The Real Reason Men Prefer Younger Women

OMG I feel light as air. I’ve had a major emotional breakthrough.

I don’t want to be disappointed.

Let me explain.

I wrote a few weeks ago about not being a cool girl. Which I stand by. But I’ve realized why some men make me particularly uncool. Verklempt. Insane. Insecure. Needy.

Some men set me up to expect things from them. They say things I interpret as promises that aren’t. It’s kind of hard to explain. Like, if a man says “I’m in love with you” or “I miss you” or “I feel really connected to you” I interpret that as meaning something. That something leads me to expect that he’ll act in a certain way. Like, differently than if those things weren’t true.

But when some men say those things, they mean something completely different than what I mean when I say them. I won’t go as far as to say they’re meaningless to these men, but certainly they mean something else. For them, there’s no implied promise in these words. They don’t set up expectations for them.

What’s funny to me is that it’s like I was so embarrassed about being needy that I wasn’t able to see what these guys were doing that contributed to my being so needy.

I mean, the more I think about this the more it seems like a trope. The boy says what the girl wants to hear and doesn’t mean it and the girl gets disappointed and hurt.

BUT, I ain’t mad. Not at them. Not at me.

Because this has happened before, and I know it’s not intentional or malicious. Using the same words to mean different things was a major source of contention in my relationship with a man who learned English as a second language and grew up in a completely different culture than I did. We both spoke English, but not the same dialect. I’d consistently get insulted where no insult was meant. In fact this has been an issue in every one of my relationships. I remember I’d get so bent out of shape when my husband would answer a question where I wanted enthusiasm with “sure.”

When I said “sure” it meant a reluctant or petulant yes. But when he said it, he meant it literally, like, “surely.” Neither of us was wrong. But if I’d asked a follow-up question, then learned his language, instead of immediately getting upset and insisting I was using it right and he was using it wrong, it would have been more pleasant to be married to me.

So there are two issues here. The first is that I’m not picking up on these guys’ language. I’m constantly interpreting what they say as what it would mean if I’d said it, instead of asking questions and paying attention to context (and actions) to dope out what they mean when they say it.

The other issue is that I’m expecting. No matter what these dudes say, it’s a better life when I don’t expect anything of them. Someday perhaps I can take a compliment and just enjoy it, without assuming it’ll mean the giver will act in any specific way in the future.

My friend has been asking me, partly out of genuine curiosity and partly out of fear/self-interest, what in the fuck it is I want from the gender I like to have sex with. And, like I described in the cool girl post, I oscillate between wanting total freedom and some level of security.

But I think I’ve narrowed down what I want to something more concrete. I want to stop being disappointed by the people I have sex with.

And that’s on me. That’s something I have to do for myself. It’s going to require that I invest in people who speak a similar language and it means I have to learn to expect less, generally. That might sound sad but nah. It’s not fun when people meet my expectations. I barely notice! What’s fun is expecting nothing and getting pleasantly surprised. I need to learn to be present, to love people for who they are right now, not what I think they’ll be in the future.

This is really hard! So much of falling in love happens in the future. Planning to escape Birmingham for DC with the man I was falling in love with, those were some of the happiest, if most stressful, days of my life. We’d spend hours fantasizing about our life in DC. Same for getting married. I’m always trying to get somewhere. The other part of falling in love always happened in the past for me. I’d play back the night before the next day, hoping no one could tell what I was thinking about.

Maybe getting terribly disappointed, with lots of little disappointments after that, has made it hard to get as excited as I used to. My mom used to talk about why men love younger women. It wasn’t mostly about taut skin or boobs in the right place. It was, she said, because of the way a young woman can look at a man. Young women look at men and see promise. Older women look at men through the lens of disappointment.

My whole love life thus far can be summed up this way. I just continually live through the things that seemed unspeakably, unbearably terrible to my younger self. And, for the most part, I realize they’re not that bad/kinda pleasant. Getting divorced, living alone, becoming single, losing the ability to fall in love, getting disappointment etched into my face. These things that used to seem so sad are actually totally fine! I will say I was terrified of getting cheated on, then I thought it would be pretty chill, but then when it happened I realized this was one arena where younger self actually knew what was up better than older me. That was my terrible disappointment, with some extra lying mixed in, because why not?

But even at the end of all that I can see how I’m definitely less of an asshole than I was before it happened and I’ll take it all, the disappointment, the grief, the loneliness and existential angst, for the learning. Because I’d rather love the way I love now and not have the butterflies I used to have than fall into shallow loves where I have nothing to provide but my expectations.


  1. AstronautMikeDexter

    “It was, she said, because of the way a young woman can look at a man. Young women look at men and see promise. Older women look at men through the lens of disappointment.”

    The unstated corollary to this (completely accurate) insight is that men who can only love women who look at them and see promise are immature narcissists who haven’t learned to cope with reality. I imagine these are the same guys who often think about learning karate or how to play guitar, but spend most of their time watching Netflix.

    • cathyreisenwitz

      Being rejected by great guys for being too young helped me realize there are lots of awesome men who will trade a little less gleam for a lot more wisdom. Pretty excited about getting older now tbqh.

    • Scott

      While you may argue that it’s immature and narcissistic, there is a reasonable reply to that.

      If life is a series of simple choices and you can choose between someone seeing you through a lens of promise instead of one of disappointment, what would a reasonable person choose?

      Of course, life isn’t as simple as choosing between those two absolutes. The quote from Cathy’s mother is very thought-provoking while not being an absolute.

  2. John K

    Cathy, the turning point for me was when I realized that I am a compete being. I’m not missing anything. You are a complete being. You don’t NEED someone else to be whole.

    I started deciding to do the things I wanted to do. It felt selfish at first, uncomfortable for me. I grew up (debatably) with 4 siblings, everything was planned around and shared with others. I was borderline co-dependent. At 22 years old, I realized that I was an island. If I wanted to go to a concert, I TOLD people around me that I was going. Sometimes they wanted to go, sometimes they didn’t. Eventually one person kept showing up when I did things. (Spoiler alert: I married her).

    You are an awesome person and will have an awesome future. If someone wants to spend some of that future with you, they will probably have an awesome future too. There will be challenges and learning and work along the way. My wife holds my hand through the challenges, teaches me when there are things to learn (and vice versa), and works beside me when work needs to be done. Being a complete person is a lot easier when you are doing it in the same house as another complete person.

    Everything you are is everything you need.

    • cathyreisenwitz

      If you only want women who don’t know any better, a better tack might be to improve the relative value of what you have to offer.

  3. JoeC

    May I recommend a book entitled “You Just Don’t Understand” by Dr. Deborah Tannen? It’s all about the difficulties the sexes have communicating with each other. Tannen is a linguistics professor whose background is in understanding the difficulties in cross-cultural communication. She applied what she knew to cross-gender communication and found many of the same issues.
    BTW, don’t feel bad about interpreting what a guys says as what you would mean if you said it. It’s an innate human tendency, Tannen says. In fact, it’s about the only conceivable first step in understanding someone, seems to me. Good luck, and I enjoy reading your posts.

  4. Auggie

    Too often, older women have a diminished interest in sex, long before men lose interest in physical relations.

  5. Auggie

    Generally speaking, older women lose interest in sex long before men do. I’ve been with my wife 25 years, but increasingly I wonder how long I can continue to cherish and honor her when my needs go unmet. I used to hate men who perpetuated the autumn romance stereotype, but I understand it now. We’re sexual beings and it’s hard to give that up.

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