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June 16, 2005



As a historian, I hate to see you fall into this nostalgia tinted "greatest generation" worship, as well as read too much into the media's new "trend" about how "30 is the new 40" and so on. Atrios posted some data on this a few weeks ago. The average age of first marriage is almost exactly where it was 100 years ago in this country. It took a slight dip mid-century and went up. And, of course, for those who don't think divorce is a good thing, older marriage trends in general are great news, as they're less likely to end in divorce. None to this is to say there's necessarily anything wrong with liking older men, and that it might not work out wonderfully for her--although when I look around at men I know in their 30's who tend to go for younger women, I can only warn her the maturity thing goes both ways, and she may have to sift through some serious dross. My suspicions about relationships between 35 year old men and 21 year old women have a lot more to do with the men who want that than the women. As a very soon to be 30 year old who interacts with many college age women, I have a very hard time relating to peers who find them to be age-appropriate potential dating partners. From where I sit, the gap seems huge, even (especially?) with those who are convinced they're just too mature for their age (that attitude and actual maturity rarely mesh). And as my nearest and dearest will tell you, I'm not even that mature.

And shouldn't our feminist sensibilities be rankled just a little by her desire for a partner as a (material) provider as a primary and central desirable attribute? Someday, I'd like to see that next to "middle aged man in search of trophy wife" in the museum of antiquated gender silliness.


It's not greatest-generation worship, DJW, but it is a recognition that we have dramatically prolonged adolescence for men. And that nostalgia is linked to a very real need and longing that I see in a great many young women.

I read Scarlett's piece differently than you. She's not looking to be a kept woman, but looking for someone who can provide the stability she craves and whom she can complement with her gifts. A longing for financial security is very different than a longing to be smothered in diamonds and minks, after all.

But you're right that the maturity issue works both ways. You've anticipated my post tomorrow: why older men generally do better with women old enough and wise enough to push them hard.


On closer inspection, I think I identified what rankled me most in your post:

others may be looking for someone who won't "call them on their crap"

I'm really not sure what you mean by this, but taken at face value, all I can think is what an absolute nightmare it would be to be in a relationship with someone who wouldn't "call me on my crap." I shudder to think of what kind of person I would be today if I didn't have friends and partners willing to "call me on my crap" over the years. Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but from where I come from "women who don't call men on their crap" is code for "women who aren't uppity feminists"--I'm quite sure that's not what you meant, but I'm rather at a loss about what you did mean.


That's exactly what I did mean, DJW -- that's what some men are looking for, and that's not a good thing! (I'm not very eloquent with no food in me...) My point was that a desire to avoid being challenged is one (unfortunate) reason why some men seek out younger women. Another reason may be purely sexual. But there are some fellows, presumably, who don't "seek out" younger women deliberately but find it possible to fall in love, wholly and honestly and without guile, with a considerably younger woman.


Given this culture of young male immaturity (and to be fair, a great many young women today reject responsibility with enthusiasm), where else can a Scarlett look save to older men?

While I agree that popular culture promotes this behavior you speak of, I'm not sure I agree with you on the pervasiveness of it. I didn't always feel that way mind you, and I too, had that image, especially in my area of town, where blue collar families are the norm. With some of the young men I met through my step-son, thinking 24 hours in advance was a real challenge for them.

It was my job that showed me that this irresponsibility is not truly universal and might even be somewhat less prevelent than I thought..

I meet young guys everyday, interns mostly, that are in their 2nd or 3rd year of college that are very on top of their game. I am impressed by their maturity, and their determination to follow a plan for their lives.

But not just on my job, I meet them in other facets of my life, my friend’s sons, thru the charity groups I work with. They are out there. Lots of them.

But, I don't know any of them that profess that they are actually desiring marriage or family. That is not, at least in the short term, their goal. In today's sexual climate, not to mention the divorce climate, why would any successful guy that age want to get married? What motivation would they have? Talk to them about your family, and invariably they talk of putting off family into their 30’s. Great for the Scarletts, not too good for truly mature young women desiring men closer to their age.

I’d also mention, that this ‘irresponible’ attitude you speak of pays off for many of these guys. For every Scarlett, that is a woman that is attracted to stability and maturity, there are 100 young women that are attracted to that ‘bad boy’ image..


I can't help but feel that you're implying a causal relationship between emotional/relationship maturity and marriage (or wanting marriage).

Indeed, just a couple of generations ago, we saw young men demonstrate responsibility and commitment on a massive scale. At the end of World War Two, men of 19, 20, and 21 came home from war, married, and had children.

The relative affluence of our culture, and the widespread availability of sex outside of marriage have reduced the appeal of marriage and maturity for young men enormously.

I haven't read your other posts on the subject, so I may be missing something, but I have to say I was a bit off put by what I read. I was also disturbed by the implication of women and marriage/childrearing in your relation of your personal experience:

Parenthetical paragraph: whenever I talk about the baby boom in my gender classes,and talk about the readiness of so many millions of young veterans to marry and have children, the eyes of half the girls in the class light up.

I realize that you're just relaying what happens to you, but it is this very societal conflation between mature relationships and marriage that makes it hard for people like me to be taken seriously. To clarify, I'm a childfree (read: I don't want kids) woman who is unsure whether or not marriage is something that I might want in the future. It might seem out of left field to throw in the childfree part, but I firmly believe that our culture’s preoccupation with marriage has a lot to do with the assumption that every person wants to be (and should be) a parent.

Am I immature for questioning if marriage is right for me and adamantly sticking to my guns about not wanting children? Some people think so. I’ve been called that, and worse.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m immature in many areas (who isn’t?). However, from where I stand, questioning the roles society has laid out for me (as a wife and mother in this case) is one of the most mature things I’ve ever done. If I get married it will be because I want it, not because it’s what I’m supposed to do.

And, really, I can’t help but feel that this post condones this idea that somehow wanting marriage is a touchstone for whether or not one will be emotionally mature in relationship.

For me, that premise makes no sense. Heck, I’m not even sure if long-term monogamy makes sense for me. Am I doomed to be labelled as immature if I’m a serial monogamist all my life, or even if I decide that polyamory is what works for me?

I think that it’s great that you’re exploring the older man/younger woman relationship model. I think that it’s important to explore maturity and address how it develops differently in men and women due to socialization. I’m just not sure if I like the whole marriage frame, because I believe that it glosses over some deeper issues at hand.


Hugo, I see what you were getting at now. The critical angle of that part of your post was so gentle and subtle, I missed it.

Re: financial security. I didn't get the sense she wanted to be pampered by a sugar daddy type either. That would, I suppose, be marginally worse, but my feminist sensibilities are still a bit rankled by the notion that financial security is something a woman should look for in a male partner, rather than herself. I'm not saying this to be critical of stay-at-home moms whose husband pays all the bills; that can be a perfectly reasonable path for a couple to choose to take, should cercumstances render it viable. But we don't live in a world where it's particularly smart to assume that circumstances at some point in the future with some as yet partner. That's an ideal that doesn't mesh well with the economic reality we live in, nor does it seem like a good path toward the development of an adult personality for a 21 year old--indeed, I'd say it's a sign of precisely that thing she so wishes to escape by avoiding men her own age--her own immaturity.

I'd also like to register a concern about what appears to be a conflation (not asserted, but implied) of "immaturity and prolongued adolescence" and "not wanting to get married and have kids right now." It seems to me that one can be in the latter category and be perfectly a perfectly mature, serious person. I know many people like that--serious about professional and personal relationships and obligations, smart with money, not big partiers, drinkers, etc, rarely on the prowl for one-night stands--hitting all the marks of how "mature" people ought to be living their lives--but not interested in pursuing marriage and kids at this time. I know a lot of people like that, and I think the implication that they're somehow "living in a state of prolonged adolescence" is an overly uncharitable simplification of their lives.

The flipside of this, of course, is that getting married and having kids by the time your 23 is no guarantee for mature behavior. Many of those WWII vets amply demonstrated this, as do many, many of those who followed in their footsteps in the ensuing 50 years.

(anything else I find wrong with this post I'll keep to myself, sorry for monopolizing here).


There's nothing wrong with Scarlett wanting a mature, settled man, though it'd be a mistake for her to assume that's automatically correlated with age. As was hashed out on the other thread, nobody's a snowflake. There are certainly 21-year-old men out there wishing they could find a woman who was mature, settled, not wanting to party all the time, etc.

That said, I wish Scarlet well, but she needs to think about the long term, if she wants an older partner.

djw's points are well-said.


And shouldn't our feminist sensibilities be rankled just a little by her desire for a partner as a (material) provider as a primary and central desirable attribute? Someday, I'd like to see that next to "middle aged man in search of trophy wife" in the museum of antiquated gender silliness.

Here's a different perspective on this. My grandmother continually told me that when even slightly considering marriage, one should make sure one's partner is capable of being the primary provider, if necessary. She also insisted that we each learn skills that would enable us to be primary provider, again if necessary.

You never know what curves life will throw you. My grandmother's mother was widowed with four children to raise. She lived in a time when most women were dependent upon having a stable provider-husband. My great-grandmother remarried, but apparently the 2nd marriage was for security and wasn't as happy as the first. It was important to my grandmother than none of us find ourselves in that same situation, and that none of us leave our spouses and (most importantly to my grandmother) our children in that situation.

Adrienne Travis

This is a hard issue. When i was younger, i was always attracted to older men as well. (Frequently still am, but my primary partner at the moment is just about exactly my age.) Not usually WAY older, but frequently 6-7-8 years difference, and once a 12-year difference (I was 20, he was 32. He remembers the moon landing -- i was always terribly envious.)

There's a song i'd like to share the words to with you; it's called Mr. Harris, and it's by Aimee Mann. Rather than inflict it on everyone here, or link to one of the terribly annoying and ad-crazy "lyrics clearinghouse" sites, i've just put the lyrics up on a personal domain: www.eidolongroup.com/mrharris.html .

There are a LOT of potential problems with relationships between people so different in age and outlook. But put that in perspective: there are a LOT of potential problems in ANY romantic relationship. They're different problems, but i don't think the *amount* is as far different as you might think.

--adrienne travis (heliotrope)


Adrienne, you're right that every relationship has its problems, but I think it's a mistake to use that as a way of refusing to look at the particular problems an age gap creates. (I'm not saying you, personally, are doing so. But other posters have, with love-conquers-all sort of comments.)

Lisa Roy Vox (The Apocalyptic Historian)

I know a lot of men in their twenties who are mature, secular, and who want long-term monogamous relationships. My husband and I met my freshman year of college and we have been together over 9 years (yes, exclusively), and have been married for 3 years. This is not a singular phenomenon; I know plenty of women who are smart, have feminist-views, independent and are looking for the type of characteristics that Scarlett describes--and found them in men in their twenties.

I really liked your previous posts, Hugo, especially your analysis on why women develop fixations on older male authority figures. It's an issue I've thought about--obviously, you linked to my "hot teachers" post--and reading your post made me realize that I received a lot of positive attention in college from my male professors for my intellectual accomplishments. I never was one to fixate on my male teachers in that way; when my female classmates would talk about a male professor being "hot" or express the feelings of a crush, I would invariably be surprised.Meanwhile, I had older male mentors who hired me as their research assistant, would take me out to lunch to talk about grad school etc., with whom I felt completely safe, as you describe. Maybe that's why it's so easy for me to respect (and argue for respecting) the boundaries between students and professors.
That said, as much as I think you were spot on regarding your analysis there, I think you're overgeneralizing about men in their twenties. This is something I'll have to think more about, but I'm glad to see you continue to engage it in such a thoughtful manner.


You're right, Lisa, and thanks. I didn't give sufficient credit to the number of young men who are eager for commitment. Post in haste -- reflect and refine in leisure.

Oh, and Adrienne, what a lovely song.


I'm concerned with any 21 year old that wants to settle down. Why?
#1. Most 21 year old girls are still emotionally immature.__There is no mention of love anywhere in Scarlet's E-Mail. Maybe I missed it, but does'nt it strike you a little odd that a 21 year old wants a mature man and neglects to mention love and physical attraction?
#2. Scarlett is already talking children when she's still a child herself in many ways. ___My youngest sister married at this age...(I warned her, it's been a mistake.)....She got married at 21, had two kids right away, she's so sorry she went this route.
#3. I'm concerned with Scarlett's need for financial security, she puts it above everything else. She wants a "highly intelligent, professional man that is financially secure". __I don't know about any of your other readers, but this girl makes me sick! She sounds like a woman from the 19th century that had no other options in life but to marry 'well'.__Scarlett isn't looking for a loving relationship, she's looking for a man that can 'keep' her. __Sorry, this is the way I see it. __I don't wish her all the best, I think she needs to change her scenario; otherwise, she's going to have a really unhappy life.


Just want to apologize to Scarlett, I didn't mean to be so hard on her.

I recently interviewed a woman in her sixties for one of Dr.Schwyzer's gender classes, this is the advise she had for young women today: "Finish school, get yourself prepared for the future, there may come a time when you might have to support yourself and your children." "Don't rely on a man to support you, those days are gone". Today, women have to be self-sufficient and flexible enough to provide for themselves and their children.__Scarlett, this is empowering, I hope it helps you become all that you can be!


Caitriona, that's a charitable interpretation, but a plausible (and reasonble) one.


#3. I'm concerned with Scarlett's need for financial security, she puts it above everything else. She wants a "highly intelligent, professional man that is financially secure". __I don't know about any of your other readers, but this girl makes me sick! She sounds like a woman from the 19th century that had no other options in life but to marry 'well'.__Scarlett isn't looking for a loving relationship, she's looking for a man that can 'keep' her. __Sorry, this is the way I see it. __I don't wish her all the best, I think she needs to change her scenario; otherwise, she's going to have a really unhappy life.


I know a *lot* of families who live pretty much this way - the husband has a secure job (as secure as you can get these days), and the wife stays home to take care of the kids (as much as the family can afford for her to do so). I even know a couple of families where it's the other way around. But there is *someone* home for the kids. Nothing wrong with that, IMO.

Gotta scoot. Today, *my* portion of staying home while my husband works has been borrowing a stock trailer, bringing it home and backing it up to the corral without anyone around to guide me back (let our 15yo daughter take off before I got the trailer - OI!), loading 5 head of sheep, taking them off the the meat locker, and getting back home for a bit of a break before I go run some financial errands. Yep, being a SAHM with a husband to work to pay the bills sure is an easy row to hoe. :-^


Cait, once again, you my hero.


I'm just a home-educating farm wife who works online and with international students. That's all. ;-)


Let me warn you -- this is long and a bit out of order.

Hi. I'm Scarlett. Yeah.. THE Scarlett. *smiles* I've been reading the post and comments. First, let me point out the fact that not all of the email I sent to Hugo was posted. Many things were left out. I suppose his decision to condense the message was due to my email being rather detailed and long.

First, let me address the comment about me looking for a guy to 'just take care of me.' That is completely incorrect. I can take care of myself, I promise! I have 2 jobs. The first is to primarily pay the bills and the second is for more of a safety net. You can never be too careful with money and your job. It also doesn't hurt that the second is a really fun job! I live on my own. I am definitely self-sufficient and I am proud to be able to say that. I've been completely on my own since age 16. I managed to finish high school with high honors and keep a part time job to pay the bills. So I'd say I'm a determined (sometimes stubborn) girl. So, no, I'm not looking for a rich guy to marry so I can just sit on my rear all day long and eat bon bons. I plan to continuing working after marriage, after children. I even plan on going back to college when the time allows. I don't want to be that family that is one or two pay checks away from being homeless. I am seriously hell bent on being able to provide a comfortable life for myself and everyone in my family. Maybe I'm even a bit obsessed with the idea. I would have to explain my childhood for the total obsession to make sense, but I'm going to spare you!!

I understand that some men my age possess the standards I have set for a man. The problem is that I am simply not attracted to 97% of the men my own age (another point he left out). I don't think that is being superficial or limiting myself to older men by not wanting to date/marry a man that I'm not physically attracted to. If I could find my dream man in a man that was my age, I would be thrilled. I'm just afraid that in reality it's not going to happen.

Yes, I AM looking for love. I'm not in any way desperate, but I can't wait to finally fall in love again (with the RIGHT person this time, hopefully!!) I want to know a kind of love like I've never even imagined. I don't want to tie the knot tomorrow, please don't get that impression. Also, I'm not looking to just marry the first best thing to come along. I'm sorry that I don't settle for second bests. Life would sure be much easier if I didn't set such high hopes/goals for myself. That goes for a number of things in my life, not just the man I'll eventually marry.

No, I don't wants kid immediately. In Re to tekanji: I do realize that some people would choose not to have a child at all (or marriage) and that is their choice, your choice. There is a lot of pressure on a person to want those things. I applaud you for being able to stand your ground. However, I do believe that one day I will be ready, happy and prepared to bring new life into this world. I am very excited about what the future holds. All I can hope for now is that when I do have children, I will be a good mother to them. You can call it silly, but it's another huge goal of mine.

I'm young, yes. I am aware that I have yet to fully mature in a lot of ways. I'm still growing and learning and I love that about myself. I think if a person keeps an open mind, they are never fully done learning and maturing. Nobody is perfect. Every day I learn something new and that helps me to grow as a person.

Oh, I am more than willing to 'call them on their crap.' I am never going to let a man, a friend, a coworker, etc., walk all over me. I've been called 'one of those difficult girls.' All I can say to the people who think that is they should reevaluate their own lives. Is it too much to want to be happy? I think my goals in life are very much attainable.

In closing, I'm somewhat certain that many of you aren't taking into consideration the criticism and sometimes cruel behavior that I have to endure because of my preference in men. For example: "Wow, He could be your dad!" There was a situation with a man (37) I (20) was dating once when we had been driving back from a wedding a couple of states away. I had changed clothes into something comfortable before the drive, he remained in his suit. We were exhausted and decided to stop at a hotel in a small town. Walking in, he went to the desk and asked for a room, I was walking slightly behind him. The boy at the desk took one look at us and then proceeded to explain to my boyfriend their HOURLY rates! My boyfriend, furious, explained that we would be staying the night and that I was his girlfriend. The counter boy let out a big chuckle and gave my boyfriend a wink. Angrily, we decided to travel to the next town for another hotel. Disrespectful? Yes. I'm far from a prostitute. Unfortunately, these rude reactions are more common than you'd like to believe. So, please refrain from using the argument that it would be just as easy for me to find a man my own age. On top of everything else, do you honestly think I would continue to date older men and subject myself to these cruel individuals if that were so?

One last note:
You all are entitled to your opinions, I respect that. Comments are very appreciated, even if you have a completely different view. If I could, I would ask you to try and put yourself in my shoes for a moment. If you still don't understand it, I can accept that. All I can do is be myself! Adrienne Travis: That's a great song! I hope you all have a wonderful day.


Nice post, Scarlett. BTW, I also like older men. Even with that inclination, my first husband was actually a few months younger than me. Can we say, "Disaster?" The two real loves of my life have both been older, one 18yrs older than me, the other my current husband - 9yrs older than me.

Stick to your standards. Don't settle for less. I did with my 1st marriage. If it weren't for the wonderful son I have thanks to that marriage, I would regret that choice.


Caitriona: I'm glad you are happy now. It really gives me the hope that one day I will be able to find someone who I love and who will love me just as much. I wish nothing but the best for you and your family!


I'm just afraid that in reality it's not going to happen.

If you've decided it's just not going to happen, then yeah, it won't.

And a mark of maturity, btw, is not to assume that you are the only one who could possibly understand what you're going through and that nobody at all ever went through what you're going through.


"If you've decided it's just not going to happen, then yeah, it won't."

I didn't say that I had decided it's not going to happen. I only expressed my fear. I am open to any relationship so long that I don't feel I am wasting my time, or leading the other on. I am flawed. I realize this. I know I'm not perfect. I'm just looking for someone to accept and love me for the person I am. That goes both ways.

"And a mark of maturity, btw, is not to assume that you are the only one who could possibly understand what you're going through and that nobody at all ever went through what you're going through."

Once again, I have stated before that I am completely aware that I am not fully mature. Did you read my post at all? I am also not assuming that I am the only one who understands this issue. I thought that was quite clear. I was simply asking for the people who directly oppose the way I live to step back for a moment and look through my eyes. I went on to say if then, still they don't agree, I can accept that.


Thanks for joining the discussion, Scarlett -- and I am not among those who would be willing to say that in every instance, a gal your age dating a man twice yours would be fundamentally wrong. Keep us posted.

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