I got to ruminating about this in the shower this morning, while still groggy from another night punctuated by hot flashes (which, I am reassured, will ease off within two to five years. Good to know).
A 30-year-old friend recently told me she was uncomfortable about the fact that her partner was younger than her â€“ by all of two years. And her partner jokingly referred to her as an “older woman”. Two years hardly constitutes a generation gap, yet they are very sensitive to that small aberration of birthdays. I was wondering how it is that when a guy hooks up with a woman 10 years younger some eyebrows might be raised, but people don’t freak out. Not so the other way of course. The cougar jokes are endless, and a woman’s perceived attractiveness takes a nosedive after 40. What is up with that?
The ancient double-standard exists and persists because we are animals and we live to breed. We are hard-wired for biological advantage. Older woman/younger man arrangements don’t bode well for the successful propagation of the tribe or the species. Nor, for that matter, do same-sex affairs. With very few exceptions societies discourage men from taking up with older women or with other menâ€”sometimes to the point of shunning, incarceration or murder. With non-human species it isn’t even an issue: once your doggie stops going into heat the boys stop coming round. It might still feel good but at a basic biological level that’s not what sex is for, so why waste your Saturday night?
On the other hand, almost all of my own relationships have been with men younger than myself, from a little to an eyebrow-raising lot. I have been candidly (but kindly) dumped more than once by men who confessed that, as compatible as we might be, they wanted to have children. I wasn’t on that immediate track and my clock was ticking. They wanted to fit more neatly into the matrix described by their own families and the social norm, and by so doing, maximize their chances in the gene pool. I respected their impulses and was grateful for their honesty, and mostly we made fairly successful transitions to friend status.
All this biological imperative could get a person down, but I am a diehard believer in conscious evolution. We higher primates have the potential to transcend the biological imperative, and there is some evidence that we are actually doing it. Look: the idea of legitimate same-sex relationships wasn’t even on the radar a century ago and yet even in some quite traditional cultures, how far we have come, how fast. If you don’t believe this ask any gay person who came out in the ’60’s.
Also I notice that a fair half of my closest friends are male (and no, they aren’t all my ex-lovers). In my parents’ generation it was almost unheard of to have a close non-sexual friend of the opposite sex. For my mom to have had a male friend would have been regarded as suspicious if not downright dangerous. Couples socialized with couples, women with women, men with men. In the last few decades our capacity for complex and subtle human relationships has blossomed, and that is a marvellous and a hopeful thing. Our minds are really evolving so much faster than our bodies can change. This makes me happy. Purrrrrrrrrr.