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Meredith Holt, Published September 25 2013

Is age really just a number? For four local couples with significant age differences, it is

FARGO - When Sedi Halvorson told his dad his girlfriend’s age in a phone conversation, there was a pause on the other end of the line.

Then a question. “And how old are you again?”

Sedi’s 32, and his girlfriend, Jill Gates, is 45.

Though she’s 13 years his senior, neither the Fargo couple nor their friends notice the age difference much.

Jill says it comes down to attitude and maturity.

“I have a friend who said, ‘You don’t seem like you are 45, and he seems older than 32,’ ” she says.

Arlin Myrmoe, 61, of Aberdeen, S.D., and his wife have an even bigger age gap – 22 years.

His wife, Karine Pogosyan-Myrmoe, 39, says they’re a good match based on their personalities, values and beliefs.

“Others may think, ‘Wow, it’s such a huge age difference,’ but I don’t feel it, and neither does he,” says the former Fargo woman.

So is age really just a number?

For four local couples, including these two, it is.

Their age gaps, ranging from eight to 22 years, create some interesting conversations and a little teasing, but they say the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Making comparisons

“Star Wars” fan Seth Holden remembers seeing “Return of the Jedi” in the theater. His wife, Nicole, wasn’t born yet when it was released.

When the 35-year-old Fargo musician started going to bars downtown, his 27-year-old partner was just getting her driver’s permit.

But aside from the “Hey, isn’t that funny?” comparisons, Nicole says their roles are reversed.

When they started dating, she was the one with an 8-to-5 job and he worked many nights and weekends.

“That kept me more of the ‘responsible one’ in the relationship,” she says.

Over the years, Nicole and Seth have learned to balance each other out.

“He likes to be the free-spirited, kid-at-heart one who can make a life-changing decision in two minutes. I’m not like that at all,” she says.

Of the Aberdeen couple, Karine’s more adventurous and Arlin more reserved.

The two love to travel, and when they do, she’s more likely to want to go sky-diving or fly to Barcelona without a hotel reservation, though she says that may be due to their different heritages (Armenian and Norwegian), not age.

“I told him, ‘Even if you turn 100, you’ll never feel 100 because of the energy you live with,’ ” Karine says.

Rachel Blumhardt, a counselor with The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, says no matter the age difference, shared interests and values can make or break a relationship.

“You have to look at a good match when it comes to life experiences and personal outlooks and goals,” she says. “Having that common ground is kind of what helps people stick together, and I would say that’s universal.”

When that’s there, the age issue fades, Blumhardt says.

Relating to family

Blumhardt does say a big age gap can become a problem when it comes to issues like kids, career and retirement, so those things should be discussed early on in the relationship.

Nicole says she and Seth have had plenty of talks about their future and having children.

He’s more ready to start a family than she is.

“He has given that topic a shelf life. He doesn’t want them past the age of 44 because he wants to be able to retire in a kid-free home. That means I still have nine years,” Nicole says.

For 30-year-old Alicia Thu, dating an older man means dating one with more experience, insight and understanding, especially when it comes to parenting.

“He gets it – that kids come first and you can’t always have a lot of one-on-one time,” the Jamestown, N.D., woman says of her 42-year-old boyfriend, Gary Moser.

When she has an issue with one of her three young kids, Gary can offer tips and advice from his experience raising his teenage son and daughter.

“He’s gone through these things already, and he gets to offer me those little bits and pieces in between,” she says.

Jill and Sedi point out advantages with their families, too.

Because she’s older, Jill can more easily relate to Sedi’s parents, and because he’s younger, Sedi can more easily relate to Jill’s 14-year-old son.

“They joke about what they will do with the house one day to make it a ‘man’s pad’ while I am in ‘the home,’ ” she says. “They promise they will visit once a week.”

Blumhardt agrees that an age difference can be helpful to healthy co-parenting.

But, “regardless of age, try to act as equals. You don’t want to fall into a relationship where the older partner acts kind of like a parent to the younger partner,” she says.

Laughing it off

Each of the couples meets the “half your age plus seven” rule, in which the youngest partner’s age is socially acceptable when it’s half the older partner‘s age plus seven years.

However, just because they pass a formula somebody came up with doesn’t mean their friends and family didn’t have concerns at first.

Nicole’s aunt thought Seth was much older than he was when she first met him, mainly because of his salt-and-pepper hair.

When she asked, “He said 31, and my aunt leans over to my mom, in what she thought was a whisper, and says, ‘I thought he was 40!’ ” Nicole says.

Although Sedi’s parents were a little shocked to learn that his girlfriend is 13 years older than he is, it’s no longer an issue.

“Once they met her a few times and got to know her, they could care less. They think she is perfect for me, regardless of age,” he says.

Jill didn’t tell her parents right away because she wanted them to meet him before they passed judgment.

When she gave her brothers a heads-up by calling herself a cougar, her youngest brother, who’s 38, responded with, “Cougars are in.”

Blumhardt says the best way to handle assumptions and judgment about a May-December (or December-May) relationship is to deflect the issue and not make it a focus.

Arlin and Karine occasionally get stares, questions or rude comments, but they take it in stride.

“People assume he must be rich; I just say, ‘Hey, go with it,’ and we laugh it off,” Karine says.

Jill and Sedi handle joking and teasing the same way. They’re open about their age gap, so it quickly becomes a non-issue.

However, the importance of an age gap in a relationship seems to be relative to the age groups represented.

“It’s different when you’re a teenager or even in your early 20s,” Alicia says. “Even being 22, I’d look at a 30-year-old and be like, ‘Geez, you’re old,’ but I think now that I’ve gotten to that point, it doesn’t matter. ”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590