1. 4 4 / W W W. S H O R T L I S T. C O M
D A T I N G Y O U N G E R W O M E N
hen Richard* was 28 years old he started
dating Jennifer*. Jennifer was 19 years
old. She had the enthusiasm of a
19-year-old. She had the hope and
vitality of a 19-year-old. She had the face and body of
a 19-year-old. All of that stuff was 19 years old, and
Richard was happy.
But the snags started early. The first aggravation
was the reaction of his friends. They didn’t take the
relationship seriously, and they didn’t take her
seriously. They didn’t even call her by her name, simply
referring to her as ‘The 19-year-old’: “Is The 19-year-
old coming out tonight?”
“That was annoying,” says Richard. “Her friends
were a problem as well, but it wasn’t their fault. If
I went to a party among her friends, it was awkward.
They were a different generation. They were so young,
and it made me feel so old.”
The relationship hierarchy was also troublesome.
Richard was a senior radio researcher, while Jennifer
was doing work experience on a sister station. She
treated him like a mentor, she asked for career advice.
There is still a
who date women
that are much
them. But why is
that the case?
2. W W W. S H O R T L I S T . C O M / 4 54 5
WHAT THE STATISTICS SAY…
Plenty of academic thought has been invested in the name of the age gap
Y O U N G B R I D E S
P R O L O N G L I F E
A 2010 study by the
Max Planck Institute
Research in Germany
suggests that marrying
a younger woman may
prolong your life — the
chances of dying early
are cut by one-fifth if
your wife is 15-17
years your junior.
W O M E N G O F O R
O L D E R M E N
Last year, dating site
surveyed 1,000 people
and found that 36 per
cent of women aged
25-35 wanted a man
who was at least five
years older; 42 per cent
of single, middle-aged
men were seeking
a younger partner.
1 4 . 6 I S T H E
M A G I C N U M B E R
In 2007, researchers
at the University Of
Turku in Finland found
that Finnish men
during the 17th to 19th
century who married
women 14.6 years
younger than them
had the greatest
number of offspring
M E N J U S T TA K E
L O N G E R T O
G R O W U P
In her 2006 book
The Female Brain, US
claimed boys are two
years behind girls in
during childhood, and
this can continue to
their early 20s.
She praised him — he could do no wrong. She
effectively idolised him.
“She became more like a cheerleader than
a girlfriend,” he says.
And money was another problem — Richard had it,
Jennifer didn’t. She still lived at home. She couldn’t
afford things. She felt uncomfortable in restaurants
and couldn’t pay for trips abroad. Richard wanted to
do those things, but then always had to pay. It made
her feel bad and made him feel like a sugar daddy. The
novelty of her youth evaporated and, after six months,
he ended it. I ask what initially attracted him to her.
“She was 19 years old,” he says.
MORE THAN A NUMBER
The age-gap relationship is a tricky beast and not
many of us try it. According to the Office For National
Statistics, the average marriage comprises a man two
years older than a woman. Those who venture beyond
the norm provoke suspicion: greed, foolishness, even
perversion. We wonder why they’re not being like us,
what’s different about them.
“People are usually attracted to those of the same
age because of the similarities between them,” says
psychologist Mark Rackley. “Whether it’s liking the
same things culturally, or being at the same
development point in regards to careers and children
— it’s easier to see a future with that person. So the
main problem with an age-gap relationship is that
you’re likely to be vastly different.
“There are many reasons why a man may
be attracted to a younger woman despite those
differences. One is that younger women are generally
more attractive. It might also feed a man’s ego.
Or it could be that they’re trying to hold on to a part
of their life that they’re not ready to let go of, and
they don’t feel ready to move on to a different phase
in their life.”
There’s that negativity again — the idea that
there must be something wrong with these people.
Celebrity age-gappers receive the most vicious
criticism. Gossip magazines and tabloid newspapers
frequently cast Tom Cruise (16 years older than Katie
Holmes) and Michael Douglas (25 years older than
Catherine Zeta-Jones) as depraved, or just weird.
People continually doubt the authenticity of these
However, the comments don’t seem to bother
Cruise or Douglas. They no doubt dismiss all of
the attention as jealousy or shallowness. The
comments don’t bother Mark, either. Mark
is 46 years old and lives in Oxfordshire with his wife,
Louise. She’s blonde, attractive and 28 years old.
The couple met when Louise was 21, and they got
married last year.
“I often get similar reactions from men — they
think she’s just some sort of trophy,” he says.
“I understand where they’re coming from, and I might
have thought the same when I was younger, but
not any more. I imagine guys look at her and think
she’s just eye candy, but once they talk to her
that usually disappears because she’s a very
You can imagine their relationship: rich guy in
the home counties, young blonde wife. Immediately
your thoughts turn to money. But Louise is a lawyer,
and when she met Mark he was working as a
floor-layer. He’s now a gardener, and he’s not rich.
He knows that some women go for older men
because they have money, but he’s never had it.
So now, horribly, we think: what is it then? Can it
actually be love?
“I met Louise when she was working in a bar in
Southampton and training to be a lawyer,” he says.
“I used to drink there and she pursued me more than
I pursued her. I remember picking her up at her student
digs and her friends said I couldn’t take her away.
I can imagine what they were thinking. But as the years
have gone by they’ve taken me more seriously and
accepted me as I am.”
Of course there is another issue to consider —
according to the 2010 Men’s Health Forum report,
nearly a quarter of men in England and Wales die
before the age of 65, which would turn younger wives
into carers and widows long before their time. It’s
a problem Mark has considered: “I don’t act my
age, which helps in a way. My only concern is getting
older. I’ll be 76 when Louise is 58. It makes me want
to stay fit and healthy, but it’s more of a worry for
me than her. Whenever I bring it up she just says
it’s not a problem.”
A ROCKY ROAD
Many people in age-gap relationships experience
difficulties. Paula Hall, a relationship psychotherapist
with Relate, says there are two main concerns that
“Couples of a similar age share a lot of firsts,”
she says. “It’s a bonding experience. But couples
with age gaps tell me they become annoyed because
the other person has already done everything. For
instance, she might want to see the northern lights
for the first time, but he’s already seen them before
when he was younger.
“The solution is communication. You need to be
aware of those differences, acknowledge them and
talk about it. People think love will conquer all, but
you need to face these things as well. A well-meaning
partner not mentioning he’s already been to watch
the tennis at Wimbledon will ruin the experience when
the lie eventually comes out.
“The other main problem is dealing with what
people think, such as friends, family or just someone
on the street — ‘Are you out with your dad?’ for
instance. It does happen. Some friends will wonder
whether it’s going to last, and people will assume he’s
rich and she’s stupid. You just need to be ready to
face that sort of reaction together.”
On being asked about other people’s prejudices,
Mark remembers friends often declared that it wouldn’t
last. “One guy said to me, ‘Mark, she won’t hang
around. As you get older, she’ll be gone.’ He was
a mate at the time. Some guys have been envious,
but I just laugh it off.”
And it must be easy to laugh when you've
proved everyone wrong.
Curb Your Enthusiasm’s
Larry and Cheryl’s age-gap
relationship doesn't last
“I IMAGINE GUYS LOOK AT
HER AND THINK SHE’S EYE
CANDY, BUT ONCE THEY TALK
TO HER THAT DISAPPEARS”