Jennifer Lopez is 18 years older than (and seems cozy and content with) her new beau, Casper Smart; Janet Jackson is nine years older than her gorgeous fiancé, Wissam Al Mana; and Mariah Carey is 11 years older than her husband, Nick Cannon, with whom she has twins. The AARP conducted a study that showed 34% of women over age 40 have dated younger men, and 35% preferred it to dating older men. In the last decade, we have seen an increase in the pairings between older women and younger men, and in the actual age gaps as well, which begs the question: Are younger men where older, single Black women should focus their attention?
On the surface, Black women (35+ especially) find ourselves single at what seem to be higher rates than women of other races and ethnicities. In the past few years, there have been several infamous articles about the state of Black women and relationships, asking why so many Black women are single, or why we won’t date outside of our race to avoid being single. However true or untrue, all this ink makes our social lives and dating potential sound incredibly bleak.
Part of the reason this group of women is more likely to be single is because women, generally, have delayed getting married in recent decades in favor of completing college and starting careers, while men have generally continued to pursue younger women and careers simultaneously. We also know that women account for at least 63% of all college and graduate degrees among African-Americans, and that as women become more financially independent, we’re not as focused on “settling down” for financial reasons (once a primary motivation for marriage).
Another factor is that single parenthood rates are disproportionately high in Black communities. And since women are usually the primary caregivers, dating options and opportunities can be limited. When we combine these and other smaller issues, older Black women are finding it more difficult to find, date and build relationships with single men who are “compatible.” A compatible man has been conventionally defined as someone two or three years older, from a similar background and with generally higher education and income.
So what are these single sistas doing? They are turning to younger men.
Black don’t crack, as the saying goes, and sistas are looking better than ever at older ages. Women like Angela Basset, Halle Berry and Tina Turner are proving that sistas have a special way of aging that attracts people of all ages. Younger men may simply find themselves intrigued and drawn into the allure of women of a certain age.
And often, sex isn’t even the main focus. Shamika* says, “Younger men keep me young. They’re always down to go out and do fun things that I men my age aren’t really interested in. The younger guys I’ve dated have also had more time on their hands because they didn’t have any children yet, so they are almost always available when I am ready to go out and have a good time.” Patricia* adds, “Younger men aren’t sticks in the mud. Dating them feels more like a shared experience. I don’t feel like I’m being taught a lesson on every date, as I sometimes do with older men.”
There can be drawbacks to dating younger men: them living with parents or roommates, being un(der)employed, immaturity, being spread too thin with several women and/or clinginess. Some women find themselves teaching more than they care to (especially in the bedroom), as if to mold the younger men into what they need and want them to be. For some, there’s a disconnect in experiences, so they may feel out-of-touch when it comes to discussing and doing certain things.
Age ain’t nothing but a number, as the saying goes. So when dating, I don’t advise limiting oneself only to people whose ages fall within a narrow range. Too often, we find ourselves constructing ideals around what the perfect partner should be, and we make age a priority when it needn’t be. There are pros and cons to these May-December relationships, and single women and men should consider all of their options when it comes to finding true happiness. While a stigma still lingers, we have to accept that people will pass judgment on practically whatever type of relationships we have, so we might as well go for ours!
*All names have been changed.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.