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Where do we draw the line when it comes to age gaps in relationships?


By Sarah Gill
02nd Aug 2022

ITV

Where do we draw the line when it comes to age gaps in relationships?

This year’s 'Love Island' has brought the pervasive issue of age gap relationships back to the fore of society's subconscious.

After ten long weeks, Love Island 2022 has come to an end, and staying true to form, the reality dating show caused its fair share of controversy.

While temper tantrums and so-called chaldish behaviour reigned supreme on past seasons, this year’s instalment hit a nerve early on with the casting of a 19-year-old girl in a villa with men up to ten years her senior.

Gemma Owens became one of the youngest islanders to ever enter the villa, and in week one, when she coupled up with newcomer Davide Sanclimenti — a 27-year-old Italian stallion — ITV was inundated with a grand total of 167 complaints in relation to their eight year age gap.

Whether or not it was a conversation orchestrated by worried producers, the pair addressed their age differences while sitting poolside.

“What do you think about the fact that I am much older than you? I mean, you are not bothered by that?” Davide asked, to which Gemma responded that it was not an issue for her, and has dated guys that were much older than her in the past too. “It’s not something that I’m not used to or that you’re the only one or anything like that, it’s very normal for me.”

When it rains, it pours, and when Gemma’s ex-boyfriend Jacques O’Neill joined the islanders days later, age gap complaints reached 250. This time, the public were raising their concerns for the fact that Jacques dated Gemma when he was 20 or 21, and she was 16 or 17.

There have since been comments circulating online that the ITV reality dating show ought to up its age restriction. Since the 19-year-old wouldn’t be eligible to get into an over-21s bar in the outside world, living on the isle of love for ten weeks with men ten years her senior is certainly questionable.

age gap

Of course, problematic age gaps have existed in relationships long before Love Island was aired, and they’ll likely continue long into the future. Did you know that there’s an 11 year age gap between everyone’s favourite Hollywood couple, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively?

George Clooney is 17 years older than his wife Amal, Jay-Z has 12 years on Beyoncé, Michael Douglas is 25 years Catherine Zeta-Jones’s senior — you get the picture. Hell, 47-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio has had a steady stream of 20-something year olds on rotation for so long that it’s become a running joke.

Remember when a 38-year-old Bradley Cooper enjoyed a very meta moment in a Parisian park, reading Lolita to his then-21-year-old girlfriend, Suki Waterhouse? Yeah, me too.

In the early days of the sitcom Friends, Monica and Richard enjoyed a whirlwind romance that only ended when Monica realised she wanted to start a family, but he did not. Though there were plenty of jibes and jokes about their age gap, Richard was a family friend of the Gellar clan, he watched Monica grow up. How do you go from looking at someone as the daughter of a pal, to a potential sexual partner?

Late last year, Keanu Reeves was trending on Twitter when he was photographed with his “age appropriate” new partner, Alexandra Grant. For context, he’s 57 and she’s 49. The same age gap that’s between Love Island‘s Gemma and Davide, so who decides what’s deemed appropriate and what’s deemed problematic?

age gap

Think back to the release of The Graduate in 1967, a film which saw a young man have an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, a woman twice his age. Though in real life, Dustin Hoffman was only six years younger than Anne Bancroft, Mrs Robinson set a new trope in motion: the seductress.

From the OG MILF taking the form of Stifler’s mom in American Pie to Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’, a young boy being seduced by an older woman was seen as something akin to a badge of honour.

However, when Harry Styles was in a relationship with Caroline Flack — he was 17, she was 31 — they received a serious amount of backlash. Now, Styles is dating filmmaker Olivia Wilde and though she is ten years older, their relationship does not receive that same scrutiny. In that same vein, there’s an eleven year age gap between Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, but no one seems to bat an eye.

It all comes down to consenting adults existing on a level playing field. While conversations around grooming, predatory behaviours and power imbalances are incredibly important in this context, a double standard continues to exist. At the end of the day, vigilance is vital, but as we can see, people can enjoy healthy connections with those much older, and much younger. Context is key.