Sex life: Dating a younger woman

This is not my first experience of an age gap relationship, but it is the first time I’ve been the older partner 
May 9, 2024

Throughout my life I’ve always dated “up”, from the girlfriend who was a year older than me in my teens (seemingly a huge gap at that age) to the one who was 12 years older than me when I was in my early twenties. I’m accustomed to and comfortable with being the younger, less experienced partner in the relationship. If anything, I have enjoyed hearing them reminisce about decades in which I didn’t even exist. I find it a turn on; I’m always hungry for history, and dating older people has felt like a link to times before me. 

Sydney’s queer community is remarkably intergenerational, partly because it has a long history as a queer hub but also because it wasn’t devastated by Aids to the same degree as many other cities around the world. Unusually, the government implemented an incredible public health response to the pandemic, sought advice from the communities most affected by the virus (gay men, sex workers and intravenous drug users) and introduced harm-reduction measures such as condom vending machines and needle and syringe exchange programmes. As a result, I am often partying and socialising with people ranging from 18 to 78. Age gap relationships are common and are generally not viewed as scathingly within the community as heterosexual relationships with similar gaps are by the world at large. I think this is partly because gendered and financial power dynamics, which we see replicated again and again with relationships between older rich men and younger women, don’t transfer across in the same way. If you are earning the same amount and living the same lifestyle as someone in their forties when you are in your twenties, the age and power gap is not so glaring. 

It was perhaps inevitable, then, that I would eventually date someone younger than me. I’m not surprised that it’s happened, but I am surprised by my own reaction to being on the other side of the age gap. At 30, I am seeing someone seven years younger than me and, though I have no ethical issues with that (at her age I was in a committed relationship with a woman over a decade older than me) and it doesn’t make me feel old, I do find myself filtering my relationship to her through my own memories of being a woman her age. 

I recently read Annie Ernaux’s The Young Man, in which she writes about having a romantic relationship with a man in his twenties when she is in her fifties. She says that dating him is an act of reliving and remembering all her past relationships. Moments that feel unique and fresh to him are layered for her with every intimate moment that has come before. My experience is slightly different to Ernaux’s—instead of returning to recollections of previous relationships, I find myself reliving and remembering how I felt within myself at my partner’s age. Annie Ernaux saw her boyfriend as a mirror of all the boyfriends she’d had before; in dating someone of the same gender who is passing through an age I have already traversed, I am finding a mirror of myself. 

In spite of the fact that we are very different, and that perhaps she feels nothing like I did then, I can’t help but be acutely aware of how it feels to be the age she is. I imagine myself then, how I was poised on the edge of a life-changing relationship, simultaneously naive and courageous. The older sister desire in me to protect women who are younger than me—and probably to retroactively protect my past self—clashes at times with my own desire to be with her; because doesn’t being with someone inevitably expose them to potential hurt and heartache? How could I lead her down that path? 

Intellectually I know that my being the older partner does not necessarily mean that I am the one leading, but it is hard to shake the sense of carefulness that I feel, a reluctance and responsibility that I have never felt when dating people older than me. Maybe this is how all romantic relationships should be entered into: with conscious choice and consideration.