“She couldn’t make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women.” — Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
I was asked to write this piece, although it’s something that I’ve been wanting to address from my angle anyway; that’s why there wasn’t any hesitation on my part. It all started with an article link I posted on Facebook by Farrah Gray, a well-known motivational speaker and entrepreneur. The brief article offered six reasons why every woman should date a younger man. Humorously quipping that I could have written this entire article and add a few points of my own, a couple of sisters took me up on that. There wasn’t anything in-depth about Farrah’s article. For the most part, those six reasons have been restated in some form or another in other articles and blog posts. At the same time, I appreciate him essentially condoning the idea of women dating younger men because, to this day, there’s still some backlash. Considering that the article’s main photo is a picture of him, it’s quite possible he was advertising. 🙂
First of all, women dating younger men is not a new phenomenon, not even by a long shot. Over the course of several decades, women quietly entered into clandestine affairs with younger men, sometimes while married. However, if anything can be said about this dating phenomenon today, it’s the openness that women are enjoying in choosing to date younger men. Celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Sharon Stone, Madonna, Demi Moore, Tina Turner, Vivica A. Fox, Jennifer Lopez, and Halle Berry are currently or have been romantically involved with younger men.
The big damn deal, initially, is that any woman who dated a younger man was setting herself up for ridicule or shame because the only thing that a younger man could possibly want from an older woman is her money. The term ‘sugar mama’ applies here. While I am certain that this has occurred several times, I do not exclusively apply it to dating younger men, but rather to the dynamics of that specific relationship. In other words, it’s not one cause and one effect at all. For a lot of women with hangups about dating younger men, they signal out the maturity level as a factor, as if this can be predicated by age these days. We’re living during a time when there’s 50 year old men wearing durags, oversized white tees, sagging jeans and using the word ‘thot’ with frequency while their attitudes towards women suggest stunted mental & emotional growth. Meanwhile, there’s 24 year olds rocking slacks and cardigans with highly progressive and well-thought out views on social issues, which makes for great conversations. Also, their music playlists feature Cameo, the Isley Brothers, the Whispers, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Peabo Bryson alongside Drake, Daley, and Schoolboy Q.
In conversations with many women, they have expressed that younger men don’t take an interest in them and my response is that, in actuality, they’re the ones not paying attention because there may be one or two younger men within their immediate environment checking them out. Dating younger men is really not that much different from dating men of any other age. The same discretion in choosing a younger man applies just as it does with other men, or else a woman will have a mess on her hands. Let me be clear. I am, in no way, implying here that a woman exclusively dates younger men, unless that’s her choice. For me, I love men, in general, with a special kind of love for Black men. If I meet a man, we click, and it just so happens that he’s fifteen years younger than me (I’m 40), I’m not going to make a big deal about it.
Truth be told, if you’re a single woman over 35 and need to expand your dating options, adding younger men is a wise decision; considering that a woman’s dating pool shrinks as she gets older. In some sense, it becomes inevitable. Many men past 35 are deep in the throes of married life so they’re off the market. For those men who may have had the misfortune of divorce or a string of failed long-term relationships, it’s not unusual for them to be emotionally, mentally, and financially wounded as well jaded and guarded. I have had the distinct experience of being in a relationship with a recently divorced man of my age. It was exhausting because I felt like I had to constantly prove myself. That’s a blog post for another day. While it is possible for a younger man to have some emotional baggage as well, it is not as common.
Now, this is the blog of a writer and Literature/Arts Lover, so I always have to make a connection between Art and Life. As it goes with cultural productions such as books, films, music, theatre, etc, there are some instances where we see this particular dating phenomenon as a centerpiece. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937, and speculatively inspired by a relationship she had with a younger man that ended abruptly (this may explain partially the symbolism of Teacake’s death). Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft starred in 1967’s iconic film, The Graduate, where Bancroft starred as the older Mrs. Robinson who seduced the younger Benjamin Braddock. In 1997, playwright John Henry Redwood’s The Old Settler, introduced the theatre world to Husband, a younger man who came between two estranged sisters during 1940s Harlem. The stage play continues to be produced at various theatres around the country. In the early nineties, the Queen of Raunch Millie Jackson released an album featuring the hit single, ‘Young Man, Older Woman’ and, as you know by now from UnSung, she wrote, directed and starred in a stage play of the same name in 2002. Even on the hit sitcom, Living Single, there was an episode from Season One where 26 year old Maxine Shaw, portrayed by Erica Alexander, entered into a steamy thing with an 18 year old first year college student, portrayed by Terrence Howard.
Aside from Hurston, another hugely popular work is Terri McMillan’s novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the film adaptation starring Angela Bassett as Stella and Taye Diggs as Winston Shakespeare. Similar to Hurston as well, many people speculated that McMillan’s novel was inspired by her marriage turned scandal to a man twenty years younger than her and from the Caribbean, just like Winston. Of course, she continues to deny it. Now, for all of the cultural productions that I’ve named, I believe there is still some space to continue to explore this dating phenomenon from other angles. For one, as it intends to mirror real life, it’s presented as an anomaly followed by scandal or drama, rather than a normal and personal preference of self-actualized women.
For me, I’m more of a Janie than I could ever be a Stella because there’s nothing to be found, I haven’t lost my groove. You see, Janie from Their Eyes… was a woman who understood herself but she lived during a time when women were required to push themselves inside societal constraints. While much has changed since the 1930s, those pesky constraints continue to guide the actions of far too many women. I have made a decision to live my life out loud and chase as much color, beauty, and wonder as possible. I understand myself as a woman who wants to continue to learn, grow, and experience dope things in life. Just as I’m working to earn a living doing something that I love, I’m releasing myself from those constraints that threaten to choke my livelihood and steal my joy. And, just like Janie, if freedom and love comes by way of loving TeaCakes, then so be it.