Shaming people for dating younger or older people seems to be in full swing these days. In fact, some editors seem to post the older guy’s age but refrain from putting the younger woman’s age. Of course, any reader is going to wonder about such an omission. This shaming assumes that one person is taking advantage of another. Yet, if we consider relationships in general, plenty of people take advantage of each other regardless of an age difference. What matters in a relationship is not age but compatibility and mutual connection and understanding. If an older person is dating a much younger person, they have to be careful with leverage.
Dating older men or women is not grooming or predatory
Predatory behavior is any behavior where one tries to manipulate another individual into getting what the predatory person wants. It’s what I call the bad kind of selfish. We want what we want and care little for the person we are dating or pursuing. We may morally justify that behavior by saying “she likes it” or “he or they want it,” but such is often errors in thinking that justify our selfish behavior. Predatory behavior can be the case if a much older guy, for example, dates a much younger woman with little regard for her as a person. Yet, just pointing to older men is problematic because it is possible for older men to want children and families because they can still have that possibility.
What is often ignored is the biological and evolutionary reality: men can father children often as long as they live, whereas women cannot have children that late. I have read and heard people claim that men and women lose fertility, but such is a manipulation and a distortion in fact. Men go down in fertility but they do not have menopause and rarely lose fertility completely. So, if a man can have children in mid-life, why would he pass that up? This assures his genetic survival as well as hers. This is a fact that is often overlooked for political reasons where there is an attempt to distort science so that it aligns with current political motivations.
I would add that men often make much better partners when they are older because they managed to screw everything up so badly that some of them learn from their mistakes and become much better partners and fathers. I knew a man that married someone at 18 when he was in his mid-fifties after being married for 25 years. He and the younger woman were married, had a child, and when I asked the woman, someone, I grew up with, why she chose him, she was very clear. She wanted and needed security. That was what she wanted and needed. He gave her that. He helped her go to college, buy a house, get a career, and when she almost lost her life to serious health issues, he was there every moment for her. Though he was an awful dad the first time around, he was a much better father later. She said she was happy, and when he passed away, she moved on, still younger, with many decades ahead of her. They connected on some level and had a successful life together.
Should we really shame people for choosing the partners they want to be with because we have some personal moral argument against it? Or are we just assuming that age difference cancels out love and connection between older and younger people?
Ageism is Alive and Well
The real culprit here is ageism. The older we get in the United States, the more invisible we are. Do people not react with disgust because they just don’t like older people and want them to remain invisible? I think so. At my age, I would date anyone of age where we both felt compatible and connected on a deeper level. If I was with someone very young, I am also realistic and have what I hope is a “good kind of selfish.” I would give her all I can because making her happy makes me happy. Yes, I would want to be with her, but not if she is unhappy. At this stage, I want to give and help. I’d cherish every bit of time she spent with me because if and when she decided to leave me for the once young and immature guy that is now a responsible and level-headed lawyer, I’d let her go. I would do that because I know that she may have her whole life ahead of her. If I love her, I want her to experience all the things someone her age should. What she gave me would be a gift. I’d hope that I’ve given to her as well.
I also think she’d learn a good deal from someone that had long-term relationships, knows how to hold a job down, raised kids, and did all of their screwing up already. Well, okay, not all, but when I do screw up, I’d fight less and fix it more quickly. I would be in such a relationship if we truly cherished one another because I now know what is important. I may be older, but I know how to love. At 23, I had no idea. Maybe an older woman could have taught me that, too.
I once worked at a place where a man in his early thirties was married to a woman in her late sixties. At first, I always thought that he came in with his mother. Then the guys told me it was his wife. They were respectful because we all could see that they really loved each other. Yes, it was odd at first, because what we see in ads for dating is just young people, twenty-somethings, and we don’t see older with younger or younger with older. Ads are conservative and will only show the most common and basic relationships. Or, they show what is currently in style and not the reality.
In both of these cases, sure the younger man can try to use his youth against her. She may try to use her wealth of experience against him in the same way that I could try to use my experience and age against a younger partner. But I also saw a woman in her late teens get life savings from a 72-year-old man. He was in therapy because he lost his wealth to her. I also know of a guy in his twenties that would sex traffic his twentysomething girlfriend on weekends.
Whatever Happened to Tolerance?
Since when did this society become a place where our every move, what we like, and who we like is controlled by the social outrage of others’ moral grandstanding? No, our brains are always changing and in development, so the argument that young adult women should still be children until 25 often makes little mention that young adult men’s brains are also in a similar situation. So, if she cannot consent to sex at 24, what makes us hold him accountable at 24? This is a ridiculous argument that will do more to make adult women children, stripping them of their rights, than do anything to protect them. We have to become adults at some point. Eighteen is good enough. I would suggest that the purpose of such an argument is to target older men because they are older, and to take younger women out of play. If so, that is blatant discrimination.
Most men, the majority of us, are not predatory. Some may be jerks; others are wonderful. I think it’s shameful to cut ourselves off so much from those of us younger and older, whether male, female, nonbinary, or how anyone chooses to label themselves. People can have several relationships in their lives. We should not strip love from its spontaneity, curiosity, and wonder by placing rigid criteria on who we should love. Love does not work that way. As I often write, we don’t choose who we love or who we are attracted to. Having such rigid standards can also do a great deal of harm to two people that could have experienced a few or many years of happiness together. Some people like older people, and some people like younger. Some people love the person they connect with regardless. Such involves personal taste and is not a disorder. The critical aspect is that the relationship should be fostered on mutual consent and understanding, regardless of our partner’s age.
Earl Yarington (LMSW) is a social worker and school bus driver. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years and spent 3 years working in forensic social work internships with offending populations, including work at Delaware Correctional facilities and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has a PhD in literature and criticism (feminism/women writers) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Social Work from Louisiana State University, and an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Arts from Arizona State University, where he studied the impact of visual image and girlhood in media/social media. He also has an MA and BS in English from SUNY College at Brockport. The opinions and analyses that Earl writes are his own and are not necessarily the positions or views of his employers, the agencies he supports, or that of his colleagues. Reach out with comments or questions.