Love Conquers All — Even Age-Disparity
More younger men date and marry older women than we realize. We all remember famous Hollywood pairings like Demi Moore and her 16-years-younger husband Aston Kutcher.
But many other famous couples have an even more significant age gap.
French President Emmanuel Macron is married to a woman 24 years his senior, who was a teacher at his high school. They met when he was 15. Although of course they were not romantically involved until they were both adults, the public scrutiny Emmanuel and Brigitte have experienced over the years is a sign of the times.
Yet such relationships continue to survive, and thrive. Research explains why.
Younger Men Find Comfort in Older Women
Today.com dedicated a piece to the expressed reasons younger men love older women. The men who were interviewed shared numerous reasons older women made great partners, including the fact that they are self-assured, self-confidant, and sharp conversationalists who are not just focused on starting a family.
Some conveyed that the attention of an older woman boosted their own level of confidence and self-esteem. Others recognized that older women have more life experience, emotionally stability, grounding, and can offer both honesty and different perspectives.
One man who prefers to date older women describes some of the experiences he had during his "young woman trial period" as including "trying to have meaningful conversation over blaring music at a dance club." His more serious complaints about dating young women included having to deal with immature behavior and head games.
How Old is Too Old?
Research by Gloria Cowan (in 1984) found that relationships in which the woman was older were perceived as less likely to be successful as compared with relationships without an age gap. Cowan examined the perception of age discrepant relationships as evaluated by both adult and adolescent samples, both of which rated relationships where women were much older (18 years difference) as least likely to be successful.
When the age gap was less severe, however, so was the judgment.
Cowan found that both adult and adolescent males, in contrast to females, did not hold a double standard when judging couples with an only 7 year age difference.
Where is the sweet spot?
The man in the Today.com piece who experimented with the "young woman trial period" explained that dating a woman only 5 years older than he was insufficient to create the "emotional maturity and depth" he was searching for. He preferred women who were a full decade older, explaining they were more self-assured and well rounded, sharing that "Younger women just don't allow me to grow in the ways older women do."
"Chasing the Cougar"
Having established that many men prefer older women, how do these relationships develop? Resisting the "cougar" stereotype of older women wearing leopard print, drinking martinis, and ogling younger men, many women share their real stories of how younger men focused on and pursued them.
Milaine Alarie in "They´re the Ones Chasing the Cougar" (2019) found that contrary to stereotypes, very few women considered themselves "seductresses," pursuing younger men who were "passively waiting to be courted."
Using data from 55 interviews with women from 30 to 60 years old who date younger men, she found that women were more likely to have played a passive role in forming the relationship when they were over 40 than in their 30s. Alaire suggests that within the context of women-older dating, the ability or desire to "renegotiate the gendered script" that applies to forming relationships is tempered by cultural beliefs.
True Love is Timeless
Brian Collisson and Luciana Ponce De Leon (2018), exploring sources of prejudice towards age-gap relationships, recognize that evolutionary theory holds that younger women should prefer slightly older men and vice versa, in order to maximize reproductive fitness and attainment of resources. They note that atypical relationships of larger age gaps, particularly when the woman is older, are perceived to violate these established mate preferences.
But in reality, it appears that some men choose to date older women partially because there is more of a sense of relational equality. Both empirically and anecdotally, many men value the opportunity to have a mature, loving, older partner; and women-older partners honor and cherish their younger mates. Such pairings are more common than most people believe, and more successful as well.
This article as first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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