Country star Taylor Swift reportedly wrote these lyrics in reference to her failed relationship with singer John Mayer, who is 12 years her senior. Yes, Taylor, 19 is too young; at least in my opinion anyhow. I’ve never thought it was a good idea that young people (particularly those with “teen” at the end of their age) date others who are significantly older. At 18 or 19, most are still developing an identity as they reconcile the familiar and what they’ve been taught with the vastly different world outside of their parental and cultural bubble and draw new conclusions. The lessons that come out of this important period of new independence, growth and self-nurturing can be stunted when dating a much older person as the youth is debatably going from one set of parental figures to another. Instead of their new worldview being shaped by individual experience, it’s shaped by this older adult who doubles as a partner and role model. The younger person eagerly soaks up their older mate’s ideals and life theories with infatuation and intrigue. Profoundly impacting the development of the younger person (purposely or not), the older mate has almost designed the perfect partner for themselves. If the younger person fails to assimilate to the older mate’s liking or starts to deviate, the relationship will likely end. For this reason or any other bevy of causes (ex. the age difference becoming more apparent, the younger person feeling smothered), if the relationship dissolves, the younger person is the one usually most affected and damaged.
“I don't need somebody to complete me; I complete myself, nobody's got to belong to somebody else…my heart is my possession, I'll be my own reflection…I'm one not half of two”- Jessica Simpson (I Belong to Me). Simpson released this song after divorcing fellow pop-star Nick Lachey, who was 7 years her senior. She began dating Lachey at age 19.
Having been so emotionally enmeshed, the younger person may feel lost or like they’ve lost their sense of self after a split, asking “who am I now that I’m not their boyfriend/girlfriend?” Not having had the proper time and space for self-growth, they now have to begin this process later and a little bit broken.
The loss of an older partner can be multi-layered, complicated grief as there’s a loss of both a pseudo-mentor/parental figure and lover. It can bring on deep, emotional stress that could’ve been avoided. Considering all of this, it makes you question the behavior or motives of those who date considerably younger. Do they purposely seek out young blood to have someone to mold or influence? Do they have maturity issues? One especially has to wonder when their younger love interest appears to be already fragile. My eyebrows were raised when it surfaced that actor Wilmer Valderrama, then 31, and Disney darling Demi Lovato, 19, were dating shortly after her release from rehab (Lovato struggles with an eating disorder, self-injury and bipolar disorder). I thought “What on earth? As if she needs anything else that would require emotional energy or commitment.” Valderrama also dated a teen Lindsay Lohan; the pair was 6 years apart. DJ Samantha Ronson dated Lohan despite her being 9 years younger and troubled. I definitely questioned Valderrama and Ronson’s rationales (their respective relationships with Lovato and Lohan both ended).
Recently circulated on the net was a letter that actress Phylicia Rashad purportedly wrote to her 21 year old self. Rashad wrote: “Romantic involvement distracts you and can blind you to what’s really in front of you…you don’t even know yourself yet…put yourself, and your growth and development first. There are long-term repercussions to what you’re doing now.” To think, that’s the perspective Rashad wishes she had at 21, much less at 18 or 19. Will all younglings who date older men and women be in for the stifling fate I’ve just described? No; there are always exceptions to the rule. However, they’re considered ‘exceptions’ for a reason: their rarity in occurrence.