Entering into a relationship that involves a noticeable age difference will trigger judgements from others that are part and parcel to a host of stereotypes regarding both men and women. This is unfortunate but it is a fact that both parties will need to take into consideration. In an article published by The Guardian, the stereotypes of the “gold-digging” younger woman and the predatory older man still attach themselves to these types of relationships (McKie). People tend to rush to the assumptions that any older man who is romantically involved with a younger woman is motivated primarily out of an ego-driven need to rekindle his own lost youth through a charged “fling” with a young and attractive woman. As younger women enter into these relationships, they are frequently accused of being driven by the desire for potential material gain that they may find in a man who is older and more financially independent.
These stereotypes stem almost exclusively from the discomfort people feel toward any relationship that does not fit into the comfortable and familiar models that are already culturally accepted. On the one hand, it is only natural that others will attempt to make sense of something which is unknown to them by using ready-made models for understanding things. Older men and younger women entering into romantic and loving relationships can expect to run into these assumptions. On the other hand, few of us in any relationship, traditional or otherwise, actually fit the presumed image we are fed from television and movies. We no longer live in a time when it can be expected that a man at any age necessarily offers a woman a list of financial and material gifts which would seduce her into a relationship she would not otherwise choose.
It is also useful to point out that these stereotypical assumptions are insulting to both women and men. To presume that a younger woman is in a relationship with an older man primarily because she gets some kind of material benefit is insulting to her as a woman and as a human being. This stereotype presumes that she is motivated primarily by greed and, what is more, that she has no real worth beyond the young body she offers not only to an older man, but to any man. By the same token, these stereotypes also impugn older men even as they endow these men with a power they do not necessarily possess.
A tacit assumption that comes with the belief that older men are in relationships with younger women for reasons of ego and sexual gratification is the implication that these men have some kind of magical power over younger women, that the seduction of one young woman is really just evidence of a long line of seductions. In fact, this endows these men with a power over women that they do not have and it implies that these women are weak and easily overwhelmed by a masculine charm that is really just the stuff of bad movies.
It is helpful for new couples to remind those who are close to them that they are involved for the same reasons anyone else is romantically involved. Couples who enter into these relationships should be aware of how they might be perceived by others, but they do not have to be driven by these perceptions. As with any new relationship, the test is in how well the couple stands together. Certainly, sensitivity to family members and others who are close needs to be respected, but any older man/younger woman couple can successfully negotiate these assumptions and stereotypes. Being aware that the stereotypes exist and that they will likely be subject to the assumptions that come with them should give couples an increased awareness of how to negotiate the problems of how they may be perceived by others.
McKie, Robin. “At Last We Know why Girls Fall for Older Men.” 1 March, 2003.