Here's to you Mrs. Robinson

Why is it taboo for women to date younger men?

Published March 25, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

My last boyfriend had a paunch, a hairline deep in recession and a penis the exact size and shape of a golf pencil. He was jaded, insensitive and emotionally immature. But I cherished him as if he were made of gold. Why? Because he was available.

As the dating pool evaporates before my very eyes, I've watched my criteria for potential datables wax and wane as well. Initially, I was searching for my sensitive soul mate. But I found myself settling for anyone with a steady job
and at least two out of three forms of insurance (life, medical, car). I have a rich and fulfilling life, so why do I keep dating losers?

Because when the nights are cold and I'm home alone, cuddling up with my pride doesn't cut it. A woman has needs. Rumor has it that women reach the apex of their sexual prime around age 35, with things picking up a few years before. This theory may be linked to a hormonal rush that women experience about the same time. It's a primal urge and last-ditch attempt at reproduction. Hormonal sabotage, one could say. My
biological clock must be digital, because I have yet to hear the ticking. My
loins may be screaming "procreate," but by the time the message gets to my
brain, it's been watered down to a mere "copulate."

I just moved to France, and in the month prior to quitting the United States, I had a
little hedonistic fun-fest. Among other atrocities I gleefully committed, I
had an affair with a 22-year-old lad (eight years my junior). Nice and discreet,
the romance was surprisingly satisfying. Plus he's Tallulah Bankhead's grandnephew, so at least he hails from scandalous stock. I was impressed with my
conquest and wanted to brag to my friends about his virility, stamina and
Calvin Klein underwear ad-worthy abs. But I hesitated. Why subject myself to
judgment and the potential humiliation of being labeled a cradle robber? It
was a casual fling, I told myself. Certainly not a predicament I would

I wouldn't date a 22-year-old, even when I was 22. There is an unwritten rule that women subconsciously memorize and strive for: Suitors are supposed to be three to five years older. What mystery advantage men gain in a three-to-five-year age difference is beyond me. The technical number of years is actually arbitrary, but the rule is set in stone: older man, younger woman.

Psychologists make note of an adolescence and early adulthood phenomenon known as the gender maturation gap. During normal development, females are theoretically five years more psychologically advanced than their male counterparts. This suggests an inclination and rationale for women to be
attracted to older men. However, everything is supposed to even up around age
30, when the gender maturation gap ceases to exist. But the tacit implication
remains that women should date slightly older men.

An air of desperation is attributed to a woman engaged in relations with a
younger man. There must be something wrong with her or she would be able to
find someone her own age. And shouldn't said young man prefer someone fresh
and virginal, not an old lady who has already been around the block a few

This stigma is as sexist as it is hypocritical. Why shouldn't a woman be able to date down? Men have been doing it for years.

Because it's just taboo. And I privately resolved never to date down again.
Until I met my luscious, 23-year-old, French, next-door neighbor.

He says he was initially attracted to my comportment. (Although I still
wonder if he didn't mix up the word "comportment" with "apartment," because
mine is much nicer.) I was attracted to his chest region, so we began our
illicit affair. I certainly wasn't going to broadcast my new liaison to my
friends, so I was shocked to find out that he was bragging about me to his.It seems in France, the older woman-younger man arrangement is quite desirable. I was baffled.

In almost all of Europe, a woman in her 30s is considered young and well-seasoned. Teenage appearance is eschewed for sophistication, refined style
and independence. Likewise, a young man who can entertain one of these fascinating creatures gets extra points for studliness. Not to mention the
sexual compatibility, because a women in her early 30s and a man in his early 20s are both in their so-called sexual prime.

I finally confided my newfound perversion to a friend living in New York. Lo and behold, she confessed to precisely the same indulgence.

"But it's nothing serious." "Oh no, no. Certainly not," we coughed. We didn't want to admit that beyond sexual satisfaction, men of lesser
age could possibly have more to offer.

The most obvious attribute to dating men in their early 20s is their eagerness to please. They haven't yet learned to hide their intimidation or lack of knowledge under a fagade of machismo and self-imposed superiority. They're simply natural. And the easy way they get embarrassed is adorable, especially when they look at the ground and shuffle their feet.

Second, younger men are more open to suggestion. Rough edges are so much more pliable and easier to polish out. My friend in New York has succeeded in teaching her young buck that if she calls and he's playing Nintendo he must immediately stop doing that and pay attention to her. When she reaches for a cigarette, his Zippo is out before the filter hits her lips.

Now that's the kind of boyfriend I like.

Eventually the age difference rears its ugly head. In my case our first
fight was over canned food. My young Frenchie invited me to "dinner" at his
house, which consisted of a can of heated-up ravioli. When I gently suggested
we go back to my house, where I have plenty of comestibles spanning the four
basic food groups, he was mad at me.

"I cannot believe we are fighting over food," he said in his Jacques Cousteau-esque broken English.

"I'm insulted you'd offer to feed me that," I said, staring at the woebegone glob of canned pasta.

Tensions and words escalated. I stormed out of his flat regretting the
decision to involve myself with a younger man. We obviously had different
standards of living. Once home he called me. I hadn't had a bite to eat,
I was still starving and still mad, but yes, I would call him later.

So I had a Valium as my appetizer and a nutritious, well-balanced meal for

But before I could return the call, he rang again. "I eat ravioli so I can
save my money to take you to nice dinners," he explained.

It made me think. It's not right to hold a 22-year-old to the same standards to which I hold myself. I can't be mad at him when his phone gets shut off because he forgot to pay his bill or when he drinks until he throws up, because I made those same mistakes too when I was his age.

I can however, hold him to the important stuff. He has to be kind,
emotionally honest and caring, which he is, and so much more. Although he's
less accomplished career-wise than my other datables of late, he's certainly
much nicer to be around. Sure, I had my driver's license when he was in the
third grade, but he's fun, spontaneous and frisky. And since I'm not
marriage-minded, I'm quite grateful to be with someone sweet who appreciates
me and is years away from developing love handles.

By Gentry Lane

Gentry Lane is an American writer living in Paris.

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