Age gap relationships are definitely having ‘a moment’. Everyone’s at it.
Kate Beckinsale, 45 and Pete Davidson, 25, just confirmed they are most definitely dating by snogging each other’s faces off at a New York hockey game. (Not sure we all wanted to see that much tongue!) Pete is five years older than her own daughter.
Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell and Liam Payne are stirring up their own social storm with rumours of them dating still flying thick and fast. Carolyn Flack –famously 32 when she dated a 17-year-old Harry Styles– shows no sign of giving up her predilection for toy boys, despite being (rather harshly) judged, constantly.
Kate Beckinsale, 45, and Pete Davidson, 25, set tongues wagging with their recent PDAs at an ice hockey game. The couple have a twenty year age gap
Flipping the dynamics, there’s Calista Flockhart, still very happily married to Harrison Ford, who’s a whopping 22 years older. Annette Bening married Warren Beatty, 21 years her senior, in 1992. They now have four children and are still together.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas might have a 25 year age difference but are rubbing along quite nicely, thanks very much.
Have all these celebrities discovered something we haven’t? Are age gap relationships worth pursing?
Is age, when it comes down to it, nothing but a number?
THE UPSIDE OF DATING MUCH YOUNGER AND OLDER MEN
There are obvious pros and cons of dating men much younger or older than yourself.
Youth is attractive. Not just physically but mentally as well. Younger people have more energy and vitality. They’re more optimistic, less world-weary and cynical –and have less baggage.
That’s before we even touch on the real reason lots of older women date younger men: the sex is outrageously good.
Hard, muscly bodies, penises that look pleased to see you within seconds of meeting. Most young men have boundless sexual stamina and a strong desire for sex.
Lots of women reach their sexual peak – feel more confident about sex and relaxed about their bodies –post 40. Most men become less interested in sex in middle age. Hooking up with someone younger makes sense sexually – with no shortage of takers.
‘You don’t pick older women up, they pick you up,’ says Mike, a 21-year-old design student. ‘You make eye contact and they don’t break it and of course they’re better in bed. They’re less inhibited and willing to do a hell of a lot more’.
Out of bed, young men are great fun as well. They keep you young, looking at life through their eyes, doing things you haven’t done for years. It’s an ego-boost being able to pull a hot young guy: friends are impressed – and jealous. And they aren’t threatened by successful women (having grown up in a more female-friendly work era).
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are a Hollywood power couple have been married for 18 years, despite the 25 year age difference
On the flip side, dating a man who’s older has its advantages as well. If your sex drive is low or you’re sick of being hassled for it, dating an older man with less sexual demands is heaven.
Older men are often wiser, able to mentor you through life and help smooth the path. Power is a huge aphrodisiac and being with a powerful, charismatic older man is an undeniable turn on.
If he’s more comfortable than you financially, even better. Who doesn’t like being paid for, treated to things, taken on indulgent, expensive holidays, eating out in posh places, not having to worry about paying the bills, turning left when you board the plane…
Given the obvious advantages to both dating much younger and much older, why aren’t we all at it?
Only eight per cent of all married heterosexual couples across Western countries have a large age gap of ten years or more. It’s mostly older men with younger women: only one per cent of the eight per cent involve an older woman partnered with a younger man.
(It’s a different story for same-sex relationships. Evidence is limited, but about 25 per cent of male-male and 15 per cent of female-female relationships have a large age gap.)
Meanwhile Calista Flockhart, 54, is happily married to Harrison Ford, 76. Tracey suggests older men are ‘often wiser’ and able to mentor younger women through life
There must be a reason why the statistics are so low, right?
Well, now you ask…
THE NOT-SO-FUN SIDE OF AGE-GAP RELATIONSHIPS
What’s it really like dating someone much older or younger?
The most honest answer to that question is this: it’s fun for a while. Then it’s not.
Tracey says there are seven reasons a relationship that has an age gap may be difficult long term
Short-term, they’re interesting. Long-term, age gap relationships prove notoriously difficult.
These are seven reasons why.
Your sexual styles don’t match
Our genitals age along with the rest of us. His erection becomes less hard, our vaginal lining becomes more delicate. If you’re the same age, this works rather well. If you’re 50+ and dating a 25-year-old, it’s a different story.
Our sexual styles change as we age as well. Sex becomes more foreplay focused and less intercourse based. For young men, penetration is still very much the main event.
‘When we first got together, the age difference wasn’t a problem,’ says Daniela. She was 35 and her partner was 22 when they met.
‘But I don’t want all that hard thrusting now. Not that I’m going to say anything to him about it. I don’t want him to go off me. The less we draw attention to our ages, the better. It does hurt though.’
Younger men are likely to want sex more frequently – a plus if you’re going through a high libido period. Not so great being hassled for sex when your sex drive has dropped and you’re more interested in companionship.
Sleeping with a much older man also has downsides if you’re much younger. He’ll want sex less often and is likely to experience erection problems; drooping testicles and ageing bodies and faces can be a massiveturn-off.
You can’t agree about wanting or not wanting children
You’ve had your kids and enjoying freedom, he wants to start a family of his own – or vice versa. Nothing divides a couple with more finality than different agendas for children. The maternal urge is fierce and all-encompassing; parents with grown-up children are under no illusions of how hard it is and often have no desire to repeat the experience.
If you’re an older woman dating a man who eventually wants kids but isn’t ready yet, the ending is already written if you’re 42 or over.
A very beautiful friend of mine has just kissed goodbye to a much-older, much-loved boyfriend because he had no interest in fathering her two very small children. It takes more than love to make a relationship work long-term.
Mind the (generation) gap
They’ve never heard of Mick Jagger. You’ve never heard of Tony Bennett. You catch him sneak watching ‘Only Fools and Horses’ rather than porn; you lose hours on You Tube to see him looking at you with disbelief and condescension.
Couples who are the same age don’t even notice that they’re speaking the same language. That each person knows what the other is talking about when they mention a pop star, TV show, influencer or iconic moment. Date someone more than 10 years younger than you and it’s like you’re talking a different language. Every generation has its own memories. Big events and changes that happen to the world. At first it’s funny when you don’t know what the other’s talking about, then it becomes hard to relate. Shared history is important: not just the past you create together, the past you shared when you were growing up separately.
You have wildly different incomes
They younger you are, the less financially secure you tend to be. That’s not to say older people are always better off, but you’ve worked longer and are probably paid better.
If you’re an older woman with a younger guy, it usually means you’ll pay for more. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to split expenses. If you’re not, you’ll end up paying for him if you want to continue your existing lifestyle. Fine at the start, harder when you see your girlfriends being treated by partners who match them income wise.
If you’re with a much older man, you have the opposite problem. The person with the money, generally has the power. If you’re with an older man who’s a lot better off than you and paying for you constantly, you’re constantly indebted. You feel like you need to even things up in other ways – running around after them, being at their sexual beck and call, constantly having to say thank-you. Your confidence and self-esteem take a beating.
Couples who earn similar amounts have a much easier time of it.
You have issues
Having done the younger man thing and now happily married to one my own age (well, close), I can report that it is overwhelmingly easier and a hundred times better dating someone your own age than it is someone younger.
I wish I’d ditched the toy boys years ago. I didn’t because I didn’t realise I was dating them because I had intimacy issues. My Dad had an affair and I struggled with jealousy and trust. Date someone far too young to take seriously long-term and you can pretend you’re in love with them. It’s not going to last, so you’re safe to go there. It took therapy before all this dawned on me but, if you’re only ever drawn to partners much older or much younger than you, it usually does mean there’s an issue there.
For women who date much older men, ‘daddy issues’ are often to blame. They’ll try to subconsciously rewrite their relationship with an absent or emotionally unavailable father by dating an older man and making him love them.
If you’re always dating younger men, intimacy is usually to blame.
Age gap relationships put a band-aid on old hurts but it only works temporarily. The same old problems resurface eventually and the relationship breaks down.
You get sick of your allotted ‘role’
If you’re the older person, you’re the ‘teacher’. The younger person is the ‘pupil’. Try as you might to kick the stereotype, it still inevitably turns out this way.
There are advantages to both scenarios.
If you’re the pupil, you get to learn about life from someone who’s been there and done that a lot longer than you have. If you’re the teacher, you get to boss your partner about, lord it over them a bit and boast about your experience.
Play that game for a long-time, however, and it becomes infuriating or tedious.
‘I loved learning from her and she taught me so much about life,’ one young lesbian who dated her older sister’s best friend said. ‘But when I felt like I’d matured into her equal, she still acted like my parent. She wouldn’t let me grow up.’
On the reverse side, it’s deeply unsexy being cast as the ‘mother figure’ – quadruple the humiliation if you’re mistaken as her!
You’re at the wrong stage and age
If you’re 40 and dating a 20-year-old the challenges you face are different than a 55 year old seeing someone who’s 75.
It’s not just physical issues that affect couples who are at different ages: different stages in our lives require different things. If you’re peak career, working hard and having to network after hours, most of your life focus is on your career. If you’re studying, you have completely different goals and priorities.
‘I had deadlines. I needed my brain. I couldn’t be out drinking until all hours,’ said one woman who finally tired of her toy-boy. ‘You have more responsibilities when you’re older. You might not seem ‘fun’ by insisting on getting early nights but it’s part of life.’
Settle with someone much older, later in your life, and you risk ending up their carer.
A friend of mine married her current partner when she was 50. He was 70. They had five, good years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimers. She is now 62 and has been dealing with a husband with severe dementia for seven years.
‘My day starts with my husband asking me ‘What are we going to do today?’ at least 30 times over in the space of five minutes. And it continues that way. He’s now an 85-year-old man. There are a lot of health issues on top of this.’
HERE’S THE ONE THE CRUCIAL FACTOR THAT WILL PREDICT IF YOU’LL SPLIT OR SURVIVE
One of the most important factors that signal long-term success for couples in age-gap relationships is social approval.
Anyone who’s ever had an extreme age-gap relationship has experienced the excruciating awkwardness that comes with socialising with each other’s friends or family who don’t approve.
If, on the contrary, you both think your family, friends and community are in favour of your relationship,statistically you have a much higher chance of making it long-term.
The bottom line appears to be this.
If the age difference is less than five years and you are middle-aged or younger, you probably won’t even notice it. A gap of ten years is definitely negotiable if you’re both willing to bend a little. It’s ten years or more that tests relationships both sexually and emotionally.
Most people are happier with people around the same age for a reason. It’s easier to relate and empathise with each other when you’re similar. Society doesn’t judge you, you have the same cultural reference points and have the same life experiences, at the same time.
If you want to make life easy, that’s the path to tread. If your motto is, ‘Who wants an easy life?’, go right ahead!
Visit traceycox.com for more blogs on sex and relationships. You’ll find Tracey’s product range at lovehoney.co.uk and traceycox.com.