A 2003 study by AARP revealed that 34 percent of all women over 40 in the survey were dating younger men, and 35 percent preferred it to dating older men. Quite frankly, his mother made it so impossible," Winter says of the six-year relationship, which inspired her book."Societal attitudes have definitely changed," says Susan Winter, 52, co-author of "Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance" -- and she would know. "But (that kind of discrimination) would not be allowable now." Hollywood in particular has defied the ageism stereotype, with celebrities like Madonna and Demi Moore marrying significantly younger men (a 10- and 15-year age gap, respectively, with director Guy Ritchie and actor Ashton Kutcher), and the public has come to accept it."He thinks it's cool that I am comfortable in my sexuality," says Pender."He likes that I am secure in our relationship and I have my own things to do without him." Indeed, the idea of dating an older woman is titillating for some younger guys.Jeremy Abelson, a self-styled dating impresario who organized the Natural Selection Speed Date event that paired wealthy bachelors with beautiful women this past February in New York City, can see the appeal.Mary Pender, 37, a high school special education teacher in Huntington Beach, California, connected with a truck driver seven years her junior who she met on an online dating site.Though she'd always dated older men before, she "thought it was exciting to date someone younger" -- and, as it turned out, he thought it'd be just as exciting a match.
Moreover, says Winter, women have experienced a significant financial and status shift over the past half-century.
"When women as a group are able to have their own economic and social standing and have a power base, they are now able to pick the man that they want rather than having to choose the man to support them and give them social status," Winter explains.
"Now we have choices." But these relationships aren't always portrayed in a positive light.
Terms like "cougar" (slang for an older woman seeking a younger man) depict the woman as a predator, rather than an empowered, independent and loving person.
But high-profile Hollywood couples like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12 years her junior) -- who met and began dating while filming an on-screen romance in the 1988 movie "Bull Durham" -- have proven that life can indeed imitate art when it comes to matters of the heart.Theirs, however, is a real-life love story of an older woman and younger man -- something that is not so uncommon nowadays.