In terms of May-December romances, there's been a longtime double standard when it comes to which half of the couple is "December": Women who date younger men encounter fascinated curiosity, judgment, and even a loaded nickname that rose to prominence in the early 2000's, while men in relationships with younger women are simply known as...men in relationships. If you've ever felt a spark with a guy eight or more years your junior but hesitated to give things a try, you might have told yourself it'll never work. The fact that most movies involving an older woman/younger man love story don't end well has helped cement that concept as a cultural truth—except, it's not true. Or at least it doesn't have to be.
Yes, the dynamic brings a unique set of challenges—but it can also be pretty great, whether the goal a fling or a long-term relationship. Here's some expert-sourced advice for a woman dating a younger man.
A strong connection is real, no matter the age difference.
Consider French president Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte, his wife of 12 years, who is 25 years older than her husband. Or 49-year-old Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, age 60, who chronicle their marriage in their aptly-titled book, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. Then there's Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra...you get the picture. And according to a 2017 study from dating website EliteSingles, 450,000 of their male users between age 20 and 29 preferred dating an older woman (with 11 years being the most desirable gap).
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Paulette Sherman, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of Dating from the Inside Out, says that like any relationship, success depends on what the people involved are bringing to the table. "You can have a 'young' 50 year old or a very mature 25 year old, depending upon their life experience. So it’s good to look carefully at the individuals rather than just fostering limiting beliefs regarding age."
A younger guy can recharge your sense of adventure.
To say that anyone dating someone younger is trying recapture their youth is an unfair generalization. But spending time with someone less tethered to family obligations and long-entrenched lifestyle demands can feel pretty freeing.
Jess Carbino, the former in-house sociologist for dating apps Tinder and Bumble, says that her research with women over fifty revealed a strong desire to date men eight or more years younger, in part because they assume that age group will be more open to new experiences. "They find the aging process for men to be more accelerated than among women, in terms of their desires for exploration, and are interested in younger men who may be less set in their ways," she says.
Sherman agrees that a woman who's, say, divorced with older kids may have so many obligations to juggle that someone who's accrued less "baggage" is often appealing. "They can just appreciate one another, and the moments they share."
And yes, the sex can be great.
The theory that men's sexual peak hits decades earlier than a woman's, making an 18 year-old man and a 35-year-old woman unlikely-yet-perfect bedfellows, comes from a study conducted way back in 1953 (and the existence of a "sexual peak" is highly debatable). But a woman over 50 has often shed inhibitions about their body, and what they need to achieve orgasm, that a 27-year-old may still be grappling with. That's enjoyable for a man at any age, contributing to a sex life Sherman deems "energetic."
You'll likely be admired for the impressive stuff you've accomplished.
Whether it's an established career, well-raised kids, or stories from those years you spent backpacking around Europe, you have lived. That's something to be proud of, and a man who's still in adulthood's first act just might be dazzled by the fact that you're seasoned.
"Sometimes younger men are awed and inspired by a successful woman, while older men can feel competitive with her," says Sherman, who also points to the generational evolution in how younger people view gender roles. "They may accept a woman's ambition more, fulfill more parenting and domestic responsibilities, and be willing to be their cheerleader at work."
They'll love the confidence you've gained from experience, too.
No disrespect to the wonderful ladies under thirty out there, but...you're grown. You've gained wisdom over the years about life, love, and the fact that you shouldn't bother wearing sky-high heels at a crowded social event because no one can even see your feet, anyway. You know yourself.
That self-assured vibe and "profound sense of purpose" can be a siren call, says Sherman. And for the rare young-yet-mature man who's got his life together "but is struggling to find a similarly-positioned woman his age, older women may seem like a very good option in terms of a romantic partner."
That said, some younger guys may feel intimidated by where you're at in life.
A less confident man who's just beginning to forge his own path won't always be so enamored of your history. This can cause bumps in the road when he's your date at professional engagements, or attends a blended family gathering that requires hanging with your ex-husband.
Communication is key, Sherman says, and voicing feelings of jealousy and insecurity as they present themselves can go a long way. "It’s helpful for this type of couple to recognize that they don't have to share the same level of career success."
"Age can be a status that creates differences in terms of power," Carbino points out. "In relationships with younger men and older women, there may be significant issues regarding power, and perceptions of dependency, that may play into unfortunate cultural tropes regarding dependency."
Translation: If you detect a "you're not my mom!" undercurrent to a disagreement, that's definitely the red flag you think it is.
The kids conversation is complicated.
You may be at the end of your childbearing years, while he's nowhere near contemplating a family. Or, he might be eagerly awaiting fatherhood, and you're a happy empty-nester going through menopause.
If things have progressed past fling status, Carbino says to tackle this conversation as soon as possible. "Those who are becoming serious should have discussions regarding their desires around family generally," she reminds us.
Step up your texting game.
No need to create a TikTok account and try getting current with the young folks, but as a dating apps expert, Carbino will say that men in their mid-thirties and younger "have a higher inclination to text versus call."
She suggests that a woman establish expectations at the outset if she prefers a call (or actual face time, instead of iPhone FaceTime). "People fundamentally treat you the way you allow yourself to be treated, and will otherwise behave in the manner that's most consistent with their style or comfort level. So by setting the tone you may avoid frustrations."
Brace yourself for judgment. Then, unite and conquer.
We might've come a long way, but there's still a particular stigma around the older woman/younger man relationship. Don't be surprised if you and your beau find yourselves fielding rude-if-well-meaning questions, unfunny jokes, and remarks driven by others' disapproval and possibly even jealousy.
When interviewing couples for her book When Mars Women Date, Sherman found that some men were teased by their guy friends if it seemed like they played the junior economic role in their relationship. "Oftentimes, the men themselves were happy in these roles, and the couple felt happy too. But peers and outsiders put undue pressure on them to change things, and this added a level of stress to their relationship."
Carbino agrees that couples will need to develop "resiliency," and a strategy regarding how to deal with criticism from friends, family, and strangers who don't understand the attraction.
Plus, as Sherman says, refusing to "succumb to outer social pressure, shame, stigma or limiting beliefs" will help your relationship survive. Your love success will be one more example of a great older woman/younger man relationship, helping to "normalize new relationship models." Be the sexy, intergenerational change you want to see in the world.
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Senior Staff Writer
Samantha Vincenty is the former senior staff writer at Oprah Daily.