Have you seen the Netflix series “Emily in Paris”? If you have, I bet you disliked Sylvie Grateau, the no-bullshit head of a French fictional marketing firm Savoir, who (as most people would say) is the villain of the series. Sylvie is a hard-as-nails woman with little patience for Emily, the American girl, sent to Paris to work for her.
I must admit I adore Sylvie, especially in one particular scene. In Season 2, that strong, mature woman has a hot romance with a much younger Dutch photographer. When a business partner tells Sylvie how ridiculous she looks because of the age difference, she decides to defy, Madonna-style, and show up to the restaurant where her toyboy and his friends are celebrating somebody’s 25th birthday. “What will your son be having for lunch?” the server asks her as she sits down. Everyone at the table is shocked by the arrogant question. But Sylvie will not be humiliated. She stands up rebelliously, gives her young lover a passionate kiss and says, “My son will be having me!”
I applauded Sylvie at that moment. I mean, honestly, the amount of joie-de-vivre and self-confidence it requires to date someone as young as that photographer guy AND feel no need to hide? Sylvie rocks!
This scene got me thinking about what it is like to be a mature woman dating a younger man?
Troves of men have been notorious for testing the limits. From the once-married celebrities Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to Leonardo DiCaprio and his slew of different girlfriends, men dating women much younger than them is more than normal, it’s accepted and occasionally even applauded. Not that I’ve asked him, but I don’t think 46-year-old DiCaprio is bothered about dating women in their early twenties.
However, when the switch is flipped and society is forced to contend with the concept of ‚The Older Female Partner’, not only is the paradigm less widely praised, it’s often unfairly called into question. That being said, it hasn’t stopped many famous women from giving younger companions a shot. A-list ladies have been dating—and sometimes marrying—men many years their junior. Hollywood is the perfect example of age-gap romances. Sure, some haven’t exactly worked out, but many others are still standing the test of time.
Madonna is the latest celeb to cause headlines due to her relationship with the back-up dancer Ahlamalik Williams, who is 36 years her junior and two years younger than her daughter Lourdes. The iconic Queen of Pop has dated almost exclusively younger men in her time. There were some significant age differences with her last 12 partners: e.g. 33-year age gap with Kevin Sampaio, 30-year age gap with Timor Steffens, 29-year age gap with Jesus Luz and so on.
In a 2017 interview with Harper’s BAZAAR U.S. Madonna spoke openly about the public’s opinion on her dating younger men, attributing it to her refusal to bow to convention as well as plain sexism. „I’ve created a very unconventional family. I have lovers who are three decades younger than me. This makes people very uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do makes people feel really uncomfortable.“ She expanded on the statement by adding: „I believe in freedom of expression, I don’t believe in censorship. I believe in equal rights for all people. And I believe women should own their sexuality and sexual expression. I don’t believe there’s a certain age where you can’t say and feel and be who you want to be.“
Madonna says that love has no age, and other female celebrities seem to support that point. Kate Hudson was linked to Derek Hough, who is six years her junior, Tilda Swinton is 18 years older than Sandro Kopp; Priyanka Chopra is 10 years older than Nick Jonas, and it’s impossible to forget Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s marriage, which lasted for eight years despite the 15-year age gap. Jennifer Lopez’s dancer and lover, Casper Smart, was 17 years younger than the singer. Sandra Bullock dated Ryan Gosling (age difference: 16 years). The singer Shakira met the soccer player Gerard Piqué while filming “Waka Waka”. Their birthdays are on the same day but 10 years apart. They’ve been together since 2010, and have two sons, Milan and Sasha. Deborra-Lee and her triple-threat husband Hugh Jackman are 12 years apart but have been married since 1996 and have two children, Oscar and Ava Jackman.
And it isn’t just in Hollywood that the ‘age gap’ relationship is a real thing. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron met his wife Brigitte Trogneux when she was his teacher. He was 15 years old and she was 40 at the time, but they reportedly didn’t begin a relationship until he was 18. The pair married in 2007, when Macron was 30 and Brigitte was 54 (so 24 years apart).
Across the English Channel, Helena Bonham Carter’s boyfriend, Rye Dag Holmboe, is 21 years her junior. Shortly after they went public in 2019, British tabloids branded Holmboe with the „toyboy“ label, which the actress considers to be “a really sexist remark”, because “It implies he’s got nothing to offer other than his body—which is also fantastic.”
By sheer coincidence, Helena Bonham Carter’s relationship resembles that of the Royal Princess Margaret, whom she plays in season three of The Crown. When Princess Margaret’s marriage broke down, she had a scandalous relationship with Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior.
„It was odd timing that I seem to have a similar age gap as her,“ Helena Bonham Carter continued. „Everybody ages at a different rate… My boyfriend is an old soul in a young body, what more could I want? People are slightly afraid of older women… [they] can be very powerful. [And] actually, it’s much more fun [to be with a younger man].“
Famous women who date much younger men are empowering role models, but as a society we still have a problem. When you read the stories of non-celebrity ladies, a lot of them say they met their young stud while in the middle of a mid-life crisis, just divorced or they weren’t thinking clearly. They report about their lives being a mess, the feeling of panic and fear of being old and alone. A friend of mine recounts her relationship with a man 15 years her junior. „My self-esteem went down and so I needed some comfort. Turning 40 brought on self-criticism and feeling like it was my last chance for fun. I hooked up with this boy for my own benefit, to be the self-centered asshole in a relationship.“
Stories like these, while great for normalizing the older woman/younger man dynamic and making it less of a taboo, simultaneously turn the relationship into the equivalent of getting botox/ fake breasts or buying an obnoxious sports car. The mature woman is painted (often by her own brush) as frustrated and desperate, so obsessed with her youth that she needs fresh blood to maintain it. She’s a vampire and a cougar after all; she feeds on her young victim, her prey.
Frankly? This is rubbish. A younger man doesn’t have to serve as an anti-ageing serum or an ego-push. You choose a person based on their personality. Dating „age appropriately“ is an option and not a social obligation.
I wish we would hear more often about the older women who are secure and confident in their age-gap relationships and do not consider the number of years between birth dates a big deal. Plus, they are amazing at dealing with judgmental people and double standards in older man/younger woman and older woman/younger man relationships.
People can be VERY judgy when it comes to ‘age gap relationships’ but really, if both partners are happy, who cares? Therefore, if you’re in a romantic and healthy relationship with someone much older or younger, that’s your call, and nobody else’s business.
Ladies, remember this: being the older woman in a relationship is the ultimate feminist power play. You take the ability to date well outside your age bracket, that once was exclusive to the patriarchy, and make it the property of the girl gang. With gusto! Hold hands in sisterhood around the fire of old conventions and go ahead – slide the age bracket down a bit on Tinder. Get wild with men in different phases of life and do it proudly. Own it, girl!