The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Mind the Gap

Students and faculty at the school discuss the perceptions and realities of dating within the same grade in comparison to a different grade.
Illustration by Lucia Plata
A senior, about to graduate, and his younger girlfriend share a milkshake.

Maddy Pimstone ’25 had looked forward to her plans all week. Pimstone was seeing a guy in the grade above despite their hour and a half commute. Without a driver’s license, Pimstone had to ask her parents to drive the long distance to see him, limiting how often they could see each other. Pimstone said not being able to see each other frequently was difficult.

“I couldn’t drive to see him, so he had to always drive to me,” Pimstone said. “The first time we broke up was over not being able to hang out enough because he was so far away. Having my parents drop me off so far away to see him was ridiculous. It’s definitely a lot harder [than dating somebody in school]. You don’t really see them everyday like when you see someone in school.”

Although Pimstone dated someone one year older than her, she said she would generally rather date someone in her own grade.

“I would not date someone more than a year younger than me and someone more than two years older than me,” Pimstone said. “Generally, my preference is to date someone the same age as me, but obviously there are certain things you can’t control.”

TV shows, especially those most popular with teenagers and young adults, often include an idealized version of dating with large age gaps, according to an article in CBR. In “Gossip Girl,” many of the high school girl main characters continuously date older men. This appears as a “scandalous” and idealized lifestyle, normalizing these kinds of relationship to young viewers.

Vanessa*, a student at the school, said people were surprised when she first started to date her boyfriend who was in the grade above.

“We were friends before anything more,” Vanessa said. “A lot of people were shocked to see that we were even friends when we started [dating]. People saw us sitting together and stuff like that. I don’t think there was judgment in a negative way, it was more of a surprise that we knew each other so well.”

Although Vanessa and her boyfriend spent a lot of time together, she said she would sometimes feel the age difference.

“During the school year, I could definitely [feel it] because our schedules were so different,” Vanessa said. “We were going through different parts of our lives. On the weekends, when we were just with each other, it felt like there was no age gap, but when we were in school, I visually saw him with a different grade, and it made [the age gap] more apparent.”

Vanessa said that because they were in different grades, she found it difficult to merge their social lives.

“I think at first it was hard to get to know his friends because they had all already known each other for so long and had been in the same grade for so long,” Vanessa said. “But they were all super kind and welcoming and just happy for us. Later on in the relationship when I was with his friends, I felt like it was normal because I became friends with them pretty quickly. Because he didn’t really spend that much time with my friends, it still felt slightly awkward. I think a lot of my friends were intimidated by him and the age difference and that’s why he was not as close with my friends as I was with his friends.”

Morgan Beckerman ’24, who is dating a junior from another high school, said he does not notice the age difference between him and his girlfriend.

“On our first date, I didn’t know that she was a junior,” Beckerman said. “Then I found out, obviously. I couldn’t tell that she was a junior while we were on the date so I think that was a good sign. If she was a sophomore, that’d be a different story.”

Even though Beckerman is dating a junior, he said he is opposed to larger age differences.

“I think seniors and juniors [dating] is fine but senior to sophomore or junior to freshmen is not good,” Beckerman said. “I think with senior to junior, the maturity levels are comparable, but anything more than that would be immoral in my opinion.”

Unlike Beckerman, Charlotte Appel ’25 is dating someone in her own grade. Appel said she thinks dating someone in another grade would be harder.

“There are completely different friend groups and different levels of maturity,” Appel said. “It is easy for me to be dating someone in the same grade as me because we are in the same [social] circle so we get to see each other a lot. I feel like if we were in different grades, we would not see each other.”

Appel said that there are both positives and negatives that come with dating someone in the same grade.

“A positive is that we are in a lot of the same classes so we get to work a lot together and spend more time together,” Appel said. “A negative is when we argue, it is kind of difficult because we are together a lot.”

Eliana Schaffer ’25 said that dating between grades can be difficult in high school because of the grade dynamics.

“From what I have seen from friends who are either intending on or beginning to date someone in a different grade as them, a lot of the time as a lowerclassmen, it is kind of a social signifier and social status symbol if you’re able to achieve a relationship with someone older than you,” Schaffer said. “I think that for the upperclassmen, that’s definitely not the case so it is kind of transactional in that way. Because [upperclassmen] know that it’s a big deal for lowerclassmen [to date someone older], upperclassmen can take advantage of that. It might be funny to them and their friends. I have heard a lot of people talk about words like ‘cougar,’ using that jokingly. I definitely think when I was an underclassmen, I looked at relationships with age gaps as more foreign but also a more appealing concept. Whereas as an upperclassman, I look at students who actively search for relationships with underclassmen as weird.”

Schaffer said that society’s perceptions on dating age gaps have definitely changed throughout the years.

“In the 2000s and 2010s, I think dating between larger age gaps was actually more normalized,” Schaffer said. “There have been a lot more conversations going around about age gaps and power imbalances, especially with the rise of social media. I have friends who have had pretty significant age gap relationships, and I know those relationships, even out of school, were more taxing especially when their older partner would go off to college. Generally, there’s a lot of complications that come with dating someone older or younger [than you]. The power dynamics are also definitely on display a lot of the time in situations like this. Dating gets a lot more complicated as people get older. Two years can be a huge difference if you’re 15 and someone else is turning 18.”

Counselor Michelle Bracken said there are many different factors that can play into inter-grade relationships.

“I do know that [dating between grade levels] is definitely not recent and seniors have been dating sophomores for a long time,” Bracken said. “Some students are very mature and gravitate towards older people naturally. I do think that the two or more year difference does create a power dynamic with the older student having more ‘experience’ with dating and this could be used against a younger partner. The younger student may feel obligated to do things they are not necessarily ready to do when they have an older partner in high school. The two to three year age difference does level off in college, not just because students have reached the age of 18, but because the brain has developed more and everyone catches up.”

Certified in educational therapy, Bracken is experienced in the mental health field. Bracken helps students combat issues they may be dealing with. Bracken said she thinks dating could possibly improve someone’s mental health, but there are problems that can accompany relationships.

“Knowing that you have a person you can trust and talk to is a huge benefit for emotional stability and having feelings validated,” Bracken said. “I think that dating in high school could also have a negative effect on a student’s mental health if someone is in an unhealthy relationship or feels pressure from their partner. Breakups can be hard too because when you really like someone and you trust them and tell them things and it doesn’t work out, that can feel devastating for a while.

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