Oh to Be Young…

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by Randall S. Frederick

Q: I just read your article, “Better than Pretty” and want to know why, if I am smart/funny and super lovable do guys my age constantly still try to get girls 10 years younger than them?!

A: Because we don’t know any better.

You know, I think there’s a lot of biological stuff we could talk about here – why many women are “wired” for attraction to older men because they often have higher earning capacity and experience. Or I could take the easy road and talk about how men are “wired” to desire a young, fertile woman whose boobs are perky and vagina is cute and tiny, but… the real answer? I think we just don’t know any better.

When I say “we” don’t know any better, I’m not talking about just guys. I think the answer is much bigger and broader, so before we jump on the male-bashing wagon, let’s step back for a second and look at some societal pressures.

Almost every advertisements directed towards women are about “recapturing that youthful glow” or how to look young. Women are not allowed, in Western society, to age. Gracefully, disgracefully, it’s all the same; the clear message here is that aging is the worst thing that can happen to you. Society is structured to be ageist, and it is especially difficult for women who are told this message from an early age. Your parents don’t want to “look grown up,” they want you to be their little girl. The person you are dating teases that they will “trade you in for a younger model.” It’s terrible, when you think about it, that women grow up under this oppressive umbrella. When all of our cultural standards of beauty are built on the exaltation of tween girl pop stars in leggings and having sharply defined cheekbones, is it any wonder women are afraid of turning 30? Personally – and I’d love to know the full story – I think celebrities like Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes, Lindsey Lohan, and Miley Cyrus “act up” or “go a little crazy” because those pressures become especially hard to live under when you are aging in front of so many people, all of them giving their opinion on whether you are still hot or not.

Now, men really do prefer to date younger women. Let’s get past our feelings and look at the facts. Men. Prefer. Younger. Women. Left to their own devices, men pursue younger women. Hugo Schwyzer wrote in 2011 that

This isn’t just opinion. It was borne out in the now-infamous results of the 2010 OK Cupid survey, which found that in the world of online dating, men seemed almost universally interested in pursuing substantially younger women. Men’s desired age range for potential matches was dramatically skewed against their chronological peers. A typical 42 year-old-man, for example, would be willing to date a woman as young as 27 (15 years younger than himself) but no older than 45 (just three years older.) And as OkCupid discovered, men regularly devoted most of their attention to women at the very youngest end of their stated range — and frequently messaged female members who were well beneath that.

And Hugo should know. He confessed to having sex with several of his students at Pasadena City College and resigned from his position there, in part, because of that.

(sidenote: I’ve met Hugo a few times and think the world of him. He was a big inspiration to me, so I’m not throwing him under the bus. His mistake was violating the trust of a teacher-student academic relationship, not that he dated a younger women. So have I. Lots of times. Let’s move on.)

The data that Schwyzer references can be seen here, where blogger Christian Rudder explains that

[A] man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age. The median 31 year-old guy, for example, sets his allowable match age range from 22 to 35-nine years younger, but only four years older, than himself. This skewed mindset worsens with age; the median 42 year-old will accept a woman up to fifteen years younger, but no more than three years older.

Here’s a graph to help explain.

Male-Match-Prefs

Notice how the gap widens as a man gets older? Men want younger partners the older they get. Rudder says:

As you can see, a man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age. The median 31 year old guy, for example, sets his allowable match age range from 22 to 35—nine years younger, but only four years older, than himself. This skewed mindset worsens with age; the median 42 year-old will accept a woman up to fifteen years younger, but no more than three years older.

Wow.

Just… wow.

But what about women? Don’t women like younger guys? That whole “cougar” and “MILF” thing? Well, the same study shows that while many women in their 30s and 40s report “occasional” contacts with much younger guys, they tend to prefer men their own age. Here’s a graph of women’s preferences. Notice how much closer that lower end is?

Female-Match-Prefs

What we have here – setting aside our judgments for a second – is simply a difference in how men and women approach relationships. Men typically prefer someone younger. Women typically prefer someone around their own age. So, from an older man’s perspective, he wants to know why you’re trying to get with guys your own age! Your perspective really depends on where you’re standing.

But, hey. You didn’t ask “What,” you asked “Why?” Data like this doesn’t explain why men prefer younger women.The reason is unique for each person, of course. I can’t explain the motivation of every man represented in the 2010 survey, and I also want to point out that even if I could, you would’t like the answer. Your question is the same, really, as the “nice guy” who doesn’t understand why he can’t catch a date. We could make generalizations, sure. But there are some hard facts that “nice guys” don’t want to confront. So, speaking personally, I will say that here are the main reasons I do not enjoy dating women older than me:

  1. We’re at different places in life. Simple as that and nothing wrong with it – we grew up under different Presidencies, watched different shows growing up, and the divide is pretty steep. Mazel tov and best of luck finding someone else –  you’re still amazing.
  2. I don’t want to “settle down” and start the marriage -> baby -> parenting -> retirement course. All of those are amazing places to be. For real. I look forward to getting married and having kids one day (I even have names and knitting patterns picked out). But just because your biological clock is ticking doesn’t mean I’m in a rush. Slow your roll.
  3. I’m not impressed by you. Many women my age are quick to tell me that they own their own home. That’s great! But it plays out the same way as the guy who talks about how amazing his job is. I’ve never seen your house, and I’m supposed to be impressed by it? Ugh. Please stop talking about how great you are and let me find out for myself. This isn’t an interview. I’m falling asleep at the table here. Either invite me to come see your bedroom or change the conversation to something we can both talk about.
  4. Weight. It’s a fact that most people start putting on a little weight as the metabolism slows down. If you’re not taking care of yourself and don’t care enough about your body and yourself to stay healthy, why should I care for you?
  5. The wine thing. Jesus, the wine photos scream desperation. It also screams that you might have a great life, but want to numb yourself out every evening before bed because, underneath that amazing life, you’re miserable. Nothing communicates a superficial life than a social media deck filled with wine photos.
  6. You’re tired… Look, I get it. You’ve been dating for a few decades and have been hurt. But it sends a clear message that you’re not motivated to invest in this relationship and cannot gather up the energy to try. Nothing turns me off faster than dating a dead fish.
  7. … or worse, bitter. I get this too. Someone hurt you and now you approach every relationship feeling like I’m going to hurt you. Nothing shuts me down faster than a woman with a chip on her shoulder. No matter what I do, it will never be right for you. Ugh. Just GTFO, lady.
  8. You think you can do better. I once dated a woman who was just a few years older than me and she asked me to make gumbo since I grew up in Louisiana and have a family recipe. She invited me over and when I showed up, she teased me about not having it ready, she teased me that I “didn’t know what I was doing” and, when we started talking about our lives, she was dismissive of my dreams.
  9. You actually can do better. The flip side of the house story (see #3) is that you really are amazing. You have your life together, you’ve got an amazing job, and are emotionally mature. Which leaves absolutely no room for someone like me. I don’t want to be your next “project” to “complete” your life. The best thing is for you to find someone equally amazing.
  10. I want an equal relationship, not a relationship where I’m the baby. Look, we both know you’re older but don’t condescend to me or constantly remind me that I’ve not “done all the amazing things” you’ve done. I might be younger than the other guys you’ve dated, but I’m not a moron.

Earlier this week, I read an article by Amanda Chatel and I think it typifies so many problems that men have with older women – women take a more “hell no” position to adventure, fun, and carefree living. Notice I am not saying women do not have reasons for approaching life more carefully as they age. I believe that is a good thing. But where Chatel writes about orgasms, she says

Let’s be honest, you’ve mastered your vagina, so you’re coming no matter what. Now if only you could kiss and cuddle yourself, you wouldn’t need one-night stands at all.

That’s how men feel women approach dating. You don’t want us, you don’t need us. We’re just an accessory to “completing” your life and filling some void. Like wine and reality television. It doesn’t matter who we are, we’re just a replaceable cork because men are stupid, hairy schmucks who steal the covers and should go sleep on the couch.

The flip side of this is that, when I have dated women my own age or even older than me, those have mainly been positive experiences. There’s something really great about someone who just “gets it.” Again, in my experience, and not speaking universally, the older a woman is, the more she

  1. Knows why she has the opinions and beliefs that she does. One of the things that annoys me about much younger women is that they are filled with opinions, but can’t explain why they hold those opinions and beliefs. Whenever I ask, they tend to say, “Well I just do” or “Well, that’s just what I believe.” A girl I dated once was very vocal that she was a Feminist, but when I asked her why, asked what was it that made her a Feminist, she said she “didn’t know” and “would have to think about that.” I love that older women can tick off 15 reasons why they think and feel something.
  2. Is a better conversationalist. We have either shared similar experiences or she has lived enough of life to talk and talk and talk. I love a woman who isn’t shy about talking and having meaningful conversations. Oh my god, I love that so much.
  3. Is patient. Mature women, in my experience, have lived enough of life to “get it”, to be understanding, and to give a lot of grace, forgiveness, and understanding. That means a lot to me.
  4. Wants me, but doesn’t need me. Younger women often look to me for what to do, to take care of them, and to help them figure out life. I’m fine with that – as I’ve said before, I had a hard childhood and effectively raised my mother and my little brother. But sometimes it’s nice to be with a woman who knows who she is and confidently lives her own life.
  5. Knows more people and has a better circle of friends. ‘Nuff said. Younger women – again, this is my experience – have shitty friends who like to start drama. “Oh, he’s got a demanding job and forgot your three week anniversary? Girl, you need to dump him!” compared to all of the cool people a grown-ass adult collects over a lifetime. There’s no question which circle of friends makes for better guests at a dinner party.
  6. Is better in bed. The older a woman is, the more sex she has had and the better she is at achieving her own orgasm and helping me with my own.
  7. Knows who she is. I prefer seeing women around my own age because, at the end of the day, they’re not trying to figure stuff out. They don’t date to “see if this’ll become a thing.” They approach a relationship with rigor because they know who they are, what they want, and whether “we” will work together or be better as friends.
  8. More likely she will be to take it easy. The older a woman is, the less likely she will be to rush around and “do all the things.” She will have lived life enough to know that her bills need to be paid – not a surprise – and when she has an emergency, she will know how to handle it like a calm, rational adult.
  9. Can teach me something new. Like I said a moment ago, it’s not every day that someone impresses me. The wider the gap between our ages, the less you impress me. Give me a sharp Thirtysomething woman who knows her stuff any day.
  10. The more stable she will be, emotionally, mentally, physically. The older a woman gets, the more she will grow into herself and have balance. This is an amazing quality – and one I wish my girlfriends a decade ago had possessed.

So, to answer your question, I think this really boils down to some basic wiring that common sense and numbered lists aren’t going to fix. You can talk a guy into dating a woman his own age – again, left to his own devices, he’s going to pretty consistently appreciate a younger woman’s body. It’s not about personality or who you are. It’s really about the body here, and – sad to say it – we just don’t know any better because attraction is not a conscious thing. If it were, we wouldn’t be attracted to celebrities. We would rationally tell ourselves, “Well yes, he has a nice butt, but the fact remains he is a stranger and didn’t I see that he trashed a hotel room during the filming of his last movie? No. No thanks, violence isn’t my thing. Sorry.”

It’s kind of a catch-22, isn’t it? I want to reassure you that these guys are not passing you by as though this is a personal thing – they are not avoiding you because you, individually, suck but it’s because guys everywhere tend to want a younger woman. But at the same time, there are some harsh realities to mating and dating – for example, the fact that guys statistically go after women than them while women statistically want a guy around their own age. These two pursuits make it difficult to align. And I know how all of this looks because I’m a guy. When I try to explain it, I’m making generalizations or “mansplaining” why you’re not a hot ticket on the dating market, which by default, I’m “one of those guys.” It’s a catch-22 where, just by me answering your question honestly, I sound like a jerk.

All I can say is, hey, if you’re in your thirties and your social media is filled with wine photos and cats, when a guy tries to jump that hurdle and ask you out, don’t spend the entire date acting like it’s a chore to go out with him. When someone asks you out – regardless of your gender or orientation – try to have fun. Try to be fun. And be yourself. 100% of the women I know, once they drop the “first date” act, are amazing women. There’s a reason all of my best friends are women in their 30s – because they’re amazing women, amazing friends, know how to tell a joke (especially offensive ones!) and then have serious conversations. Jesus, if I had known it could be this good to know women in their Thirties when I was in my Twenties? I’d have stopped chasing skirts and bought more wine.

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