This week there has been talk on Twitter about the age gap relationship in Jurassic Park. Laura Dern was in her twenties and Sam Neil was in his forties for the first film. The way in which age gap romances are portrayed in films is all kinds of problematic. I come to this as a person who tends to be more attracted to people who are older than me, and who is married to someone seventeen years my senior.
There is often an assumption in films that pairing older male stars with much younger women as romantic interests is fine. We don’t see as many older women in films and we certainly don’t see older women as romantic partners for men of the same age. It’s very rare indeed to see older women paired with younger men.
This kind of film pairing serves to erase older women and focus on younger women as pretty prizes for wealthy and powerful male characters. I’ve never seen an age-gap romance in a film tackle the kinds of issues that can come up in actual age gap relationships. I’m going to list a few.
Differences of expectation and experience. Issues around having children – an older woman with a younger man may not be able to start a family even if they want to. The realities of being a senior citizen with a young family. You probably aren’t going to get to grow old together. The younger partner is going to have a massive life upheaval at some point because being bereaved early is almost inevitable for them. Differences in energy levels, career stage, ambitions, desires.
There is an impact on how people perceive you and on what they think the age gap means. MILFs and gold diggers, dirty old men, cougars, predators, sugar daddies, toy boys – a lot of the thought forms around age gap relationships are less than complimentary.
Age gap relationships can be exploitative. But then, any relationship can be exploitative, it’s not inherent in this. There may be reasons to be suspicious of someone whose ‘type’ is young and inexperienced and who keeps replacing their partners with younger people. It’s also well worth being suspicious of men who repeatedly leave ill, pregnant or menopausal women.
We need to think about the way in which young bodies are treated as toys and as prizes, in real life and in fictional depictions. It’s never ok to objectify people, to reduce them to their sexual attractiveness, to treat them as disposable, interchangeable or otherwise diminish their humanity.
At the same time, no one should be stigmatised for getting into a relationship with a consenting adult.