“Why would a twenty-something man be interested in a seventeen-year-old-girl?”, my mother furiously asked. I naively blurted, “We have lots in common”. He was around 24, a mixologist with a car and a London apartment he rented. At the time, I felt cool and mature messaging him. But adults dating teenagers – it’s a tad too icky.
So why are we blasé about it?
Only looking back, I realise why my mum was angry. As an adult today, I cannot imagine kissing or fancying a teenager. However mature and independent, I don’t believe a relationship between teen and adult can play on equal ground. In fact, University of Rochester Medical Centre says: “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.”
As an adolescent, I thought drinking, driving and earning proved maturity. I always thought myself more grown-up than my peers. I’d hate when friends screamed about boy crushes and tried to avoid young lingo like “Shut up!” and “Oh my gosh, no way!” At 18, I was working full time and hanging out with work colleagues in their twenties and thirties. They commented on my old soul character and wisdom beyond my years. Yet for all my sensibility and ambition, I hadn’t a clue.
Not all adults act in a mature manner, but life experience is significant in our choices and ideas. Once past the legal age, some argue “fair game” and think age restrictions don’t apply. And maybe that’s why we turn a blind eye to Hollywood adults dating teenagers. From Tyga and Kylie Jenner, Wilmer Valderrama and Mandy Moore and Brigitte Macron and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The media fantasy and the cold reality
As Everyday Feminism reports, media in Western culture projects teens from an “adult’s perspective”. They present them as innocent yet sexual femme fatales. The article explains how maturity is complex and involves many facets, yet adults can easily judge and identify maturity from one perspective. For instance, we may assume an emotionally stable teen is mature without considering other areas such as strong decision-making ability and good social skills. Regardless of impressions, teenage brains are not as advanced.
So even Kylie Jenner with her teen income and fame, would not have had the same advancement she has presently. Money and independence aside, many adolescent adult relationships form a Lolita structure — an adult pulling control and a teen feeling pressured to follow. An older person has greater capability to reflect on consequences as well as balance impulse.
Adults dating teenagers, the ridiculous excuses
There is a responsibility to have awareness for age. We can excuse male biological urges for youth as reasons to show little disgust at adult and teen relationships. Many avoid the concern more so when it involves a well-loved celebrity.
Age isn’t just a number. Reflecting on the late Aaliyah, on her first album she came across as intelligent, confident and talented. A now infamous interview shows her next to R Kelly (album producer) describing their close bond. She was around fifteen while he was nearing thirty. Allegations of their secret marriage didn’t affect his career and he didn’t need to defend himself when he and Aaliyah separated. It’s taken decades for his abuse to result in public shame and revulsion. Aaliyah’s boyfriend Damon Dash earlier this year admitted the star was “too traumatised” to discuss R Kelly.
Is an older relationship helping a teen?
During my final high school year, local builders began to wolf-whistle. At 16 in college, when I stopped wearing a school uniform, twenty-something men flirted and attempted to date me. Despite adults dating teenagers sounding morally wrong (a friend advised this topic might be too “creepy” for readers), in reality, some women and men choose to ignite teenage love affairs.
I don’t believe adolescents who partner with older people are always traumatised or negatively affected, but I do believe they should make the decision at a better stage in their life. In my early twenties, I was far more in control and responsible to form attachments with older men. And it’s taken my mid-twenties to realise the scale of difference. Adults dating teenagers — famous, successful, rich or smart, it’s an icky issue.