Actress Demi Moore, 41, and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Ashton Kutcher, recently made headlines in Hollywood because of their 16-year age difference. But the older woman/younger man phenomenon is not limited to celebrities.
According to recent studies by AARP and U.S. Census, nearly a third of single women in America are dating their juniors and 12 percent of all marriages are between an older woman and a younger man.
The Early Show sat down with two "age gap" couples. The following are their stories:
When Frances and Douglas Nelson were both single, they each had specific dating criteria:
"I vowed I wouldn't date someone who couldn't remember where he was when Kennedy was shot," says Frances Nelson, 58.
Her husband, Douglas, 35, planned to marry somebody his own age. "I'd also liked to marry somebody tall - didn't work out," he says.
What did work out is a six-year marriage between two unlikely partners.
The obvious question: are you looking for a mommy? No, Douglas says emphatically. "I'm looking for a partner. I shepherd her when she's going nuts and she shepherds me when I'm going nuts."
Frances notes, "I've learned much more about myself; he has more confidence in me than I do."
Douglas, a part-time musician, has introduced Frances to hipper music, among other "youthening" things. And Frances was settled in a way that, Douglas says, younger women he dated never were.
He says, "There's always something different. If it was a mixed-race marriage, there would be two different sets of cultural heritages and expectations that each would bring to the relationship. Our cultural differences are that she grew up in the '60s and I grew up in the '80s."
In other words, what might have seemed like 23 years of differences can turn out to be totally harmonious.
Frances says, "I think my life is totally different because of what he brings to it."
Candace Chabannes couldn't agree more. She says life without husband Gilles would be sub par.
The two have been married 10 years. She's 50; he's 40. She jokingly refers to him as her "trophy husband."
Candace Chabannes says, "I am flattered that somebody is paying attention to somebody that I am quote: 'out with,' I like the attention!"
But while others may notice their age gap, they rarely do.
Gilles Chabannes says, "It's kind of like when your brothers and sisters you have an age difference, and towards the middle, later, you associate; you're adults now. You can relate."
And snagging a guy raised in the post-feminism era has its advantages.
Candace says, "He grew up in a generation where the mothers worked. They have these ideas that there's no role, there's no special role. One person does the dishes; the other person does the dishes."
Their age may not match in numbers, but life together just seems to add up.
Candace Chabannes says, "What attracts you, age difference or no difference, is having something in common. We have the same sense of humor. Somebody said when we met: we see things out of one eye. and we really do."
Felicia Brings, co-author of "Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance," notes for years men have dated younger women "and nobody batted an eyelash. But today, we're seeing more women who are independent, who have their own careers. They have their own money; they don't have to rely on a man to take care of them to give them status. And so like men, older men, they're allowing themselves to be with men that they choose to be with, not men they need to be with."
Brings breaks down the negative stereotypes that still keep some women from seeking a new world of relationship material. Younger men have a different sensibility than the women who might be dating their older peers.
Brings says, "Younger men came up in a post feminist world. They're comfortable with women who are independent, who are working. They don't have the mindset, 'My wife has to be home and dinner has to be on the table at a certain time.' You know? They're turned on by power rather than threatened by it. A lot of older men are threatened by a woman's power and younger men actually are drawn to that. They like that; it's sexy.
The woman not only feels younger by the nature of the relationship, Brings says. But also, "It's nice to be appreciated and to be looked up to for things that you've worked hard to achieve in your life. You don't necessarily want to be with a man who wants to sort of squash those parts of you because he's threatened by them," she says.
Brings notes dating a younger man, sexually is definitely an advantage. Men are in their prime earlier and women later. Also, younger men tend to be more open, accepting and appreciative.
Asked if it would be a problem dating a younger man because he might be less mature, Brings notes, it is not an age issue. It is a character issue. A man of 25 or 55 can be immature.
The key is to know that the person you are with is committed to a long-term relationship. Brings says, "You have to judge younger men by the same standards you judge any other men. How does he treat you? Is he a good guy? Does he treat you with respect? There are really no differences. You can't be with him because he's younger or he's cute or any of those things. You want to be with somebody who loves you and respects you and treats you like you're the most special person in his life."
Brings is in a committed relationship with a younger man herself.
Her advice for dealing with a disapproving family is to reach out and be kind. When the family realizes you are both happy, things would likely get easier, but it takes time. As for friends, she suggests having one-on-one meetings, which are more comfortable, rather than introductions to a big group of friends.