Age gaps in relationships are nothing new, but they never fail to stir up conversation and sometimes even controversy. When news broke that 43-year-old Sarah Paulson was dating 75-year-old Holland Taylor, the public’s reaction to their relationship, while mostly positive, was substantial. Alternately, when 34-year-old Scott Disick started dating 19-year-old Sofia Richie, their relationship became instant tabloid fodder.

A 2017 study out of Emory University examined 3,000 participants and their relationships and found that couples who were far apart in age had a higher likelihood of divorcing. So, is it true, in the words of the late Aaliyah, “age ain’t nothing but a number?” When it comes to finding love, does it really matter? To get some answers, we asked matchmaker Michelle Frankel of NYCity Matchmaking.

Certainly, age is a factor when potential clients come seeking Frankel’s services. “Our clients come to us with certain criteria that they’re looking to see in a partner, and men, much more often than women, come to us to find younger women,” Frankel says. “Women, on the other hand, actually want to date their age or are willing to date up 7-10 years. Once in a while, you’ll get a woman who wants to date a couple years younger, but men almost always want to date significantly younger.” Frankel’s experiences certainly echo the findings of a Pew Research Center study from 2014 on remarriages, where 38 percent of men back on the market looked for spouses over six years younger, and only 11 percent of women reported remarrying younger spouses.

And while she does take her clients’ age requests into consideration, it ultimately comes second to that magic word in matchmaking: connection. “If I’m going to set someone up, I know the repercussions of me setting up a bad date, so I don’t set up people of an extreme age difference unless I think they’re really going to connect,” says Frankel.

According to Frankel, online dating might really put a damper on those connections. “If you meet someone at a party or at a bar, and you had no idea [their age], and you just had this instant crazy chemistry, you’re not going to write off the person once you find out their age. If there’s a connection, there’s a connection,” she tells us. “But with online dating and with apps, now people approach dating like commodity shopping. You put in your criteria, [including] age.”

But that’s where her offline services step in. “Sometimes making people not get in their own way by having these stringent search criteria is not such a bad thing,” Frankel shares. So, if strictly seeking or avoiding a specific age range isn’t conducive to finding a connection, what is? “I think one of the most important criteria [for matching] is how people want to live their life and how they envision it.”

“If someone truly loves to travel and really just wants to be a vagabond and not spend nights at home watching Netflix, being matched with someone who really doesn’t like traveling at all, it probably wouldn’t be a good match,” Frankel says. “If someone wants to have a family and the other person is really not inclined to at all, I’m not going to match those two people.”

Another important factor Frankel wouldn’t advise compromising on is values. “People who are very much into their faith and driven by their faith, and someone who isn’t very into that at all — that’s a much harder bridge to gap [than age],” she says. And lastly, her third gauge for pairing folks together is how they communicate and negotiate the ups and downs in life. “I think communication style is very, very important.”

And aside from age playing little role in connection, there’s one more surprising factor Frankel says she doesn’t take much into consideration when setting up her clients. “Unlike what most people search for online or through other means, I don’t think similar interests are as important as a lot of people make it out to be,” Frankel says. “I’ve been doing this close to eight years now, and the number one thing I’ve learned as I interview people and have consultations… is they want to date themselves. But dating yourself isn’t always the best… and having similar interests is not as vital as some people think it is.”

Do you have your own age gap story to share? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)