Is it me or does every man, once he gets to 30, only date women 5-7 years younger? If I had a dollar for every guy friend who’s now dating a 24-year-old, I’d have a serious financial windfall on my hands. This isn’t a new trend, but it is one that makes us women raise an eyebrow – and form an opinion or ten. Maybe it’s because it’s March and Miss Wingman has a birthday approaching, but getting older has been on my mind lately. And now, lucky you, it’s on my keyboard too.

If age is a case of mind over matter, then it shouldn’t matter in regards to relationships, right? Wrong. Women mind, and what we think matters – if you ever want to end up with one of us, at least.

This isn’t the stereotypical bitter-older-woman-hating-on-younger-girls story, on the contrary I completely understand the draw. But it is an appeal to think about what your actions say to the female population. And ladies, don’t think you’re off the hook either. I’ve got some choice words for those of you who only date older men, too, so sit tight.

Guys who date women that are fresh out of college might as well be wearing a billboard that says, “I’m not looking for anything serious.” It tells us that you’re only interested in looks or a casual set up, because a woman that age likely won’t be checking her watch and tapping her foot any time soon waiting for a ring or a commitment. Not in the Northeast or California, at least. A guy who serially dates young women and then tries to date someone his own age will automatically garner some skepticism, as if we’re not sure you could really be serious about us if you’ve never stepped up to the plate until now. We want you to be, but we’re just not sure we’d like to be your trial run.

That’s not to say that women 25 and under aren’t mature, intelligent and sophisticated in their thinking, on the contrary I think they have those things in spades. It just means that they’re just getting started having fun, and they won’t be looking to settle down any time soon. If you’re not “done yet,” you don’t care if the person you’re dating isn’t done yet, either. Having no pressure is the biggest draw, but if you’re dating her when she heads into that Quarter Life Crisis freak out stage that most of us hit, you could be a casualty of her youthful wanderings, so be warned.

Women are equal offenders, having long fallen into the pattern of dating older men. Maybe that’s why guys opt for the younger model, partially as payback for their high school and college years when women treated freshman males like plankton – the lowest form of life in the romantic food chain.  So then it’s no wonder that, as soon as we hit our late 20s and 30s, we end up dating men who are closer to 40 – they’re the only ones who seem to have their acts together.

Hold it right there – I said “seem to” have their acts together, not that they’re the only ones who do. In my observations, guys want to be established and have (at least somewhat) arrived at the man they’re trying to be before feeling like they can settle down with someone. So, the later we catch them in life, the more chance there is that they won’t flake out on us like their younger counterparts. Plus, they’re not afraid to show women that they appreciate us – arguably the biggest draw of all. This might sound like a money thing, but in reality it’s a maturity thing. Money is easy to come by, but maturity? Not so much.

The flip side to all of this is that women fundamentally want to end up with someone who feels like their peer. I’m fine with dating a few years older, but after a certain point it just starts to feel wrong – like a creepy old man. Maybe it’s because I’ve never stopped thinking of myself as 20-years-old, but if the man I’m dating can’t accompany me to a fratty bar and dance with my friends and I to cheesy music every now and again – as we’ve been known to do – we might be doomed in the dating department. There’s a difference between being a grown up and taking yourself too seriously, and it’s a fine, fine line.

As for women dating younger men, I support it but my question to the guys is: Really? What’s in it for you? Either you have a true appreciation for a woman who knows what she’s all about, who she should surround herself with (and who not to), what she wants and where she’s headed…or else you just want to be able to tell your friends you took down a Cougar. I’ve dated much younger guys, and while it’s fun, it fundamentally makes you wonder if you’re just going to end up an anecdote. Like the time you dated a red head. Or an identical twin. (I’m kidding, some of my most favorite people are red heads – and now they hate me).

So where does this leave us, then? Hopefully at a truce. Women – at least this woman – would like to date men in our own age group. And, if more men would shrug off the Peter Pan syndrome, we’d be happy to forego the older guys. But only if you boys promise to stop thinking that every single woman over 25 is trying to pin you down into marital submission. Some of us aren’t in any hurry to be wifed up. Some of us are content to just sit tight. Some of us have faith that it’ll all shake out in the end… and if you need us, we’ll be over here enjoying life in the meantime.

If you care about the person you’re with, trust them, and can agree that neither one of you is going anywhere anytime soon, then that should be enough. Granted, not every female thinks like this, but more of us do than guys tend to realize – so give us some credit, please.

I know it’s tempting to go for the woman with the 24-year-old ass (you’d be crazy not to, frankly), but equally important is the woman who has had the time to cultivate a strong sense of accomplishment and self. But these things only come with time, it’s as simple as that. You should aim to find a female who wants to be with you, but doesn’t need to – there’s nothing sexy about being dependent.

Likewise, be patient, ladies. If the man you’re dating hasn’t arrived at the life he wants to lead yet, rather than pointing it out, be excited to see what he will do with his potential. Encouraging a guy to be the best version of himself and realize his goals is preferable to pointing out his shortcomings all the time. If you tell him you think he’s going to end up disappointing you, you’ve just solidified that he will. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, not to mention unfair.

So the moral of the story is this: age matters, but maturity and mindset matter more. Life experience, perspective and a generally solid set of values is key – and they can come in all different ages, shapes and sizes. Just try not to be a total cliche, and we’ll do the same. Maybe one day we can all meet somewhere in the middle…but I won’t hold my breath. Unless it’s to blow out my birthday candles.THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID

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