Examination of Ageism in Relationships Touches Raw Nerves




I appeared as the Relationship Expert on an episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker, a wildly popular show on the Bravo network. It aired in March 2009, and I probably received over 200 e-mails, some from people I haven’t seen or spoken with in over 30 years. Many of them were women completely outraged and calling the guy I was coaching every name in the book. He is 39 and prefers to date women 21-28. Not a crime by way of any laws I am familiar with. Boy, were feathers ruffled!

The issue as portrayed by the show was ageism. This can be a controversial and highly inflammatory topic for single women over 35, and even younger, who perceive that they are being passed up for “younger models” by guys who prefer that new-car smell. Could there be a more perfect topic for a reality TV show that looks at the stereotypical underbelly of relationships? I don’t think so.

The funny thing about ageism is that it applies to only men who date well below their chronological timetable. Women who like younger men, well, we just say they like younger men and we move on with the other details of our lives. Unfortunately, men take the heat on this one because, let’s face it, gravity and time as well as societal perceptions tend to treat men differently, their eggs are not slowly dying, and men are typically less emotional and too logical to spend so much time on an issue that doesn’t lead to a desired outcome. Men tend to hunt until they catch something. The dramatic plots, twists and turns leading up to it just don’t matter. Which may really translate to: men are really more shallow than they are logical.

Men tell themselves stories about what they want and need … and they believe it

But what is ageism in real-world terms when it is not wielded as a judgment that labels men and holds women down from knowing their inherent value regardless of what the clock says?

Not very much from where I stand and from the stories I have entertained over the years. To me it is just a symptom of much larger issues on both sides of the fence that get lost. And, naturally, the finger-pointing makes for a far more interesting story than the actual truth.

The deeper cut from my perspective is what I call the “Buddha complex,” Many times, men who date significantly younger women, in addition to feeling younger themselves, get to be the one in charge, the one who is looked up to and revered. Dating someone who doesn’t quite know her own insides well enough to ask herself the deeper questions in life leaves Buddha feeling very wise and indeed needed. Naturally, once this girl blossoms into a woman, well, she is not necessarily going to need you or want you, for that matter. Hence the cutoff age of 28 in this instance. Get rid of them before they wake up and smell the fresher cup of coffee brewing down the street.

Now, this is not a blanket scenario that applies to everyone. And by no means does this include all women in their 20s. This is just one theory and one that fit perfectly for this millionaire on a mission. In reality, or reality TV land, this theory did not satisfy the producers because it lacked the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard moment that would raise the roof with their targeted audience.

The truth is, be it a Buddha complex, ageism or anything in between, does any of it really matter as long as children and small animals are not being harmed? And, I can’t possible help people who don’t see themselves as having a problem. Over time they may finally see the pattern and realize they are moving further away from the things they say they want. Or perhaps they may even accept the circumstances they have created and just play it out until the buzzer finally rings. I think it may just make the most sense to allow ourselves and others whatever preferences we enjoy and just commit to playing nice.