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Men prefer younger women not for their firmer bodies – but their greater admiration | Zoe Williams

The French novelist Yann Moix claims a 50-year-old woman’s body is unlovable, unlike a 25-year-old’s. But the truth is that the young tend to respect the old – and that is what

There is a maximum number of times a woman can get annoyed about what a French intellectual thinks about her arse. I thought I’d hit it in the 90s, when Michel Houellebecq did an elaborate, 300-odd page analogy between sexual liberation and free-market capitalism, which concluded that women were destroying men’s dignity. It was a hard-left version of Jordan Peterson that was, if you can possibly imagine such a thing, even more annoying.

Yet when the novelist Yann Moix announced this week that 50-year-old women were too old to love – “The body of a 25-year-old woman is extraordinary. The body of a woman of 50 is not extraordinary at all” – I felt that old and delicious indignation. It’s not the talking-about-us-like-we’re-meat. It’s not the generalisation, or the brass neck of a guy who is 50 himself, and about as extraordinary to look at as an upturned shopping trolley in a canal. It’s just dishonest. There is nothing more contemptible than a home truth that isn’t true.

Men don’t like younger women because their flesh is firmer but because their opinions are a bit less firm – or at least that’s the hope. Anyone 20 years younger than you tends to assume you’re right about most things. Some men will trade in a lot of shared cultural reference points for a bit of admiration. Likewise, the cliche is that young women date older men because they are richer, whereas nearer the truth is that they seem to know a lot of useful stuff.

When I was 21, I went out with a 34-year-old Australian. He seemed impossibly mature; he wore aftershave and drank only Wolf Blass. Still, if I smell Aramis, I believe its wearer on a huge range of things, especially directions. However, during an argument about money, he tore up 250 quid and flushed it down the toilet. After that, I wondered how grown up 34 really was, and started going out with a 40-year-old. Intensely self-aware and embarrassed by the age difference, he spent a lot of time insisting that I shouldn’t take him seriously because he hadn’t changed his mind since he was 25, so we were essentially the same age. He would compare his life choices mournfully with the superior ones made by his friends. “Tony would never go out with a 25-year-old. He wants a woman who can talk about Hawkwind.” “I can talk about Hawkwind! What shall I say?” “It’s not the same.”

For a while I was two-timing him with a 50-year-old, so the aggregate age of my sweethearts was 90. And they do know a thing or two, older people. They know what to order, why the washing machine is broken, how to drive, how to peel garlic. But very quickly you get used to what they know, and are often astonished by what they don’t know, and your admiration and credulity gives way to a more peer-to-peer style relationship. Shortly after that, it ends. When you’ve signed up for an admirer, the last thing you want is someone who takes the piss like everyone else and can’t pick Lemmy out of a line-up.

It’s hard to admit that you don’t like a challenge, much easier to traduce a 50-year-old’s saggy body. But it’s not on our own account that we, the raddled middle-aged, deride Moix and his bogus body fascism. It’s on behalf of our younger sisters; he thinks they are pushovers, which they ain’t.

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