Age doesn’t matter for Hollywood couples

Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson

Editor’s note 6/5/2023: The Amber Schoenfelder quoted in this story has since married and changed her last name.

What’s in a number? Fifteen players on the baseball field are too many and you need two to tango, but when it comes to relationships, do numbers really matter?

Taking a look around the media, there are an increasingly large number of age gaps in relationships. Not only are there large age gaps, but also the roles are starting to be reversed. Instead of seeing a 40- year-old male with a 20-something female, more “mature” women are snagging men in their mid-20s. Is this a trend and will it have any effect on our culture?

Ronald Stover, marriage andthe family professor, says that when it comes to marriage, the Hollywood stars aren’t exactly the most reliable examples of love to look at.

“You need to be very careful about using famous people because their marriages are under tremendous stress and no telling what’s going to happen with those,” Stover says.

Hollywood relationships may not last very long, but they do have an impact on our culture. Jeff Heinle, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre, says that media representations usually reflect what is happening in our culture.

So, what is the status quo for our culture? Are people more willing to get involved with someone who has a considerable age difference?

“An age difference is okay, but I think there’s a line that can’t be crossed,” freshman Amber Schoenfelder says. “If you’re a 60-year-old guy and you are dating a 20-year-old girl, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.”

Schoenfelder, 19, is currently seeing a 26-year-old man.

“Generally in society, if one is going to be older, it’s going to be the male. There are certain women that like younger men, but it’s just kind of a fact of human nature that women mature quicker than men do, so it’s just sort of natural for a younger woman to date an older man,” Schoenfelder says.

The reason for a female’s attraction to an older man, Stover says is simple: Women like to marry up.

“They want to marry up in terms of height, they will want to marry someone who is a little bit older, they will want to marry somebody, probably, who has a little bit better education than they do, or co-equal,” Stover says. “So, they are marrying up and guys are marrying down. It’s a pattern of behavior. That’s what happens.”

This may be a natural pattern of behavior for women, but school is a factor that is often credited with determining what kind of age differences are acceptable in a relationship.

If one does not attend a school that has a clear line of separation between grades, an age difference has no influence on the relationship, freshman Elizabeth Plummer says.

In schools that have a clear line of separation, students are at different stages socially, Plummer, 19, says.

“It makes it a lot harder and it’s more unacceptable to other people,” she says.

Schoenfelder expressed a similar observation.

“When you’re 18 … I think the school and the social setting is the biggest part,” Schoenfelder says. “If you’re already in college, there’s not many people that would want to go back and date someone in high school. Usually, if you’re away in college, it’s hard to keep a relationship going back home.”

Despite the influence of school and the natural tendency for women to be attracted to older men, there are some exceptions.

Sophomore Cody West, 19, usually dates women who are older than he is.

“I dated a girl in high school that was two years older than me,” West says.

Despite this reversed role, West didn’t notice any stares or strange looks directed his way.

“I was a freshman and she was a junior. It made me seem a lot cooler because I was dating an older chick in high school,” West says.

Whether it is the male or the female that is older, maturity is a key factor in relationships with age differences.

West doesn’t want to date a girl who is just “giggly” all the time, so he is usually attracted to women between the ages of 20 and 25.

Freshman Tarah Thooft, 19, is dating a man who is 7 years older than she is because “younger boys are immature.”

She says there aren’t more problems involved in a relationship that has a large age difference, but Thooft admits that there are different kinds of problems in her relationship.

“The things that an immature boy might do, he doesn’t do. But there’s other issues that are present,” Thooft says.

One of those issues is pressure from peers.

“His friends gave him a lot of crap for me being younger,” Thooft said.

Despite the peer pressure and the atypical relationship issues, Thooft says she focuses on the positives “because I love him.”

In a relationship or marriage, Stover says, an age difference can be overcome.

“A huge age difference can create some strain, but what’s really important is what happens after the marriage,” Stover says.