When it comes to love, age is nothing but a number


By Mara Shapiro

Twenty-three-year-old graduate student in the College of Education, Sherry Yi, is currently in a relationship with a man who is four years younger than her. When it comes to a woman dating a younger man, society has appropriated a term that was once reserved for large wild cats: cougar. Yi is well aware of the new definition and does not identify as a cougar but has some opinions in regards to the term.

“I think it’s one of those joke-y things that have become a negative label … or at least when I was growing up. I don’t think it’s that way anymore,” Yi said. “I know a few guys who are only interested in older women … I just like people for who they are, you know? They just happen to be younger. I’ll joke around about being one, though.”

Despite her past two boyfriends being younger than her, Yi she does not have a preference when it comes to the age of her partners. She does, however, see the benefits of dating younger.

”I feel like a younger man will more likely respect and admire you. You don’t have to worry about ‘intimidating’ them if they’re already set on chasing you,” Yi said. “I think my accomplishments mean more. (Younger men) have got a lot of energy, too, like puppies.”

Brian Ogolsky, assistant professor of human development and family studies, explained that, hypothetically speaking, if a University senior were dating a freshman, they would have a pretty good shot at having a successful relationship. So Yi is really not too far from the norm with her four-year age gap.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “A three-year age gap is actually fairly small in the scheme of things,” Ogolsky wrote via email. “The average gap is right around two years, so it is pretty close.”

    Yi recognizes that women dating younger are more likely to be the butt of jokes or receive judgment in comparison to a man dating a younger woman. She believes that once people start to believe in gender equality, people will care less and less about age gaps and gender.

    “I think with women being the large majority who are being educated, everything’s leaning towards equality. Men have been dating younger women for centuries,” Yi said. “Why can’t women do the same and not get judged? It doesn’t make any sense. Voices that were hushed in the past are being heard now. People are starting to get it.”

    Yi went on to explain that today’s society reinforces gender norms and dating.

    “A lot of it has to do with this reinforcement of the older-man, younger-woman fantasy, too. You don’t ever see an older princess getting with a young hero,” she said.

    In order to combat the stereotypes, Yi said that it comes from people inherently changing their ways of thinking.

    While Yi faces the challenges of being an older woman dating a younger man, Alyssa Abay, junior in LAS and former Illini Media employee, is currently dating a man who is four years older than her. She sees advantages and disadvantages of being with someone who has a few years on her.

    “It’s good to be with someone who comes from a different background and perspective, so it drives you to be more open-minded and empathetic toward someone else’s situation,” Abay explained. “But because of that, at the same time it can be hard to relate to one another, and it’s important that both of us put in the effort to do so.”

    Abay listed off some disadvantages of dating out of their immediate age group.

    “(You have to put in effort to relate to) some trivial things, like bands or TV shows referenced in jokes or other things with social media, like taking time sharing photos and videos, paying attention to screens instead of talking,” Abay said. “Or hanging out with mismatched friend groups. Conversation topics might be politics versus food, or some things might be funny to one side and offensive to the other.”

    Yi gave her own thoughts about some cons of age gaps in dating.

    “They’re less experienced, life and academic wise. A lot of women prefer older because they believe the guy would be more able to guide her in the first regard,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s really true, though, because I’ve met men of all ages, similar and older, who are just as clueless as when they came into college.”

    Abay claimed that there are a few reasons for why someone would want to date out of their age range.

    “People might date out of their age group to seek out someone with more experience or maturity if they’re older, or if they’re younger, maybe more energy or innocence,” Abay said.

    However, despite age sometimes acting as a cause and/or effect in a relationship, Ogolsky wrote that age is usually not a major focus in a relationship.

    “Successful long-term relationships are much more about broader compatibilities than specifics like age,” Ogolsky wrote.

    [email protected]