Writing age gap romance is one of those tropes I feel like a lot of authors shy away from because they’re afraid of doing it “wrong” and ending up with a book that alienates readers because the age gap dynamic makes the romance feel “icky.” And while that is a reasonable fear to have, I do think that like any trope, if you approach it with consideration and thoughtfulness it can be done. It’s all a matter of choosing how you’re going to treat the age gap throughout your book.
So if you’re interested in writing an age gap romance, here are five ways you can handle it in your book, to help get you started.
Option 1: Decenter the Age Gap
You can actually make the age gap a total non-issue that doesn’t really get discussed in the book at all if you decenter it and focus on something else. In this case, the characters’ internal conflict and goals and/or external environment has to be so extreme or so hostile that the age gap is the least of the characters’ worries.
For example, if your heroine is on the run from an abusive ex/spouse who isn’t going to just let them leave, then her falling in love with a hot and caring older guy while on the run isn’t going to compare to the danger and stakes the ex poses should he find her. Similarly, if the character’s internal turmoil is big and time-consuming enough (e.g. dealing with the loss of a loved one, battling an addiction or a life-threatening condition, etc.) then the age gap naturally takes the backseat to the bigger source of drama and emotional focus.
Option 2: Address it, then Can it
You also have what I call the direct approach where you have your characters deal with all age gap-related preconceptions and drama right at the beginning of your book.
Maybe one of your characters has specific thoughts about what being in an AGR is like, and, if they are very externally validated, has strong feelings about how being in that relationship will impact people’s perception of them. Have the love interest put a stopper in those worries with assurances and plans to take into account the worries and fears of the other person.
But be careful—you don’t want a one step forward, seven steps back situation where the LI is always having to reassure the protagonist of the same things over and over again. Not only is the repetition frustrating, but it also begs the question, why is the relationship worth it?!
Example: Olivia Dade’s 40-Love
Option 3: Make the AGR the Main Source of Conflict
You can absolutely make the act of being in an age gap romance into a whole problem in its own right. AGRs aren’t considered mainstream—it’s super mileage may vary in what even counts as an age gap, let alone why people feel like being in such a relationship is considered “wrong,” “immoral,” or just plain “weird.”
Of course, the most glaring way to make the AGR the main source of conflict is to look at the protagonists’ social circle or environment; their friends, family members and (not so) close community members who feel like they have every right to comment on the characters’ personal life and relationship because at the end of the day “they just have their best interests at heart.”
Identify the whispers or “concerned comments” that act as a barrier to the romance, even when the relationship is so good when it’s just the two protagonists alone. What thoughts, potential regrets, and blame games are the concerned citizens putting into your main characters’ heads, making problems where there aren’t any until the characters realize that people’s good opinion of them is not worth giving up all the love and care they feel in that relationship? And does it end in ignoring the whispers or do the protagonists (or events) somehow manage to convince the Doubting Debbies that the relationship is so much more than the age gap.
Example: Mary Calmes’s Cherish Your Name
Option 4: Lean into the Taboo Angle
Let’s be honest, the age gap dynamic still hasn’t made it to a point where age gaps aren’t titillating news—it’s somewhat of a “sexually taboo” trope because of the power dynamics that can easily come into play. You can easily lean into this by including kinks like age play and daddy kink (among many others) in or outside the bedroom to appeal to an audience that craves the taboo and fantasy aspect of AGRs.
Inevitably, this means your book will be high heat and what initially brings your characters together is that instant undeniable sexual attraction that they need to explore; that curiosity that gets them to act because they might combust if they don’t, and that in its own right sells books.
Example: Katee Robert’s Your Dad Will Do
Option 5: Explore an Implied Facet of the Dynamic
Besides the obvious conflict of “oh, how will people react to our age gap romance” (i.e. external sources of conflict), you can also take a look at the other implications of how the age gap will impact the protagonists internally (e.g. feelings around abuse of power, guilt over duty of care, being a “pillar of the community” and having a self-image that no longer resonates because of the relationship).
Looking inside the relationship, really ask yourself what substantive generational, cultural, and societal beliefs, values, and behavior patterns might impact decision-making in the relationship.
Externally, you can take a look at the real-world ramifications and fallout that happens because of the relationship. And when you’re looking at external consequences, go beyond the initial shock reaction of “how could you” and “that’s gross” to the deeper level of looking at how the characters’ lives will be impacted once their AGR is known. This works particularly well if you’ve paired the age gap with another relationship or power dynamic-based trope such as guardian/ward, teacher/student, boss/employee, etc. There, the repercussions could include loss of trust within the family structure, job loss, or reputational hits like lack of respect.
Example: Carian Cole’s Torn
So there you have it, the five main ways you can handle an age difference in your age gap romance. Keep in mind these are just suggestions, and you can also use a blend of these techniques, focusing on one at the beginning of the book and then delving into another one towards the end of the book.
For example, Kulti by Mariana Zapata decenters the age difference for a large part of the book (choosing instead to develop the coach/player and idol/real person expectations and dynamics (and the friendship that comes out of all of that) before posing the AGR as a potential PR nightmare for the Pipers that then results in the real outcome of giving Cordero the excuse he needed to trade Sal to New York (i.e. the main conflict) at the end of the book.
It all just depends on the tropes you’re combining and the characters’ personalities and arcs (and word count of course).