I know the casual ageism you experience for being 'the older woman'

Kate Mulvey

When I heard that Brazilian president, Jair Bolsanaro, whose wife is 37 years his junior, had apparently endorsed a social media comment mocking his French counterpart, Emanuel Macron for having a wife nearly 25 years his senior, I rolled my eyes at the predictability of it all.

Not only was it the kind of juvenile mud-slinging we’re now so accustomed to from our so called ‘strong men’ leaders but, as an older woman who has much dated younger men, it was pretty typical of the casual ageism you come to expect when you dare to upset the rules of the dating game.

I distinctly remember a few years ago being at a sophisticated dinner party, when one of the male guests looked at me, raised his eyebrow and smirked, “Kate, so how’s it going?”.

I caught a few people tittering in unison, and felt the usual pang of hurt shoot through me. Forget the fact that I had just written a new book, or that I was looking hot in a pair of Isabelle Marant skinnies, the only thing that was piquing their interest was the mop haired 27 year-old male sitting by my side. Shock, horror: I was dating a man 17 years younger than I was.

When you have been in this position a number of times, you quickly understand that the world still struggles to accept the older woman/younger man dynamic, especially if it ever becomes an established relationship.

Photo of US President Donald Trump with his wife Melania, talking towards Air Force One in Bordeaux - Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP
US President Donald Trump is nearly 24 years older than his wife Melania Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

It is the age-old double standard. Man in his fifties marrying a nubile twentysomething is seen as a romantic step up (hi there Donald Trump) but when it comes to a woman over 50 dating, or even marrying, a younger man, it strikes a squeamish note of puzzlement and shock.

It is incredible that despite 50 years of feminism, some people still feel distinctly uncomfortable accepting that a woman in the hormonal twilight zone could ever be attractive, full-stop, let alone to a man who is much younger than she is.

Take my relationship with David*, said 27 year-old: even though I felt giddy with love, and we happier than ever, my friends thought otherwise.

“Far too young,” my female friends roared. Some male friends made sarcastic comments about him being mistaken for my son (I know, hilarious). Others saw him as an obvious threat. At one social event, as I was talking to an old male friend, he suddenly started directing all his conversation to me, and trying to edge David out of the way.

It is not surprising really, in their eyes, by stepping out of our dating lane, we are making them feel as redundant as they might do at work, when facing a hot new hire.

I would argue that this is just another way that men are determined to keep women in their place. Even when it comes to semantics there is a whiff of disapproval at play.

Think about the term “cougar”, first coined in the late Nineties. The image of a predatory older single woman who goes in hot pursuit of wide eyed ‘cubs’ and drags them back to her fem-cave is hardly a flattering one.

But then any woman who dares to challenge behavioural norms is criticised from the off. You only have to look at how Madonna was ridiculed for daring to step out in a raunchy outfit out for her 60th birthday last week. As someone who now qualifies for a bus pass, she looked pretty good by anybody’s standards, but from the comments on social media, you would have thought she had just eaten a newborn baby.

Perhaps it has something to do with women ceasing to be considered sexual the minute their last egg drops. Which is pretty ironic, given that older women seem to have a certain new currency in the online dating world.

When I joined a normal dating site a few years ago, I was startled by the amount of attention I got. My inbox was suddenly awash with handsome young men who actively wanted to meet older women like me. And I loved it. I got my relationship mojo back and they got a sophisticated older woman who didn’t whine about not being able to afford a house and knows her way around the wine list.

And outside the tired cliches trotted out by Bolsanaro and the like, you only have to look around to see that age-gap relationships are becoming the new normal. Increasingly, middle-aged women are choosing to date men much younger than they are – Kate Moss is currently going out Nikolai Von Bismark, some 13 years younger than her, and Sam Taylor-Johnson seems to have made quite the success out of her marriage to British actor, Aaron, who was just 18 when she met him in her early 40s.

Modern older women are financially and emotionally secure. Today, we look after ourselves more than we ever and we have high expectations for life to continue to be stimulating and exciting well into our 50s and 60s. So, why limit our relationships to those who are the same age as us? Men haven’t done this since the dawn of time, it’s now our turn to see what we may have been missing.