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October 26, 2006

Comments

Jodie

Douglas, I can tell you that the people who feel the most disgust are the uninterested younger women who are being hit on by men in their 40s.

My 21-year-old daughter is adept at telling those (to her) old guys how unflattering their attentions are; she and her friends started getting overtures (not always polite, either) from men in that age group when she was 16, and five years later she is heartily sick of it and angry as well.

Douglas, what does this disgust say about these young women, who think these older men should be treating them in an age-appropriate manner?

Douglas, Friend of Osho

mythago: What copy of "Barely Legal"?

Jodie: I'm glad your daughter and her friends can take care of themselves. For the record, though, does it mollify them in any way if they're asked out by men their own age that they're not interested in?

mythago

Douglas, I'm trying to puzzle out why you're deliberately ignoring what's been said here.

Hugo

Jodie and Douglas, I wrote this post for several reasons -- out of concern for women like Jodie's daughter, and out of concern for men like my friend Sean. Douglas, the shot about "way too much time on my hands" was uncalled for. Musing on gender is what this blog is all about, if you're not interested, niffle off somewhere else, Breaker boy.

Jeff

I'm trying to put my finger on what's bothering me so much about this discussion.

Part of it is that, at 29, my own dating pool seems to "skew younger," at least partly for the following reasons:

* Fewer twenty-somethings are (monogamously) married;
* Fewer twenty-somethings are looking for a potential spouse or father to their children;
* Many of my interests also "skew younger" - e.g., gaming, television shows, young adult lit;
* I meet a lot of people via my girlfriend, who's a grad student;
* I meet a lot of people online, which skews toward college students with free time and Internet access; and
* I meet most of the people my own age or older through work, which places them "off limits."

Checking OKCupid (dating/quiz site), I find that of my ten "best matches," one is older than me, one is the same age and eight are younger, some significantly so. (Of course, I think that site skews young too.)

Another part of it is that I read complaints about people who are "too old" hitting on someone, the tone invariably sounds similar to complaints about people who are "too ugly" or "too fat" having the audacity to be attracted to anyone.

There's the idea that we're reducing people to numbers - while for some folks that may be the appeal (if you're dating a 21-year-old just to prove something, it probably doesn't matter which 21-year-old you date), it's really annoying having to defend my feelings about the few people I'm attracted to based on the characteristics of the vast majority of people I'm not.

Finally, there's the whole "life script" idea - that part of "aging" is changing your interests to conform to what's expected of your age cohort.

mythago

the tone invariably sounds similar to complaints about people who are "too ugly" or "too fat" having the audacity to be attracted to anyone

Nobody is saying that older people shouldn't be attracted to anyone, or should never find younger people attractive. Hugo's repeatedly said that he's talking about the phenomenon of older men preferring much younger women exclusively (or near-exclusively).

There's a big difference between "of the potential dates I've met, many are a few years younger" and "I follow the rule where they have to be half my age plus seven."

Christopher

I think we have a conflation of scenarios here that makes it difficult to tease out real opinions:

Scenario 1) older men hitting on younger women in ways that make the younger women feel disgusted. Clearly wrong. (Though I would argue it is never appropriate to hit on someone who doesn't give positive feedback signals that they are appreciating it, regardless of age difference)

Scenario 2) Older men who solely seek out much younger women. A sad scenario that probably indicates a lack of interest in anything beyond physical attractiveness. At minimum a lack of apprecation for nuanced personalities.

Scenario 3) Here is where I feel the interesting question lies (and which I am currently dealing with): We start with a younger woman pursuing an older man (so we're clearly not in scenario 1). Take as a given that they get along very well on several levels, that there is mutual attraction, and that this is not a case of either money-grubbing on the younger woman's part or pure lechery on the older man's part. Now, are you saying that 2 compatible people should _not_ date solely based on a 10 year (say 30 and 20) age difference?

Granted, given a 20 year old and a woman of the same mold but 8 years older, I'd go with the 28 year old every time, because the additional life experiences make people more interesting, because of the ease of dealing with someone in the same "life stage", and because of societal pressures to "date one's own age". But if said 28 year old doesn't exist, I find it difficult to pass up an opportunity to explore a relationship with someone who I like and who clearly likes me, because finding real compatibility is a fairly infrequent occurrence (one way interest in either direction happens with some frequency, it is two-way chemistry that is rare).

westcoast2

When buying presents sometimes we buy something we would like for ourselves.

Didn't she hit on him on behalf of her mum? Maybe she did think step dad, maybe not. She certainly thought he would be attractive to her mum though.

On aging...
We not only want to be fit and youthful, we want to hold on to the world of "limitless possibility" that so many of us associate with our teens and twenties.

This is such a limiting belief! Even when you're as old as you are (40ish?) you still have "limitless possibility" and at least (if nothing untoward happens) another lifetime in which to explore them. You also get all the benefits life experience brings - seems like a bargain.

west
----


Mr. Bad

mythago said: "Nobody is saying that older people shouldn't be attracted to anyone, or should never find younger people attractive. Hugo's repeatedly said that he's talking about the phenomenon of older men preferring much younger women exclusively (or near-exclusively)."

Yeah, older women who prefer younger men exclusively? No problem. It's only those nasty men who are insecure lechers who are afraid of aging and who can't handle strong, secure, mature women their own age. Uh huh.

I think that there's another, simpler reason why we don't see as many older women hooking up with younger men, and that's the issue of 'shelf life.' Like it or not, even though (some) men might get fatter, grayer and more bald (as some women do, with the last being rare in women) their 'shelf life' doesn't expire the way women's does. In fact, some people claim that for lots of reasons men get better as they age vis-a-vis desirability as a stable partner, family member, etc. The reality is that young women are attracted to older men a lot more often than young men are attracted to older women. Therefore, the chances of success when an older man makes a pass at a young woman are IMO much higher than when an older woman makes a pass at a young man. Another factor is something that I hit on (pun intended) before, that being the issue of getting snubbed. Since in our society men are expected to make the first move when dating, men are much more used to rejection than women are, and therefore they're less afraid of and bothered by it when it happens. Call it "the practice effect" (nod to David Brin). Sure, Hugo can talk about the "fragile male ego," his pal Sean's reaction to the barrista, etc., but as I said, it doesn't even come close to the meltdown that occurs when a man turns down a woman. So, IMO the reason we see more OM/YW than OW/YM pairs is because 1) the odds of success are greater for the OM/YW combo, and 2) the emotional consequences are less severe for the OM if/when he gets turned down.

Jeremy Henty

So much to respond to, so little space in the comment box!

Hugo: thanks for taking Douglas to task over the "too much time on your hands" comment - it really pissed me off and it's nice to see it squished.

Jeff, you have a good point. When you're 40-ish and single, you're stuck with the fact that your age peers are not your lifestyle peers. Like it or not, most people my age are deeply involved with family and home (or the aftermath of their failure). The things that come first for me come very much second (if that) to them. Getting them down to the pub for a drink and a chat is like pulling teeth! If I decide to hang out with people who are similarly available for pubs/gigs/activism, it's inevitable that my crowd will consist largely of people 10-20 years younger than me.

Christopher, you say:

Older men who solely seek out much younger women. A sad scenario that probably indicates a lack of interest in anything beyond physical attractiveness.

Sad, certainly, but it might also indicate insecurity, or an inability to relate to an equal or something else. The one time I pursued someone much younger than myself it wasn't physical attractiveness that was the driving force.

I find it difficult to pass up an opportunity to explore a relationship with someone who I like and who clearly likes me, because finding real compatibility is a fairly infrequent occurrence

Tell me about it! But don't forget that someone young and inexperienced is likely to misjudge how compatible the two of you are. That's the upside of someone more mature - they'll generally make a better call about how workable the relationship is, and they're probably more willing and able to do their bit to make it work. (Yes, I did discover this the hard way. Sucks.)

Jodie

Mr. Bad, I turn 50 this year and men half my age do ask me out now and again.

Personally, I have no interest in pursuing a dating or sexual relationship with someone who lacks the maturity level and life experience I've gained.

What I look for is an equal. I don't want a student, I don't want a dependent, and I don't want a mentee.

With the advent of my last child leaving home, I find I no longer lack for satisfying partners, even though my pool is limited by requiring age mates and hefty amounts of both creativity and intelligence. This was not true in my early 40s; partners were more difficult to come by, but now I think it was due more to my responsibilities to my children and my time constraints than it was due to me, my looks, or my age.

What you may perceive as "shelf life" I think may very well translate to what Hugo's talking about. People aren't products; women are not foodstuffs. The term "shelf life" gets bandied around a lot, but it is just another way of making people into things, and reducing women to no more value than what they can muster in terms of youth and attractiveness.

If all you want in a partner is a possession, a thing, I feel sorry for you because you are missing out on a lot. And I feel sorry for your partners who would settle for so little from a companion.

mythago

Like it or not, even though (some) men might get fatter, grayer and more bald (as some women do, with the last being rare in women) their 'shelf life' doesn't expire the way women's does.

By "shelf life" I assume you mean "fertility"? Because I don't think they're selling Viagra to women whose "shelf life" is up.

Yeah, older women who prefer younger men exclusively? No problem.

Geez, I'm sorry you feel that way. I thought Hugo was trying not to do that thing where he presumes to speak for the other gender--I know how you hate that.

wolfa

This makes me think of Waiter Rant, where the waiter constantly talks about how he has a magical connection with some attractive (usually) young woman at his restaurant, but sadly, nothing happens further.

Christopher

Hi Jeremy: First, thank you your empathy and the good points you make.

"But don't forget that someone young and inexperienced is likely to misjudge how compatible the two of you are. That's the upside of someone more mature - they'll generally make a better call about how workable the relationship is, and they're probably more willing and able to do their bit to make it work"

Really? Personally, I'm not sure that my judgment has really improved all that much over time. I also note that of the 20-odd weddings I've been to, more than half involved a relationship that started in undergrad (and all but one of those are still happily married), which implies that people often do make good calls at that age. And I've seen people my age who are otherwise sensible people make horrible calls and get badly burned by it. I feel like a lot of the emotionally sensible people partner up early, leaving a dating pool that naturally becomes enriched with pickier and less stable people over time.

(I of course claim that I'm perfectly stable. I will grant that if I had been less picky, I'd probably have married my college girlfriend, and it probably would have been ok) (and I guess that's a data point for your younger people are less "willing to make it work" argument)

Sydney

"I feel like a lot of the emotionally sensible people partner up early, leaving a dating pool that naturally becomes enriched with pickier and less stable people over time."

Wow. I married at later age. I had no idea I was more likely to be "pickier and less stable" as a person. ;-)

Seriously though, I think how one looks at this really depends on one's social circle. While it may be perfectly normal in certain circles to meet future spouses as undergrads, that may not be the norm in other circles. Both are valid.

Dave

In general, both men and women at any age should be able to choose what doors they want to close. There are a whole lot of "shoulds" out there. As a Christian, I look at scripture. (If you're not a Christian you may choose to not look at scripture. Your choice.)

Does Scripture regulate the ages between married partners?
No. Anyone who does presume to regulate is referencing OUR PATICULAR culture. Scripture talks about adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lust, pride, murder, gluttony, etc. Scripture is not shy about dealing with important stuff. I'm pretty sure we would have verses on age differences if it were a major problem.

Now personally, at age 33, I doubt that there are many women under 25 who could handle my flavor. BUT, that is MY perspective. Why should I tell others to "close" doors?


Mr. Bad

mythago said: "I thought Hugo was trying not to do that thing where he presumes to speak for the other gender--I know how you hate that."

Really? Hugo not speaking for or on behalf of women? (you know, the "other gender") Since when?...

Yeah, I'm mostly using "shelf life" in the context of fertility. In other words, what most people are concerned with when they decide they want to settle down and start a family.

Sheila

A scientific fact that hasn't been publicized much: The incidence of genetic mutation in both sperm and eggs increases in humans after 40. Men continue to produce sperm after 40 but the percentage of viable sperm cells decreases with age, just as the percentage of viable eggs decreases with age in women. Statistically it will take a woman longer to get pregnant if her partner is over 40 than it will if her partner is under 35.

R. Giskard

What you may perceive as "shelf life" I think may very well translate to what Hugo's talking about. People aren't products; women are not foodstuffs. The term "shelf life" gets bandied around a lot, but it is just another way of making people into things, and reducing women to no more value than what they can muster in terms of youth and attractiveness.

The problem is, it’s not just Mr. Bad, or even just men… Women *are* reduced to a “product”. Women are valued in terms of youth.

I was in the doctors office this afternoon looking at a Texas Monthly today and thinking about the discussion here. I thought I’d count the women over 30 in it. Out of dozens and dozens of pictures of women, in the articles and in the ads, I found two. Yes two. Most were under 21. This is a 200 page magazine on politics and travel, supposedly aimed at an older more sophisticated audience. Both of those were “beauty” ads offering a more youthful look.

TV and movies are worse. None of them take into account “power differentials” or levels of maturity in the women. Or experience or intelligence. They sell the sex.

Western society has painted sexuality as a function of youth. Men get to offset some of that because power is sexy as well. We worship youth. Is it any wonder older men and women are attracted to it as well?

Douglass may have had a good point. I am sure that there are some men that get the ego boost from dating younger women. Some men and women might need this. It’s certainly easier to paint it as a men’s ego problem.

But maybe we are over-analyzing this a bit. Maybe we are just conditioned to accept that youth really has more value.

figleaf

"I've heard guys refer to the phenomenon as 'bathing in the blood of virgins.'" Really? Yikes, Mythago! In all my 52 years I don't think I've ever heard a man say that. I might be running with the right crowd after all.

Anyway, I *think* when Hugo said "much younger women" he really meant "very young women." Just before Labor Day my 76 year old mother introduced me to her 94-year-old "special friend." Even though she's nearly 20 years younger he seems like a really nice guy and they're both clearly very fond of each other. I don't think anyone's objected to their relationship.

And even the "very young women" distinction is kind of a problem because presumably there's some age before which it's still ok for young men to be attracted to them, and then at some arbitrary birthday (25? 35? 39? 40?) they should stop. And then conversely you gotta ask if there's a corresponding age for women, by the way, when it stops being unnatural to be attracted to older men.

---

The point of all this hair-splitting, Hugo, is that while there are chronological issues to be explored, it seems like you've identified a list of issues you say are specific to men -- some of which are clearly related to aging (graying hair, recognition of mortality) and others that I would argue only become apparent with aging (fixation on specific partners of a certain narrow range.) To spend time condemning one while waving at others seems like a good way to miss an opportunity for broader insight.

figleaf

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Does Scripture regulate the ages between married partners?
No. Anyone who does presume to regulate is referencing OUR PATICULAR culture.

Actually, I think it's perfectly OK to have non-scriptural rules about sexual choices that are tied to OUR PARTICULAR culture, in at least some cases. For example, it's an abuse of authority in our particular culture for a psychiatrist to be romantically involved with his or her patient; that rule would make no sense in the world of the Bible, because there is no psychiatrist/patient relationship there.

Now, I don't happen to think that "never, ever have a relationship with a fully adult person twenty years younger than you" is a rule that's nearly as much needed in this culture as "psychiatrists, hands off your patients." (What I'd think of a twenty year age gap depends on rather a lot of other things.) But I don't see that the Bible prevents us from saying that people may have situational (or even culturally constrained) obligations in addition to the more absolute ones.

Yeah, I'm mostly using "shelf life" in the context of fertility. In other words, what most people are concerned with when they decide they want to settle down and start a family.

People who really, seriously want to settle down and have kids should aim to do it when both parties are relatively young. Men who think they don't have to worry about their own "shelf life," but only that of their wives, will risk, first, some declining fertility of their own, and, second, declining attractiveness to women young enough to have their children. Over thirty may be OK, but if you're serious about becoming a parent, it's unwise to be waiting till your forties to settle down.

Mr. Bad

Sheila said: "A scientific fact that hasn't been publicized much: The incidence of genetic mutation in both sperm and eggs increases in humans after 40. Men continue to produce sperm after 40 but the percentage of viable sperm cells decreases with age, just as the percentage of viable eggs decreases with age in women. Statistically it will take a woman longer to get pregnant if her partner is over 40 than it will if her partner is under 35."

This is really a Red Herring because men produce many millions of sperm cells per ejaculation. Therefore, even though viability decreases as men age, they still produce at least hundreds of thousands of viable sperm cells per ejaculation. The non-viable cells simply don't reach the egg, however, all it takes is one viable sperm cell to fertilize an egg so the rest don't really matter. The idea of the difference in "shelf life" between men and women is actually very important because after menopause the probability of a woman having a child is exactly zero; men the same age can and do have healthy, normal children, in fact, quite easily.

As for attraction, as another put it, power is sexy, so I would argue that's one reason why men are seen to age more like wine than milk. Add wealth into the 'sexiness factor' and we have an easy explanation re. why people like Anna Nicole Smith hook up with old geezers and (in her case pretend to) have their children. Sure, many times it's simply Goldigging, but I have to believe that at least in some cases it isn't. But then again, maybe I'm wrong about that last part.

Sheila

Hardly a red herring:

http://www.fertstert.org/article/PIIS001502820600104X/abstract

http://www.malebiologicalclock.com/

http://www.webmd.com/content/article/67/80098.htm

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Honestly? Men experience less of a decline in their fertility with age than women do, and they experience (on average) less of a decline in their attractiveness to the opposite sex over time. That's not the same thing as aging "more like wine than like milk"; only a few young women actually find older men sexier than younger ones (and there's also a set of men, even if a minority, who prefer women who are much older than them). Most average Joes, who don't have incredible wealth and power, aren't, when they're approaching 40, seen as hot by most nineteen-year-olds.

Obviously if you're as rich as Bill Gates, your mileage may vary.

Doesn't mean it's not OK to find people younger than you attractive; I find people younger than me attractive as well. It just means that, if you actually try to date them, you can expect to be shot down a lot. And, you know, if I were to make myself presentable and approach one nineteen-year-old guy after another, I'd probably eventually find one who'd find my offer acceptable (I'd just have to be prepared to take a bunch of rejection to get there). I did, after all, get allegedly young guys asking me to remove my shirt when I had a webcam up (until my husband and I decided it would be better to train the webcam on the cat). Since it's the Internet, some of them may have actually been 80, but some of them might really have been as young and horny as they said. At the same time, I'm realistic enough to know that most hot young guys aren't going to find a forty-something woman particularly desirable.

But, you know, if you happen to be Demi Moore with Ashton Kushner, and it's actually working for you, go you. And the same, as far as I'm concerned, if you happen to be an older man with a relationship with a younger woman that's working for both of you (and doesn't have authority relations tangled in it, and the younger person is, you know, an actual adult).


The Chief

"Statistically it will take a woman longer to get pregnant if her partner is over 40 than it will if her partner is under 35."

So a guy over 40 has to make more attempts at it to get his partner pregnant, even if she's younger. More sex in order to get the desired result. Oh, what a nightmare. Work, work, work. ;)

Even if that's true, it doesn't change the fact that women have an "absolute shelf life" and men don't (note that Charlie Chaplin was still producing kids in his 80s.) A man can delay having children into his 40s while he gets his career in order and then find a younger partner and have as many kids as he wants. A woman can delay having children into her 40s while she gets her career in order and then find a younger partner and...well, her problem still isn't solved. Fertility starts a steady decline for her in the late 20s and at one point is going to absolutely end. Sorry, it's just the way God, evolution, Xemu or whatever made us.

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