Everyone will remember someone who had a weirdly older boyfriend when they were in their teens.
I had one, in his mid-twenties while I was 16. I’d go to his house, get drunk and high, and then we’d have sex that was entirely to his preferences and never resulted in an orgasm.
My best friend at the time lost her virginity, age 16, to a 27-year-old.
My other pal had sex for the first time at 12, with a guy who’d just turned 19.
At the time this seemed perfectly normal. Girls mature earlier than guys, right? Our older boyfriends had jobs (well, not mine) and could get us booze. That’s cool.
Except it wasn’t, and it isn’t.
Now at the age of those older boyfriends, it’s deeply disturbing to realise that men my age are pursuing teenagers who still wear school uniforms.
This isn’t just something that happened ‘back in the old days’.
Take a look at the righteous indignation of a man in his thirties who was rejected by a woman celebrating her 19th birthday.
Consider the Moby and Natalie Portman debacle, which seemed to be made up of Moby ignoring the imbalance inherently present as a result of their age gap so he could brag about dating someone hot.
And just this week a couple with a 28 year age gap defended their love, despite having met when she was 16 and he was 44.
The good news is that the general reaction to all these relationships has been a general sense of ‘nope, that’s creepy’.
But while there’s outrage whenever one of these stories is shared online, we need to be doing more in real life. It’s time for us to start calling out the creepy older guy and refusing to accept men pursuing much younger women.
We’re all responsible to stop this disturbing pattern, because we’ve created a culture in which the old guy and the young girlfriend is socially acceptable.
It shouldn’t be. An adult having a relationship with a teenager is not and should not be an acceptable thing.
There’s an automatic power imbalance there. We’re taught to respect authority and our elders from a young age, to believe that someone older than us must know better, and that they’re in the right, we’re wrong. That’s a dangerous starting block for a romantic relationship – it means we go into things trusting the older guy to know best, and to trust that what he wants must be right.
When you’re a teenager, you also have a sense that adults are far cooler and more together than you are. They have jobs. They have their own place free of parents and rules. They can drink, drive (not at the same time), and pay for things without having to ask their mum for £20.
That all makes an older guy seem very attractive to a teenager feeling like they have little control over their life. It’s an unfair advantage, instantly putting an older person on a deeply hot, trustworthy pedestal.
When an older person dates someone in their teens (or even in their early twenties), they rid them of the fun bits of being young.
An adult will want an adult relationship. They’ll have to consider time, money, getting up early in the morning. They’ll expect sex as a normal, essential part of romance.
A teenager shouldn’t be thrust into an adult relationship while they’re still young. They should be enjoying the silly stuff – hours of pent-up makeout sessions in cinemas, because their parents won’t allow them in a room with a closed door, two-week anniversary gifts DIY-ed because they spent all their pocket money, texts sent between lessons and whatever the modern day equivalent is of those hours spent on MSN (what do the young people use these days? Tik Tok?).
A relationship has to be low stakes for a teenager, because when you’re young dating should be about fun and exploration. It should be about working out who and what you like, dating some absolute idiots, and experiencing new things together, at a shared pace.
Teenagers are still finding out who they are, and they need to do that without the influence of an adult’s needs for a romantic relationship.
A 27-year-old will have expectations of a girlfriend that a teenager shouldn’t have to worry about meeting. They’ll have to think about commitment, and exclusivity, where they live, how to schedule in time to see each other around work.
When an adult pursues a relationship with someone much younger, they cut short their youth and drag them over those essential years that should be dedicated to developing one’s sense of self.
It’s incredibly wrong. But a teenager won’t realise that.
That’s why it’s our responsibility not to lock teenagers under lock and key, but to call out all those creepy older men who feel they can hit on younger women.
The men who used to shout about my breasts and legs when I was wearing uniform were rarely alone in their vans. Their friend should have questioned what they were doing.
My friend’s older boyfriend had friends and family who knew what he was up to. They shouldn’t have brushed off the relationship as ‘silly’, but pointed out that it was wrong.
Every time a pal drools over a young celeb or mentions ‘barely legal’ is one of their top search terms on Pornhub, we should all be questioning that.
There’s an longstanding myth that men get better with age, while women peak at 18 or 20. That’s a terrible view to uphold. Women do get better with age, because they develop knowledge, experience, and a better understanding of themselves. That should be considered attractive, rather than the vulnerability and naivety of someone under 20.
We have to stop seeing ageing as a negative thing, and the young woman plus old man formula as the default.
We should be outraged and creeped out by a 40-something man who only dates women under the age of 25 – why isn’t he attracted to women closer to his age?
We should be disgusted by the older lad with a girlfriend still in school uniform – he knows full well how much he’s changed in the space of a few years, and needs to be told that a teenager simply isn’t equipped for the relationship he now wants.
When we overhear a guy in his twenties hitting on a girl and dismissing their age gap as ‘well, she’s legal’, we should question why he’d want someone who isn’t his equal.
Yes, age-gap relationships can work longterm. But a 30-year-old going out with a 40-year-old is a very different thing. Both would be considered adults in all respects, meaning age doesn’t give one party power.
If it’s truly meant to be, why can’t the older person wait, leave the younger person alone to grow and learn who they are, and then come back together when they’re both adults? If you love someone, let them go – and give them their right of a proper adolescence.
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