Everyone says it: “Girls mature faster than boys.” From the days of having cooties in kindergarten, we’ve been led to believe that boys our age are too childish for us. And while we love checking them out on the quad—whomever created “shirts versus skins” deserves a national holiday in his or her honor—we can’t help but think that college guys still have some growing up to do. With seniors, grad students, and working 20-somethings to swoon over, dating an older guy is an appealing option.
At the same time, some collegiettes love pursuing freshmen boys when they’re upperclass(wo)men: a younger guy’s carefree spirit is endearing, he probably doesn’t know your ex, and, let’s be honest, age is just a number when a gorgeous guy comes along. There’s nothing wrong with dating someone older or younger (as long as you’re both the age of consent), but this situation has its own set of consequences to consider. We talked to collegiettes across the nation and relationship experts to see how an age difference impacts different aspects of a relationship.
Dating A Younger Guy
You may be smitten with that younger guy for a number of reasons—his chiseled abs and the fact he makes you feel like Mrs. Robinson, just to name a few. But according to some collegiettes, your conversations with a younger beau may feel a little off at times.
“While I like to have fun, I also like serious conversation every once in a while,” says Rachel*, a college graduate who dated a 19 year-old during her mid-twenties. “His maturity was next to none.”
We’re not accusing your younger boy toy of being incapable of having a serious conversation; however, it’s important to recognize that the two of you are at different places in your lives. How can he understand your grad school applications freak-out if he hasn’t even declared a major yet? While it’s important to have serious conversations with your boyfriend, keep in mind that it may be more difficult to connect with a younger guy.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to when your only concerns were deciding which parties you would attend and reading that art history chapter before Monday morning. From securing your spot on the Dean’s List to participating in your favorite extracurriculars to scoring that coveted internship, your priorities are probably more refined than they were a few years ago. Though a younger dude’s “YOLO” attitude can be refreshing and make you nostalgic for your own carefree freshman days, it could cause a strain on your relationship
“It just felt like different things mattered to us,” says Jillian*, a 21-year-old collegiette who casually dated an 18 year-old during her semester in London. “I thought about [my] future more and he was more in the moment, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He was just moving away from home and it seemed like his priority was to just have fun.”
It’s a classic case of “girls mature faster than boys,” and there’s science to prove it! “The female brain fully develops earlier and sooner than the male brain,” says Patrick Wanis, a human behavior expert and author of Get the Man You Want.
According to this relationship expert, a girl’s prefrontal cortex, which allows us to make rational decisions instead of ones that are based on emotional impulses, matures at ages 20 to 22. Our lovely male counterparts’ prefrontal cortexes, on the other hand, do not mature until they are 22 to 24 years old. Translation? Scientifically speaking, your boy toy probably won’t have the same mature priorities as you do.
What others think
From Samantha Jones to Kourtney Kardashian, being a “cougar” has taken on a rather glamorous stereotype. But while you may love trotting around with your youthful boy toy, not everyone may embrace this trendy reputation.
Luckily, Rachel’s parents were supportive of her and her younger beau. “My mom is seven years older than my dad, so she didn’t have any negative reaction to my dating a younger guy,” she says. However, Rachel’s friends did have some objections. “My friends thought I should stick to guys closer to my age who were either close to graduating [college] or already graduated,” Rachel says. Though your happiness is the most important thing, it’s important to talk to those who doubt your relationship to see where they’re coming from. Who knows—they may have the wrong idea of your other half, or they may bring up an issue with your beau that isn’t age-related.
How he’ll treat you
Remember how much you looked up to your old camp counselor, babysitter, and first grade teacher when you were a kid? A guy who’s younger than you is bound to have a similar admiration for you, only filled with passion and romance. “Younger guys will be more infatuated by you and more likely to put you on a pedestal than older guys,” notes Wanis. He adds that if a guy is completely smitten with you, there’s a good chance you’ll be wearing the pants in this relationship. Showered with praise and in control? Fine by us!
Dating An Older Guy
As expected, dating an older guy tends to lead to mature conversation. “Things do tend to be more serious when we’re together than when I’m with my girlfriends,” says Spencer*, a 21 year-old who is casually dating a guy almost twenty years older than her. “Much less talk about the Kardashians and much more talk about work, politics, and research.”
Even if your man is all caught up with the Kardashians, you may still experience some difficulty connecting with him. If your beau has already graduated, he may not understand why the latest campus drama is so important. At the same time, all his talk about that big presentation for work may go right over your head. Since the two of you are in completely different worlds, you may need to explain things a little more to him than you normally would to a collegent.
But be warned, the conversation may get a little too serious if he starts talking about the future. “Being his age, talk of marriage and kids does come up on his end,” says Spencer. “He’s definitely past the age of commitment-phobia and on to the real deal.” If you’re not ready to walk down the aisle anytime soon, this topic may be a little uncomfortable for you. “Get clear very quickly on what you want and what your values are,” advises Wanis. So if you’re not ready for marriage and kids, speak up! Trust us; you’ll save yourself from an awkward conversation later.
The physical factor
Unless your boyfriend is the real life 40-year-old virgin, or you went a little too crazy freshman year, there’s a good chance an older squeeze has more sexual experience than you. No matter how confident you are, knowing about your guy’s former flings and ex-girlfriends would make any girl uncomfortable, right? But according to Hayley*, a 20-year-old collegiette who is currently dating a 25-year-old, having a guy who’s more experienced actually helps the relationship. “While fumbling around is cute with your first boyfriend, that’s the last thing I want now,” she says. “His experience makes him more confident, open to suggestions, and easier to please.” Just because he may have more experience than you doesn’t mean you can teach him a thing or two!
Since your older guy’s prefrontal cortex has finally developed, he is more likely to have his priorities in check. Hopefully, he has a well-paid job and is over the days of frat parties and flip cup. A guy with ambition and responsibilities—what could be the problem?
For starters, he may be a little too busy. “His days [were] filled with clients, meetings and conference calls,” says Hilary*, a collegiette who dated a 22-year-old when she was a freshman in college. “He worked 80 hours a week, including weekends, and [couldn’t] really go out at night. I work hard in school and intern year-round, but I still like to go out to clubs and bars with friends on the weekends.”
Though you may be proud of your sweetheart’s commitment to work, you may end up not getting the attention you crave. “A guy who’s older already has a career and other responsibilities may have less time to give to you,” says Wanis. “You may not be the priority.” Maintaining a healthy relationship is hard work, but different schedules and obligations may cause a rift in the relationship. To minimize the tension, try scheduling couple time when he’s free, and a fun night with your bestie when he’s swamped with work.
Who pays for dates
“I hate getting treated to things,” said no girl ever. Whether you’re taken to a fancy dinner or he picks up the tab for your large latte, we secretly love when a guy offers to pay for us. Thanks to a stable income, your older squeeze may want to shower you with presents.
“You can’t hate the resources that dating an older guy gets you,” admits Spencer. “He’s not living paycheck-to-paycheck like guys my age, so he wants to provide dinner, morning coffee, and travel. He makes me feel like a princess!”
Being treated by your beau is great, but it can be awkward at times. “He [once] had a meeting and offered [to let] me to go on a shopping spree with his card,” Spencer recalls. “I love[d] the offer, but it doesn’t feel right for him to pay for me to entertain myself!”
Take a page from this collegiette’s book and draw the line before he becomes your sugar daddy. Even though you always bat your eyes, flip your hair, and thank him, feel free to chip in every once in awhile. “While he may have a more secure job, that doesn’t mean he’s my personal pocketbook,” says Hayley. “He usually pays, but sometimes we go dutch or he pays for lunch and I pay for cupcakes after.” After all, nobody wants to be a gold digger.
What others think
Let’s be honest: it’s pretty cool to say you’re dating someone who’s older and more mature than your average frat bro. While other collegiettes are left wondering if that DFMO from last weekend could blossom into something more, you’re in an adult relationship with a real man. But is that how others view your relationship, too?
According to most of the collegiettes we talked to, their friends and family members support them dating someone older. “My parents were completely supportive; they’re also seven years apart themselves,” says Hilary. “Right from the beginning, they took an interest in my relationship and invited my boyfriend to stay at our house for a few days over winter break.”
As much as your parents may like your older boyfriend, don’t be surprised if they have some reservations about your relationship. “Parents see the age gap as a gap in life experience, and [my parents] don’t want me to make any big relationship decisions when I have so much left to experience,” says Hayley. “I think the age difference scares my dad in particular because [my boyfriend] is older and more towards the ‘marrying age.’”
When the age gap gets bigger, some collegiettes find themselves not wanting to tell their parents about their older guy. “I know it would make them severely uncomfortable to know that he was closer to their ages than mine,” confesses Spencer. “While I love spending time with him and think he’s a great person, I know I won’t be spending the rest of my life with him. It’s not worth causing some awkward dinner conversation.” As crazy as keeping your relationship a secret from your family may sound, many people disapprove of dating an older guy. “In society, we tend to think that if there’s a huge age difference, the man is just using her or that the girl is whipped,” notes Wanis. If you’re unwilling to tell people about your main squeeze, it may be time to take a step back and reevaluate your relationship.
How he’ll treat you
Whether you are swept up in a whirlwind romance or dating the boyfriend from hell, dating is always a learning experience. For Elizabeth*, a collegiette who’s consistently dated guys four to ten years older than her, “older and wiser” men have helped her see different ways to approach various situations. “Not so much playing devil’s advocate, but simply showing me there might be another way a scenario could play out,” says Elizabeth. You may be annoyed with your biology professor because he always talks down to you, but hearing your guy’s take on the dilemma may allow you to see a different side to the story.
According to our relationship guru, this is a definite pro. “Women are attracted to men who can teach them,” says Wanis. “Women love to learn, probably more than men, so they’re attracted to men who can open their mind and show them a whole new way of looking at the world.”
But for Samantha*, who dated a 25 year-old when she was 20, there’s a fine line between a guy offering his opinion and babying you. “I felt like he was always lecturing me about saving money and getting my homework done,” says Samantha. “At times, I felt like he was being a parent more than a boyfriend.” According to Wanis, this may occur for a number of reasons: your beau may aspire to be father figure, he is a little controlling, or he doesn’t want to view you as an equal (harsh).
If you ever find yourself in this predicament, politely remind your man that you are a mature collegiette who’s able to make decisions for herself—nobody needs another parental figure!
Age aside, the most important thing is if you’re happy. “The questions a woman needs to ask herself in relationships are: ‘Do we have values that we share, are of similar maturity levels, and have some similar interests?’ ‘Do I enjoy the time we spend together?’ ‘Do I like who I am in this relationship?’ and, most importantly, ‘Am I complete without this person in my life?’” advises Kim Olver, author of Secrets of Happy Couples: Loving Yourself, Your Partner, and Your Life. “When a woman can answer ‘yes’ to all those questions, then age is irrelevant providing [you’re both] of legal age to participate.” At the end of the day, choose a guy who makes you happy, no matter how old he is.
*Names have been changed.