When we think of romantic relationships we typically envisage a man and a woman likely to be the same age, possibly the man a little older. This isn’t an ideal that works for or is a reality for everyone of course, with consideration to personal preferences and sexual orientation among other things. Anyway this got me thinking about conversations around Intergenerational Romantic Relationships and particularly older men in relationships with younger women or girls. So, I’ve observed that younger women and girls that prefer to date older men cite various benefits along the lines of maturity – the benefits of being with someone that is over their childish phase of exploration or rather being a player; others feel enriched by the wisdom and somewhat carefree nature of older men, as well as the financial benefits that are often afforded by older men. For men, the age gap is beneficial in that it makes one feel young again and it’s basically the sexual vigour and energy of younger women that they tend to enjoy, coupled with a level of detachment from responsibility. The dynamics are often affected by varying backgrounds and socio-economics, but it’s no secret though that such relationships are often frowned upon and devalued in society because of the perception that the women are usually in it for the money and not because they love the men.
This may not be an issue for some because in effect there isn’t anything wrong with being with an older man per se, I mean if it’s between two consenting adults then that’s that but the concern seems to be more around the fact that these men are often married and if not, there is still scepticism around the “why”. There’s an ongoing trend in South Africa of older married men dating and being involved with much younger women and girls, and often the relationships, at their base, are characterised by an exchange of money and material luxuries for sexual favours. Essentially it’s a choice, but there truly should be concern around the reason why a lot of young women and girls find themselves in these kinds of relationships and how this should be curbed. Financial security is always the big drop – something that has been a push and pull the world over for decades, with men being in the position to control resources and women having to ultimately negotiate their access. But how secure are you really when there is such an overwhelming aspect of control that often comes with the nature of these relationships?
Generally there is power play in intimate relationships that speaks to the direction that the relationship usually takes. You do not, as a young woman or girl, want to wake up and realise that you gave all your power (read as voice) away in order to support the driver (read as partner) only to realise that the entire journey isn’t going even an inch towards the destination that will fulfil you as a human being. And all this because of financial security – because of money? People struggle with this in relationships all the time because both men and women seem to often understand support to mean silently following. Then when you get the opportunity to use and exercise your power, the driver is thrown because he does not understand where it’s come from and where his “yes man” has gone to. If you allow yourself to be steered in this way from so early on in your young life then you risk being trapped in such a cycle repetitively, and you will possibly continue to have a difficult time in engaging in progressive and healthy relationships. This is where you become vulnerable to the fear of finding your own source for security; where dependence on an older man makes you feel unable to negotiate the terms of your sexual relationship, financial relationship and your emotional relationship. Just by the way, I think it’s important to acknowledge and understand that security for older generations and say five or six decades ago was different from what it is today. Security for a lot of women back then literally meant financial security, and social expectations at the time influenced and made that acceptable mostly because women had limitations on what they could do for themselves financially. With the way things are now, and to each their own, women find themselves in vulnerable situations when they seek that same security because the world has changed so much, and not necessarily for the better.
Poverty, unemployment and disadvantaged backgrounds are major players contributing to a lack of financial security for women, as we all know, and this can often be alleviated by the support structure that comes with being in a relationship. But security in any relationship cannot just be financial – it needs to be commitment, it needs to be loyalty and fidelity, being and feeling safe physically, emotionally and mentally – those are the qualities that one should seek to have in their lives and if you are secure in that aspect then finances or expectations around them will come from a place of love and wanting to take care of each other, instead of a place of vulnerability where you can be taken advantage of. Sure we have the right to be who we want to be and be with whom we want to be with, and that’s fine but these things need careful consideration because the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of our future generations should be everyone’s responsibility. Often times, we forget the implications of what is right for us. We need to be mindful of how “our right” can have dire effects on the bigger picture and so how we do things or go about our lives needs to be informed by something outside of ourselves because we do not live in isolation. You are here right now benefitting from sacrifices that others before you made, and not even just sacrifices but considerations. It’s not always what you do, but how you do it!
I personally do not believe that it is appropriate for an older man to be with a young girl, just as long as she is above the legal age of consent because it really does place her in a vulnerable position of control where there would be an odd father-daughter dynamic, an “I know it all” approach towards most of their interaction. It actually lends itself to patriarchy because where a man is afraid to be with someone that generally has the makings of being their equal, they will look for someone that they perceive as a lesser threat and are able to easily exert control over. It makes me wonder if men have somehow had a glitch in their wiring where they are unable to see things beyond their own immediate benefit, and instead drive a change with the reality in mind that there is so much that young women need to learn from their early adolescence through to just maturing as women. There is a lot that men as old as sixty years of age do not know, even biologically when it comes to a woman’s body. Yet you find young girls that have not even taken the time to know and understand themselves believing and expecting that an older man will; and most of this comes from misconceptions, misinformation from peers, and also a misinterpretation of what maturity really is.
Look there is no way forward that will be found in having pretty little conversations and not everything has to be made difficult just for the sake of it – but it’s the difficult, heavy and uncomfortable conversations that will make for a way forward. Mothers and daughters, speak to each other no matter how hard it may be because a lot of the time the answers will come from that discomfort, instead of having real discussions being swept under the carpet. Share your experiences with each other and let’s normalise empowering each other through unveiling the blankets of shame and fear. Let us not raise our children like eggs and breed denial around the truths of life. None of that is going to take away from the child’s childhood, instead it will help you position yourself always from a point of honesty where our girls can know and trust that they can get security from you and from themselves instead of seeking it from an unhealthy place. And for the young ladies, be respectful, be reasonable and be self-aware. When you know who you are as a young woman then you will not be taken by fleeting pleasures and most importantly you will not sacrifice yourself and your sanctity for them. Exercise patience with your family and not chase instant gratification in the form of material because this too is what leaves you vulnerable to vulturous men that want to use and abuse you. Don’t get lost in expectations – be it from family, intimate partners, friends and peers, colleagues – know who you are and who you want to be because no one else should be giving you that. You may not always know where you are headed or where you want to be headed but knowing yourself means you will know what you don’t want and what you don’t want to be.
Don’t live in fear. Nothing is impossible under the Sun.
Black man, protect our girls.