I was reading a short article about Madonna and her penchant for younger men yesterday in which she cites the reason she chooses such men to be about her desire to remain adventurous and not to be tied down to someone who is set in their ways.
It got me thinking about how we view those who date people much younger than themselves, most notably men who are assumed to be dating younger women solely in terms of their youthful appearance, with all the social esteem amongst other men that goes with it. Indeed, there have been plenty of discussions in the media of late regarding how divorced women in their 50’s upwards are finding it difficult to meet men who want to date them, because their ‘selfish and shallow’ male counterparts are all off dating younger women. It is argued that the pool has been greatly reduced since online dating has enabled such men to have easier access to younger women. The feminist press have a tendency to simplify this I find, to such men using their patriarchal privilege to throw off older “used up” women in preference for younger flesh. Rarely do you hear from men or indeed, the younger women (who are equally assumed to be going for a Sugar Daddy, or that female celebrities who date younger men to be going for the flesh appeal), that there may be other motivations for their dating choices.
But maybe men are dating younger women for similar reasons that Madonna is dating younger men, that they wish to be free from all of the emotional strain that goes with dating someone who is the same age as them? Maybe this is also linked to a feeling of not being able to match up to the expectations of a woman who has lots of dating experience, whereas younger women are seen as easier to provide for when they are mainly seen as wanting financial security, something easy to work out (either you have it or you don’t)? Again, as I have found in my research we ignore the role of female power in men’s decision making and the role of men wanting to separate themselves from the bad man stereotype, when women’s attitudes to dating men are shaped by bad experiences with other men previously, something that is bolstered by a “all men are bastards” culture.
Why do we always see such relationships to be based on sex appeal of the young partner for the older partner? Incidentally, we rarely hear from the younger partner, especially younger men who like older women, this even though there is well-established market for such “Milf” titles in the pornography market, so they clearly exist at least in potential. Also, why do we always assume relationships between people of vastly differing ages to be doomed to failure? I can remember the local scandal as a young teenager when a married circuit racer in his forties ran off with a 16-year-old girl. Gossip was rife. Here was a racer who dated a pretty young thing, just for her looks, you assumed it was only a matter of time before he eschewed her for another younger model; “the poor girl/the fool!”, and “what a bastard!”
I walked past their house every day on the way home from school and sometimes one or both of them would be outside in their front garden (which was filled every inch by his rather dilapidated racing car). I looked for evidence of unhappiness or frustration in either of them but actually never saw any, they just looked like a normal couple. I noted that they were together at least for 6 or so years up until they moved elsewhere, which was much longer than anyone had imagined they would be. The same can be argued for Woody Allen and his younger partner, they are still together a couple of decades later, something no one imagined at the time of the scandal, so were we at all right?
Men have a lot of insecurities about dating women these days. They are being made to be self-reflective about what they offer far beyond the simple ability to be a provider for a family as was historically the case. They also have a lot of hang-ups about their sex lives, so we shouldn’t assume that dating younger women is the dreamy situation for them that the stereotype paints. It is quite likely to be challenging in different ways too.
I’m not necessarily advocating relationships with people of different generations – and I have certainly experienced tiresome dates with younger men who rattled on about something significant only to their generation, their great looks soon faded over the dinner table – but I think we are wrong to assume that such people have simple motivations for choosing partners. We are psychological beings and yes, many May to September relationships may be built on a need for security, especially for the younger partner but at the end of the day, what is wrong with that? If such people deny their urges for a partner of another generation, are they any the better for it? I doubt it.
I think it is actually a sign that we are becoming freer to choose our partners and by the law of average, some will experiment with the age of their partners, just like people are experimenting more with their sexualities. I’m all for that and to those that say I’m ignoring a pattern caused by men’s privilege (young women’s bodies being sold for old men’s money) as many argue, I say that for one, other men can be very critical of such men’s choices, even those with a lot of patriarchal privilege, so which men are your focus? Also, that when women date younger men it is largely met with a nudge and a wink, so maybe we have a rather sexist standpoint on this subject?
In my experience it’s definitely hard enough to find your soul mate, so I think it is only fair that people should be able to date who they want to, after all there are plenty of types of relationships that don’t work for a myriad of different reasons even when people are from the same generation. Maybe these people are just experimental by nature or maybe they are a vanguard for a more open dating culture in the future? Perhaps we should be thanking them for making changing the rules a little bit, after all it frees it up for us too. We might not choose to date someone younger but I for one feel more confident that there is now a culture of younger men appreciating the looks of women my age, (even if it were the case that men of my same age might not) regardless of the fact it is of no practical use to me.