The world of heterosexual dating wisdom is a fascinating, mysterious place, filled with chimerical half-truths, blatant falsehoods, and things just strange enough to be true. One of the later facts is the statistical age gap between men and the women they message and date.
Christian Rudder, a blogger for OKCupid, did a fascinating study in 2010 using the site’s data on men and women’s age preferences. Rudder found that women’s desirability peaks at 21, and that not only do men state their age preferences very young, they tend to message women even younger than their stated preferences (see graph above). In other words, according to Rudder, men in their 30’s spend as much time messaging teenage girls as women their own age. Yikes.
1. Men don’t find older women as attractive as younger women: That’s Rudder’s primary reason in the article. She actually says the phrase “Many of you are probably scoffing at the idea that many 35 year-olds are as attractive as many 25 year-olds,” at which point I must stop the writer and ask her what kind of unbelievable cowards she thinks are reading her piece. Then again, a straight guy recently tried to neg me by telling me I looked like Ellen DeGeneres, so I’m clearly less connected to what straight guys find attractive than I previously thought.
2. Because they’re afraid of death: In a recent interview on aging, Stacey London of “What Not To Wear” fame said, “Maybe there’s a fear of mortality when men watch women age, and that it’s just too much of a mirror.” See, I personally like that interpretation because it implies that women are immortal and do not fear death.
3. Because younger women literally make them live longer: Okay, maybe the above reason isn’t as ridiculous as I thought. Because a study done by Sven Drefahl of the University of Stockholm found that men (over fifty) with much younger spouses tended to live for longer. I mean, the study didn’t control for health (which might affect both how much men are able to get younger women and how long they live) but didn’t Hugh Hefner live until he was like 90 gazillions even though he was clearly dying for the last twenty years?
4. Younger women are more permissive: In a recent article, the site “Meaww” suggested (with no proof positive) that younger women can be “all right with things that older women would not be” and that older men go for them to “achieve fantasies which they may not have lived with older women.” Mmmm. I sure would love to respond to that, but I have a serious case of “my eyes falling out” and I need to go get medical attention.
5. “Older men need ego massages all the time. Younger girls are available to do that work”: As a certified Younger Girl™, I have to tell you, reading this phrase (in this article) made me physically recoil like a trodden-upon snake. I’d like to take the opportunity to mention that any older man who sees me primarily as a source of ego-massages is going to get an ego-prod from the toe of my ego-hiking-boots.
6. Because women their age aren’t in their fertile crescent anymore: Professor Madeleine Fugere, author of The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships, echoes many evolutionary psychologists when she says that men dating younger is all about “ensuring that a prospective partner is fertile.” Well, if so, bad news for the dudes: your sperm’s got an expiration date, too (starting around age 40).
7. Because women their age are Too Into Having Children: In a survey of responses on whisper, an anonymous confession site, a frequent theme was that men were tired of women their age nagging them to have children before the alarm on their biological clock goes off. I can’t help but detect the faintest hint of irony, in combination with the previous point.
8. Because of insecurity: Now-disgraced Male Feminist™ and academic Hugo Schwyzer wrote in a 2011 article that middle-aged men go for younger women because they’re insecure and “they don’t seem to value validation from women their own age as much as they value it from women 10 to 25 years younger.” This almost made me feel sorry for the 60-year-old man who hit on 21-year-old barista me in between telling me about his 30-year-old daughter. Almost.
9. Because younger women have lower self-esteem/lower confidence/lower expectations: This reason is more anecdotal than scientifically tested, but it came up a lot in my research. And it’s not good. I mean, I’m not one to judge consenting adult relationships, even ones with a big age gap! But if you’re getting into relationships with much younger women specifically because you like the power differential? No matter who you’re dating, no matter how old you both are, you have to be prepared to see your partner as an equal.
(And, for god’s sake, stop messaging teenagers!)
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