Single & Clueless asks Dr. Helen Fisher: Why do some men prefer to date older women while some women prefer to date younger men?
Short answer: chemistry; attraction; romance. As Chaucer said, “love is blynd.” Once that old black magic hits the brain, and dopamine circuits start popping with the ecstasy of romantic passion, these lovers don’t seem to notice they are dating way outside their age-zone. Women, of course, have long married older men, often swept up by their partner’s debonair sophistication, contacts and ability to provide for their forthcoming young. And older men have long wooed much younger women, unconsciously seeking a young healthy mother to carry and nurture their DNA. What’s remarkable today is the number of older women dating much younger men, and younger men dating much older women. This is new—part of the vastly changing landscape of single life in America today. I discovered this because the last few years, Match.com and I have embarked on an ambitious project to understand the attitudes and behaviors of Singles in America. Indeed, this is known as the largest and most comprehensive nationally-representative study of single lifestyles ever done. We polled 5,200 U.S. singles (2,625 men; 2,575 women) from age 21 to over 65, from myriad different ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations and regions, as well as gays and straights. Among our questions: “Have you dated someone 10+ years older?” And “Have you dated someone 10+ years younger.” Some 12% of men had dated a woman ten or more years older; while 13% of women had dated a man ten or more years younger than themselves. And when asked what they regarded as the benefits of the match, a top reason both sexes gave was “physical chemistry/attraction.” Moreover, 35% of men were willing to commit to a woman 10 or more years older; while 32% of women were willing to make a long term attachment to a man 10 or more years younger. As Pascal said, “Love has it’s reasons that reason knows nothing of.” This isn’t always practical. But these trends, I think, are part of a stunning shift in male-female relationships. As women pile into the job market and gain economic power, rigid gender roles are breaking down, enabling both sexes to date a far broader array of individuals. Equally striking, we are turning inward, dating and marrying not to please our families, God, or the community (as our forebears did for the past 10,000 years), but for romance, intimacy and companionship. Men and women are flinging ancient traditions aside–and choosing partners to please their heart.