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Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010

Do Age Differences Matter When Meeting New Partners?

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I have recently started looking around again after being asexual for a significant time. I am 30, but have never been credited for being older than 25 when someone guesses, so I very frequently find that I have a woman seven to 10 years my junior interested right up until I tell her how old I actually am. If she was interested when she thought I was 24, why is she not interested when she finds I am 30? I have heard that an acceptable age range is "half your age plus seven." How accurate is this? Is this applicable to both serious dating and casual sex? Serious dating I can see, since life experience is a huge part of relationships, but I do not see why it would be such an issue for casual sex.

Age can be a tricky thing when it comes to sex and dating. Culturally, we tend to pay close attention to sexual situations in which there is a large age difference between partners; witness the recent fascination with “cougars” (older women who are looking for younger male partners) and media coverage of celebrity couples with age disparities, such as Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart or Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. One might argue that dating outside of your age peer group is becoming more common and more acceptable, but it’s still something that’s noticed and commented upon.

Traditionally, older men have been seen in a mostly favorable light in the dating game. Older men are typically thought to be more mature and better providers of financial and emotional stability than younger men, and thus might be seen as a “good catch” for a younger woman. However, times they are a-changing, and the stereotype of older man as provider might have less and less relevance to women today, as the economic and social playing fields continue to be leveled. This stereotype is also specifically linked to long-term relationships rather than to casual sex.

There is a negative flip side to the “older man” meme. Older men who hang around venues that tend to draw a significantly younger crowd can be viewed as somewhat creepy, especially if these men are looking for casual sex. The assumption at work here may be that there’s something “wrong” with an older man who is not in a stable relationship already, or that the man is seeking out younger, less experienced women in order to con them in some way.

I don’t think that either the older-man-as-provider or older-man-as-creep stereotypes hold a lot of water when it comes to individual men, but those cultural assumptions are out there, and they do affect how we view individuals in a particular situation.

In your case, since you look significantly younger than you are, there may be some feeling among the women that you approach or who approach you that they have been deceived, whether intentionally or not. It’s great that you’re honest about your age, and I definitely think you should continue to tell the truth about it. However, most women are operating under the assumption that you are younger, and are entering into a conversation with you based on this premise. I’m sure there are many younger women who would be interested in a 30-year-old man, and many women your age and older who would be too, but you’re not attracting these women based on your appearance—you’re attracting the ones who are interested in a 25-year-old. Thus, when they find out that you’re older, they are no longer interested. The “older-man-as-creep” meme just adds another negative layer to this situation, regardless of whether or not that stereotype fits you.

I don’t feel that formulas like the one you mention for an “acceptable” dating age range are particularly useful in these situations, as you have discovered. Your formula puts your lower dating/sex age range at 22, but for every 22-year-old woman who would be happy dating a 30-year-old man, there’s another who would find that totally unappealing.

The key is for you to find partners for dating, relationships or sex who are interested in a man your age, regardless of their own. To do this, you’ll have to seek out situations where appearances are not the first thing used to judge someone’s age, or venues where the average age tends to skew a little older, so that everyone there doesn’t automatically assume that the entire crowd is in their 20s. Meeting potential partners through mutual friends, online or in different places than the ones you currently frequent might help.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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