Helen, a 44-year-old mother of two in Brooklyn, had dated younger men in the past. But when she matched with a guy on Bumble, everything seemed above board — except that he didn’t look 41, as he claimed. “I broke the ice by asking for skincare tips, because this dude looked amazing for his 40s,” she tells me. But on their first meeting, a masked date in the park, she learned that his real anti-aging regimen was actually being 30.
“I’m almost 45. Fifteen years is a lot!” she says.
She managed to get over the lie — at least temporarily — “because he was an excellent kisser and an all-around fun person.” They had a brief fling that included two more dates, hooking up, smoking weed and eating pizza in her bed before he ended it — citing the age difference. “I was like, ‘My dude, that’s your fault,’” she says.
As much as her younger beau was in the wrong, dating experts agree that he’s far from the only guy trying to land an older woman — or lying about his age to make it happen. They’re not just trying to work through some Freudian mommy issues either. “Older women already know who they are and bring a breadth of knowledge and experience to a relationship,” matchmaker Lisa Sisemore explains. “These qualities can be especially attractive to younger men who are looking for a more serious connection built on trust and respect.”
Kayla Broek, a relationship coach at Beyond Ages, echoes that sentiment. “Older women have had a longer period of time to accumulate personal and professional success and mature as a person,” she says. “This is quite rare in younger women and an extremely attractive trait.”
While men are more likely to have both casual and serious relationships with younger women, they also have a range of sexual preferences when it comes to age. The problem, though, for guys who prefer their women on the older side is that, according to research, women tend to respond more favorably to older men. In other words, guys who are into older women appear to be less successful when they shoot their shot with women like Helen, who don’t want to be seen as aggressive, wine-drinking cougars. In fact, recent studies reveal that younger men who date older women often go out of their way to chase them, as opposed to the other way around.
Of course, some men take a shortcut by lying about their age. At only 25, Walter has been doing exactly this since he was a barely legal liberal arts student in Boston. At the time, he jokes, he was mostly trying to have sex in apartments that were nicer than the dorms. As a classical pianist who graduated from high school a year early and traveled playing music, it was relatively easy to pass for an older guy who just looked young. Compared to his peers, he was more mature and had more in common with older women, who would often come to his concerts and talk to him afterwards. Still, he says, “It’s hard to ask out a thirty- or fortysomething as an 18-year-old, so you have to lie a little bit.”
His strategy was surprisingly effective until he got into a more serious relationship with a 33-year-old woman when he was only 20 (while claiming to be 26). When they took a trip together and he attempted to rent a car in front of her, something you have to be 25 to do, “everything came crashing down.” “I knew I couldn’t lie my way out of it,” he tells me. But he did anyway, saying he was 23. “I don’t know why, but I thought three years older was a little better. And it wasn’t as if she was gonna ask for my ID.”
They ended the relationship a month later for myriad other reasons, though Walter admits the fact that she couldn’t trust him didn’t help. “Men who need to lie about something so easy to verify have some serious concerns that what they have to offer isn’t enough,” Broek explains. “It would be difficult for any woman, not just an older one, to overlook such blatant dishonesty so early in a relationship.”
To that end, Walter is working on being more honest with both himself and others. His rock bottom came after a month-long fling with a woman more than twice his age. After meeting at a concert, where he claimed to be 33, she invited him over to play her Fazioli, “like the Rolls-Royce pianos,” and they ended up having sex. “She wanted a younger guy, I wanted to play the piano and we both knew what I had to do to play it,” he pauses. “It definitely got weird.”
He is nostalgic, however, for the excitement of maintaining a lie. He even glamorizes the act of coming clean to some extent. “Admitting to that is the ultimate test to see if someone will stick around,” he says.
On some level, Broek suspects younger men lie about their age not as a way to overcome age gaps and build relationships, but as self-sabotage. And like most other forms of self-sabotage (e.g., cheating or picking fights), such lies are often a way to protect against the pain of rejection for other reasons. “It’s much easier on a man’s ego to blame his age instead of his behavior when he gets dumped,” Broek explains.
That, then, might be the biggest lie of all.