Sunday 21 January 2018

Katie Byrne: 'Tinder has allowed the men I keep company with to date much younger women... girls, actually'

What is with our obsession with young women?

Irish Independent features writer Katie Byrne
Irish Independent features writer Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Thanks to the dating app Tinder, a couple of the men I keep company with have started dating much younger women. Considerably younger women. Girls, actually.

It all started when one of them became fed up with the options Tinder was presenting him in his chosen age range, 25-42. Meanwhile, word reached him that the 18-25 age category was something of a goldmine. So he changed his settings, started swiping and a few days later he was on a date with a "smokin' hot" 19-year-old. This man is 33.

Reactions among his male friends varied. For the most part he was teased mercilessly, even if one or two of them eventually followed suit. His female friends, however, were united in their stance, which was one of complete and utter horror. We sit around in a sewing circle muttering words like 'disgraceful' and 'despicable' when he isn't in our company.

When he's present, we sit around him in a circle trying to express disapproval while also pressing him to indulge our more prurient curiosities. He assures us that he's not corrupting her. In fact, he says he'll never be entertaining a woman of his own age again.

"Those women are a pain in the ass," he said recently, "looking for kids and all that stuff"

"But we are those women!" railed one of my friends. "You're talking about us!" added another.

Older men seeking out younger women is nothing new, of course. We're forever hearing about men requesting women 10 years their junior when they join dating agencies, just as the husband running off with the younger woman is so common it's cliché.

But this is new. It's the first time I've encountered men so young actively seeking out women that are considerably younger.

Indeed, society itself is currently beguiled by young women - girls in fact. Eighteen-year-old Kylie Jenner. Cara Delevingne. Miley Cyrus.

How can I question my friend's decision to hunt within the 18-25 category when I can't stop clicking on pictures of Kylie Jenner in a bikini myself?

Author Robert Pogue Harrison writes about our obsession with youthfulness in his excellent book Juvenescence: A Cultural History Of Old Age. He says we may be living in the 'youngest' society in the history of human civilisation. However, this isn't a preoccupation with youth per se. This collective obsession is aimed primarily towards young women.

Evolutionary psychologists tell us that men find youth attractive because it signifies fertility. Yes, the male compulsion to seek out younger women is biologically hardwired, but today's idolisation of young women is entirely cultural. The status of young women in today's society would suggest that a smooth, undimpled bottom is a significant lifetime achievement. Compounding this is the billion euro anti-ageing industry and the ever more tenuous line between girlhood and womanhood.

Conversely, manhood is an esteemed position in society. Men have a poem that tells them when they'll be a man, my son, along with 101 coming-of-age novels to help ease the transition.

Granted, the occasional picture of Harry Styles sneaks its way on to the pages of GQ but, by and large, men don't look to young boys as style icons.

Womanhood is a little more complicated. Many 'girls' shirk the label of 'woman' as it's synonymous with 'old', just as they couldn't tell you the marks or milestones of womanhood that aren't tied into their biological imperative. We often hear of 'strong women'. That's a fallacy. These women don't possess unusual amounts of grit or determination. They are simply fully-fledged women. They got the full download, so to speak.

I hasten to add that a fearless woman is a thing to be feared. It's the thing to be feared most - which is probably why we were kept down for so long.

Comedian Louis CK does a great riff on why he prefers "women women", as he puts it, to girls. "There's a reason they call it Girls Gone Wild," he says. "You'll notice that there is no Women Gone Wild. Because when girls go wild they show their t*** to people. When women go wild, they kill men."

It's curious that we have developed an obsession with young women during a time of steady female progress - it's clear this is a barrier to further progress. Until we delineate and celebrate the marks of womanhood, women will continue to hanker for the attributes of girlhood. Maybe we do "start looking for kids and all that shit". But maybe this is because we have allowed motherhood to define womanhood.

The marks of a "woman woman" are wisdom, intuition and the ability to silence a man with just the raise of an eyebrow.

And the marks of a real man? The ability to handle a woman in possession of these attributes is certainly one of them.

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