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Does age really matter in a relationship?

TV presenter Caroline Flack has come under fire for dating much younger boy band singer Harry Styles, but can love survive when there’s a big difference in age? Laura McGarritty and Kerry McKittrick spoke to four couples here about their relationships ...

TV presenter Caroline Flack has recently been the recipient of death threats. It's not because she committed a racial slur, mudered someone or declared strikers should be lined up and shot. Instead, Caroline's crime has been to date someone 15 years her junior, Harry Styles from boy band, One Direction.

Eyebrows are being raised everywhere at this recent celebrity coupling. However, it doesn't seem to be the age gap that is causing the controversy, it’s the fact that Ms Flack is stealing 17 year old Harry Styles away from his devoted teenage fans.

A few weeks ago actor Charles Dance announced he will be a father once again at 65 years old, with his former model fiancée Eleanor Boo rman, 39. Dance has two children from a previous marriage to sculptress to Joanna Haythorn. The veteran actor started dating Boorman, who is 27 years younger than himself, in 2008. The couple then announced their engagement last September.

This is by no means the first celebrity match with an age gap. Before their six-year marriage foundered recently, Demi Moore was 16 years older than husband Ashton Kutcher. At the beginning of their relationship there were murmurs of disapproval as Demi was seen to be taking a toy boy. Despite this, their celebrity relationship seemed to work for six years, which is the equivalent of at least 20 non-celebrity years.

Hollywood seems no stranger to relationships with age gaps, Susan Sarandon for example had 12 years on Tim Robbins. Dynasty actress Joan Collins dated Robin Hurlstone who was 25 years her junior and then went on to marry Percy Gibson, who is 32 years younger.

A significant age gap between a husband and wife can easily be subject to raised eyebrows. We spoke to a few local couples who are in a relationship with an age gap and see how it in fact works for them.

‘I think women mature quicker so we were at the same stage in life’

Dympna McCormac (54) is a secretarial assistant. She lives in Whiteabbey with husband David (60). They have three children Matthew (24), Ciara (22) and Catherine (13). She says:

“I met David in 1981 when I was 24-years-old and he was 30. I used to take my brother to the Gateway Club in Newtownabbey. It was a leisure club for people with special needs and David was a leader. He used to really encourage us all to go out and socialise together.

There were a big group of us who used to go out all the time and gradually David and I became a couple. Our first proper date was when Diana and Prince Charles were getting married. We went out for the day. I can't even remember |where we went to, but | we just continued from there and got married three years later.

The age gap never bothered me or made me worry what people would think. We were both in our 20s and it wasn't that noticeable.

I think if I had been younger when I met David it would have been different. If I was 17-years-old and he was 23 I would have been anxious. My family and friends would have been worried then.

My mother was 13 years younger than my father and she would always tell us not to marry someone older. This was because my father aged very quickly and she thought it became very noticeable. My mum encouraged us to find someone around the same age to marry and not to follow in her footsteps. I think women do mature quicker so because I was 24-years-old and he was 30 we were at a stage where we wanted the same things and had similar outlooks. David and I have never had any issues because of the age gap, if anything it has made it easier. It isn't even anything anyone has really commented on.”

‘I told my parents Gerard was 21 and they cracked up’

Emma Phoenix Kelly (30) is a teacher and lives in Newtownabbey with her husband Gerard Kelly (39). She says:

“I met Gerard when I was 16. He was a regular customer when I worked in a petrol station, on the Antrim Road in Belfast. He knew my friend Martin and was always friendly.

When Martin told Gerard that I fancied him, Gerard asked me out. Even though I was only 16 I looked quite old for my age, so I don't think he realised what age I was. But when he found out it didn't put him off.

I was worried about my friends and family's reaction. My friends were all quite sensible and I was worried they would think I was being stupid. I thought they’d assume the worse, but when they met him they saw how nice and easy-going he was.

At first I told my parents Gerard was 21 years old and even then they cracked up. I waited for six months before telling them the truth, but by then they knew he was a decent guy. They were more annoyed at me for lying.

Even now our age gap isn't something people notice, I brought Gerard to my school formal when I was 18 and he was 28, but no one picked up on the age gap.

Despite going a bit grey, he has always looked quite young, whereas I have always looked slightly older. Going out with an older man has been a bonus because he has wanted the same things I have, like getting married and having children. We married in 2009 and are expecting our first baby in April.

I think it is easier for woman to go out with an older man, than vice-versa.

Maybe it's the teacher in me, but I would see it more of a taboo if a woman was in a relationship with a much younger man.”

‘At the start I didn’t realise how old he was’

Laurina Kennedy (23) is a model and lives in Belfast. She has been with her partner Martin John McCafferty (30) for two years. She says:

“Martin and I met when he was 28 and I was 21. I was a finalist in the Miss Northern Ireland competition at the time and he was singing at the event.

After that we kept bumping into each other at various dos around Belfast.

We ended up at a house party for a friend's 21st birthday and while everyone else fell asleep we chatted all night.

At the start I didn't actually realise how old Martin was — he certainly doesn't look his age. I was at my mum's house before our first proper date and I Googled him.

I was a bit concerned — I had never gone out with an older guy before. It was actually my mum who told me to just go with the flow.

We've never had any kind of comments about the age gap. The most difficult thing though was meeting his family.

Martin is the youngest of five so his mum and my granny are the same age, his oldest brother is 44 and there's the same age difference between me and him as there is between him and his oldest niece.

But in the end I had nothing to worry about. Things are going well despite the age gap.”

‘Leslie has an old soul, so I’m not conscious of age’

Oonagh Boman (44) runs The Oonagh Boman School of Make Up. She lives in Belfast with husband Leslie Graham (32) and her children Skye (13) and Brad (9). She says:

“Although he works in sales for a forklift company I know Leslie from the fashion circuit as he used to do a bit of part-time modelling. We first clicked though when I was on a Christmas night out with my friends five years ago.

At that point I had just got divorced. I just wanted to hang out with my friends and I wasn't looking for a relationship at all — serious or otherwise. I was nervous about going out with anyone, never mind someone who was a model. The fact that he was 12 years younger than me didn't really prove to be much of a problem.

I work with a lot of younger people, be it models and students that come into my make-up school, so I never feel conscious of my age. Leslie is actually quite old-fashioned anyway. He has an old soul so I've never been conscious of the age gap.

We got married a year ago on December 9. Now that we've done it I wish we had done it sooner. Leslie wanted to get married, but I was the one holding back. Again it was because I had done it before and was more cautious of repeating myself.

It was the best thing we could have done and the last year has been fantastic. Regardless of our age gap we're on the same path together now.”

... THE HIGH PROFILE COUPLES WHO ARE BRIDGING THE AGE GAP

  • Demi Moore recently filed for divorce from her |husband and 16 years junior, Ashton Kutcher after he allegedly cheated on the |Hollywood actress.
  • Presenter Caroline Flack has received death threats after striking up a romance with One Direction’s Harry Styles who is 15 years younger than her.
  • Vivienne Westwood has been married to her former fashion student Andreas Kronthaler, who is 25 years younger than her, since 1992.
  • Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been married to Michael Douglas, who is 25 years older than her. Since 2000. The couple have two children Dylan and Carys.
  • Rod Stewart who is 66 years old, married 44-year-old Penny Lancaster Stewart in 2007. They have two children Aiden and Allistair.
  • Actor Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (32) are married with a daughter Suri and there is an age gap of 17 years, Cruise being her senior.
  • 80-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch is married to business woman Wendi Deng who is 38 years younger than him.
  • David Hasselhoff is currently dating Welsh former shop assistant Hayley Roberts who is 27 years his junior.
  • Brad Pitt is 12 years older than the mother of his children and partner Angelina Jolie.

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