By Alex Rennie
Elite Singles interviews relationship expert Susan Winter on the reality of dating a younger guy in this profile feature.
The idea of an older woman dating a younger guy isn’t exactly a new revelation; it’s a dynamic that’s featured across multiple cultures for centuries gone by. That said, older woman/younger man relationships have become increasingly visible in recent years, though that visibility hasn’t necessarily translated into a shift in societal norms. In search of an expert angle, we spoke to relationship doyen Susan Winter to unpick the complex interplay between society, mature women, and the reality of falling in love with a man who’s the junior party.
Beyond Cougardom; dating a younger guy in 2017
Eagle-eyed readers of EliteSingles Magazine will know that we’ve already made a foray into the world of older woman/younger man relationships. When the former article went live last year, the issue it explored was the somewhat problematic explosion of the term Cougar, particularly how it portrays those women who choose to start dating a younger guy. Beyond the Moore-Kutcher comparisons, it seemed something slightly more complex was afoot.
Nothing has changed. 2017 has been as much a “Year of the Cougar” as Newsweek’s proclaimed eight years ago. This year, society’s fascination with older woman/younger man relationships was reignited once more, and by the most surprising of events. During the French presidential election, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron’s marriage to Brigitte Trogneux, 25 years his senior, emerged as an unlikely sideshow to the politicking.
Media outlets across the world, from the reputable to the less salubrious, gorged on the incumbent president’s age-dissimilar relationship, some with respect, others without. Macron even suggested that if the age gap were the other way round, it’d barely be newsworthy, and if it did get covered, people would see it as something positive. For those still in need of convincing, Donald Trump’s figurative comments towards Trogneux ought to do the job.
Satire aside, this French vignette exposes the core of the issue; regardless of whether we gloss over the facts, we’re still not quite OK with older women dating younger men. Yes, eminent couples have helped thrust the topic into the limelight, but we’re still a fair distance from seeing older woman/younger man relationships as something ordinary. And as with most societal inequalities, it’s the real-life women and men who enter into these relationships that end up feeling the brunt of normativity.
Debating the injustices felt by mature women who decide on dating a younger guy, at the social level, is an extremely important project. So too is telling the stories of the men and women who’ve experienced these May-December relationships themselves. Only then can we start to piece together an honest and accurate picture, rather than resting on hackneyed caricatures.
Few people are better qualified to take on this mantle than Susan Winter. Based in New York, she’s researched and written extensively on the underpinnings of older woman/younger man relationships, from both intellectual and personal perspectives. Her best-selling Older Women/Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance is a case in point.
We’ve decided to publish our interview with Winter in full as it offers an incredibly nuanced overview of the topic. Far from being last-chance saloon, dating a younger guy can be one of the most stimulating decisions an older woman can take. Here’s the lowdown…
Older woman/younger man relationships have been dealt some pretty vitriolic condemnation in the past. Do you think this has something to do with them operating outside of conventional gender norms?
SW: Yes, society likes conformity and rails against disruption. Historically, older men were granted access to younger women because they could take care of them. Maturity enabled older men to amass power and wealth, so this was seen as a clear-cut benefit to the younger mate. Conversely, the image of an older woman with power and her own wealth is new to the last midcentury.
The idea of a mature woman being wanted by a younger man is unsettling, as it doesn’t fit the traditional norm. We’ve been taught that women are desired for their youth and beauty. How and why would a younger man choose an older woman? It must be for the money, right? There has to be a payoff. An outsider assumes the draw of an older woman is the same draw as an older man. But that’s not the case.
What are your thoughts on the deeper meaning of the term Cougar? A lone predator hunting unsuspecting prey isn’t the most endearing of monikers…
SW: Given all the recent news about sexual impropriety, I find this term offensive. Nothing’s more off-putting than the image of a slovenly old gal in leopard stretch pants pawing a college boy at the bar. Even if you placed that same woman in designer clothes and a luxury car, anyone exhibiting predatory characteristics is unappealing. Abuse of power is unacceptable under any condition. Though I’m not fond of the term Cougar, it’s certainly easier than saying “older women and younger men.” Valerie Gibson coined this term when she wrote book of the same title. Patently sexual, it was supposed to empower women, comparing them to a stealth predator.
The overarching inaccuracy lies in the relationship context; every older woman I’ve researched, including myself, didn’t come onto her younger man. He pursued her. The commonality was that none of us had a younger man on our radar. This was something that took us by surprise and wasn’t calculated. That’s one of the hallmarks of the older woman younger man relationship; the pursuer is the younger man.
What role have age-dissimilar celebrity relationships played in the debate?
SW: Modern-day celebrities have opened the door to age gap relationships for all of us. Having larger number of older females marrying younger men lessens the taboo. Celebrities have always been above our social laws. In this realm, they’ve helped release the stigma around an older female and her younger mate.
If a woman is considering dating a younger man for the first time, are there some initial steps she can take to better understand the dynamic?
SW: She must have tremendous self-esteem. Every day she’ll notice the physical differences between herself and her younger partner. It can be daunting. She will also have to be prepared for social censure. It’s good practice to have some handy one- liners ready to combat negative comments. She should read material of those who’ve been there. There are numerous books, articles and videos from women who’ve lived this lifestyle.
What are some of the most common problems woman face when dating a younger guy? If possible, can you include any examples from your experiences?
SW: Yes. The sudden recognition of the physical differences can come as a shock. If you spend all day looking into your mate’s wrinkle-free face, it can be a shock when you catch your own image in the mirror. But the aging process is cruel to all women, even those with same aged or older partners. We’re held to the impossible standards. Youth and beauty are valuable commodities in the western world. It takes guts to go through the aging process and still feel good about ourselves.
It’s also necessary to find the intersection of common interests, as well as those hobbies you need to pursue on your own. This is even more important as the woman becomes older. Certain physical activities will not be interesting or possible any longer. Both partners have to adjust to this. The older female will constantly be exposed to new music, writers, and creative formats. She will learn a new language of communication, and will be forced to stay current with her partner. This is a good thing.
How can couples confront issues surrounding differences that stem from the age-gap when it comes to interests and social events?
SW: You must learn when to include, and when to exclude. Think about each invitation you receive. What venues will be comfortable for him? Will he be with people he finds interesting? You don’t want your younger man feeling intimidated by judgmental individuals or staunch protocol. He should be asking the same questions of the invitations he receives. When in doubt, review everything. Perhaps your guy likes going to raves. You don’t need to join him for every event. If your nightmare scenario is sweaty dancing to EDM for hours on end, raving isn’t for you. It doesn’t mean you’re old. It means that choice of venue is not for you.
Inclusion versus exclusion is something most age gap couples don’t consider until it’s a problem. As the age gap widens, differences will be easier to notice. Then it’s even more important to be selective about the couples with whom you socialise and the events you attend. Your partner should have at least one couple with whom you feel at home. Cultivate that relationship. As for your friends, choose the most open-minded.
Can a person’s friendships and family relationships suffer from being in an age-dissimilar relationship?
SW: Absolutely, this is part of the risk you take. In extreme cases the family may cut ties altogether. You or your partner may be put to a test, “it’s them or us.” My partner’s family did this to him. After a number of years, the price was too high for either of us to pay. There can be collateral damage to certain friendships. Not everyone will endorse your choice and you may indeed lose friends in the process. However, I’ve seen tremendous advancement for all of us in age gap partnerships over the last two decades. Society is relaxing and integrating this new model into its wider template of relationship formats.
How important is it to communicate clearly when broaching topics such as having children and meeting parents?
SW: The issue of children can be a deal breaker. This is a problem inherent to age gap relationships. It’s good to have this conversation early on. Are you done raising children? Are you open to having children with him? Your age and willingness to have children is the number one discussion to have before entering a long-term partnership.
Meeting the parents should be done when you’re committed as a couple. Knowing your family’s response is essential. Do you anticipate problems? Will it be your mother or your father, or his? Gauging who’ll be the difficult parent to win over enables you both to be ready with the proper arguments. Generally, parents will have three areas of concern; the issue of children, protecting your finances, and you getting emotionally hurt. Make sure you both plan all possible responses to any pointed questions you may receive. Role-play if necessary. Being equipped to respond will give you the upper hand.
Is there a chance that patriarchy can harm the man too? Could he be emasculated by being with a woman who’s likely to be more successful than him, both financially and socially?
SW: This is a generational construct. Throughout history masculinity was defined in terms of financial, social and psychological control. Much has changed over time. Women have advanced positions and rule not only companies, but also countries. Today’s younger men are accustomed to working side-by-side with smart, confident women. Their boss may be a female. There’s a good chance their mother worked outside the home. Equality between the sexes is a given for most Millennials and Gen Xs.
Our definition of what is masculine is changing. So is our definition a partnership. One consistent factor has emerged from my research; the younger men who’re drawn to older women are attracted to their confidence. Rather than being emasculated by woman having power, they find themselves excited by her abilities.
One popular belief is that when an older woman begins dating a younger guy, the emphasis is solely on carnality. In the past you’ve spoken about there being a more intellectual element at play to make the dynamic function. Can you flesh this out?
SW: Certainly, the sexual element is profound. But sex alone cannot keep a couple together, especially when there are so many outside forces that can work to erode the relationship. As in all true partnerships, there must be a meeting of the minds and hearts of its participants. The younger men I’ve interviewed all exhibited incredible self-awareness. They were atypical of their age group. They also had a deep need for intellectual and emotional content. These factors drew them to an older partner. The sexual component was simply the romantic language they spoke to express their mutual admiration.
Older women who attract younger men tend to be renegades. They’re front-runners and leaders who follow the beat of their own drum. Even if they have a button-down lifestyle, they’re mentally adventurous. This is the key element that allows them to take the leap towards dating a younger man. When intellectual curiosity meets emotional depth and wisdom, sparks fly.
Is there a sort of educational aspect to age-dissimilar relationships? Rather that concluding that it’s the man who’s ‘learning the ropes’ from his older partner, aren’t both parties benefiting?
SW: If the woman’s smart, she’ll allow herself to learn. It isn’t all about her teaching him. Expanding her world is essential to the maximum enjoyment of an age gap relationship. An older female partner will be exposed to all sorts of new things from music to thought forms. This is the beautiful part of a younger man’s gift to his older partner. It’s a chapter you never expected to see in the book of your life.
Having the courage to walk against the norm, when the call is authentic and true to do so, forges great character. The older woman is forced to be courageous, to stand up for what she believes, and to not cave into social expectations. This is true liberation. All these things are the unexpected gifts of loving a younger man.
Can older woman/younger man relationships go the distance? Similarly, how founded is the fear that the man will ‘grow up and out’ of the relationship?
SW: This is every older woman’s fear, yet it isn’t based in fact. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that a woman’s worth is her youth and beauty. For centuries, that was the only currency she held. So it’s natural to assume the younger man would lose interest as his partner ages. However, in the real world, these relationships last longer than most people would imagine. When I wrote Older Women/Younger Men; New Options for Love and Romance the average age gap was 16 years apart, and the average time married or living together was 12 years. Perhaps that’s because the couples in age gap relationships have to fight so dearly to be together.
Are there certain practices unique to an age-dissimilar relationship necessary to keep it thriving?
SW: I think the thing that keeps the age gap relationships thriving lies within the foundation of necessity; communication. The couple can face so much criticism and misunderstanding that speaking to each other about it becomes essential. And the need to coordinate their different worlds in day-to-day requires it. Generational differences necessitate clear communication. So whether the couple intends to or not, they will find themselves developing a language that’s clear, precise, unifying and effective.
Are men who seek relationships with older woman are somehow different from their peers?
SW: Yes, I believe they’re highly evolved. And that’s not just a personal opinion. It’s also based on extensive interviews with several hundred men involved in this romantic lifestyle. They’re clearly advanced in their thinking and emotional capacity. They’re not looking for a mommy to take care of them. They’re looking for a partner to inspire them. They long for depth and dimension. Power in a partner is an aphrodisiac, not a turnoff that emasculates them. Confidence is sexy to them, as well as a woman who knows her worth.
It’s refreshing to find a group of men who revel in a woman’s fullest expression. Rather than make her submissive to their will, younger men encourage and admire a woman’s confidence. This is a fresh romantic model that’s added a much-needed dimension to the traditional partnership prototype. Any time we create new models that expand our capacity for loving partnerships, we all prosper.
For more tips from Susan, head on over to her homepage; if you’re looking for a current and engaging take on love and relationships, it’s a must.