She’s under 18? Don’t even think about it
Every so often, someone in my social circle gets a much younger girlfriend. And everyone is suddenly aware of the 17 year old elephant in the room, fiddling with her A-level Sociology folder.
At 21 to 25, most of my friends are rightly horrified by the idea of dating an 18 year old, as this seems to be a gap where everyone does an awful lot of growing up. You move out, you learn to make toast for yourself, be trusted with a job and hit deadlines without your teacher thumping you on the head with a mock exam. But every so often, I see a usually slightly immature friend turn up with a much younger girlfriend.
Don’t get me wrong. When I was 16, I thought I was so mature. I wasn’t one of the kids in lower school, I wore blazers with heels and rolled my eyes at Chaucer’s misogyny. That’s basically adult, right? Looking back, I realise just how vulnerable I still was. I couldn’t even go outside in the dark without scaring myself. I didn’t know how to use trains or buses more than an hour out of the way and boys were still stupid. Well, at least as stupid as girls were. We’d date for a month and break up or worry about getting pregnant after a quick fumble in the garden. Well, I hear you whinge, I was more mature than that, and maybe you were. But certainly myself, and many other girls of 16–17, were still growing up, experimenting and wide eyed innocents. We were at school still, for goodness sake. I still got told off. What sort of adult man would be attracted to that?
But they are and it’s awkward. At 16 it is very flattering to have a grown up interested in you, even if he does work in Costa and have a slightly weird relationship with manga. So it is very easy to be manipulated. A lot of my friends were at that time. Its cool and shows you are mature to date older guys. I don’t think the 25 year old young men actually consider themselves predators, but it is certainly a dangerous relationship. Whether you like it or not, a 16 year old does not have the skills or independence to make decisions in an unequally powered relationship. Adults know everything at that age. You respect them and do as they say (if you like them). It’s so easy to get caught up in things you don’t really understand like drugs, sex and alcohol. All three of my alcoholic female friends started drinking with a much older boyfriend.
And when they turn up, desperately dressed to fit in with uni students and trying to act nonchalant, it’s gapingly obvious how wide the maturity gap is. They still have to call mummy or daddy to come and get them or text their little friends all evening in shyness. They aren’t too sure why we are talking about politics or art, other than to show off. Being overly-sexual still means you are cool or sensual. They are an awkward figure, aware that the situation is somehow wrong and looking over to their floppy haired supergod in desperation. I don’t blame them. They aren’t in the wrong. They are kids. But the adult friend who thinks it’s okay to date Holly in Year 13 from his local state school kind of makes me uneasy.
When I bring it up, they get extremely defensive. She’s very mature. She’s legal. She doesn’t look 17.
But in a way, I still think it’s so wrong. I can’t even comprehend fancying an 18 year old boy because the maturity gap would be so vast. I like David Attenborough documentaries and artisan samosas, not mock football on the schoolfield and fishfingers and chips made by his mum. That’s fine. He’d still be a kid. I’m a woman. It would be weird. Even if we had mutual interests, it would be so weird dating a schoolboy. I just don’t get the appeal.
Also, even if, highly unlikely, he was a Macron style teenaged god, I wouldn’t act on any feelings (yuck). Because he would deserve a childhood. He deserves to date Holly in year 13 and break up with her when she snogs Mark after a WKD. He deserves to go play in the park instead of pouting with my artistic student friends. I don’t believe we should cross the lines that are an essential part of growing up- dating people your own age.
I just wish my male friends had the same respect for Holly.