When I heard that Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose wife is 37 years his junior, had apparently endorsed a social media comment mocking his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, for having a wife nearly 25 years his senior, I rolled my eyes at the predictability of it all.
Not only was it the kind of juvenile mud-slinging we’re now so accustomed to from our so called ‘strong men’ leaders but, as an older woman who has dated much younger men, it was pretty typical of the casual ageism you come to expect when you dare to upset the rules of the dating game.
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I distinctly remember a few years ago being at a dinner party when one of the male guests looked at me, raised his eyebrow and smirked, “Kate, so how’s it going?”.
I caught a few people tittering in unison, and felt a pang of hurt shoot through me. Forget the fact I had just written a new book, or that I was looking hot in a pair of Isabel Marant skinnies, the only thing that was piquing their interest was the mop haired 27-year-old male sitting by my side. Shock, horror: I was dating a man 17 years younger than I was.
When you have been in this position a number of times, you quickly understand that the world still struggles to accept the older woman/younger man dynamic, especially if it ever becomes an established relationship.
It is the age-old double standard. Man in his 50s marrying a nubile twentysomething is seen as a romantic step up (hi there Donald Trump) but when it comes to a woman over 50 dating, or even marrying, a younger man, it strikes a squeamish note of puzzlement and shock.
It is incredible that despite 50 years of feminism, some people still feel distinctly uncomfortable accepting that a woman in the hormonal twilight zone could ever be attractive, full-stop, let alone to a man who is much younger than her.
Take my relationship with David*, said 27-year-old: even though I felt giddy with love, and happier than ever, my friends thought otherwise.
“Far too young,” my female friends roared. Some male friends made sarcastic comments about him being mistaken for my son (I know, hilarious). Others saw him as an obvious threat. At one social event, as I was talking to an old male friend, he suddenly started directing all his conversation to me, trying to edge David out of the way.
It is not surprising really, in their eyes, by stepping out of our dating lane, we are making them feel as redundant as they might do at work when facing a hot new hire.
I would argue that this is just another way that men are determined to keep women in their place. Even when it comes to semantics, there is a whiff of disapproval at play. Think about the term ‘cougar’, first coined in the late 90s. The image of a predatory older single woman who goes in hot pursuit of wide-eyed ‘cubs’ and drags them back to her fem-cave is hardly a flattering one.
Perhaps it has something to do with women ceasing to be considered sexual the minute their last egg drops. Which is pretty ironic, given that older women seem to have a certain new currency in the online dating world. When I joined a normal dating site a few years ago, I was startled by the amount of attention I got. My inbox was suddenly awash with handsome young men who actively wanted to meet older women like me. And I loved it. I got my relationship mojo back and they got a sophisticated older woman.
Increasingly, middle-aged women are choosing to date men much younger than they are – Kate Moss is currently going out with Nikolai Von Bismarck, some 13 years younger than her, and Sam Taylor-Johnson seems to have made quite the success out of her marriage to British actor, Aaron, who was just 18 when she met him in her early 40s.
Modern older women are financially and emotionally secure. Today, we look after ourselves more than ever and we have high expectations for life to continue to be stimulating and exciting well into our 50s and 60s. So why limit our relationships to those who are the same age as us? Men have done this since the dawn of time – it’s now our turn to see what we may have been missing.
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