Friday, September 19, 2008

Older Women, Younger Men

Nobody asked me to my senior prom. With only two months to go, things were looking bleak. So I took it upon myself to do the asking. I had set my sights on Brian. He was smart, handsome, funny, and extremely talented. He was quickly becoming one of the most popular boys in school, yet in spite of the approval Brian was receiving from others, I found myself at the center of gossip. Even with all his impressive adolescent credentials, Brian was still considered "aiming low." That's because Brian was a sophomore.

There were lots of seniors that year who chose dates that were two years younger. Nobody made fun of them. There did not seem to be any controversy over the older boys that had chosen younger girls to be their dates. But for me, an older girl, to be taken to the prom by a younger boy, well . . . that was nothing short of scandalous!

That was 1992. Yet not much has changed since then, has it? It is interesting to note how much "progress" same-sex couples have made in just the last 15 years alone, but the older woman/younger man combination is still largely taboo in today's society. Why is that?

I think the lack of acceptance these relationships receive is due to perceptions which are based purely on myth. Perhaps the biggest stigma attached to these relationships is the idea that the woman is always the seducer -- not the pursuer, the seducer. Research shows that this is not the case. In nearly all of these relationships, the man is still the pursuer. Yet films like The Graduate seem to have left the impression that women in these situations are not much different than Mrs. Robinson. Imagine - a film made over 40 years ago still has that much of an effect on people's perceptions about older women being courted by younger men!

I also think the idea itself is associated with feminist philosophy, yet I do not find this idea feminist at all. Somewhere along the line, we have mistaken age for leadership. A man does not need to be older than a woman to be a good leader, and a woman does not need to be younger than a man in order to demonstrate submission to that leadership. But I think the very presence of this myth is evidence for God's truth. Somehow, the world has indeed recognized that men are the natural leaders. It is easy to assume that if a man is older, he will do a better job of leading. He'll have more life experience, more knowledge, and more resources to be a better provider. Older men are seen as powerful (especially in the area of finances). Likewise, if a woman is older, it is tempting to assume she will "wear the pants" in the relationship. Somewhere along the line, we have mistaken age for leadership.

But God's truth does not discriminate on the basis of age. What makes a man a good leader is not that he is older than the woman, but that he possesses the character traits of a godly man. And a godly woman will demonstrate the qualities of Proverbs 31, regardless of her age. Films such as The Graduate add to the negative stereotype of these situations because the plot of the movie is scandalous in itself: Benjamin is in love with Elaine, but is sleeping with her mother. The circumstances surrounding the characters in this film are what make it somewhat akin to a Greek tragedy. But the age difference alone between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson is not a sin!

Sadly, many women in these situations will allow themselves to feel vulnerable because they are afraid that the man will eventually leave them for a younger, more attractive woman. In All About Eve, our film of the month, Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is romantically linked with a man who is 8 years her junior (Gary Merrill -- the two later pursued an offscreen romance and were eventually married in real life). Margo becomes insecure over the age difference and allows her fears to show through her cleverly delivered lines:

BILL: Your guests were also wondering whether the music couldn't be a shade more on the - shall we say, happier side?

MARGO: If my guests do not like it here, I suggest they accompany you to the nursery where I'm sure you will all feel more at home.

Older women need not fear that younger men will lose their attraction on the basis of age. This is because it is the inner qualities of an older woman that capture the younger man's attention. In fact, Dr. Joyce Brothers has been quoted as saying: "The younger man is attracted to an older woman most likely because of her poise, her social graces, her contacts. She has a polish he hasn’t yet acquired." It's true!

I personally have always found myself attracted to younger men. It's not because I feel a sense of accomplishment for conquering some patriarchal stereotype, but simply because I it seems that younger men who have an interest in me are really interested in me as a person. They have respect for my ideas and opinions. They aren't too proud to admit they can learn from me as much as I can learn from them. Unlike older men, they do not try to use their age or experience to compensate for a lack of leadership skills. There is a raw honesty there - one which says, "This is me, and I'm not going to try to hide the fact that I don't know everything." A younger man is not threatened by an older woman's accomplishments. Instead, he is inspired by them. He knows that the older woman once walked in his shoes, and if she can be successful, then so can he!

But what I find most attractive is that certain confidence which accompanies the man who is not too shy to pursue an older woman. Certainly there is also a confidence that comes with a woman who is not afraid to allow herself to be pursued by such a man.

And to that I say, Koo Koo Ka Choo!

2 comments:

Faithful Servant said...

Hmmm, I would add that pursuing an older woman would be preferable for many reasons. One in particular is that the dribbling celebutants of our culture can barely fulfill the role of a woman, let alone understand the relationship of man and wife to each other. No way I would want that kind of example laid out for our children or the world to hold as an example of Christ and His bride.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comments. There are lots of reasons that I didn't mention, but I'm sure readers can identify many on their own. I'm not saying the older woman/younger man dynamic is better than the reverse, but rather, just trying to make the point that we are still in the dark ages when it comes to this issue. When homosexual couples gain more acceptance in society than older woman/younger man combinations, there is a real problem.

I think considering these relationships is good for both women and men. But for women in particular, those who are starting to feel like they are past the marrying age or that "all the good ones are taken," considering a younger man may help them realize that the door is not entirely closed in the marriage department. Perhaps God still has them waiting because their husband is just a bit younger and will need more time before he is ready to meet his bride. Just a thought to encourage the ladies out there :)