Dirty old men and greedy young women

When people see relationships where the man is much older than the woman, they often suspect that both partners are there for superficial and unseemly benefits; money for the woman and a sexual object for the man. If a young man was with the same young woman, why does it reflect less badly on his motives? If an older woman marries an older man, why is it less plausible that she is just after his money? Why does trading one of two superficial motives for a relationship – the man’s youth or the woman’s money – and replacing it with a different superficial motive – the man’s money or the woman’s youth – make the relationship more likely to be superficially motivated? If people really fell in love for non-superficial reasons, shouldn’t we expect to see more couples who don’t match on superficial criteria such as age?

11 responses to “Dirty old men and greedy young women

  1. The first candidate is that people are envious–what man doesn’t wish his wife looked 21? what woman doesn’t wish her husband was rich?–and so ascribe impure motives to the envied pair. Perhaps they are condemning the act because they would like to do it but are unable, but that’s cheap talk.

    Second, the usual explanations that people apply to their own cases–we have the same interests, we shared some important experiences, etc.–are less plausible with the OM-YW couple, who are a couple of generations apart. In other words, while age itself may be superficial, it can be a cue to some factors that are not so superficial.

    I would also question the implication that people have a high estimation of the motives of young males. It rather seems that they (we) are considered at least as sex/beauty-driven as anyone else, as well as rather foolish, neither of which I will dispute. It could be, then, that people see older men who marry “gold diggers” or “trophy wives” as still acting like boys and not like the grown men who appreciate other virtues in women. Naturally, it is the grown men who say this.

    I wonder whether there are sex difference in who makes these insults. My guess is that it is men who criticize “gold diggers” and women who criticize “sugar daddies”. Competition may be the reason, since people can’t like the idea that these very attractive prospects are removing themselves from one’s market, and so try to pressure them into staying. Indeed I would think that the young women who genuinely have no interest in “sugar daddies” would want to encourage gold digging, since this gets rid of some powerful competitors for the men they actually want.

  2. I had a relationship once with a younger man. I was a young and silly 39, he was a serious and intellectual 24. We were matched in many ways, and loved each others company. However, there was a generation gap issue which we couldn’t bridge as well as a developmental one. In addition, being at different stages of our lives & careers further complicated things. However, neither of us cared about the other’s age at all. If I could run into him again someday, perhaps it might work out.

  3. It’s not obvious to me that people generally do have a higher opinion of older-woman-with-younger-man relationships than of older-man-with-younger-woman relationships. What’s your basis for this premise, Katja?

    • I wasn’t comparing to older-woman-younger-man relationships, because I don’t have much idea what people think of those. My basis for the premise that people think of young-woman-old-man relationships in such terms is just the impression I have from exposure to popular culture.

  4. Oh, I’m sorry, I misread your post because I was seeing what I expected to see. In that case, your premise is clearly right.

    And I think it’s pretty clear why people think less of the age-gap relationship than the same age relationship. In general (not just in the romantic context), people prefer the company of people around their age. If you choose to date someone 20 years older or younger than you, it’s assumed that this wouldn’t be your preference if you were focused on just having things in common, enjoying each others’ company in the platonic sense, etc. Since you seem to be putting little priority on these factors, the inference is that you’re putting a greater priority on other factors. To try to figure out which factors those are, people look to the explanations that are most likely and obvious. Why younger women? They’re more physically attractive, of course! Why older men? They’re powerful and have a lot of money, of course!

    I’m not endorsing these explanations — sure, there could be more complex preferences involved. But people like to explain other people’s behavior very definitively and concisely. So they look to the obvious, simple explanations, not the subtle, multifaceted explanations.

  5. The hostility may be because it makes explicit something that for the most part goes unacknowledged: as grover noted, many (most) men would prefer younger, more physically beautiful women to their current partners, and many (most) women would prefer the men in their lives to be richer. So another candidate explanation: perhaps for those who are consciously or subconsciously settling for “second-best”, expressing contempt for such relationships may function as a signal to their nearest & dearest that they are not at risk of abandonment (this would suggest that men should be more hostile to the idea of “sugar daddies”, and women to the idea of being “gold diggers”, same as would be predicted by ascribing it to simple jealousy).

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  8. How could “age” be superficial for a long-term relationship?

    The expected length of time I will live together with my wife is hugely correlated to my age, and hers.

    “Sexual object” / attractiveness is also hardly superficial — for many men, if not most, how they feel about themselves is related to how attracted they are to their mate.

    Money, insofar as getting it requires lifestyle choices, and spending it demonstrates lifestyle choices, is also hardly superficial.

    I think religion, for most people, is more superficial. Similarly politics, and in America, race.

    It may be “unseemly”, but that’s quite different than superficial.
    (I like to sleep with the window open; she likes to sleep with it closed, so good-bye…)

    I think you need more comparative explanation of why what is or is not superficial. What are your examples of non-superficial characteristics?

    The (rich) old man with the (lovely) young women is primarily unseemly to reality-denying feminists who don’t want women’s physical attractiveness to be the “most important” thing about the women. But even excluding all non-young, non-lovely women, leaves lots of choices, so Larry King or Donald Trump choosing a trophy wife does the final selection based on … something.

    Old woman – young man, like Harold & Maude? Or Cher and a new boy-toy? Seems more sad, somehow.

    Finally, if having children, and raising them, is the social justification for outsiders to be interested in some couple, neither age nor finances seems as superficial as world view.

    Didn’t William and Kate look good?

  9. Gene Callahan

    “How could “age” be superficial for a long-term relationship?”

    Right! Age is not at all “superficial”!

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