They’re emotionally intelligent and more energetic in bed: Why midlife women are dating younger men

Olivia Rigg
Olivia Rigg, a professional matchmaker, has a much-younger boyfriend, who she met when she was 38 and he was 25 - Dan Tuffs

Is it really so strange, these days, to see a midlife woman with a good-looking man in his 20s? Women in relationships with men significantly younger than them have long been maligned as “cougars” and “cradle-snatchers”, assumed to be “sugar mommas” or on the hunt for a post-divorce toy-boy. But all that seems to be changing, with many well known women now openly dating within this once taboo arrangement.

There is more at play than fashion and status. Many famous women with boyfriends 15 or even 20 years their junior – among them Cher, Heidi Klum and Mariah Carey – say that their younger partners simply have a level of emotional intelligence and maturity not seen in their own generation.

So claimed Sienna Miller, 42, last week, when the British-American actress told Harper’s Bazaar that men the age of her boyfriend Oli Green, 27, are attractive partners because they’ve come of age in more modern times. ‘There is a difference in the way that generation of men respect women,” she told the magazine. “It’s specific to him, he is very wise and well-adjusted, but I do believe it’s also that generation. They have grown up with a slightly more level playing field.”

And it’s not just famous women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are more interested than ever in dating younger men.

“Today, two in five women on [dating app] Feeld are open to meeting members who are 15 or more years younger than them,” says Ana Kirova, the chief executive of Feeld. It’s a group of users, she adds, that “has grown by more than 30 percent in the past year” alone.

Sienna Miller and Oli Green
Sienna Miller, 42, recently welcomed the birth of a child with her younger partner Oli Green, 15 years her junior - Stephanie Cardinale/Corbis

Meanwhile, for two-thirds of people using the dating app Bumble, age is no longer the dealbreaker it once was: 61 per cent of British women surveyed told the app that they wouldn’t rule out going on a date with a younger match.

But do normal women have the same positive experiences with younger men as the more famous do? Research suggests that, broadly, the answer is yes. One study from the Kinsey Institute in America, of about 200 women, found that participants who had a partner at least 10 years younger than themselves were happier than both women with age-matched partners and women in relationships with older men.

“The relationships I’ve seen where a man falls in love with an older woman are some of the most true team-mate situations I’ve seen,” says professional matchmaker Olivia Rigg. Rigg herself has had a much-younger boyfriend, who she met when she was 38 and he was 25.

“I don’t wholly agree with what Sienna Miller said about younger generation men treating women with more respect than older men do,” says Rigg.  Such statements, she says, are “too much of a generalisation”.

But, she adds, “I do think it’s a different type of man who’s comfortable being in a relationship with an older woman. It shows a level of maturity and self-assuredness – a commitment to being in a real partnership.”

Olivia Rigg
Olivia Rigg says there was no judgment within her family regarding the age gap between her and her younger partner - Dan Tuffs

This assuredness, and willingness to overlook convention, could be a key reason why women such as Miller and Rigg are happier on average, says Dr Caroline West, Bumble’s sex and relationship expert.

“Younger men often have more emotional intelligence,” she adds. “Celebrity women and normal women alike want someone who [may have] done consent classes and can work through an argument.

“The relational literacy younger people have is so impressive and immediately more attractive,” says West, adding that millennial and Gen Z men “go to therapy and have better emotional intelligence and better sex education too, and things like that can be ingredients for long, happy relationships”.

Relationships where a notable age gap exists might be viewed as transactional as the pair are assumed to have nothing in common, but this is far from true today, West says, as – on top of sharing a willingness to develop personally and emotionally – “we’re all on the internet and looking at the same events at the same time”.

Of course it is not all about consent classes and emotional maturity; some midlife women may just believe younger men to be more fun and exciting partners.

“Women can often be more sexually fulfilled [with younger men] and that might be a part of it,” says Dr Natasha McKeever, a lecturer in applied ethics at the University of Leeds, where she co-directs the Centre for Love, Sex and Relationships.

“Women who date younger might just have more life satisfaction overall also, and being less dependent on their relationship to be happy can make their relationship healthier,” she adds. “Maybe they also find it exciting to be in a relationship that’s subversive or taboo.”

That’s the experience of Kara*, 45, who recently started dating after a tumultuous divorce.

“I was quite nervous to get back out there after my divorce,” says Kara, “but about three years ago I was on a night out with some friends and there was a cute guy a little bit younger than me showing some interest, and we had a little kiss and I thought, ‘OK, it’s not that bad’.

“From then I never looked back,” Kara says. “The next day I got on the apps and I was open to matching with guys 10 or 15 years younger.” Her first proper date with a younger man, a decade her junior, “really changed any preconceptions I had about younger men”.

Kara says that while she hasn’t had a serious relationship with a younger man, she has had several casual flings. “I definitely find that the sex can be better, as they’re just more energetic,” she says.

“The men I see do tell me that they prefer older women sexually, and that’s flattering, but often they also want to be dating women who are more secure in life, who are a bit more stable and know what they want.”

Does she feel judged by the people around her for her relationship choices? Not particularly, but then “my parents had a big age gap of 10 years, and my ex-husband’s parents had a 10-year age gap where his mum was the older partner, so I’ve seen this work within families,” Kara explains.

“Maybe it’s a celebrity trend too and that just helps reinforce a positive image of these relationships in my mind.”

Rigg had a similar experience. “There was no judgment within my family regarding the age gap: my brother is married to an older woman who we all respect and adore,” she says.

“I had no doubt that a man in his late 20s could fall in love with and commit to a woman older than them – I’d seen it happen first hand.”

That said, Kara would never pursue a serious relationship with a much younger man, largely because “I have grown-up children who aren’t that much younger than some of the men I date”.

But maturity doesn’t seem to be an issue between herself and one of the younger men she’s currently seeing, who is in his early 30s.

“I do feel like he can keep up emotionally,” she says. “Maybe it’s because I got married so young and missed out on so much exploration, but I do feel like mentally we’re about the same age and in a lot of ways he’s more sensible than I am. We laugh about that, too.”