Ageism and Dating: You Are Not ‘Too Old’ for Anything or Anyone
Ageism runs rampant, culturally speaking, with products and campaigns that literally run on the idea that aging is bad or wrong. The concept of age as something to hide from and avoid shames people and reinforces self-hatred. It festers on conformity and denies authenticity, which is a benchmark of mental and relational health. “Anti-aging” is built upon the idea that aging is wrong and a disorder to cure.
Psychologically and sexually, age is used to shame and oppress people into conformity. The thing is, there is no “right way” to live in relationship to your age, especially for minorities of all kinds who seek to live outside of white cis hetero norms.
I hear ageism and age-shaming in conversations at coffee shops and see it in social media posts about dating. One’s age does not promise a level of maturity or determine an ability to be a good partner. When dating, compatibility is what matters most, not age.
I tell my patients to date any age they want as long as there is compatibility and care. There are far too many other factors that determine one’s psychological and relational health, and age is far from the strongest determinant. Yet an older person dating younger is talked about as inherently wrong, odd or of questionable motive. Most offensive is the “dirty old man” trope. Somehow adding the “old” part makes this person more offensive, because being old is to imply being bad, unattractive and to be avoided.
No one fully escapes the enforced panic of aging and the covert feel of needing to find a way to avoid it. It gets better for some, especially if you fit into the white, attractive, younger looking, tall, gym-bodied, upper-class mold, but ageism is still powerful for all of us, along with body-shaming, which all tie together to make us less secure as we develop.
You are not “too old” for anything. Not too old to wear something, to date a certain person, to make a career change or to be sexual. Live your life based on ethics and authenticity.
We live in a world with powerful heterocentric expectations upon all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, and these ideals can oppress us all, hetero or not. It’s hard for many to imagine a truth outside of this, as we all compare ourselves to heterocentric milestones, with the pressure of “successful” aging as being measured by marriage, home ownership and a life centered on kids and career versus pleasure and fun.
Non-heteros have different social norms, not all good, but different and valuable and not needing to align with straight people to feel successful or healthy.
Culture asks you to disown your age with creams and hair dye but then requests that you own it with how you dress or live your life.
Don’t act your age; act yourself. Don’t date age-appropriate, date you-appropriate. To be yourself in our culture — which tells you to always be something else — is a radical act. Be a proud radical and ally, and don’t oppress yourself or others with notions of age.
What are your experiences with ageism? Sound off in the comments.
Dr. Chris Donaghue is a lecturer, therapist and host of the LoveLine podcast, a weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, and a frequent co-host on TV series The Doctors. He authored Sex Outside the Lines and has been published in various journals and magazines, including The New York Times, Newsweek and National Geographic. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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