The explosion of online dating has given academic researchers an unprecedented opportunity: to analyze vast troves of digital data to tell a fuller story on how humans, in this moment in time, are approaching the dating game. New research from Australia sheds light on what online daters are actually looking for, and how those criteria dynamically evolve as they age.
A few years ago, my former roommate, her friend, and I were bemoaning the state of online dating. At some point, my then-roomie and I — both women of color — segued into how white guys who exclusively dated BIPOC women of a certain race made us wary.
A few years ago, when I was active in the dating app scene, I saw that a guy in his early-to-mid twenties had super-liked me. He was younger than what my preferred age range was set to, but he was kind of cute, and I was curious, so I matched with him to learn more. In a world where women in their early twenties are seen as optimal for everything from sex to marriage, I wondered why a man that age had his preferences set high enough to catch me in his proverbial net.
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But wait a minute. In the opposite direction, I would end my settings at 45, and I would be suspicious of someone my age dating someone in their fifties or above. But not so fast. There are several factors at play here that make age and ageism in dating a thing. Developmental stage is a psychological term that describes both what our brains are capable of and how we interact with the world socially as we grow and age.
But it can be a helpful jump-off point for understanding why we tend to want to date people who are, well, in the same boat. Erik Erikson looked at how we face different psychosocial crises at different ages. Adolescents are concerned with how identity development and role confusion show up in their lives, for example, while older adults are worried about how generativity and stagnation play a role in their happiness.
Funny enough, early adulthood is said to be riddled by the theme of intimacy versus isolation — an apt idea at the moment! I know, I know. For example, even the one-year difference between a senior in high school and a first-year in college can be too disruptive to a relationship!
Same with someone who is 20 and someone who is You even see this show up in our friendships as we grow into ages where milestones like marriage and children become more common. Because these life choices can have a huge impact on our perspectives and experiences, we can start to have trouble relating to one another.
The idea of where we are in our lives converges with our values — and shared values are a great foundation for compatibility! Setting an age range with the hope of matching with people in similar places in their lives makes a lot of sense.
Assuming that women in their thirties are looking to settle down, or that men in their forties are in the midst of a post-divorce mid-life crisis are not fair assumptions to make. Even in dating, examples of this abound, like the idea that older men are only viable for sugar daddy arrangements, or that menopausal women are no longer sexual.
But ageism may be a form of adultism. This can spill into folks approaching adulthood too! We often assume that people ages 18 to 25 lack maturity, direction, the preparation for the demands of long-term relationships, and look for casual hookups. Of course, youth has a benefit: Our idea of beauty is centered on it another strike for older adults. But in terms of being taken seriously, emerging adults lose out.
Ageism can play out as a fetish: an obsessive desire for people of a certain identity, based largely on that identity itself and the stereotypes associated with it.
Fetishization spans identities — think about sexual stereotypes about Black men and East Asian women, or about men who are attracted to lesbians — and it also comes up with age. More commonly, we talk about the ways in which youth — and particularly young girls — are dangerously fetishized. Teenage — and even pubescent — girls are often the targets of unwanted sexual advances from older men.
In fact, the Daily News reports that according to a worldwide survey from an anti-harassment group Hollaback! But the fetishization of older people, particularly older women, happens. But because age is an axis on which people can be oppressed, we have a responsibility to consider that vulnerability.
So, before you jump back onto dating apps, here are some self-reflection questions to engage with:. Sure, there are lots of reasons why age might play a role in whom we want to date.
Melissa Fabello, PhD, is a social justice activist whose work focuses on body politics, beauty culture, and eating disorders. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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We talked to an expert to get the answers for dating with food…. Written by Melissa A. Fabello on February 15, — Fact checked by Jennifer Chesak. Share on Pinterest Illustration by Wenzdai J. Are these assumptions about age valid? Here are 4 ways age impacts our romantic and sexual lives. How to think deeply about the way age affects your dating life. Read this next.