The phenomenon of men dating younger women is depicted everywhere in pop culture. Hollywood movies frequently cast much older male actors to star alongside young actresses, and the same actors are often snapped by paparazzi dating much younger women in real life. Male singers have long referenced younger women in songs with epithets like "baby" and "little girl" and now it's increasingly common for women to refer to their sexual partners as "daddy". The idea that it's normal and natural for men to date women five, 10, 15 or even 20 years younger than them is pretty firmly culturally ingrained at this point.
However, it's worth taking a second look at whether this phenomenon should continue to be taken for granted. There are certain difficulties that accompany every relationship with a large age gap, but in the case of men dating younger women, there's also a tricky power dynamic that needs to be considered.
So, if you're thinking about dating a younger woman, here are five things you should bear in mind before doing so:
1. The Power Dynamic Is Skewed
"Power dynamic" is a term that recognizes that power in social relationships can come from many sources: money, age, prestige, class, and so on. Speaking in general terms, older people have more social power than younger people, and, in a variety of demonstrable ways and despite measurable progress in this area, men have more power than women. Hence, when you combine the two variables — an older man and a younger woman — the power dynamic favors the older man. The bigger the age gap between you, and the younger she is, the more skewed the power dynamic will be in your favor. Other variables like race, class and gender identity will also factor in to the power balance of your relationship.
The presence of a skewed power dynamic does not necessarily mean that a relationship with an age gap should never happen, but it does mean that you need to take extreme care, and in certain cases it's sensible to decide that the power dynamic is too out of whack for a relationship to be formed. Age of consent laws help us to draw a clear (legal) line between women who are too young to date and women who aren't, but aside from this, every man must draw his own moral line.
It certainly depends heavily on the age of the younger woman rather than just the quantity of the age gap. For example, when a rapper in his late 20s dates a 17-year-old celeb, people find it suspicious and harmful, but fewer people think a much larger, 20-plus-years age gap between some celebrity couples is objectionable if the woman is in her 30s when they got together — these are fully grown women capable of making their own decisions and much less likely to be affected by peer pressure.
So, there are no clear lines, but if you're over 30, dating a woman under 20 is likely to be perceived as suspicious and potentially harmful, dating a woman between 20-25 is a sliding grey area, but probably more acceptable, and dating a woman 25+ is generally going to be socially acceptable. Again, though, these are not hard and fast lines or rules, and you need to draw your own moral lines.
2. She Is, By Definition, Not Mature
A young woman can be smart, witty and worldly, but she is, by definition, not mature or experienced. Certain life experiences and personal qualities only come from being alive on earth for a decent length of time, so if you are considering dating a woman who you would otherwise think is too young but for the fact that she's "really mature for her age," stop kidding yourself. If your prospective partner is fresh out of high school, having never weathered a job loss, heartbreak or any of the other hallmarks of adult life, you are (a) going to struggle to relate to each other, and (b) she is not going to be well-equipped with the tools needed for a serious relationship yet.
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3. She Might Be Expecting Too Much From You
Stereotypically speaking, when a young woman dates an older man she may have a few qualities in mind that she expects you to have: financial security, maturity and gentlemanliness, for example. She may think that guys her own age are immature and directionless, and be looking for an older guy to provide more stability for her.
Which is all well and good, except if you're as directionless and financially insecure as the men she's trying to avoid. Or maybe she's not looking for financial security, but she thinks you're going to be a complete gentleman who will woo her with flowers and chocolates, whereas you're not the slightest bit romantic in the traditional sense. She might have completely unrealistic expectations of men in general, or she might simply have unrealistic expectations from you in particular that you are never going to be able to meet, and you will need to work those out before starting something serious.
4. You Might Be Expecting Too Much From Her
Similarly, you might be tempted to date a younger woman rather than someone your own age because of a cliched idea that they have a relative lack of "issues", are more wild, fun, flexible, and so on. This isn't a great way of looking at things: young women still have their own complications, hang ups and issues, and besides, the entire point of dating someone is to share your life with another fully realized human being with flaws, not a Barbie doll who will never challenge you or require reassurance or assistance. You expect your partner to love you, warts and all, so if you're only dating younger women because you think that they're relatively "flawless", you're going about things entirely the wrong way.
The only way you can figure this stuff out is to talk openly about your expectations. If she's seeking a silver fox who will open car doors for her and order Champagne at every restaurant you visit, you're going to need to be straight with her if you're not going to be providing that for her. Let her know that you're a person she'll be dating, not a weird father figure or security blanket. Likewise, she can let you know that she's a human woman with flaws and insecurities, not a hot babe who will never "burden" you with a single emotional need. (Just kidding, we know you don't expect or want that at all. You don't want that, right?)
5. You May Not Want The Same Things From Life
Let's say you're not burdened by the above issues: she has a realistic idea of what she expects from older men, and you in particular; and vice versa. You're not looking for a flawless one-dimensional sex doll and she's not looking for a sugar daddy either — you're just two regular people who like each other and clicked, and there happens to be an age gap between you. That's great!
It's still worth considering the "stage of life" problem, though. While not everyone moves through life at the same pace and ticks off the same milestones at the same time (university, work, marriage, babies, buying a house, etc.), there are still, broadly speaking, stages of life: an interest in partying and lack of responsibilities typically characterizes your 20s, for example, whereas your 30s tend to be career building years, and your 40s… well, you get the picture.
If your significant other is an amazing person who you mesh with well, but you simply aren't looking for the same things (she just wants to party, you're ready to start thinking about settling down and having kids, for example), it's just not going to work out. These issues can, of course, affect couples who are the same age and who have different priorities, but relationships with a large age gap are especially susceptible to the "stage of life" problem.
So, what's the answer? Should you date a younger woman?
It pays to look very closely and honestly at your reasons for considering dating a younger woman. If you're ignoring a disturbing power imbalance — or you're dating a younger woman in the hope of avoiding all the "baggage" fully realized adult women bring with them — you need to take a deeper look at your priorities. Your partner isn't a trophy to show off to your friends and coworkers, she's a human with her own interests, struggles, insecurities and past. If that scares you, you might not be ready for a relationship at all, let alone one with a younger woman.
However, maybe you've met a woman you really vibe with, and she's younger but not too young, and you've talked about everything — your expectations, where you are in life, your goals for the next few years, etc — and you're aligned. In this case, you'll still need to treat carefully for all of the above reasons, but if you're really feeling each other, go for it.