Thinky Post: The Power Dynamic in Old-Young, Male-Female, Rich-Poor Relationships

I mentioned on the Wednesday watching post that I’ve recently hit a string of podcasts about messy relationships between young women and older men, which often end in violence. As I listen to them, it’s making me rethink a lot of assumptions I’ve had about these relationships and sort of unpack how I feel about them.

I think, as I get older, it’s the age dynamic that is most alarming for me in these situations. Me at almost 40 has so much more life skills and confidence and experience than me at 24 had. I’m more comfortable talking to strangers, more comfortable talking to authority figures, more comfortable BEING an authority figure, better able to make decisions and anticipate consequences, so many MANY skills. And I can remember being 24 and thinking I already knew everything.

And then I listen to a story of a beautiful 24 year old who meets a 40 year old and moves in with him a week later. On the one hand, she is benefiting from this relationship, she gets a free place to live, she gets expensive presents, she gets to meet fabulous people and go to fabulous parties. And her only qualifications are that she is beautiful and young. And he isn’t hurting her, he isn’t forcing her to stay, she is definitely an adult.

Is that a golddigger? Maybe? But golddigger would make her the active one in the relationship. And the older I get, the less I think a 24 year old can control a 40 year old. I don’t know where the cut off is, how old she would have to be and how old he would have to be to make it equitable. But I know that 24-40 is not it. And 19 to 27 is not it. And 21 to 60 is definitely not it.

I guess all of the elements of the relationship are similar to the age thing. I don’t know where the financial inequity becomes a major issue, but I know a receptionist and a trust fund millionaire is not equitable. I don’t know where the life experience crosses that line, but a recent high school grad with someone who’s lived alone in multiple major cities is not it. I don’t know where power crosses that line, but someone who can skate out of trouble for drug charges versus someone whose been jailed for drugs is not it.

But wait, I actually know multiple couples in real like that I would consider good couples that fall into most of these categories. So it’s not guaranteed that a relationship is unhealthy just because of an age difference or a financial difference or a lived experience difference or whatever. Maybe it is just that it’s a warning sign? Something a healthy couple would be aware of and talk about and negotiate openly?

Oh! That’s the difference! It’s if a couple is presenting themselves to the world as if the younger one/poorer one/less experienced one is in Control, that’s where I start to worry. Well, I start to worry as of this week. Previously, I have to say, I kind of bought into that idea.

A beautiful young woman pursues a wealthy older man. He gives her presents, a fabulous life, marries her. She has everything she wanted. She is a successful golddigger. This is the narrative.

When I try to put that narrative on my lived experience, it just doesn’t work. Surely a young person would have dreams beyond just having presents and a mansion, surely that isn’t “everything she wanted”. And surely the wealthy older man can’t be “trapped”? Really? A guy with his money and power and life experience was helpless in front of this very young inexperienced person?

Even if, let’s say, a beautiful young woman says “oh wow, he’s so rich! I love this life! This is great!” does that make her The Worst Person Ever? Or just, human? How many young women consciously set out thinking “I will lie and scheme and trick my way into marrying a rich man” versus having a rich person show up in front of them and, maybe, decide to start or continue a relationship partly because of his wealth? From the other side of things, how is it considered worse for a woman to date a man for his money versus a man dating a woman for her beauty? Both things are superficial, both things are possibly temporary, yet saying “she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, I had to date her” is a normal complimentary thing to say while saying “he was the richest man I ever met, I had to date him” is not?

I’m talking men versus women, because this is a male versus female dynamic. A rich man “gets” to have a young beautiful woman. A young beautiful woman “gets” to marry rich. That’s her reward. We see photos of Leonardo DiCaprio with his latest girlfriend, and go “yeah, of course, that makes sense”. And yet if I saw that exact same relationship with one of my friends in real life, I would be VERY concerned for her. I just don’t see Leo’s girlfriends as people, I’ve been taught to see them as sort of another race somehow?

I think that’s the most impactful part of what I’ve been listening to lately, the thing that has made me turn inward and ask myself why I think like this. Hearing a friend, a sister, a parent talk about these women suddenly they aren’t “Beautiful Women” who sprung forth fully formed into the world, they are humans. That woman who moved into a penthouse with her boyfriend, struggled with mental health and addiction issues, she was an artist and a martial arts athlete, she had a best friend since middle-school that she talked to every day, she was a PERSON. And that whole person got lost in the narrative of “rich so-and-so’s latest girlfriend”.

Have we all been brainwashed, as a society, to think of a woman who reaches a certain level of beauty as no longer human? No longer the same as “us”? The biggest hit-me-in-the-face moment was when I was watching a documentary about a very rich and powerful man who almost certainly killed his wife. All the headlines at the time and later, most of the people talking about her, even he himself, referred to her as his “beautiful wife”. Nice, tidy, beautiful woman marries rich man. But she was IN MED SCHOOL!!!! If she had been married to someone less wealthy, if she hadn’t been married at all, the headline would have been “Med Student disappears”. But no, if a younger woman is married to a wealthy man, she MUST be described as “beautiful” because that is how we dehumanize her, that is how society stops thinking about this relationship as messy and wrong and unhealthy and instead just as “oh yeah, that’s how it always happens.”

There’s two ways these stories end, that is, the public narratives. Either she is “hard” and “smart” and “tough” and divorces him and “takes” his money. Or, she is “troubled” and “sad” and “sick” and ends up dead. What an odd thing. If the wife of a regular person divorced him and asked for a settlement and child support, if she was average looking, we would say “good for her” or even “yeah, makes sense”. But if she is beautiful, suddenly it turns into a scam, a theft, a con. If an average looking woman married to a regular person overdoses or suicides or is murdered, we would say “was there something going on in her marriage? Did her partner try to help with her addiction? Was he enabling? Were there other life problems that could have lead to it?” But a beautiful woman married to a rich man, suddenly she’s just “troubled” for no particular reason and obviously her partner wouldn’t be responsible for helping her.

Even if, let’s say, there is the one in a million person who really did set out to use her beauty to catch a rich husband. When she ends up being abused, all of a sudden we say “well, fair’s fair”. I think society has accepted (and again, I include myself in this) a very extreme punishment for a very minor crime. Young woman marries for money. Young woman is emotionally and physically abused for years, comes out of it broken in many ways. Society says “well, what did she expect?” Her crime is that she pretended to feel feelings she didn’t. His crime is that he destroyed a person’s inner soul. And society thinks of them as equal? Not only that, is angry with her when she asks for justice because, after all, she is the criminal.

This is a lot of very confused thoughts. Mostly it has made me question my own perceptions. In Indian society and other places with arranged marriages, in some ways it is an easier moral judgement to make. The woman didn’t decide to join this relationship, didn’t lie her way in, has no culpability when it goes poorly. Even if she is beautiful, she still had no choice. But with love marriages, then suddenly I seem to have a perception that a beautiful woman and a rich man is a relationship of convenience on both sides and anything that happens to her doesn’t matter.

#Thinky #Post #Power #Dynamic #OldYoung #MaleFemale #RichPoor #Relationships

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