On a spring night two years ago, Taylor* fell deep into meaningful conversation with a stranger at the Keg. He ordered complicated shots at the bar. He paid, like a gentleman. He wasn’t one of the 40-year-old creepers ringing the dance floor. After talking all night, he and Taylor parted only after the lights dimmed and everyone spilled out into the street.
Mark* was a Kellogg grad student and he was eight years older than Taylor, who was then a sophomore in Weinberg. She thought it might be worth it to see him again. They’re still dating nearly two years later, even though Mark graduated last year and now lives in California.
Northwestern students often complain about the scarcity of the dating scene on campus, some female upperclassmen have entered into rewarding relationships like Taylor’s. What first struck Taylor about Mark was their immediate connection that went beyond the meaningless “name, hometown, major” conversations she was accustomed to as a sophomore.
“I could find someone closer to my age who I really like, but on the other hand, I’m also used to being around a guy who is at a certain maturity level,” she says. “It’s not so much about a minimum number, but about maturity.”
Weinberg senior Maria* dated a 31-year-old lawyer who lived in Wicker Park. Although the two are no longer together, she says their shared interests strengthened their relationship despite an 11-year age difference.
“He’s a lot more cultured and well read than any guy my age,” says Maria. “And more importantly, he doesn’t pull any of the shit that guys our age do, because he has 11 to 12 years of dating experience.”
Claudia Opdenkelder, president and founder of cougarlife.com, says the same applies for older women. “The benefit in dating older women is that there’s no game playing,” says Opdenkelder in an email interview. “They know what they want and how to get it.”
Taylor adds that an older partner’s sexual experience is a “huge perk.”
“Everyone wants to be pleased in an optimal way, and that’s something you can’t really find across the board with guys our age,” she says.
But dating someone older isn’t always easy. Weinberg junior Chung Kim broke up with her 26-year-old boyfriend after realizing they had different priorities.
“He was working and was under pressure to impress his boss,” Kim says. “I’m still in college, and I just want to go out and have fun. But he doesn’t want to put up with that.”
Having an older significant other often means serious compromises. For Taylor, hanging out with Mark’s friends, or getting him to hang out with her friends remains a challenge.
“My boyfriend has his own world of activities, friends and responsibilities that are completely separate,” she says. “It’s a matter of the fact that he’s not in the same stage of life that I’m in.”
It’s a common sentiment. Maria says she also was frustrated by how apart her undergrad and romantic lives seemed.
“It’s hard to mesh my life here with his,” she says. “I can’t see him coming to Evanston and going to a kegger with me. There’s only so much grown-up stuff I can do with him.”
Though the couple parted this fall, Maria says openness about the age gap grounded the couple in reality.
“I told him I have a whole future ahead of me, and there are some things I need to do and accomplish, like to go medical school,” she says. “He understands. I certainly [found] myself making plans with him in mind, but I [didn’t] want to restrict myself.”
*Names changed for students who would only speak on the condition of anonymity.