Trimble: A large age difference between partners may spell trouble

By Leah Trimble

The tabloids went crazy these past couple weeks over yet another alleged celebrity affair. Star… The tabloids went crazy these past couple weeks over yet another alleged celebrity affair. Star Magazine, along with the New York Daily News and several other tabloid magazines, reported in late September that Ashton Kutcher supposedly cheated on his wife Demi Moore. The worst part? The unfaithfulness allegedly took place the night of their six-year wedding anniversary.

Prior to this, Kutcher and Moore were renowned for maintaining a healthy relationship in spite of their 15-year age difference (Moore is now just two years from turning 50, whereas Kutcher is only 33). Sounds like it was the ideal situation for both of them: He dates the hot older woman, and she gets a fresh, hot, younger catch. Maybe it helped that they were both so damn attractive.

But until recently, were they living one of those — for lack of a better phrase — “modern-day fairytales”? To be honest, I don’t know. My friends know that I’ve thought about undertaking a less-severe breach of age etiquette: dating a freshman, teaching him the relationship ropes. I think I actually defined it as making him “my slave.” Shameful, I know. But some women want a younger man to worship her and put her on a pedestal. Realistically, however, this adds up to an unsustainable Hollywood fantasy. While there are always those few rare couples that defy the expected dating disasters, age differences are invariably difficult to overcome, regardless of which partner is older.

Still, “cougar” relationships are a very real phenomenon. A 2003 AARP study revealed that 34 percent of all surveyed women over 40 were dating younger men, and 35 percent preferred it to dating older men. Contributing to this, I’d guess, is the media’s infatuation with such couples, women’s increasing independence and power and a growing disregard for age (Don’t even get me started on cougar dating sites). New marriage and partnership rules are natural byproducts of these trends.

But tellingly, many non-Hollywood “cougar” relationships don’t wind up at the altar, just as partnerships between older men and significantly younger women don’t usually succeed (I only know of two real-life couples that have sustained long-term cougar dating; only one has made it to marriage). The same trend applies in same-sex relationships, which experience the same issues. There’s nothing wrong with attempting this lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean people with a 20-year age difference can easily overcome the accompanying problems. I will never believe that most men in their college years can truly understand or appreciate a woman’s life after kids, for example.

Part of the reason an age difference sometimes works in Hollywood and not the real world is that the former operates by its own standards. Celebrity 15-year-olds routinely go to rehab and buy mansions. How many regular young teens do you know that do this? Actors and actresses mature differently (depending on their careers), have outrageous incomes and often are exceptionally good looking. They don’t need each other for money or for their careers. In fact, in an interview with Details magazine, Kutcher once spoke of his attraction to Moore in the following terms: “She straight up didn’t need me … She wanted me, but she didn’t need me, so she could put it on the line.” For better or for worse, the average relationship might not afford the same luxuries.

Of course, I should acknowledge that several studies suggest that cougar companionships can work. Yet none take into account how attractive the women are. My guess is, if she’s smokin’ hot, her chances of success are probably a bit better. And I think this is probably the biggest reason men play into the “cougar sex fantasy”: the word “cougar” is associated with beauty and sexiness — qualities that aren’t necessarily universal.

For a friend of mine, age difference and unrealistic fantasy were precisely the reasons a fling of his ended. “[She] treated me like a pet,” he said of an older woman. “She’d decide what was done in the bedroom … I felt like I had to always be on my A-game or else I wasn’t good enough. It was an uphill climb just based off of me being younger. The aura was exciting, but I think she felt like a babysitter, and when it was playtime she would call on me.”

All this isn’t to say that both men and women don’t deserve to date or have sexual relations with whomever they please, no matter what the reasoning is. Women deserve to be looked at as sexy and mature, not one or the other. It’s all about personal taste and whatever fits into your lifestyle. So if it actually does work for you, go get ’em tiger … I mean, um, cougar.

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