The recent news about Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend has stirred mass debate about the ethics of large age-gap relationships. For context, DiCaprio is 48 years old. His alleged girlfriend, 19-year-old Eden Polani, wasn’t even born when the actor starred in the famed title, Titanic.
There is no doubt that this age gap raises eyebrows, but it definitely isn’t illegal. What, then, makes the idea of relationships like this disturbing?
Once legally an adult, there is no telling a young person that they cannot date or engage in sexual relationships with someone much older, if that’s what they desire to do. It’s important to respect that, while they may not always be as wise as they claim to be, young adults have full autonomy over their bodies and can make informed choices. Therefore, dating older is an option they are legally free to take.
The worrying part about this is the often (too) enthusiastic participation from the older party. It’s understandable, even normal, for young people to get swept up in ideas of a worldly, guiding, older partner. Maybe they even have a flashy car and their own house, paid for with a solid and respectable high-salary career. One just needs to look at TikTok and Twitter to see endless edits glorifying and sexualising celebrities twice the poster’s age.
When an individual makes a habit of dating people much younger than themselves, it hints at a larger desire to control. With age comes experience, in all senses of the word, automatically making them more equipped to handle and partake in a relationship than their younger counterpart. Money brings power, as does age, as does experience. The playfield becomes uneven. The younger person can fall into a reliance on their partner, whether financially or otherwise, opening up doors to abusive behaviour.
For a healthy age-gap relationship to exist, the differences in life experience need to be recognised and accounted for in communication between the couple. What’s concerning is our culture’s tendency to brush off age-gap conversations by stating that, as long as the younger is of age, both parties can do whatever they want.
In reality, more care needs to be taken to include the difference in experience, and therefore a couple’s dynamic, within these conversations. As you look back on life, you realise that, although you thought you knew everything, your knowledge was actually very limited. Do the people who strictly date those younger than them simply not realise that they possess experience yards beyond their partner, or is that part of the appeal?
Large age-gap relationships exist throughout society. However, the most concerning of them appear within celebrity spheres. Not only do they have age, experience and financial security beyond their partner’s reach, they also have Hollywood know-how.
Again, we’ll use DiCaprio as an example. He displays a pattern of behaviour, never dating anyone over the age of 25. The women he dates are usually famous in their own right, but there is no debating that he has had years of celebrity experience on them. In such a specifically stressful and pressure-filled industry, experience is invaluable.
While these young women are still figuring things out, DiCaprio is taking advantage of their youth and desire to move up in the world. Several celebrities repeatedly date people far younger than them.
Since 2008, Madonna has only dated men at least 28 years younger than her. Most recently, model Andrew Darnell. Darnell is 23, putting a 41-year difference between him and Madonna, who recently turned 64. Madonna has what Page Six writer, Michael Kaplan, describes as a “queenly selection”. Considering that the beauty standard revolves around youth, it’s not a surprise that the wealthiest and most admirable in society abuse their power in order to obtain younger, more ‘attractive’ partners.
Although legal, there are moral qualms created by people who display a specific interest in young adults when they, themselves, are not one. Nobody wants to question the younger parties in these relationships, for why should they not make their own decisions on who they date? At the same time, it seems also a duty to call out people who have a clear pattern of behaviour and an inclination towards more vulnerable individuals.
Featured Image Credit: Stylist Magazine