What Is With These Grown Men Dating 19-Year-Olds? (Besides the Obvious)

There are younger women, then there are, well, teenagers. 

Scott Disick’s love life has been front and center in celebrity news lately, since he hooked up with a new girl. And girl, she is. Sofia Richie, daughter of Lionel Richie, is dating the reality star and father of three and she’s only 19 years old. Scott is 34. Lionel himself said he's not so into the relationship since Scott's antics have been one of the main storylines on Keeping Up With The Kardashians over the past decade. While the show has matured, the father of three has not. 

Sofia and Scott, with a 15-year age gap, like to travel together, share an occasional cigarette, catch some rays side by side and hit some nightclubs hand in hand. Deep life discussions? We'd guess not. 

Then there’s notorious modelizer Leonardo DiCaprio. Even though his special lady friends tend to fall into the same category — blonde, tall and inside a Victoria’s Secret catalogue — he’s liking them younger and younger. His latest rumored “girlfriend," Juliette Perkins, is also 19. The actor turns 43 in less than a month. His lady pal can't order a drink at a bar. 

Before Juliette, he’d been spotted with woman a little higher on the age scale (although not the dreaded 30.) Lorena Rae, 23; his ex, Toni Garrn, 25; Alina Baikova, 27; model Candice Blackburn, 20; and now, Juliette, a model. Do we really need to say model? They’re all models. When's the last time this guy dated a schoolteacher or a scientist? Anyway, Juliette is a New Zealand native who signed with IMG when she was 15 years old. The two have been spotted nightclubbing together recently, although it's not clear whose ID Juliette is using. (since Leo's girlfriends all look lie clones of each other, we're assuming any one of his exes.)

Thankfully, the music is loud where these couples like to go, because what could a grown man possibly be chatting up a 19-year-old girl about? What happened in 1998, the year they were born? Just FYI, Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman were married for nine days, George Michael was arrested in 1998 for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public restroom in a Beverly Hills, CA. park, and Bill Clinton was Time magazine's Man of the Year. 

In other words, a deep connection on an intellectual level is likely a rare thing, say experts. In fact, one interesting theory is that as men approach middle age, they begin thinking about death more and more, and begin to behave almost like vampires, believing that they can “live forever” just by being in the vicinity of youth. Most aren’t even aware that this is what’s going on, says A. Jordan Wright, a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and author of Conducting Psychological Assessment: A Guide for Practitioners.

“One theory proposes that one of the greatest motivators for human behavior is the ‘denial of death’ (the theory proposes that this is why we create art, why we mentor others, etc. — to live forever in some way). Dating a younger woman can help men feel more youthful and help stave off the midlife crisis (when we stop thinking about our lives in terms of time from birth and start thinking about our lives in terms of time till death),” Wright says.

In addition to staring death in the face, there are other theories that address why much older men date actual teenager.

“Probably the most prominent would be evolutionary psychology, which posits that men are attracted to youth and the kind of beauty that is unconsciously linked to procreation,” Wright says. “While men can procreate throughout their lives, dating a younger woman (especially quite a bit younger) lengthens the ‘window’ for being able to have children. Even for men who don’t explicitly want children, evolutionary psychology holds that they are still programmed unconsciously to be attracted to younger women for this reason.”

A third theory relates to cultural values and a generally patriarchal society, Wright says.

“First, our society — and perhaps especially celebrity culture — is youth obsessed, and much more so for women than men. Thus, the ‘value’ a woman brings is intimately tied to her youth (and beauty, and other markers that have little to do with actual inherent human value). This is a cultural double standard, as men are not nearly as deeply judged on these traits, and often have value tied to intelligence, talent, often money, etc. What are attractive and valuable in our society for women are youth, beauty…for men, less so.”

These all likely are contributing in some way to this type of relationship/attraction, even if the men involved aren’t really in touch with why they are attracted to someone who is so much younger.

Men who have famously bedded teens include Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, and Steven Tyler, among countless others. According to the U.K.’s The Independent, “there’s the thrill of a beautiful young body, of course, but there’s more to it than that. There’s the ego trip of being with a teenager who is so easily impressed that a car, or a flat — any signifier of independence — can seem dazzlingly mature.”

The topic is a popular one on Reddit, where older men themselves explain why they were attracted to a much younger woman.

“From my experience a lot of guys who were unable to get a career going as they near 30 date significantly younger because girls their age demand some type of career prospects,” said one commenter.

“I dated an 18 year old when I was 23, so maybe I'm not the demographic you want. There's a simplicity to relationships with younger women. One thing I will never understand is how relationships can't be serious and about sex. They can only be one or the other. I didn't expect us to get married, if that's what you mean,” said another.

“Men like women who are younger because they're prettier and more innocent. Women like men who are older because they're more masculine and usually have more money. I thought this was common knowledge,” explains one commenter.

Another says: “A lot of dudes in their 20's do not match up to the expectations set by girls in their 20's. Girls in their 20's want to be impressed. Girls 18-19 tend to have lower expectations.”

New York-based psychotherapist Camilla Mager says that while the positive impact on one’s self-esteem cannot be underestimated, these relationships aren't likely to last. 

"It is too simple to reduce it to money or sex, but hard not to given the obvious differences in credibility, maturity and beauty. In some cases, it is likely a defense against aging — a feeling that being with someone so much younger makes one feel younger — and may connect the man to the youth culture of today," Mager says. "For others, it may be a longing or need to be doted upon and appreciated for their stature and significance. And for others, on occasion, I do think genuine love can emerge."

But even love is rarely enough to make a relationship withstand the pressures put on it from peers and family.

"There has to be more than just love and attraction," Mager adds. "Common values, common views on what one expects from the world, common understanding of life goals. All of these things serve to strengthen relationships. Given the differences in values, views and often life goals for a 19-year-old versus a 45-year-old, I would say that generally these romances are unlikely to last. For a relationship to work, there has to be a mutual understanding and communication which is much harder — though not impossible — to find when the generational divide is so wide."

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