Shine On

Commentary: Is it odd for a woman to date a much younger man?

It seems that the recent marriage of actor Aaron Johnson, 22, and film director Sam Taylor-Wood, 45, has reignited the "older woman-younger man" debate, a conversation that many thought had been mercifully extinguished with the separation of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

But alas, we still live in a world where George Clooney dating Stacey Keibler is no biggie, but Madonna having a boytoy is news, so let's discuss.

There's something about an older woman with a younger man that just doesn't sit right with a lot of folk.

Women are so much more mature, the story goes. They've lived through so much more history, and have different social and cultural reference points than their much younger counterparts. What could an older lady possibly want with a younger fella?

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Interestingly, these talking points rarely come up when it's the man who's pushing 50 and the woman who is 23. Because at a very superficial level, it's quite clear what the man is getting out of the union: good sex, a last pass at youthful vitality, and the social status that comes with being attached to someone desirable.

That men should want these things, while not necessarily roundly applauded, is generally accepted without a great deal of dissent. But that a woman might want them?

Unnatural. Icky.

And then there's the constant questioning of what spell the old maid might have cast that lured such a fertile young buck into her clutches.

Why should a young man's reasons for being with someone a decade or two his senior be any different than a woman's? Those reasons are being security — both financial and social — and guidance. The older person has their life in order. They've got a career, money, and experience in the bedroom and elsewhere.

Yet the male ego simply cannot handle an older woman, some will proclaim. The gloss will wear off and eventually he'll leave her for someone his own age.

This may be true, but everyone also expects the trophy wife to cheat.

Perhaps the problem with this entire conversation is that it deals in clichés.

In a personal essay in O Magazine about her marriage to a man 13 years her junior, writer Lynn Snowden Picket describes what has kept the couple together for seven years of marriage and counting.

"What I ultimately found in Bronson is someone who shares not only my interests but my values, none of which, ironically enough, have anything to do with age: friendship, fidelity, faith, a love of family, shared beliefs and priorities."

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But back to Johnson and Wood.   

The couple already have two young children, and tied the knot this past summer. Now that Johnson has a big film coming out -- Anna Karenina -- their relationship is back in the spotlight. And despite all of the above cheerleading for an older woman's right to date young, there are a few rather glaring details about this particular relationship that are troubling enough to be worth pointing out.

First, the happy couple met when he was 19, when she cast him to be in Nowhere Boy, her directorial debut. Abuse of power? Maybe.

Second, Wood was married with two children at the time, and left her husband and family for Johnson, who, might we repeat, was a teenager at the time.

His extremely young age, her position of power, and the fact that she was married with children when they began their affair make the union a less than ideal example of an old-young couple.

But, as with everything else about the older woman-younger man relationship, the same could be said if  their ages reversed.

And that's the point.

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