There’s a heated discussion going on over at Half Sigma about the appropriateness of statutory rape laws regarding sex and minors. I’m not going to touch that with a ten-foot cattle prod at the moment, but I thought I would comment on one of “Gannon’s” arguments in opposition to the laws: Some girls are really mature for their age.
As it turns out I got involved in a certain social circle growing up where relationships between older guys and younger girls was not at all uncommon. In fact, the guy that Tracy jilted me for was 23 and she was sixteen and the age gap was barely on the periphery of the circle’s discussion. I knew a 19/14 couple in which age was the least of the issues between them. One guy I knew dated a 33 year old when he was 18 and then married a 17 year old girl when he was 23. And that’s excluding the DJ, who was one of the few that manage to escape our very wide range of acceptability. And even then only barely.
The argument went like this: we all mature at different rates. Girls, on average, mature faster than boys. Some girls, as though touched by the scepter of the mighty Jove, are considerably more mature than their peers. When this is the case, it makes more sense for her to be with a more “mature” (read: older) guy than for her to waste time with her “immature” friends.
Looking back over ten years later, I can safely say that was a hot, heapin’ helpin’ of crap. But it was a feast in which we all have incentive to dine. It allowed guys to go after younger women with moral impugnity. Some were guys that could not get girls there own age, some were genuinely more comfortable about the younger set, others simply enjoyed the malleability of the younger ones, and the particularly odious ones (who were relatively few) enjoyed tainting innocence. And it allowed the girls the self-esteem boost of feeling superior to the guys around it and a chance to feel outright womanly at the tender age of 15.
If we were serious about pursuing this theory to its logical conclusion, we would have to have admitted that the opposite was true as well: if a 15 year old girl that dates a 23 year old guy is mature for her age, a 23 year old guy that dates a 15 year old girl is immature. But we never thought of it that way. That was a bummer and we were all about empowerment! In reality we used a certain circular logic that any 15 year old that’s willing to date a 23 year old must be mature for her age because… well because she’s willing to date a 23 year old.
I remember a late-night conversation I had with my best friend Clint, wherein we were talking about a younger, pretty girl that had at one point or another been interested in each of us. We were talking about the maturity theory and that girls can be mature for their age. I can’t remember which one of us came out with it, but one of us said “But she’s not, really. Is she.” It wasn’t really a question. “No. She’s not.”
That sent a ripple through our perspective on the matter. The truth is we weren’t even looking for sex. We were so inexperienced that we only had a vague idea of what sex was (in addition to celibate, we were insufficiently familiar with pornography). But we did want a girlfriend in a dopey John Hughes kind of way. And we’d moved heaven and earth to convince ourselves it that the ends would justify the means if we broadened our horizons just enough. But at some point we were able to take a step back and admit to ourselves that no matter how much we wanted to, we had nothing in common with these younger girls. We considered it a shame, though of course looking back it was actually a sign that we weren’t as warped as we thought we were and that good things would catch up with us in time.
Maturity is not something that magically happens. It is something that occurs with growth and growth occurs in conjunction with responsibility. Most sixteen year olds, boys and girls, have relatively similar sets of responsibilities. Even responsible teenagers have very limited responsibilities from the perspective of an adult. They have varying degrees of fake responsibilities wherein if they don’t live up to them the consequences are minor and/or are not immediate. Whether or not we consider this a good thing is open for debate, but right now it is what it is. And as long as expectations don’t vary too greatly, neither will maturity vary outside of certain parameters too often.
With that in mind, I have known some young ladies that were mature for their age. I was vaguely involved with one significantly younger girl that at least acted more mature than most women my own age. But that was because her father ditched her, her mother was never sober, and she was more-or-less taking care of herself since she was 14. Far from being an accomplishment her maturity was instead a sign of tragedy. And even then we had come by our maturity in such different ways that it was hard for us to break through. Even then, she needed someone that could relate to her experiences, not just her maturity level.
So as such, I am generally pretty suspicious of relationships where the age gap is too wide, particularly in the younger years. Looking back at those relationships I saw with the 19 year old guys and 14 year old girls, the only reason their years didn’t matter was because there was hidden in the tall grass of all their other problems. I do think that sometimes two wrongs make a right and such relationships can work out in the long run, but I think when it does it’s usually as much a sign of personal, familial, or cultural failure as it is true love finding its way against all odds.
On a side-note, a slight touch of irony is that as much as I’d flirted with the idea of dating younger, almost all of my successful relationships have been with people very close to my own age or slightly older.