Dating and Difference AGE
Dating based on demographic status is nothing new. It is nowhere more prevalent than the online dating world. Granted, for the most part, this world mostly stays away from problematic selection processes that may be deemed discriminatory (disability, economic status, etc), though this is an ongoing evolution. Race, for example, has only been removed from the Grindr search filters within the last few years. But almost all dating platforms will ask what age range you’re willing to date within; this, apparently, is more acceptable, describes Adrian Colwell.
It’s perhaps one of the first questions you are asked when setting up a dating profile; what is your age limit (on both ends of the scale)? But (obviously outside of legalities) is this practice in any way problematic? Is refusing to date someone based purely on their age an ageist practice? And what influences the age range we date in?
For most of us, age is related to maturity, relationship dynamic and stage of life expectations. Having limitations with regard to what age we date is perhaps deemed more acceptable because we all (hopefully) will age. Many of us will want to date a similar age to what we are at the time, and thus be at a similar stage of approach toward life.
The majority of us also relate age to sexual currency, with younger people considered to be perhaps more sexually desirable than older. In addition, spaces usually associated with dating (clubs, bars, apps) are perhaps geared towards younger audiences.
Our attitudes toward maturity, sex and even socialising will influence the age range we will date within. Of course though, it would be naive to think that these attitudes are not influenced by more universal, questionable or even ageist stereotypes.
Whilst the above notions are commonplace across all dating experiences, there are aspects relating to age and dating that are more specific to the queer world. Queer relationships often do not have the same pressures to reach traditional milestones by a certain age as opposed to straight relationships. The pressure of getting married, having kids and buying a home is perhaps felt more by the straight community as public declarations of their union. Also, coming out later in life greatly influences your experiences of dating with many queer people having a delayed adolescence and exploring their sexuality and relationship needs at a later age as opposed to their teens. Do these aspects make it easier for age gap LGBTQ+ relationships? Do they make generational differences less significant in the dating world? Or are there problematic experiences felt by the older queer community when it comes to dating?
With that, I (Adrian, 34) had a conversation with Steven (not his real name, 52), on how his dating life has changed as he has gotten older. This article continues the ‘Dating and Difference’ series featured in the Dec 2021, Feb 2022 and March 2022 editions of GCN. It is important to note, below is a conversation regarding ageing with a cisgendered, white, non-disabled gay man. Like previous articles, the below experience is just that- it is not representative of an entire community, subsections and intersections of that community who will have their own specific experiences related to ageing and dating.
Adrian: How would you say your dating experiences have changed as you have gotten older?
Steven: When I was younger I was a lot more sexually active. Though it was never really just about sex. I suppose I was thinking some of these interactions would turn into a relationship— why wouldn’t it, right? I was a bit more naive back then. I never really considered who would make a good partner, my choices were a bit more random.
I am much choosier and more discerning with whom I will share my time with now. I am much more attentive to personality, to kindness and compassion as a general quality, rather than the physical, or the glitz and glamour. I guess this is just a natural evolution as I pass through the different phases of life.
What is more important to me now is to have good relationships. It makes me a bit envious of straight members of my family who have traditional family networks and relationships— not necessarily that they have put much effort into creating, but what has naturally been afforded to them just by their circumstances. But my life is what I make out of it. I give meaning to what happens. I don’t concentrate too much on what other people have and I don’t.
Adrian: I suppose our approaches to dating changes constantly in accordance with our circumstances. And what about how people treat you, do you think men have treated you differently as you’ve gotten older?
Steven: I do still feel desired, that hasn’t changed. I get messages all the time from younger guys on apps, but they are only really in it for one thing and are less likely to want a romantic connection.
Also, on the other side, younger guys can be respectful, overly respectful! It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I would like to think that regardless of age, there is equality and sometimes the levels of respect that I receive emphasises that there isn’t. I wouldn’t call it positive ageism, more alternative ageism.
Adrian: That’s interesting. I suppose maybe any sort of level of unequal treatment can be a way to other or to emphasise differences, even if that treatment is not necessarily considered negative. Having a disability, I know myself that when people presume my capabilities or offer to help out without asking, it can be uncomfortable. Do you ever avoid telling people how old you are in a dating context?
Steven: Yes, since I turned 50 I tend to deduct a few years on my dating profiles, however on a first date I divulge my true age. I suppose on dating apps, I think people work on round numbers when it comes to the age range they will date in; 30-40, 40-50, etc. Those round number limits work against people who have entered a new decade -I’ve been 49 for the last few years.
Adrian: From these interviews I’ve done, it seems like the action of “passing” in some way is a common experience for a lot of groups— the notion of blending in if you can and not having to announce what makes you different from other people. Is that something that you feel? How do you think people would react if they knew your real age immediately?
Steven: In life in general, I think it is the only thing I lie about. I have a principle that I don’t lie but this is the exception to the rule. But I do think some people lie out of necessity to have more options in life. I suppose “passing” is different to lying, but being open and telling the truth can be limiting in life in lots of ways based on people’s reactions.
If people knew my real age immediately I would have fewer people interested in me. In online dating, you have to get past the first hurdle of actually appearing on someone’s screen. Age is the main reason you won’t. Once you do that, and when people begin to see you, interact with you, date you, hopefully the lie doesn’t matter as much.
This is more a reflection on modern society with a focus on youth and beauty rather than an LGBTQ+ issue...
Adrian: And what about you… who appears on your screen? What age range do you usually date within and why?
Steven: Typically it’s the 30 to 40 year age group. I have no idea why. In some ways I think younger people are more interesting. However, more and more I’m feeling the age difference mentally. It’s not so much about the physical. I have not pursued relationships with younger people because of intellectual differences more than anything else - but it depends on the person.
I think I look less for what is “in a potential partner”, rather I emphasise more the relationship that is created between myself and this other person. I guess it is something like a 1 + 1 = 3 scenario where the combination of the two people produces a healthy relationship. Obviously there is a caveat in that there has to be some chemistry too. Assuming there is chemistry, I am looking for a relationship where I feel secure and loved in a wholesome and respected relationship.
Adrian: Have you ever dated someone with a significant age gap? How did the age range affect the relationship?
Steven: Yes, approximately 17 years was the largest age gap. Obviously it gives rise to conflict due to us being at different stages of life and having had different life experiences. However at the same time I think it maintains a spark in the relationship, it keeps the interest alive. I think it allows for continuous learning about the other person, and creates the space for individual growth.
Adrian: What is your opinion of the LGBTQ+ dating scene as an older person? Do you feel any part of the scene is ageist?
Steven: I would think a lot of the scene is ageist in some way, however so am I. I think this is more a reflection on modern society with a focus on youth and beauty rather than an LGBTQ+ issue per se, but I find this normal and natural.
People discriminate on a daily basis. They recognise distinctions that appeal to or repel them, and differentiate accordingly. This does not defend or justify the elevation or demotion of anyone’s basic rights, however I believe we have the right not to love, as well as the right to love.
Adrian: Okay, so although your true age limits you with regard to your dating life, you do not think there is anything wrong with that? Do you think we should question or analyse who we are attracted to?
Steven: Over the years I have changed my perspective on lots of things. Who we are attracted to physically possibly can’t be controlled or changed. But loads of other things play a part there too.
I think having so much choice keeps us from having a significant relationship with people. App culture contributes to this ‘there’s someone better around the corner’ idea— it’s a bit dangerous.
I do think we should question ourselves more than we do and try to understand what we are looking for. What is the criteria and why are we excluding people? I’m not saying one way of thinking is better, but it’s better to be self-aware. That goes into life in general.
So yes, I suppose I do think we should look at ourselves in terms of who we are interested in but also we should look at ourselves in terms of who is interested in us. A lot of people have a “people do not accept me as I am” perception, however this is a daily occurrence in just about every aspect of our lives.
It is not just others who do not accept us as we are, but also ourselves that do not accept us as we are. We concoct complex defence strategies to understand and cope with this lack of acceptance - myself included. It’s good to be aware of this.