George and Amal Clooney (17 years), Jay-Z and Beyoncé (12 years), Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart (22 years), Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (20 years); while relationships with an age gap upwards of a decade may still earn a raised eyebrow in some circles, there’s no denying that an older man dating a younger woman is a couple dynamic we’re all more than familiar with.
Sure, the reverse is becoming more commonplace, despite an undoubtedly biased lingering social stigma; high-profile couples such as Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (24 years), Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron (25 years), or Kris Jenner and Corey Gamble (25 years), are all leading the way, but according to surveys, large age gap relationships count for around 8% of all marriages in Western countries, with women being the elder in just 1% of those.
As that gap gets closer to 20, things start to look a bit more off balance
The rise of tongue-in-cheek hashtag #husbandnotdad on social media is doing plenty to beat down the stigma of romances where questions like ‘And what will your daughter have?’ are awkwardly frequent, with couples sharing their loved-up selfies across Twitter and Instagram, saying ‘to hell’ with the inevitable judgement.
— Lucky (@kneelknurd) May 2, 2019
But toe-curling questions from waiting staff aside, there is one niggling accusation that always rears its head in the face of such relationships; ‘daddy issues’.
Sharing an age gap close to 20 years or more? It’s highly likely you’ll be asked by friends, acquaintances and even madly bold strangers at the bar, whether your partner/girlfriend/wife is in fact seeking a replacement father figure, rather than simply hooking up with the person she happened to fall for. If you’re fortunate enough to be loaded, add ‘sugar daddy’ or ‘mid-life crisis’ onto that.
“An age difference of up to 10 years is generally not looked at askance by anyone who knows how old each partner is, but as that gap gets closer to 20, things start to look a bit more off balance.
“Once a man is literally old enough to be a woman’s father (or vice versa, for older women), public opinion starts to shift from acceptance to scepticism,” writes psychologist Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne.
Meanwhile Dr. Elena Touroni, Clinic Director of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, asserts that the ‘daddy issues’ phenomenon is fairly common.
There may be something reparative about being with an older man
“Generally, in relationships across the board we seek characteristics in the other person that are either similar or important to the caregivers in our life, or the complete opposite. We may seek something we haven’t had when growing up as a way of compensating and repairing any emotional needs that were not met.
“From this theory, if you’ve had a troubled relationship with your father there may be something reparative about being with an older man who you feel is able to look after you and give you the attention you didn’t have while growing up.”
So to get the bottom of just why some women like to date older men, plus the truth behind those ‘daddy issue’ concerns – are they really a ‘thing’? – we tapped a few experts and relationship gurus to share their insight on the whole age gap relationship scenario. Keep on reading for the real reasons many women prefer an older guy.
You’re Probably Financially Set
We’re not saying she’s there for the money in a Kanye West “Gold Digger” kind of way, but the idea of a man who’s got their game together on the financial (and oftentimes, thus emotional) front is certainly a reassuring prospect, even if a woman’s got her own bills more than covered.
“In general, a younger woman may be attracted to a mature man precisely because they are more dependable, stable, be more emotionally mature, have more financial resources, and are better able to provide for their partner and family,” explains relationship expert John Donlon.
“Conversely, men are often attracted to a woman’s physical appearance, and a younger woman’s energy and interests coming into an older man’s life can add a sense of energy and fun.
“These two qualities can provide a balanced medium for the relationship to begin and blossom into the romance phase.”
Life Experience Is An Attractive Quality
When it comes to the dating game, it seems older and wiser aren’t just t-shirt slogans for the questionably dressed middle-aged.
[He’ll] have a sense of stability, solidity and confidence that he may not have had in his 20s
“A man who is evolving, especially a man who has the wisdom of years of experience, is incredibly attractive,” says Donlon.
“A mature man can provide a wealth of life experience as well as being more emotionally intelligent, and have a sense of stability, solidity and confidence that he may not have had in his 20s, 30s or even 40s. And if he’s still learning and growing, this is tremendously appealing.”
Mature Men Are More Confident
Following on from the above point, an older man who wears the confidence of his years like a classic Tom Ford suit – he who carries a well-aged air of BDE (named after Pete Davidson), shall we say – no doubt holds the advantage over a younger, shakier love rival.
“Genuine confidence is a quality women love because it ties into connecting to the best in you, and holding your own emotional and psychological shape,” says Donlon.
“It’s also closely related to resilience, because when you connect to the best in you, your drive isn’t ultimately hooked on superficial outcomes.”
The Bedroom Can Be Way More Interesting
Thought you’d have the best between-the-sheets tussles of your life in your 30s? Not necessarily.
Where the man is older, that can often lead to transcendent mind-blowing experiences for their younger partner
According to Donlon: “In our culture it’s not widely known that people don’t reach their sexual potential until their 50s – at this age there is more of who you are as a person behind the eyes, compared to when you’re making love in your 20s.”
With age, our desires can evolve “from a 20-year-old man’s drive being hormonally driven” to “being driven by our brain’s neocortex (an area of the brain key to higher-order brain functions, motor commands and spatial reasoning) which makes for a far more personal, present and connected experience,” says Donlon.
“Paradoxically, for age gap relationships where the man is older, that can often lead to transcendent mind-blowing experiences for their younger partner, and an experience far more powerful than anything that happened in his earlier years.”
There’s Less Hand Holding
Figuratively, not literally – we wouldn’t recommend refusing to press palms.
In terms of self-esteem and assertiveness, it seems mature men are just better at being self-sufficient, needing far less reassurance and relationship hand-holding from their partner.
A partner whose self-esteem is their own… is much more likely to successfully navigate the long-game
All of which makes for an appealing prospect – after all, who wants to do all the emotional heavy lifting?
As Donlon tells us, during a lover’s spat or rough patch, a partner whose self-esteem is their own, rather than being dependent on their significant other’s approval or reassurance, is much more likely to successfully navigate the long-game.
There May Be More Trust
Another plus of being older and wiser is that a more mature man may be less interested in the game-playing and promiscuity that can lead to issues of broken trust in a relationship.
A woman may feel they are likely to have found someone whose done all that and is ready to settle down
“A potential benefit of your partner having a lot of life experience, is that you feel safe and guided by that person. You may also feel more secure in them being faithful and committed, because you feel they have passed the stage where they might behave otherwise,” says Dr. Touroni.
“In an age gap relationship, you effectively bridge those qualities where a man might still have a need for wanting multiple partners. With an older man, a woman may feel they are likely to have found someone whose done all that and is ready to settle down.”
‘Daddy Issues’: Are They Really A ‘Thing’?
Ah here we are, finally on the cusp of clearing this up once and for all. So, when it comes to women who prefer to date an older man, are ‘daddy issues’ really as common as society would have us believe?
We are attracted to (or repelled by) someone not exactly like our opposite sex parent, but someone familiar
According to our experts the short answer is: not always, but it’s possible. “The truth is that virtually every single one of us is influenced by the relationship we have with our opposite sex parent. Psychologist John Bowlby, who wrote his most famous works on attachment, called this ‘imprinting’,” says Donlon.
“We all carry this template within us; in other words, we are attracted to (or repelled by) someone not exactly like our opposite sex parent, but someone familiar.
“It’s also true that most of us have some form of unmet needs from childhood, and that some young women do seek out older men to meet these needs, just as some young men seek relationships with older women to meet theirs.”
Marianne Vicelich, relationship expert and author of Destruction: Free Yourself From The Narcissist, goes further in explaining the mindset here, noting: “It’s been well documented that younger women dating older men can often be seeking a ‘father figure’ of sorts.
“The subconscious mind may crave a ‘father figure’ who’s able to protect, adore and provide you with the affection you missed in childhood. The problem with this scenario is that it may bring an imbalance of power to the relationship.”
If you like throwing it back to the numbers, however, a recent study found that the ‘daddy issues’ phenomenon wasn’t actually a ‘thing’ for the overwhelming majority of women in age gap relationships – 74% in fact (of course this relies on women self-identifying their own ‘daddy issues’ or lack thereof, which presents its own questions).
The common belief that the women who choose much older partners because of having ‘daddy issues’ was unfounded in this study
Researchers from Canada’s Saint Mary’s University compared profiling questionnaires from 173 coupled-up women in both age gap relationships (with an average gap of 17 years), as well as same-age relationships (where differences in age are below four years).
They say of their findings: “The common belief that the women who choose much older partners because of having ‘daddy issues’ was unfounded in this study. There was no significant difference in attachment styles between the two groups.”
Donlon’s parting advice on the topic? If you think there’s an issue, head for the therapist’s couch. “If there are unmet childhood needs, the healthy thing for a person to do is to enter therapy, so that their adult self can meet the needs of their inner child.
“In that way a person can begin to take their own shape autonomously, and as a more integrated person, so that they’re in a much better place to have a healthy relationship. Of course this isn’t necessarily the case for every age gap couple, as each relationship stands uniquely in its own right.”