dating

"I'm dating a man significantly younger than me, and here's what I want you to know."

Up until about four months ago, I’d been single for a little over three years.

From 23 to 26, I met lots of people. I ‘saw’ a few on and off. All of them were around my age, maybe a year or two older, but none of them stuck.

At first, I very much wanted to be single, but once that passed, I just couldn’t find the right person.

My mum insisted that I should date someone older than me, who was a little more ‘mature’ and ‘settled’. And she had a point. I had a habit of finding men who weren’t really all that keen on being in a relationship, which can be quite the hurdle when it comes to, well, being in a relationship with them.

Holly Wainwright, Monique Bowley and I argue about whether or not age matters in relationships, on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

Without realising it, I’d internalised a set of stringent rules when it came to dating.

He must be taller, which isn’t something I’ve had to worry about much at five foot two. He had to be my age (thereabouts) or older. My twin brothers are two and a half years younger than me, and they will always be babies. I had a ‘type’ which I wasn’t too interested in straying from.

There is a certain madness when it comes to dating. The funny thing about being single, is that literally 100 per cent of your relationships have failed. Whatever you’re doing – whatever criteria you’re setting – absolutely is not working.  

But we yearn for what is familiar and comfortable, the two things which will ensure we make the same mistakes over and over.

If you’d asked me a year ago if age matters when it comes to relationships, I’d have answered with an unequivocal ‘yes’. It’s about shared experiences, I would have argued. It’s about being at the same life stage. What would I have in common with a guy five years younger than me? I’ve had my early-twenties-relationships, and most of them were awful.

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And then I met Thomas*.

Thomas is six years younger than me. He hasn't had a 21st. For him, schoolies wasn't all that long ago. He hasn't had a long list of relationships. He hasn't even nearly finished studying. And yet I've never been in a relationship with someone I have more of a connection with.

And Thomas and I very nearly didn't happen.

When he first told me he liked me, I was overrun with anxieties. In hindsight, there was one resounding concern that underpinned them all: But what will people think?

They'll think I've lost it. That I just can't find anyone my own age.  That I'm lonely and desperate. That I'm immature and not growing up. That he just likes me because I'm older. That it's all just a bit of a joke.

Eva Mendes is six years older than Ryan Gosling. Image via Getty.
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And then, little by little, I let all that go.

As my mum always says, "People spend a lot less time thinking about you than you might like to think." My friends and family aren't lying awake in bed at night, analysing my relationship. They have their own shit going on.

I'd love to say that the stigma I'd anticipated was all in my imagination, but that would be a lie. People think it's weird. They don't get it. They think there's a power imbalance and that I "wear the pants" (whatever that means).

But the reality is that when we sit opposite each other and have dinner, or wake up in the morning side by side, age is invisible. No ones identity is determined by their age, and what I've come to learn is that maturity is far, far less indexed on age than what we assume.

Thomas has always been years ahead, and I've always been years behind. He was the first to get his license, and I was the last. He couldn't wait to work full time, whereas I put it off for as long as I could. There are 40-year-old men who are immature and lost, and men in their early twenties who aren't.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

We've only been dating for a short time, and I can't say whether or not age will come to matter in six months or a year. But what I can say, is that in my experience, the biggest deal breakers have never been superficial. They've been conflicting values. A lack of mutual respect. Different visions for the future.

Interestingly, my parents haven't been resistant to the idea. It turns out my grandmother was four years older, not to mention taller, than my grandpa. Most of my aunties are older than my uncles. Friends have joked about having to be careful swearing in front of my boyfriend, or making sure he's in bed by 8:30pm, but in the same breath they've shrugged it off and laughed that their mum is nine years older than their dad.

You'd think as a feminist I'd have rejected sexist ideals about what a good relationship should look like. But sometimes it feels as though the gender revolution hasn't quite managed to infiltrate heterosexual relationships. We still call older women in relationships with younger men "cougars" as a way of policing taboo behaviour, and suggesting there is some kind of sexual deviation at play. It's a phase. It's an experiment. It's what Madonna does when she's bored. It is not, we are told, the stuff of love.

But maybe it is.

I want an intellectual equal. Someone who makes me laugh. Someone who is emotionally intelligent and compassionate. I want someone kind. I want to be with the type of man who stands up for a pregnant woman on the bus, and doesn't yell things out of car windows. I want someone who has developed a very specific voice for their dog that adequately represents their personality. I want someone who gets along with my family and plays with my hair when I'm sad.

And none of those things have the least bit to do with what year they graduated school.

*Thomas is not his real name. 

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