While adults should be free to be in a relationship with whomever they choose, including younger or older partners, I argue that teenage girls should never date older men.
However, the hardest people to convince would be the girls themselves.
I was one of those girls. But I was also most unlike what we assume that girl to be. I wasn’t troubled, promiscuous, or from an unhappy home. At 16 years old, the allure of a 24-year-old man felt exciting but also responsible.
We entered into a proper relationship, with resigned and hesitant consent from my parents, and having an older boyfriend felt truly adult. In painful hindsight, this relationship led me 2,000 miles from home, and into depression and alienation from friends and family. All of this to cater to an emotionally immature, headstrong, confused young man.
I was a good kid who made poor choices—at the time they were exciting and forward-thinking choices. In Lynn Phillips’ 1999 Planned Parenthood study Recasting Consent: Agency and Victimization in Adult-Teen Relationships, she highlights the admissions by women in their 30s who came to regret the choices they made as teens. Women who once defended their choices as responsible and as a mark of their own superior maturity cited regret, depression, and a sense of manipulation that was not clear to them at the time.
That is at the centre of what is wrong with these relationships. An older man, while comfortable in possible emotional proximity of their ages, is the most motivating factor of the relationship by simply being older. Despite her own understanding of her emotional maturity, a young woman will always be aware that she is with an older man, and that allows her the benefit of a sense of maturity, but one that exists only in the context of her relationship. It can be argued that men don’t know the effect they have on being with a younger woman. In my case, my boyfriend certainly had no idea about me, who I was, and how much he molded my personality.
For women like me, the relationship was the factor that defined a superior sense of maturity. “I’m with an older man, that makes me so much more mature than my peers.” Being with an older man was my only stake in self-esteem, which plummeted as I grew up. Little did I know that my relationship was the reason it plummeted.