The dating scene is always changing. The world is now at a point where online dating is more common than “dating in the wild,” where people meet organically in real life rather than digitally. From “Netflix and chill” to debates on who pays for what and what questions are acceptable to ask on the first few dates, the landscape is certainly challenging.

Another hurdle for many is when there’s an age gap. While most people assume this means an older man with a younger woman, the reverse is taboo to talk about, yet just as common. Older women are embracing a dip in the youthful pool, whether for fun flings or something serious. So, what do single women need to know when considering a relationship with an age gap? Can it ever be serious? And how can age differences be overcome to ensure a lasting match? Let’s dive deeper.

Beyond the Cougar Trope

Back in the early aughts, the term “cougar” was popularized to categorize women dating younger men. However, this stereotype tended to focus on short-lived matches based primarily in the hookup culture. In most cases, the term applied to women in their 40s or 50s that were solely seeking quick flings.

Often, the defense was that a younger man not only had a higher sex drive, but was more adventurous, less set in his ways, and of course, had more stamina. But by the mid 2010s, the term fell out of favor. High-profile romances like Rozonda “Chili” Thomas of TLC with both Usher (a 7-year age difference at the time) and current beau Matthew Lawrence (an 8-year age difference) and Mariah Carey’s 8-year marriage to Nick Cannon (a 12-year age gap) proved that an older woman could want and achieve a substantive relationship with a younger man.

Is Dating a Younger Man Better?

Of course, individual compatibility is always a priority when considering love matches. But the research suggests that when women dip into a younger age bracket, they end up happier than their peers that date or marry within the same age group or older.

While culturally it’s still considered taboo, studies have shown that when a woman’s older than her male partner, there’s better equality in the relationship and that a woman is more likely to feel empowered in the relationship both emotionally and sexually. In a survey conducted with 200 heterosexual women that were in relationships, the women that were significantly older than their male partners reported being more satisfied in the relationship than their peers dating or married to men around the same age (usually a difference of three years). And often, the wider the age spread, the better fulfillment reported by the respondents. But even researchers noted that this could be due more to the older women in relationships feeling more confident to advocate for their desires and needs as opposed to whether or not their partners are putting forth more effort.

Different Life Stages for Older Women with Younger Men

Another reason many women choose to date younger men is because they’re in a new chapter of their lives. Specifically, divorcees and widows often find themselves in unchartered territory. While society often claims that older women are no longer desirable, this is far from the case. It’s not uncommon for newly single older women to find that younger men are specifically interested in them.

Of course, this dovetails into sexual compatibility. A University of Michigan study into sexuality in women noted that even within the 65 to 70-year old age range, roughly 31% of respondents shared that they had an active and enjoyable sex life. Translating to a relationship with an age gap, this usually means that women know what they do and don’t want in the bedroom — and aren’t too express themselves.

Echoing the research, some of the most common reasons older women often seek out younger lovers include a more youthful mindset, interest in centering a woman’s pleasure or happiness, and a willingness to treat an older woman as an equal. Meanwhile, younger men may find such a pairing appealing since older women can often serve as mentors, financial benefactors, and even being with a woman who may no longer be interested (or able) in having children. And that mentorship isn’t just outside of the bedroom. Often, a more experienced woman can guide a man and improve his sexual competency.

Making an Older Woman-Younger Man Relationship Work

Simply dating a younger man or older woman isn’t a guarantee that this matchup is going to work. As with any coupling, both partners need to come to the relationship ready to put in the effort. Assuming that a serious relationship is the goal, clear communication, prioritizing intimacy, and maintaining quality time are critical to ensuring a strong bond.