Dating and Age Difference: How Much is Too Much?

Well, it’s day 4 of a nasty cold and since I haven’t been doing much exercise, going out, or work, I’m feeling a little stir crazy. This is clearly why I spent much of my Sunday in a snit about dating and about a heated debate I got into with a friend online today. This “friend” is actually my college ex-boyfriend, and though we haven’t been romantically involved or even lived in the same state for years, he managed to push my buttons today. We dated over ten years ago, when I was about 20 and he was about 26. Today, I’m almost 32 and he will turn 38 around the same time. Both of us are still single and, as recently as a year ago, he was still dating 19 and 20 year-old women. It popped up in my Facebook news feed today that he’d been commenting on a friend’s blog post about online dating, so I couldn’t resist checking it out.

In the blog piece in question, the author–a 60-something man–is complaining about the quality of women he meets on dating sites. I can certainly relate to this, but it becomes clear as the posting goes on that his troubles may relate to some unrealistic expectations. Namely: 1) He wants a woman 20 years his junior; and 2) He is only willing to accept a mate who will move to his farm and help him work the land. Hmm.

My friend’s comments on this were what really pushed my buttons. He seemed largely sympathetic to the endeavor, and his Facebook comments were happy to pile on about how women in general are “unappreciative” when they find an “eligible” man (which seemed to imply only that the man had a job and basic verbal skills) and my friend surmised that women in this country in general are “fatally flawed” and perhaps men like him and his friend should start looking for women overseas.

Guys, is this really what we’ve come to? You’d rather turn to the mail-order bride industry instead of pursuing a domestic model your own age who might, *gasp,* actually have her own life and career and be unable to drop everything and help you plow the fields? There are two aspects to this that made me profoundly sad: First, that it seemed to be implied by both parties that a woman having a career and an education was counterproductive to a relationship. I don’t even want to waste time addressing that now because I feel like millions of couples in this country prove that is not the case. People may be getting married less often and at older ages, but the numbers show that the most enduring marriages and the lowest divorce rates happen among college-educated couples who are relatively affluent.

The second annoying point here is about age difference. Any woman my age and younger who has been on dating sites can testify to the fact that there are many men out there for whom age matters. Even if your upper age limit is, say, 40, you’re likely to get contacted by men older than that on a fairly regular basis. Men who date younger women often seem to do so because they believe it conveys status. These men are often professors, attorneys, managers. There is a power dynamic in every relationship, and it’s creepy to me when men want younger women because it’s not just about physical beauty, it’s often about the need to dominate and control. Take this case, for example. Widely reported in the news in the past month or two, the relationship between 41-year-old teacher James Hooker and 18-year-old student Jordan Powers came to a “shocking” end after allegations that he’d been sexually involved with another student who was 17 at the time, making the earlier encounter a crime. He was arrested and is in jail, and Powers, who says Hooker claimed he’d never been involved with another student before her, ended the relationship. The involvement between these two was deemed so scandalous that it made the rounds on network news and even on the Dr. Phil show. Yet somehow these relationships are deemed “acceptable” when they involve, say, a 40-year-old college professor and an 18- or 19-year-old student.

Are there some women who do this too? Sure. But despite the persistence of “cougars” in pop culture, men are far more likely to pursue matches outside their age group. This infographic shows (at the bottom) how age preferences change.
online dating: men vs women [Via: online dating]
Basically, an average woman will consider a 26-year-old man to be an acceptable mate starting at about age 18/19, but she “ages out” of looking for mates that age when she’s around 30. Meanwhile, an average man considers a 26-year-old woman to be fair game from about the time he’s 22 until he’s nearly 50. According to Marie Claire magazine, over the past century the average age difference between married couples is only 3.5 years. This certainly seems to undermine some men’s perception that dating far younger women is an entitlement or a norm. It also only makes sense. I’ve dated a few guys who were 10, even 15 or 20 years older than me. It never worked. I’m happiest with guys of my own generation, with whom I would share memories, life experiences, and an understanding of gender roles. I’d also be happy with a guy who wants to have a family, and who won’t be punching his AARP membership card before junior graduates high school.

To each their own, I guess, but I suspect that the men who are holding out for mates 20 years younger than them will have a rough search ahead.

2 thoughts on “Dating and Age Difference: How Much is Too Much?

  1. I hope they’ll have a rough search but in reality I think it depends on the man. My ex had a fling with a woman who was 32 or so (he was 53) and she thought he was dishy because of his status and because he wasn’t TOO wrinkly for his age – there will always be younger women who are up for it if the man has something to offer (intelligence, status, money).

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