When I was 25, I married a man 12 years older than me. At the time, our relationship seemed perfectly natural to me. I’d always felt pretty mature for my age (as so many women do), and especially in comparison to the guys around me. I stayed married to my husband for seven years, and by the time our relationship ended, I saw our age difference in a completely different way. Now that I’m single in my 30’s, I really only want to date guys very close to my age. Less than a handful of years younger would be okay, and maybe one or two years older, but that’s about it.
It’s quite common to see older men and younger women dating in this country and all over the world. You might even say Western men are better able to maintain their desire for younger women in a way that isn’t as pedophilic as others. Certainly a 50-year-old man dating a 22-year-old woman is better than a 58-year-old-man marrying an 8-year-old girl, but how much better exactly? According to Hugo Schwyzer, this age dynamic is sexist and hurts men and women alike. He says, “If there’s one tangible thing that men can do to help end sexism—and create a healthier culture in which young people come of age—it’s to stop chasing after women young enough to be their biological daughters.”
Schwyzer goes on to say, “As hyperbolic as it may sound, there are few more powerful actions that men can take to transform the culture than to date, mate, and stay with their approximate chronological peers. If aging guys would commit to doing this, everyone would benefit: older men and younger men, older women and younger women.”
There’s no doubt that not everyone will agree with Schwyzer on this, especially not other middle-aged men. Christopher Ryan of Psychology Today argues – in direct response to Schwyzer – that there’s an “innate biological desire men hold for women in their most fertile years,” and that such a desire is perfectly natural. We’ve all heard this idea before: men are designed to want to spread their seed, so in spite of their age and inability with age to care for children, they remain attracted to women who can propagate their DNA. Schwyzer, on the other hand, believes that men are not hardwired to be attracted to younger women. He contends, rather, that “much of the appeal” men find in dating younger women is “the hope of finding someone less demanding.” He says, “A man in his 40s who wants to date women in their 20s is making the same calculation as the man who pursues a “mail-order bride” from a country with less egalitarian values. It’s about the mistaken assumption that younger women will be more malleable.”
In fact, young women in their early and mid-20s are quite malleable, something a woman that age might deny, but ask that same woman in her 30s to look back at her younger self and it’s likely she’d concede the point. So why are young women so willing to date older men? “Ask women in their teens and 20s who are in relationships with older men about guys their own age, and you’ll invariably hear laments about young men’s immaturity,” Schwyzer says. “That callowness is often oversold by too many aging Lotharios wanting to emphasize the difference between their own supposed expertise and young men’s clumsiness.” Mmm-hmm. And what happens as a result? According to Schwyzer, many young women end up with older men who are “deeply unsafe.”
For his part, Schwyzer urges older men to mentor younger men instead of taking advantage of the younger women those young men should be dating. That seems to be a sound directive, given that according to a recent survey commissioned by Nickelodeon UK, “men and women agree men remain ‘immature’ well into their late 30s and early 40s.” Both genders also agree that women mature into proper adults at the age of 32. Not coincidentally, that’s the age I was when I divorced my much older husband.
Interestingly, the same survey showed that “One in three people think a bit of immaturity helps in bonding well with children,” and I concur. Rather than allow that to make a case for older men being great fathers to infants, that should make the case for young women of childbearing age to mate with young men their own age. Like Schwyzer says, that way everyone benefits. Young men are encouraged to be a bit more mature, but remain goofy enough to be playful dads, and young women will hopefully be able to retain a life-long partner instead of an aging and eternal player willing to discard her as soon as she turns 40, or one she wants to ditch as soon as she’s old enough to realize what she’s gotten herself into.