Emily Heist Moss looks at dating from the perspective of age brackets, internet formulas and life stage compatibility.
Over the years, the cast of The Girls Next Door, Sex and the City characters, Ashton Kutcher, and members of Congress with penchants for teenagers have tried to answer two questions: How old is too old? How young is too young?
It’s such a topic of conversation that we’ve created a whole lexicon to describe these “May December” romances–see? Even I’m using the lingo—with websites devoted to facilitating them, porn devoted to fetishizing them, and fake and “real” reality shows (30 Rock‘s “Milf Island,” anyone?) mocking them. We speculate endlessly about 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison’s wedding to 16-year-old aspiring Real Housewife Courtney Stodden. I think, I hope, it’s safe to assume that most of us find a 35-year gap extreme. Where do we regular people, not the cradle-robbers, cougar-hunters and Hugh Hefners of the world, actually draw the lines?
I am 23 and I’m officially over the hill, or so mounting evidence would suggest. OkTrends, the outstanding analysis blog of online matchmaking site OkCupid, has demonstrated with brutal clarity that for women dating online, it’s downhill from here. At 21, we’re at the statistical height of our appeal, desirable to men of all ages, sought after, and buried under a barrage of adoring messages. The wave crests, and a long slide begins. At 26, men suddenly win the numerical upper hand and after 30, well… god help you. You might as well start buying cats.
So how do you strike while the iron is hot? What parameters represent good judgment and what parameters just indicate a fixation with age or status? Apparently, internet lore says there’s a rule for this sort of thing:
If you’re a man: Halve your age, add seven. This is the minimum age of your would-be lady friends. (Example, 28-year-old guy: 28/2 = 14. 14 + 7 = 21)
If you’re a woman: Subtract seven from your age, double the answer. This is the maximum age of your prospective pool of men. (Example, I’m 23. 23 – 7 = 16. 16 x 2 = 32.)
This would suggest that women can only date up, and men can only date down, and that gay people don’t exist. You could remove the gendered notation and make it more politically correct, but a mathematical equation is hardly the best way to measure compatibility. I’ve been on a lot of dates of late, and in spite of the wide parameters I think I want, and the results of that flimsy formula, I’ve found that my “sweet spot” was smaller than I thought.
At 23, dating young is complicated by that pesky “college” business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled you’re educating yourself; I just think it might be hard to date you right now. I wake up at 7:30 and work at a desk all day. I buy vegetables and change my sheets on a reasonably regular basis. Sometimes, I even want to talk about work, which means waxing poetic about PowerPoint shortcuts and Excel functions. If you’re anything remotely like a typical college student, you sleep until noon, study until 2am, eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch at least once a day, and spend your weekends drunk, furiously writing a paper about Kant, or both. I’m not sure we’re on the same wavelength just yet. Hang tight.
And if you’re 32, well, we may match up more closely, both being of legal drinking age, but I still anticipate some problems. You’ve been in the work world ten times longer than I have. I will rave about my newly discovered professionalism, and you will laugh at how clearly my stories scream, “I am a new adult!” At 32, chances are you’re looking to settle down. At the very least, you don’t spiral into a tornado of anxiety at the words “settle down.” I’m happy for you, but I’m not there yet. If you’re 32 and you don’t want to settle down, that’s fine. I worry that you’re trying to relive your glory days vicariously through me, but as long as we avoid too much frat house nostalgia, we might just be okay.
It’s about life stage compatibility, and that isn’t easy to bottle or quantify (no matter what OkCupid says). I’m not looking for a life partner, and I’m not looking for a one-night-stand. I’m looking for someone that recognizes, and maybe even sympathizes, with this “new adulthood” thing I’m trying on. I’m occupied by learning how to take care of myself, metaphorically and literally, and it’s frequently epically self-indulgent. A 20-year-old worrying about his ramen consumption probably won’t relate to half of that battle, and a thirtysomething may be too far past it to appreciate this phase. Are there exceptions to these stereotypes? Of course, and to them, I say… call me!
Scanning the inventory of relationships of older friends and family, I see the proverbial May Decembers everywhere, and in both directions. Each and every one of those relationships began somehow, and chances are one or both partners wondered if the age gap was too much to bridge. I don’t possess a checklist, but I do hope that I possess the awareness to recognize the people that speak my language and understand my station in life, whether they fit my “brackets” or not.
photo by katinalynn on flickr