How low is the bar set for men these days? The bar is the floor, Keanu Reeves just casually walked over it and now people are rushing to scream his praises all over social media.
The notoriously reclusive actor hasn’t been pictured on the red carpet with a romantic partner in years. Cue surprise and admiration when he was photographed on 2 November in Los Angeles holding hands with artist Alexandra Grant.
Of course, part of the joy some found in this unremarkable event is the result of Reeves’ recent return to fame via the medium of internet meme. “Sad Keanu” is now shorthand for a lost-looking man, forlornly eating a sandwich or staring into the distance, contemplating the utter loneliness of modern life, a reflection of our own isolation and existential yearning. Or so I’ve heard.
The actor has also spoken candidly in interviews about grief and loss, sharing the tragedy of losing a child at birth and then his long-time partner in a car accident. The people of Twitter want Keanu to find happiness; he’s well overdue his happy ending.
And yet the underlying message to much of yesterday’s digital excitement was not about the fact that the John Wick star had finally got a girlfriend, but at the girlfriend he had found – or, at least, at her age.
Grant is 46 and unabashedly looks it, her naturally greying hair left undyed. She is in appearance an adult woman: a sight still, sadly, very rarely seen on a red carpet in Los Angeles. And even though, at 55, Reeves is still almost a decade her senior, we are positively faint with praise for the actor because finally, mercifully, we see a famous man dating a woman who is (almost) his own age.
Don’t blame the fawning masses; it’s not entirely our fault for feeling a surge of elation at this news. Women have grown so accustomed to celebrities embodying Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson character in the film Dazed and Confused, who notoriously offered the following wisdom about his chosen romantic pursuits: “I get older, they stay the same age.”
We’re so cynical about the romantic behaviour of male stars that when a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio – whose current girlfriend, model Camila Morrone, is literally half his age – with the 16-year-old climate change protester Greta Thunberg began circulating, the inappropriate jokes wrote themselves. When 70-year-old music producer David Foster married 35-year-old singer Katharine McPhee, it was par for the course. These age-imbalanced celebrity relationships are a glaring reminder of how society views women over the age of 40 as romantically past it – an insult echoed inside the film industry itself, where an actress can play an ingenue and a romantic lead at 23 but is relegated to playing her dowdy mother a decade later.
On ageing in our society, Oprah Winfrey once said: “We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we’re not glowing, and we’re not hot, that we don’t matter.” Women over a certain age are repeatedly told by movies, music, dating apps, employers, clothing companies and advertisements that they don’t matter to the opposite sex – in fact, they might not exist at all.
So it’s understandable that so many are experiencing relief at seeing a woman over 40 – especially one who actually looks her age, rather than disguising it with expensive surgery – holding hands with one of the most famous actors in the world. But when men have spent a lifetime getting standing ovations for doing literally the bare minimum, I think we can set a slightly higher standard.
Appreciating women almost your own age as romantic equals should not earn you the unquestioning adulation of the world’s keyboard botherers.
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