It's probably no great surprise to learn that the older a man gets, the more likely he is to want to date a younger woman. That's according to a major US study, which also found that a sizeable number of men were achieving just that: 14 per cent were dating a woman who was more than 15 years their junior, while a further 15 per cent were in a relationship with someone at least 10 years younger.
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Why men need to prove themselves
So what's really going on here? 'Men have to prove to themselves, and the world, that they've still got it,' insists life coach Olga Levancuka. 'Being in a relationship with a woman who's of prime child-bearing age sends out that message loud and clear to their male peers. They don't necessarily want more children, but they want everyone to know they could if they wanted.
'Of course, there are variations on the theme,' Levancuka continues. 'There are men who go for women of a certain – much younger – age, or a particular look, such as the stunning model type. But the basic motive is always the same: if I can attract a considerably younger woman, I am obviously still a stud.'
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Why trade in for a 'younger model'?
You don't have to wrack your brain too hard to think of plenty of famous men who seem to have conformed to this stereotype, often appearing to 'trade in' previous partners for younger versions whenever the fancy took them: Donald Trump, Hugh Hefner, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Woody Allen, the list goes on...
But then again, isn't it a tad uncharitable to put everything down to a primal male urge to 'show off'? After all, some of these age-gap relationships do stand the test of time. Rod Stewart and his wife Penny Lancaster, who's 26 years Rod's junior, have been together since 1999, for example. Not all men are intent on attracting a younger partner when the current one passes a certain age – and even those who do so habitually can end up settling down eventually.
Is it all a matter of confidence?
'I'm sorry to reduce men to such basic instincts, but we should really blame biology here,' laughs Levancuka. 'Well, that and a lack of confidence.'
Indeed, the urge to prove one's power and virility by dating an attractive younger woman can often be traced back to a chronic case of dwindling self-belief. Instead of having faith in his own abilities and learning to feel content with his lot, a man may look for external factors – such as a young, attractive partner – to reinforce his self-worth and give the impression he's a lot more confident and powerful than he really is.
Hang on, though! Don't the women have any say in this? The stereotypical younger woman is either seen as a calculating money-grabber or a weak-willed 'airhead'. In all likelihood, though, neither image is true. Put simply, dating someone who appears to be experienced, established and offering some kind of stability may be a lot more appealing than getting together with an erratic 20-something who's still finding his way in the world.
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Does age really matter?
As with any relationship, however, a few months in – and any cracks will soon begin to show. And there's evidence to suggest the odds are stacked against the long-term prospects for age-gap relationships. Indeed, the greater the age difference, the greater the risk of a break-up, according to a recent study at Emory University in the US.
But, as Rod and Penny prove, none of this means the relationship can't and won't stand the test of time. The trick is to treat one another as equals, rather than regarding the age gap as some kind of insurmountable stumbling block. It doesn't matter what biological urges or deep-seated insecurities drew two people together originally: if a couple grows to love and respect one another, it has every chance of working.
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