The Vagenda

Mind the Gap: What I Learnt From Shagging A Younger Man

We googled ‘cougar’ and this is what came up
He’s 23. I’m 29. Okay, it’s hardly Madonna and Jesus, but it’s weird. 
I’m a bit ashamed of myself for finding it weird, because I’ve had a number of relationships with more significant age gaps. One boyfriend was 9 years older than me and had two kids. And so, to pose a Carrie Bradshaw-esque one liner with a zingy Vagenda twist: What kind of feminist needs an older boyfriend?
Some backstory:
I’ve just moved to Montréal (amazing) for my dream job (amazing amazing). For the first time in my life I have a steady source of income, a contract that lasts longer than 6 months, and my own place. I’m a grown up! So, on a night out with two of my new frolleagues (friend + colleague, freshly coined), I got completely blotto and snogged the 23-year-old in a bar. Cause that’s what grown ups do.
In the immortal words of Kimya Dawson: I lived alone, so I took him home. I have a recollection, hazy, of his wide-eyed wonder: ‘Tu habite ici? Tout seule?’ Oh yes, this is where I should mention that the 23-year-old is Francophone, and my French is shit. I have no idea how I even communicated the idea that he should come back to mine. Through the international language of saliva, perhaps.
Anyways, we stayed up dancing the hootchicoo until 6am, when he was like ‘Encore! Encore!’ and I was like ‘it’s snoozy time for Grandma.’ He left for work at 7am, after one hour’s sleep, only waking me to ask for my number. But I didn’t have a phone, so I semi-legibly scrawled my e-mail on a piece of paper, listened to the door slam, and awoke later, proudly thinking ‘I had sex in French.’ I never expected to see his impish face again. 
But then he e-mailed, and suggested that we climb Mont Royal and have a picnic at the top. We turned up wearing exactly the same clothes – blue cut off shorts and grey t-shirts. He was charming, funny, easy to talk to, and very patient about repeating everything three times so I could understand. He taught me to pronounce things the proper Québéc way instead of the stupid French way (I used to say peut-être; now I say pudite). He taught me many important Canadian words, such as ‘orignal’ (moose). And now I can swear like a drunken sailor in Québécois (On s’en calisse! Tabernac!). Other fun things about our first date included making monkey noises and going back to mine for a shower. His wonder at my not particularly fancy apartment remained unabated.
So now I’m dating a 23-year-old. He’s wonderful for my French, he’s super sweet, and he’s SO FECKING PRETTY that I want to kill him, stuff him, and keep him in a corner of my sitting room to stare at all the time. Or, y’know, I could take a picture or something. But, all this notwithstanding: it’s weird. 
It’s weird because he’s the same age as my students. It’s weird because all his friends are 23 and are busy doing what I was doing when I was 23, which is getting plastered and dancing in shit clubs to Beyoncé (I have been rather enjoying the dancing to Beyoncé actually). His apartment is trashed, evil beings live in his fridge, and I have no idea if he has ever changed his bedsheets, and, therefore, no idea to what kind of lady-juice cocktail I am contributing my own delicious liqueur.
But all that aside, here’s the really weird bit: while he’s smart and adventurous, I just know so much more than him, I’ve just done so much more. Of course I do, of course I have – I’ve been alive for an extra six years. I’m struggling to put a word on exactly the dynamic this creates between us, but it definitely has something to do with power and respect. 
And it’s really making me think: all those older boyfriends – the 24-year-old when I was 18, the 30-year-old when I was 23, the 35-year-old when I was 26 – didn’t I seem really young to them? Did they not find it strange that there were such gaps in my knowledge, that I had, comparatively, so few life experiences? Were some of the things I said unintentionally cute? (The 23-year-old asked me if my PhD was hard.) Was my keenness a sparkling change from the more cautious approaches to love (read: bitter, suspicious cynicism) that many of us adopt as we grow older? I mean, he friended me on facebook after one date instead of subtly internet stalking me in the traditional manner. So I guess part of what I’m asking is: did my older beaus get off on the gap?
My slight unease with the age gap is making me rethink my desire for older boyfriends too. Cultural conditioning, blah blah blah. Socially acceptability, blah blah blah. But, as someone who spends such a huge portion of her time thinking and writing about gender and equality, it comes as a surprise to find that I’ve never stopped to consider the power dynamics of my oldie fetish. 
During my time with the father-of-two, I used to spout ‘age is just a number’ a lot, but it was obviously so much more than just a number – he had more money than me, he had a business, all of his friends were older, he didn’t like it when I partied hardcore, he had blimmin children for crying out loud. And part of what attracted me to him, undoubtedly, was how well informed he was on so many topics, and the sophistication of his politics compared to my own. I learned from him, and I liked that. Did he learn from me? Honestly – probably not. He was getting something else: he got the pleasure of teaching, and, although neither of us would’ve thought of it like this, he undoubtedly got a social prize – a hot young thing.
The power balance upheld by the social norm for women to date older dudes is obvious, and the scorn heaped on the ‘cougars’ who go the other way helps to strengthen it. As a woman who’s engaging in some mild cougarishness for the first time, I have to say that there’s a lot to be learned about intimacy and gender politics from flipping the age coin. That’s right: I’m shagging the 23-year-old for feminism.

6 thoughts on “Mind the Gap: What I Learnt From Shagging A Younger Man

  1. I approve! Prior to meeting my now husband, the guys I dated were on average 7 years old than me. Turned out my perfect man was a lot younger: when we met, he was 21 and I was 29. We now have two beautiful children and will celebrate our 10th anniversary next spring. The fact that he’s British and I’m American has caused more of the cultural disconnect we’ve encountered than the age difference has.

  2. Totally agree. My boyfriend is 22 and I’m 27 and it is by far the best relationship I have ever had. He respects me and I him, and I never feel like there is the slightest power difference between us. We are equals. Our relationship is more fun, more intimate, more grounded, and all round better than any I’ve had my all my previous boyfriends who were older than me. Also he’s all young and firm and pretty and I can’t get enough of him, so that helps.

  3. Ha thanks for this. Since I broke up with my last long-term boyfriend when I was 26 (I’m now 30), I have had more relationships and general sexcapades with younger ‘men’ than older but have also spent more time feeling guilty/weird about it. This is despite these experiences having been a lot more positive than the ones with their older counterparts.

    I say ‘men’–and use inverted commas–because really I don’t know if ‘boys’ is a more accurate term to describe some of them. I don’t mean ‘Notes on a Scandal’ younger here, I mean my age was 27, his 23 or mine, 27, his 24, mine 28, his 21, me 30, him 24 etc., etc.. I suppose that would make me a serial cougar/puma/insert big cat representing my age range here.

    There is often an imbalance of power created by a difference in age but as you say this age difference in the reverse is not just seen as normal but is frequently touted as an ideal. This doesn’t negate the existence of an imbalance obviously but it doesn’t always exist: it’s dependent on the lower age and the individuals involved.

    For me, I would say although I may know more actual facts than most of these man-boys/boy-men, some of them have had more life experience or greater emotional intelligence so were more mature in other respects. Is that just the Puma’s Defense? I don’t know.

    What I do know–with almost one hundred percent certainty–is that a man in your situation probably wouldn’t think twice. And, if he did, it wouldn’t be in this much depth, that’s for sure. So, yeah, pretty young men, enjoy!

  4. This reminds me of an article in a magazine I read (probably J-17 or something) when I was about 14, ni which it said that because girls mature faster than boys if you want the perfect relationship you should look for a boyfriend who is on average 4 years older than you. That is then exactly what I did. I thought it was perfect, he was so confident, he was ready for a committed long-term relationship, he was so much cleverer than I was. How wrong I was. Turned out I wasn’t ready for a long-term committed relationship (despite what Cosmo told me) and though he was more confident and knew more about life he could also be an insufferable know-it-all and always maintained the upper hand in our relationship. Now I am in a great relationship with a guy my age, and it feels so strangely equal. I had to actually learn to pay the bills, and call the landlord myself! It’s done wonders for my own growth and functionality in the world. That article was idiotic.

  5. I’m a man, and I’ve always felt that older women look down on me, it may not be the age, but circumstances. I do like older women, I’m not going to lose hope, my mother got marry to a man who is 12 years younger than her, I met him when he was 17 and that’s why I was surprise and that really pissed me off. But you know, now with this article and comments, I feel that I should try harder when seducing an older woman.