When you turn to the internet for relationship advice, you have to be prepared to hear some home truths. People don’t tend to hold back when they have their computer screen as a shield.
One woman discovered how true this is when she took to Mumsnet for dating advice recently. User Nephilim1964 asked the community for their thoughts on a particularly difficult relationship dilemma. She revealed that her eldest daughter, 34, had stopped talking to her, cut her off from her grandchildren and berated her on Facebook after she discovered Nephilim1964 was dating a much younger man.
Nephilim1964 said she was almost 50 and her partner, who she began dating last November, was 24. “Does anyone think that my daughter’s justified in her behaviour,” she asked, “Or am I in the wrong for embarrassing her by taking a younger partner?”
The hundreds of responses from Mumsnet users were mixed, but the ones that stood out were particularly harsh. Many people echoed the views of Nephilim1964’s daughter, telling her she was “embarrassing” and that the entire situation seemed “incredibly weird and inappropriate.” One poster even gave her very specific advice on age-gap relationships: “24 and 50 is an inappropriate age gap. Half your age plus 7 is the minimum. I couldn’t even imagine getting off with a person that young and I’m 5 years younger than you.”
The attacks didn’t stop there. Having gone into some detail about her personal circumstances, Nephilim1964 found herself being slated for other decisions she had made, such as “leaving” her teenage daughter with her dad to move closer to her eldest daughter, who was going through a divorce.
Obviously, if you post a controversial problem on an online forum, you have to expect some pretty strong opinions. But why do people have to be so cruel? If the woman and her partner are both happy, the fact that he’s younger should be irrelevant.
We can’t help but wonder what the response would be if Nephilim1964 was a man dating a much younger woman. Would he have been attacked so viciously? It’s unlikely. Older men dating younger women has happened for centuries, which goes some way to explain why older women dating younger men is more likely to raise eyebrows. But it happens, so it’s time to get over it.
In recent years, age-gap celebrity relationships where the woman is older have caused no end of scandal. Demi Moore was married to Ashton Kutcher (15 years her junior) for several years, but the public never quite seemed to accept their union. When U.K. TV presenter Caroline Flack dated One Direction’s Harry Styles (14 years her junior) she was faced with such disgust and hatred that she couldn’t leave her house without getting verbal abuse, even being called “paedophile” and “pervert.” Habitual boundary-pusher Madonna’s relationships with younger men have earned her no end of criticism.
Compare this to the older celebrity men who date younger women. Sean Penn dated 15-years-younger Charlize Theron. Jay Z is 12 years older than wife Beyoncé. Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones have 25 years between them. It’s not that these age gaps have gone unnoticed — but they certainly haven’t been reported with such judgment and criticism. Older men practically get a pat on the back for bagging a much younger woman (“He’s still got it!”) while a woman who dates a much younger man is immediately labelled as embarrassing, sad or disgusting.
Nephilim1964 left the Mumsnet conversation with her dignity intact. “I think it’s time for me to stop posting on here, and just be incredibly grateful that I’m not as intolerant as some […] on this thread,” she posted. “I can handle constructive criticism, but the vitriol that has been spewing forth since I started this is actually quite saddening. It really hasn’t occurred to some people that we might actually just enjoy being together.”
It may be a cliché that age is just a number, but clichés are clichés for a reason. How many of us actually feel our age? People are complex and the sum of so much more than the date on their birth certificate. If an age gap isn’t an issue for the couple in the relationship, it sure as hell shouldn’t be an issue for anybody else.