Men Dating Teenagers: the ick factor

The world is full of numbers. Numbers normally act as evidence or justification for something. How many times have you heard the saying: “age is just a number?” There’s many relationships in Hollywood featuring age gaps, some large ones in fact. However these are acceptable to a certain extent, especially when compared to the relationships that some men are pursuing with teenage girls.

Recently it was revealed that reality television star Stephen Bear, famous for shows such as Ex on the Beach ​and ​Just Tattoo of Us, ​has been dating a girl from Surrey who only turned 18 earlier this month. The pair had been on and off for over a year which means that this girl was 16 when she met Bear.

Similarly, ​Keeping Up With The Kardashians ​star Scott Disick was previously dating Sofia Richie, the younger sister of pop culture icon Nicole Richie, for three years when she was just 19. Now, he’s dating Amelia Hamlin, daughter of Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin, who is also only 19 years old.

Taking Hollywood out of the question and placing these people in a life of normality, reality even, the mixed opinion on relationships like these is jarring. Especially for young girls who do not have the same financial stability nor the life experience or emotional maturity as their much older partner.

Relationships like these are highly problematic and are glorified instead of being called out for predatory behaviour.

Clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD spoke to ​​ to analyse why young girls can find themselves in relationships with older men. She said “it’s vital to have similar emotional, cognitive and physical maturity levels when dating” – which is what relationships with young girls and older men are lacking. When someone has less life and relationship experience, and is more naive and trusting than the other then it automatically creates what Manly refers to as a “power imbalance.”

Manly said that “many girls fall for older men as they have an unconscious need to feel safe and loved.” The presence of an older man gives them protection and the false illusion of a fatherly figure to look after them. On the other end of the spectrum, the men who seek out teenage and young girls because they have a need to control and manipulate which they cannot do with an older woman. Equally, pursuing a younger girl and achieving a relationship with her gives these men an ego boost. Their advice and teaching can influence the girl and as a result end up as manipulation and pressure on somebody who is still figuring things out for themselves.

Even the words we use when we say ‘girl’ and ‘man’ indicate a clear imbalance in power, age and maturity. This highlights the main problem with these relationships effectively.

Film and television has not helped when it comes to these kinds of relationships. From teacher/student relationships that we’ve seen in shows such as ​Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill, Skins, ​even a stint on​ Friends​ where Ross dates his student. They are shown as forbidden, making them even more attractive to viewers and rarely show consequences to these decisions. The same problems arise in films such as ​American Beauty ​in which Kevin Spacey’s character is inexplicably attracted to his daughter’s friend and even nearly sleeps with her before she reveals that she is a virgin. Though, now seeing the accusations against Spacey the film has an even more eerie quality to it.

Despite this, we can see that teenage girls are lusting after relationships with older men, the influence of television does not help this but it isn’t uncommon for girls to end up with older men. Looking back, Like the rock and roll scene of the 70s, 80s and 90s which saw celebrities such as Steven Tyler, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman ‘deflowering’ and having sex with underage girls.

As a society we need to ask ourselves: is this right?

Let’s do better, for our daughters and sisters falling for this kind of behaviour.

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