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Love Island 2018: Why is there such a stigma with older women dating younger men?

Laura and Wes’ relationship on Love Island has been mocked on social media

Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 13 June 2018 17:39
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Love Island: Laura tells Wes she is looking for a husband

After just one week, the current season of Love Island has already sparked many interesting topics of debate, such as the lack of body diversity in the villa.

One of the most highly-discussed aspects of this year’s show is the topic of age, with numerous people expressing their scepticism over the true age of some of the contestants.

While many have stated their disbelief over the fact that personal trainer Adam Collard is 22 and that flight attendant Laura Anderson is 29, the matter of how old the participants are is not where the conversation ends.

Laura’s relationship with 20-year-old Wes Nelson has been the subject of ridicule, with a number of posts on social media citing their nine-year age gap as a cause for mockery.

However, when one looks at other heterosexual relationships where the roles are reversed, such as in the case of 57-year-old George Clooney and 40-year-old Amal Clooney, no one seems to bat an eyelid at the age difference.

So what is it about older women being romantically involved with younger men that seems to foster such a stigmatising attitude?

According to love guru and matrimonial consultant Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart, “cougar” couples are often looked down upon by those who feel uncomfortable with the shift of stereotypical roles of men and women in relationships.

“‘Cougars’, as they are often named, can achieve security and financial independence by themselves, something that was less attainable in previous decades, and in this scenario, they don’t need a man at all,” she explains to The Independent.

“Older women are choosing ‘toyboys’ for completely different reasons.

“They want to flaunt their men, they want to be admired for their ‘pulling power’, and they like the power it gives them over the relationships.”

The fact that women who date younger men are classified as “cougars” speaks volumes about the way in which they’re perceived by society, as it hints at their apparently inherent predatorial nature.

"The stigma is really a symptom of society's misogyny," says Verity Hogan, relationship expert at eharmony.

"Why else would older women be nicknamed predatory 'cougars' while older men are deemed desirable 'silver foxes'?

"Older women dating younger men are typically strong women who know their worth, they've heard all the lines before and have no time for game playing, which some immature men may find difficult to deal with."

On the other hand, the notion of older men dating younger women is very much still seen as the norm.

After more than half a century of James Bond films, 2015’s Spectre was the very first to feature an actress playing a romantic interest (53-year-old Monica Bellucci) who was older than the actor portraying the principal character (50-year-old Daniel Craig).

In comparison, Léa Seydoux who also appeared in the film opposite Craig is 32 years old.

While it’s apparent that society has become accustomed to older men being romantically involved with much younger women, according to Ms Mackintosh-Stewart, problems can arise when it’s the other way around as a result of the stigma that surrounds couples where the woman is significantly older than the man.

“Statistically, Laura and Wes have a predictably high chance of not making it, given the nine-year difference in age,” she says.

“The longevity of their potential relationship is further challenged given research indicating that younger boyfriends tend to struggle more with social acceptance and feel more isolated in less joyous relationships.”

However, Ms Mackintosh-Stewart states that this can change when couples with similar age gaps date later on in life.

“The reasons are mainly due to the couple’s open-mindedness and better management of their expectations, resulting in being less demanding of each other due to learned life experiences,” she says.

“But it does beg the question: ‘Can true love be truly ageless?’”

While their difference in age is somewhat smaller, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are a recent example of a seemingly happy relationship in which there is no issue whatsoever with the woman being older than the man.

In the case of Laura and Wes, the couple appear to be going from strength to strength as they were the first on Love Island to enjoy some alone-time together in the “The Hideaway”.

"During the week that Laura and Wes have been on the island, they appear to share similar attitudes towards affection, physical intimacy, extraversion, and accommodation - four dimensions of compatibility that could indicate long-term potential," says Hogan.

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