic Church offers the most beautiful teachings about marriage. When we see the awesome design that God has for marriage, it is absolutely transforms our lives. (You can read more about this if you go to the above reference I have given to the question I answered on my website called “Too Young”.)
One caution I do make, with regards to age difference is that you ensure that you and she are both be able to view yourselves as equals. This is the obvious pitfall of a big age difference in a romantic relationship. Because of your age, she may easily be intimidated. You would have to be cautious that you do not allow that age difference to cause you to dominate the relationship – a very dangerous pattern to establish before marriage.
While a man certainly has the role of leadership in a marriage, as head of the home, he still has to be able to regard his wife as his equal in dignity and in worth. She is the heart of the home and her opinions, ideas and insights are invaluable to her husband in taking his role as head of the home.
While a wife is to be submissive to her husband, we have to be careful that we fully understand truth of that teaching. A wife, in being submissive to her husband, places herself under the mission (sub-mission) of her husband. And what is his mission? His mission is to serve his wife. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25).
As a man considering Christian marriage, you must be prepared to take up that role. Can you see yourself laying down your life for your wife – in denying yourself daily for the needs of your beloved? In the dynamic of a truly Christian marriage there is no room for domination, only love: true, self-sacrificing, life-giving love. When a husband and wife live the truth of these teachings, their marriage is going to be blessed!
In considering courtship, I also would encourage you to establish clear guidelines for your relationship. I strongly encourage you to withhold outward signs of physical affection to allow your relationship to develop without the blinding effects of physical intimacy. This does not at all mean avoiding romance. Be romantic! Be creative! Have fun and enjoy the thrill and excitement of discovering romance together. The pattern you set up in romance that is not just “physical” will be a tremendous blessing to you both someday in marriage.
Establish guidelines to how you spend your time together and what you both agree is acceptable in expressing yourselves physically with each other at this time. To establish guidelines, you really need to discuss these ideas together, early on in a courtship. And these guidelines will likely change if your relationship evolves to a time of engagement (but not necessarily). The process of discussing these issues in itself will tell you a great deal about each other, your compatibility, your common goals and your differences of opinions. You may discover right off the bat that you are not meant for each other.
Remember that when a courtship ends up in discerning you are not called to marriage with each other – it has not failed. It has done what it was intended to do – provide a time of discernment. And in that case, the fact that you reserved your physical expressions of affection for each other will allow you to walk away without regrets. If you discern a call to marriage with each other – you won’t regret that you saved yourselves entirely for each other during this time.
If you live this time of courtship out, storing up your treasure of physical affection for each other, the blessing of physical intimacy in marriage will be all the greater! The joys of the total gift you make of yourselves for each other in marriage will be beyond comparison! Don’t allow the temptation toward physical intimacy before marriage to rob you of all that can be yours in that holy and sacred sacrament!
I hope these ideas on courtship and marriage provide you with some good food for thought as you discern your particular situation with this young woman.
One last, important – and obvious – thought I have to share with you is this. While you may very well discern that the age difference is not an issue for you, this young lady may have real reservations about entering into a courtship with a man so much older than her. I encourage you to direct her to this posting on my website if that is the case.
There may, however be other issues that lead her to discern that she is not called into courtship with you for the time being (or ever). That’s the risk you take, as any man, in proposing courtship to a young woman – she always has the right to turn you down! Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Still, I encourage you, if you feel called to pursue courtship with this young woman to proceed with asking. She may just be waiting for you to take the lead in this relationship. You only have to ask to find out!
Remember that marriage is a calling – a vocation. God calls us to it and we are free to respond to that call. The only path to true joy in this life is in following the one that God has intended for us. To discern His will, we have to pray.
Pray daily for wisdom, guidance and discernment. And pray daily for your future spouse – whoever she may be – that God bless her and preserve her in purity and holiness. And pray that your eyes may be opened to her and that her eyes may be opened to you!
I have kept you, Dave, in my prayers since I first received this email from you. I will continue to keep you in my prayers and I welcome you to write back to me to let me know how things turn out! It is a blessing in my ministry to hear individual stories of courtship – so that I can share these (anonymously) with others as I go around speaking on the topic.
I ask that you would keep me, my family and this ministry of promoting purity, chastity and courtship in your prayers.
In His Most Holy Name,