When it comes to romance novels, there's something about an older woman younger man relationship that I can't get enough of.
I find myself rooting for this type of couple even more than it's counterpart older man/younger woman. Maybe it's because I’m a woman of a certain age and I’m acutely aware that there is a collective effort to portray older women as undesirable and nonsexual beings, either way, I’ve only just begun to dabble in the genre with the Say Yes Duet, and A Taste of Her Own Medicine and I can’t wait to write more!
What is an OWYM, aka: age gap romance?
Often improperly labeled as reverse age gap, older woman/ younger man romances are not as common but are definitely gaining in popularity. While most readers don’t bat an eye at the plethora of older man/younger woman romances, flipping this trope on it’s is often met with hesitance and resistance, in real life and in the romancelandia. But before we dive into why this trope is so compulsively readable, lets establish what makes an older woman/younger man romance.
Cougar is the most common label used for women in their 40s (or older) who date significantly younger men, generally at a 10-year age gap or more. However, there’s a bit of nuance there. Some folks believe that cougars are older women who actively pursue or seduce younger men. For the purpose of this article, we can include both definitions as this trope can explore both ends of the spectrum!
There was also a little bit of debate about what we considered a true age-gap when it comes to OWYM books as well, so I ran a Twitter poll!
Out of 115 votes, 38% felt that an age gap of 10 years was significant while 58% leaned toward the woman being 20 years or older. My couples tend to be in the 15 to 20 year range, but despite the number of years between them, I prefer to write two characters who are established adults to even out that power imbalance a bit.
Why are OWYM romances dope?
1. She’s in her prime.
While popular mainstream romance novels and the media in general seem to be obsessed with youth, research has shown that women reach the peak of their sexuality when they hit their 30s and 40s. This gives me the freedom to write a character who either knows exactly what she wants or is ready and willing to explore things she didn’t in her twenties because she was too inhibited or self-conscious. The focus is on their pleasure and the love interest who is excited to deliver it.
2. She’s usually established and independent.
One of the things that often pulls me out of an older man/younger woman story is the power imbalance baked into the narrative. Yes, billionaire heroes that rescue the damsel in distress from her sad and sorry life have their place and I enjoy them. However, there is something about a woman who has gained success in her own right and has her own money. My favorite older women to read and write are ones who have that agency. I also love the idea of a woman reinventing herself, launching a second career in her forties or fifties after dedicating herself to a job that wasn’t fulfilling or realizing that her kids are adults and no longer need her in the same way. Coming of age can happen at any age! It’s not reserved for twenty-somethings!
3. It has built in conflict.
A story about an older woman dating a younger man will undoubtedly face a lot of criticism and questions from their friends, family, and randoms in society. They often find themselves fielding rude-if-well-meaning questions, unfunny jokes, and remarks driven by others’ disapproval, and in some cases, jealousy.This sort of conflict can bind the characters together or drive them apart. Exploring that relationship dynamic is the special sauce for this trope.
4. More likely to encounter emotionally mature characters.
Mind games are more often part of the narrative in romances featuring younger characters. If found that the older women in age gap romances are generally upfront about things, they know what they like and spell out the things they don’t want. They lead with expectations, communication lines are clear, and nothing is left unsaid. The love interest has to decide if they’re ready to step up to be who she needs. In A Taste of Her Own Medicine, Atlas is confronted by this narrative in a discussion in the barbershop.
5. Older Woman Younger Man romance novels can be a fun read and expose you to another vibrant narrative with characters at a different stage in life.
They can also provide an alternate perspective on life, and a glimpse of how to navigate a stage rarely discussed without disdain, pity, or misinformation. So many people have questions about how to navigate love and their changing bodies and interpersonal relationships as they age and romance is ripe ground to explore it. I’m well aware that these are novels and not textbooks, but reading can present an opportunity for discussion and sharing our experiences.
I love reading and writing this trope because I believe that older women deserve to read stories where they are desired, loved, and written as the beautiful expansive beings that they we are. You don't have to be an older woman to read them, either! I sincerely hope that we’ll continue to see older woman, younger man romances and seasoned romances on virtual and physical shelves in the future.