When Age Isn’t Just a Number: Younger Women, Older Men

hayden-panettiere-boyfriend-wladimir-klitschko

Actress Hayden Panettiere (21) and Ex-Boyfriend Wladimir Klitschko (35)

Love comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, and numbers. At least we’d like to believe so. In the real world, love tends to be restricted by personal and social beliefs.  Some of these social norms have been around for ages, like that which considers large age differences between intimate partners to be taboo.

Despite the general lack of acceptance of large age gaps between partners, the idea of younger women forming intimate relationships with older men is not considered to be as taboo as the reverse. In fact, in the vast majority of heterosexual relationships where one partner is considerably senior to the other, the older partner is the man.

However, most sources show that relationships composed of younger women and older men are inherently unequal and ultimately more harmful than helpful for the women who partake in them. Because the partners, consciously or unconsciously, often have motives besides pure love, the relationships don’t improve, but detract from women’s self-worth and well-being.

Other Motives

While in relationships with older men, much younger women tend to see their relationships as happy and rewarding. They say they feel more mature than their age or that men their age are too immature and have little to offer them. Researchers say that this notion that these women have of themselves as different and, perhaps better than their age mates, is usually given support by her older partner who will praise her as special and extraordinary.

Other times, women are simply looking for a father figure as women who partake in research involving these relationships readily admit. A woman from an abusive or poverty-stricken home may be looking for stable grounding in an older and more established man.

Motivations aren’t so helpful on the men’s side either. Some older men who find women their own age to be too demanding or jaded seek refuge with younger women. They believe that younger women will admire them and truly love them, instead of expecting so much. In other, more notorious cases, older men see younger women as naïve and exploit the women’s lack of knowledge and experience to their own gain.

The Results

In sharp contrast to their testimonials while in these relationships, women who were involved with older men as young adults tend to regret these relationships later in life.

These women feel that they were manipulated or somehow taken advantage of, and feel that these relationships negatively affected their sense of self-worth and ability to trust. Regardless of whether their relationship was unhealthy in more obvious ways, women tend to feel like they were somehow victimized.

It goes without saying that every relationship involving an older male and younger female is not unhealthy and devoid of true love. But given the mounting evidence, perhaps the idea of younger women dating older men should be looked at with a more critical eye?

See also:

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26 thoughts on “When Age Isn’t Just a Number: Younger Women, Older Men

  1. I was always hostile to the idea of dating an older man for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. I was probably downright rude to most of the older men who expressed interest in me, telling them they were old enough to be my father and asking them if they had any sons MY age that I could meet. 🙂

    They usually felt bad after that.

    While I recognize that there are thousands of years of historical precedent for older man-younger woman relationships, most of the older men who approached me just seemed rather creepy. Plus, when I turned them down politely, they couldn’t usually accept no for an answer… telling me that young men couldn’t handle such an accomplished woman like myself (ha ha, false flattery), or if younger men were so great, why was I still single? (ooh, I’m so hurt…)

    My rule as to who was an “older” man — when I was 25 and under, it was a man 10 years older than me. Then, it morphed into “old enough to be my father” (I decided that was 16+ years).

    Now… I did end up giving one older guy a chance. He was rich though. Was CEO of a company, owned multiple homes in multiple states, etc. I figured it would be nice to be wined and dined for a short period of time. 🙂 He was 16 years older and looked great for his age. He was a former college athlete who actually had brains and pursued business once he finished school.

    Maybe my issue too was that the “rule” for dating an older man SHOULD be that he can give the woman more than what a man her own age could provide. All but the CEO guy failed that test. Most had baby mamas and multiple kids (no instant stepmotherhood for me!), were making just as much as I was (if not less) in my entry-level job at age 25, many were out-of-shape and had mental and emotional baggage… so really, what was the benefit of dating them again???

    I do somewhat understand the desire for maturity though. You just don’t have to go ancient to find that. My husband is six years older, and I think we’re a good fit in many ways. When I met him, I was willing to date up to 10 years older, so I was actually thrilled that our age gap was just six years and that we were actually born in the same decade!

    (Although his buddies and random folks think he married some young 20-something when they look at me… hee hee)

  2. When I was 24 I dated a man who was 40. I remember feeling that younger men were all about the physical and that I never made the grade, so I was not opposed to an older man. I was an inexperienced kid, and that finally got on his nerves and he broke up with me. I was sad at the time, but it was definitely for the best. I have no regrets.

  3. @ Bunny77, I’m hostile too, but only because the opposite is still frowned upon by both men and women. I probably should leave a LOL after that sentence, but am serious, you lot!.

    I couldn’t let this slide though: “….They say they feel more mature than their age or that men their age are too immature”.
    I call BULLSHITE!. I think younger women, ie from ages 18-30 POSTULATE maturity. By this I mean, they’ve started being aware of their sexuality, their sexual prowess and generally older men prey on their vulnerability, which shows how immature these women are actually that they fall for this.
    Besides the fact from my experience dating younger men, they’re rather engaging, go out of their way to organise a fun date evening, mind their manners, enjoy that I’m, albeit a potty mouth, a potty mouth LADY!. They don’t feel scared to open doors, pay the bill, suggest foods/drinks to try, show their possessiveness, to discuss world matters that don’t include makeup/clothes, admit they feel less judged BECAUSE I’m secure with myself.
    Personally I think this post should be about older women/younger men. Younger females/older men are just not ready to admit with honesty why they seek out each other!.

  4. ….and if Frau Panettiere is 21yrs, then I’m bloody 16yrs!. Mean, but has to be said!.

  5. Bunny,

    “My rule as to who was an “older” man — when I was 25 and under, it was a man 10 years older than me. Then, it morphed into “old enough to be my father” (I decided that was 16+ years).”

    Did you date any guys 10+ years older than you when you were younger than 25? And 16+ years? That’s a lot.

    You’re right about some older guys having a sense of entitlement simply for being older, yet not having much else.

    That CEO guy doesn’t sound so bad! 🙂

    “My husband is six years older, and I think we’re a good fit in many ways.”

    Your husband looks about that much older than you; you definitely don’t look the “same” age.

    He also reminds me of a history professor I had in college. He’s from the Midwest too… they might be related! 😉

  6. Sherry,

    When I was 24 I dated a man who was 40.”

    Wow. Not at the age difference but the fact that a 24 year old would be interested in someone that is closer to their parents’ generation.

    “I was an inexperienced kid”

    And he was a jaded senior citizen?

    Just kidding. 🙂

    But you shouldn’t take the sole blame for the break-up. He knew what he was getting into when he got involved with a 24 year old.

    foosrock,

    “I think younger women, ie from ages 18-30 POSTULATE maturity. By this I mean, they’ve started being aware of their sexuality, their sexual prowess and generally older men prey on their vulnerability”

    I guess a 30 year old is considered younger if she dates a guy older than her, but I’d consider a 30 year old a full, mature adult. In theory, at least.

    “from my experience dating younger men, they’re rather engaging…mind their manners…They don’t feel scared to open doors, pay the bill, suggest foods/drinks to try, show their possessiveness, to discuss world matters that don’t include makeup/clothes”

    What kind of younger guys are you meeting? I would think older men would be more likely to do all of those things. 🙂

    “Personally I think this post should be about older women/younger men. Younger females/older men are just not ready to admit with honesty why they seek out each other!”

    Ha, I wrote on younger men and older women already — you missed it! It’s listed under See also. It’s probably a little more positive than this one.

    “if Frau Panettiere is 21yrs, then I’m bloody 16yrs!. Mean, but has to be said!”

    Lol, she’ll be 22 next month. And she’s been acting since she was a child so if she’s lying about her age, she’s done well at keeping it up!

  7. Did you date any guys 10+ years older than you when you were younger than 25? And 16+ years? That’s a lot.

    You’re right about some older guys having a sense of entitlement simply for being older, yet not having much else.

    Actually, the only 10+ year guy I ever dated was the CEO, and he was 18 years older! The other guys I mentioned never got past the asking part (okay, I let one 37-year-old take me to lunch when I was 22), because I really was not interested at all and was rather annoyed that they were asking me. I realize that all men will try to go after the best catch they can get, but the sense of entitlement just killed me. Like I, at age 22, really wanted some 37-year-old with three kids (one born when he was 15) who looked like the old playa in the club but with a beer belly. Please!

    That CEO guy doesn’t sound so bad! 🙂
    He could have had quite a bit of potential, but his personal life was a hot stinky mess! I won’t give too many details because, hey, someone might know him and he’s a moderately big deal in some Midwestern circles… but I should have known something was up when he was actually bothered that I was 29 years old at the time. He said he went for 25 and younger because they usually weren’t looking to be married and he could just have fun, while someone older than that probably wanted something more serious and he didn’t want to be “that guy” that messed around with a marriage-ready woman.

    (He had this weird internal conflict from growing up in a very religious household, yet wanting to be a playa playa. And there was the sorta kinda ex-wife… trust me, this story is so complicated, you don’t wanna know!)

    Your husband looks about that much older than you; you definitely don’t look the “same” age.

    Yeah, it’s interesting to hear how other folks see us. We went on a trip last weekend and the lady at the hotel (it was a bed and breakfast) would talk about someone she knew who was “his age” and then someone she knew who was “my age.” I honestly wonder what age ranges she had in mind…

    I have to ask him and see if there are other professors in his family. He has an older brother, but he’s not a prof! He has a big family though, so you never know!

  8. Miss Alee,
    You got me T-H-I-N-K-I-N-G with this post. It occurs to me now that perhaps I had a role in what was not happening between my younger self and men my age. I had decided to only focus on intellect and social skills, and perhaps if I had also spent some time cultivating my “Personal Glamour” (book I just ordered from Amazon) I would have gotten more attention ….

    I have no problem taking responsibility for our breakup – I was a silly kid, and I’m sure it got on his nerves! At least when it came to relationships (having some embarrassing flashbacks). One thing I did well, and that my ex thanked me for later, is maintain my sense of independence. Typically he tried to make a woman he dated dependent (figuring she be easy to keep), but then became resentful of the responsibility which eventually would destroy the relationship. I did not have a car at the time, but I had no problems getting my black ass on a bus, so he never felt the burden of the responsibility, but the closeness he craved.

  9. Bunny,

    “… the sense of entitlement just killed me. Like I, at age 22, really wanted some 37-year-old with three kids (one born when he was 15) who looked like the old playa in the club but with a beer belly.”

    Lol. Three kids and a beer gut? He needs to play with women his own age. 🙂

    He said he went for 25 and younger because they usually weren’t looking to be married and he could just have fun”

    Oh, umm… never mind then. I’ll just leave it at that.

    “And there was the sorta kinda ex-wife… trust me, this story is so complicated, you don’t wanna know!”

    I’m sure I don’t! It just keeps getting worse as you go along.

    Sherry,

    “I have no problem taking responsibility for our breakup – I was a silly kid, and I’m sure it got on his nerves!”

    And I’m sure the fact that with a couple more years he could have been your father, got on your nerves!

    You sound like you were a great girlfriend and he sounds like he was an “eh” boyfriend.

  10. Alee, I will say that the relationship with Mr. CEO turned out to be a turning point in my life for a few reasons… so for that, I’m glad, although I shouldn’t have had to deal with foolishness (even for a short period) to figure these things out!

    They were.
    1. I didn’t need to spend time waiting for a seemingly well-intentioned guy to get his act together. I always kept thinking that it was just so unfortunate that I met men at the wrong times in their lives and if I just waited them out, it might be worth it. After that, I said that if a man wasn’t ready for something serious from the start, I wasn’t wasting ANY time and I would be moving on. (My mom thought I was way too hasty… until she saw how my future husband moved VERY quickly and realized that CEO guy was just a jerk and not “troubled.”)

    2. I finally admitted to myself that I WAS one of “those women” who wanted to be married. CEO said that he didn’t want to assume that just because I was 29, I was chomping at the bit to marry. And while I wasn’t panicking or anything, his statement did make me think a lot more seriously about WHY I was dating and WHAT I was looking for (and how he was NOT it… so he was right).

    3. He strongly believed that a woman should be looking for a man who had accomplished something in his life and was NOT still riding on potential. He would speak of his sisters and how they married professional men and how he waited to marry until he got basketball out of his system (he briefly played overseas). He said no woman should have wanted him before he had something to his name (a degree, a decent job, etc.) and that I shouldn’t settle for that. Although I dropped him, I took his advice in that sense and was much harder on men who were in their 30s and still finding themselves.

    So I guess there was some benefit. Shrug. Otherwise, I only got about three expensive dinners and a plane-change fee of a few hundred bucks out of the whole four-month deal… and failed promises to go on a trip to London! 😉

  11. I try not to see these relationships as bad (because I know that there are many loving ones, and I also hate when people are judgmental and don’t mind their own business, so I don’t want to be one of those people), but I never understood this sort of unions.

    I guess they’re just not for me.

    I used to like younger guys, even when I was 17-18 (and girls rarely like younger men at that age). I couldn’t even imagine to be with an older guy, and by older, I mean anything 5 years or more. I don’t know why. I guess I was simply never attracted to older guys.

    I grew up without my father, and they say girls in my situation often seek older men. Not me! It always felt wrong and bad for me to even think of being with someone who could be my father’s age. I just can’t explain it.

    So I don’t know about other people’s motives, but it’s sure not something for me. Then again, I don’t really buy the whole “insecurity” thing. There are older men who seek younger women because of it, but I am not sure if it’s simple as that. Older men/younger women couples are a historical fact. It was a normal thing for a guy in his 30 to marry a 15 year old girl, for example. So I guess some of that dynamics stayed with us.

    Which makes us think about the dynamics in the first place.

  12. Bunny,

    So it wasn’t all in vain!

    I agree on not waiting to near infinity for an older guy to get his “life together”. Many a woman’s life is wasted thinking a guy just needs more time.

    Mira,

    “I try not to see these relationships as bad”

    They’re not necessarily bad, but sometimes they don’t end up being as innocent as the people involved think they are.

    “Then again, I don’t really buy the whole “insecurity” thing. There are older men who seek younger women because of it, but I am not sure if it’s simple as that. Older men/younger women couples are a historical fact.”

    Yes, it has been practiced for ages. A lot of that has to do with patriarchy, but even so there would have to be a reason why younger women were preferred in patriarchal societies.

  13. I’ve always been attracted to older people. I was the oldest and only child (or grandchild) for seven years, so I was always the little kid with a room full of adults!

    In romantic relationships, though, a huge age gap *really* scares me, eh, maybe more of intimidate. When I was about 22/23, this older wm pursued me relentlessly for a week at a local starbucks. He didn’t follow me around or stalk me, but he would comment on my hair, say how beautiful I was, and ask if could get to know me. Me, in my naivete thought this was some freak of nature, but as he drove off in his silver Mercedes headed towards the financial district in San Francisco, wondered why didn’t I take a chance? Shamefully, I thought about the possible material benefits, but I didn’t want to be considered some fetish fantasy. Which is lame because I’ve *always* been attracted to white men…especially older white men! HA

    Age-gapism also happens in homosexual relationships.

    I met a woman who for all intent and purposes looked maybe early 40s, but I quickly found out she was 51…and I was 24. A 27 year age difference. In hindsight, I really cannot advocate for a gap this large to anyone, at all. I was intrigued though and pursued a too-long relationship. When I think back over the relationship, a lot of the issues that we had stemmed from her trust and insecurities (carried over from previous relps) and we were just plain incompatible. Our lifestyles, our upbringings, our values were just different and there really was no way it would work. And sadly, in her 50s, she was still trying to find herself.

  14. Hi Jacquie, welcome. 🙂

    “When I was about 22/23, this older wm pursued me relentlessly for a week at a local starbucks…I didn’t want to be considered some fetish fantasy. “

    If you were a little interested, you should have got to know him better; even by just interacting with him at the Starbucks. If he turned out to be perverted or otherwise useless, then you could have easily moved on. That way you wouldn’t have to wonder about it later.

    But why would you assume you would be a fetish? Maybe he just liked you? Perhaps it’s only me, but I find the people at places like coffee shops and book stores to be a little more “well-adapted” than most. 🙂

    “Age-gapism also happens in homosexual relationships.”

    It does, but there isn’t as much known about these. I wonder what some of the motives behind them would be — similar to that of heterosexual relationships? Possibly.

  15. Hi Alee-

    Yes, I should have given him a chance.

    As far as being the fetish, even though I’ve always had an attraction for white men, during this time I was coming out of my “black think/power to the people” vortex. So even though interest was there, using the fetish excuse was a scapegoat. 🙂

  16. Jacquie,

    “during this time I was coming out of my “black think/power to the people” vortex”

    Oh, I see. Makes complete sense. 😉

  17. I think when women date men much older than them, that it actually ages them in a way. I have seen it happen a few times, where younger woman dates or marries a much older man and her whole youthful energy goes out the window. I’m not for it, I say 6 yrs older max 🙂

  18. I wouldn’t mind dating someone older—but a few years older, probably no more than five at that. I tend to be suspicious of men who pursue women who are many years younger than they are. I feel that older men who pursue younger women are looking for someone malleable who they can control. I am definitely not one who wants to be controlled.

  19. Standard social norm has traditional been half the older person’s age plus seven = lowest “acceptable” age of a potential romantic partner. This formula feels “right” to many people. That’s why somebody above mentioned that when she was 25, a ten year gap was her upper limit. The 1/2 older age plus seven rule really has stood the test of time.

  20. Nikisha,

    You might have a point about the relationships aging the younger women involved. In all relationships there seems to be this balancing act where partners meet at a certain point (or not, in the case of a quickly failed relationship). So the younger women may lean towards an older mindset after some time.

    changingmoods,

    I think my range is about 5/6 years as well. I’m a little suspicious too if a guy goes only or mainly for women significantly younger.

  21. Rob,

    Is that so?

    Well, I don’t see myself with a person 10 years older. Once it starts getting into the double digits, it starts becoming more apparent that there is an age difference. I routinely date guys 2 or 3 years older and that works.

  22. Nikisha and Alee, you are very right about such relationships “aging” younger women. While I know there are “older” men who have never married and have no kids, all of my “older” men encounters involved men who were divorced (some with kids, some without) or never-married men with kids.

    In my early/mid-20s, I really had NO business knowing so much about child support or divorce law and shouldn’t have been the listening ear for a man who needed to vent about a crazy ex or not seeing his kids or his business falling apart. I was too dang young for alla that, and like many women, I tried to be supportive and bring light and happy moment to his life… Until I finally woke up and asked myself what the heck was I doing!!! I didn’t need to be bothered with some old dude’s problems!

    But, being younger, you don’t have the experience to know that you’re unnecessarily in over your head. And the men aren’t going to be altrustic in such cases and say, “Yeah, that girl is really cute, but it’s not fair for me to burden such a young woman with my problems.” Ha ha ha, the first time that happens…

    Thus, I continue my ongoing crusade to tell young women to leave these types of dudes alone. Find someone with a fresh and optimistic look at life and don’t let some older man age you by burdening you with HIS problems. If you ever have to deal with divorce or child support or other struggles (hopefully not), let it be your own situation… Don’t willingly take on a random older man’s issues when you have TONS of other and better options!!!

  23. Alee, half older age plus seven is simply “societal norm” … obviously your particular mileage varies in this case regarding what you feel appropriate for you personally.. If you happen to be 28, this means you could date up to a guy in his early forties before anybody’s eyebrows would be raised.

  24. Bunny,

    “In my early/mid-20s, I really had NO business knowing so much about child support or divorce law”

    No kidding!… You still don’t. 🙂

    “Find someone with a fresh and optimistic look at life and don’t let some older man age you by burdening you with HIS problems.”

    Well, you don’t have to tell me twice.

    Rob,

    “obviously your particular mileage varies in this case”

    I know. 🙂

    “If you happen to be 28, this means you could date up to a guy in his early forties before anybody’s eyebrows would be raised.”

    Hmmm…

  25. Date an older man? And by older I mean more than 5 years.
    In the words of Cher Horowitz: “As if”.

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