Susan Sarandon, Joan Collins and Gwyneth Paltrow all have a younger man as their partner. They insist how happy there are - and have been doing so for years - but the older woman/younger man combination has always been viewed askance. Why should that be?
No longer a rarity
Back in the 1970s the press went wild when the German beauty Silvia Sommerlath married Carl-Gustav, King of Sweden. The issue was not so much the new queen’s bourgeois background as the fact that she had the audacity to be three years older than her blue-blooded fiancé. Over the past 30 years or so it’s not just high-profile women who’ve taken to consorting with younger men: today in the US, the bride in one wedding out of five is older than her groom and it’s a growing trend, though of course the divide isn’t always as great as the 15 years between Demi Moore and her ‘toy boy’ husband Ashton Kutcher.
Older woman/younger man relationships tend to be viewed with scepticism. At their own admission, many young men are fascinated by the experience and authority of an older woman and, if we are to believe surveys, they appreciate their motherly aura. “Just as we thought,” sceptics will exclaim, “These younger men are looking for a substitute mother.” The situation seems to confirm all the classic prejudices: the young guys have got an Oedipus complex and older women are only too happy to pander to it. But have you ever wondered what a younger woman sees in an older man? Fatherly protection … experience … power … prestige?
A relationship of that kind is socially acceptable, but why do people get destructively judgmental when faced with an older woman and a younger man? There is a centuries-old tradition of greying men recapturing their youth with young Lolitas. Back in the Middle Ages, the feudal system only permitted a journeyman to woo his maid if he was in a position to feed a family. In most cases the groom was already of mature years when he went in search of a bride - whose youth was hopefully a guarantee of her child-bearing potential.
No guarantees in love
The American psychologist Jan Sinnott from the University of Baltimore has made in-depth research of couples in which the woman is older than the man. The findings are that these relationships are generally more harmonious and durable than has been assumed. As Susanne (36) explains, when she first introduced her 27-year-old boyfriend Mark to her family and friends, she had to put up with comments like this one from her mother: “He’s bound to leave you for a younger woman.” Susanne could only respond by shrugging her shoulders. That’s the kind of thing that could happen in any relationship: there are no guarantees that a relationship is going to last, no matter what the combination of ages. So why should there be so much negativity about the combination of an older woman and a younger man? Commentators claim that disparity in ages can put pressure on any relationship, since the two people do not share a similar pool of experiences and childhood memories - but the same could be said of relationships between two people from different cultures or countries. Don’t these differences perhaps prove enriching to a relationship, since they provide a new point of view for both partners?
A good team
Many women rave about their younger partners, because they seem to be capable of real give and take in a relationship. As Susanne explains: “Many men whose age would seem to make them better suited to me are just too traditionally male in their views.”
Sex also plays a part, and it’s worth remembering that , by the time women reach their sexual peak, most of their male contemporaries’ libidos are on the decline.
Younger men often complain that the older women they like are wary of a relationship, probably because the women are worried about what people around them might think. That’s a shame, because tolerance is an important fundamental element of a relationship. When it comes to finding a partner, you shouldn’t close your eyes to possibilities.