It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man over 30 must be in want of a ificantly younger woman. Just because we acknowledge this fact, though, does not mean we do so without a certain amount of derision and judgment.
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From the Instagram commenter who felt the need to remind Zach Braff that he is 44 after the actor dropped a cutesy emoji under a post from year-old girlfriend Florence Pugh to the collective eye-roll aimed at Leonardo DiCaprio every time the actor steps out with a new subyear-old girlfriend, the internet loves to hate an eyebrow-raising age gap. The problem with this narrative, as comedian and writer Anya Volz pointed out in a Twitter thread last weekend, is that it tends to paint men at the northern ends of these age gaps as inherently predatory, rendering the younger women on the opposite sides helplessly preyed-upon victims of male exploitation instead of conscious, self-determined agents who are more than capable of pursuing older men as willfully and actively as older men pursue them.
This is not to say that such dynamics are never predatory and older men should feel free to relentlessly pursue younger women because all young women are actively seeking such attention. The first rule of not being the worst is to stop assuming that literally anything is ever true of all women or, for that matter, all people of any gender, race, age, sexuality, etc. It is to say, however, as Volz expressed in her thread, that while these conversations ostensibly intend to protect young women, they have a tendency to instead strip such women of their autonomy, relegating all women in relationships with older men to a state of pd vulnerability.
Also complicating this already nuanced matter? The fact that while the internet loves to shade older men for dating younger women, it also enjoys mocking young men for … being young men. Meanwhile, both of these seemingly contradictory views appear to be thriving in overlapping circles of the internet. This idea that women are obviously drawn to older men over their useless something counterparts while the older men who date these women are creepy quasi-pedophiles preying upon a vulnerable population is what we might call a double standard.
To be quite clear, I am not here to rail on behalf of aspiring Leo Dicaprios against the great injustice that is men having to face a tiny bit of criticism for reaping the rewards of a societal dynamic that routinely puts them in bed with young, beautiful women. I am here, however, to suggest that liking and pursuing younger women as an older man is not inherently predatory or exploitative. There is a certain power dynamic involved, to be sure, but it is one that consenting young women are equally capable of leveraging to our own advantage. In an ideal world, would we all select our lifelong mates based on some kind of ethereal attraction between core selfhood entirely divorced from any physical qualities or other earthly trappings?
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For many of us, that somewhere is age. Age tends to factor heavily into our romantic decisions because it is often a useful indicator of where a person may be in their career, how they might feel about future family planning, their taste in music, etc. Many people choose to date people close in age because they assume that means they will have more in common. Other people may prefer to seek partners in other age ranges for various other reasons, or perhaps even for no real reason beyond the often uncontrollable forces of personal preference.
That, as they say, is why they make chocolate and vanilla. That said, there are currently many valid, important conversations taking place about when a harmless matter of sexual preference becomes a more problematic one of fetishization. I think it is absolutely possible to fetishize younger women.
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I think it is also possible to genuinely and respectfully appreciate a younger woman without exploiting or fetishizing her youth. I enjoy dating older men because I tend to have better conversations and experience deeper emotional and mental compatibility with them than with men my own age.
I also enjoy dating older men because they tend to have better jobs, better apartments with fewer roommates and better taste in cocktail bars. Is this opportunistic?
Is it inherently wrong or bad? What I do know is I have experienced profound romantic connections with year-olds, the best sex of my life with year-olds and lasting friendship with benefits with year-olds. I have also experienced bad dates, bad sex and life-changing heartbreak with men in the same age range, all without feeling exploited, preyed-upon or fetishized. With that, then, I offer older men interested in dating younger women the following non-expert, unofficial tips on how to do it without being the worst.
Again, I cannot claim to be the moral authority on the right and wrong reasons to like someone.
I think it is okay and, yes, possible to simply prefer younger women the way some people prefer strawberry ice cream and not have it be any more complicated than that. I also think perhaps more controversially it is okay to prefer younger women because you find them more physically attractive or more charming or more engaging or better in bed.
These things rarely exist entirely independently of each other. Often the things we are drawn to in our sexual and romantic partners overlap with other qualities we like. This is just how attraction works. If you think this, you are the worst.
If you think this and act on it, you are a predator. Plain and simple. When I was 21, I fell in love with a year-old I had been dating for a few months. When I decided to tell him, I was prepared for rejection. I was not prepared for him to try to talk me out of it on the grounds that I was too young to know what love was. It is understandably uncomfortable when someone you like and respect develops romantic feelings you cannot reciprocate.
It is not okay to try to talk someone out of those feelings by arguing that they are too young to be able to properly identify them. Months earlier, I remember strolling out of a West Village bar hand-in-hand with that same man on our first date, telling him that I date year-olds because someday when I am 37 and my year-old husband wants to date year-olds, I want to at least know that I made the most of what I had when I had it.
Young women dating older men are aware of the power dynamics at play.
Both younger women and older men, I think, are complicit in perpetuating this dynamic. This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter.
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