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.

Category: Coffeehouse

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10 Responses to The Maturity Myth

  1. Abel says:

    When I first met Marathon Girl I was 27 and she was 23. I was shocked about a month later when I found out she was four years younger than myself. I thought she was at least my age or older because she had a good job, lived on her own, and acted like a responsible adult. (Most 23-year-olds I knew were either still in school and/or still living with their parents and had menial jobs.)

    Marathon Girl’s maturity was in stark contrast to the other woman I was dating at the time who was 29, still in school, living at home, and unemployed. I found Marathon Girl’s maturity extremely attractive and was one of the main reasons I ended up dumping the other girl. I wanted to spend my life with someone who wasn’t afraid to be independent and knew what she wanted from life. (All detailed when my book comes out in September.) I have no regrets about that decision.

  2. trumwill says:

    It’s particularly impressive that your wife would take on the emotional responsibilities of being involved with a widower who lost a child. Most 23 year olds wouldn’t do that, for sure.

    I don’t think anyone is begrudging 27/23, or at least I’m not. Paths start diverging pretty seriously after 18. People are allowed or expected to take on entirely different sets of responsibilities you can’t when you’re 16. Now if you were 17 and she were 13, that would be a different story!

  3. Abel says:

    I don’t think 27/23 is a big deal to anyone. But I think my experience and your stories shows that people are generally attracted others who are close to the same maturity as themselves. In the case of the 19 year old guys who had 14 year old girl friends, I think it shows how immaturity of the guys if all they can catch are young girls. As you said, there’s lots of other issues that obscures the age difference when they’re that young.

  4. Becky says:

    Damn, I just wrote out this long comment but your spam protection deleted:(

  5. trumwill says:

    I’m terribly sorry to hear that, Becky. I just looked in my moderation queue (which is where most suspected spam goes) and it wasn’t there.

  6. Spungen says:

    You’re right, what people call maturity in young people is often an euphemism for “streetwise,” or “graduate of the school of hard knocks” or (in women) “looking for a father figure.” The type of “mature” young person who is a high achiever and responsible generally doesn’t want much older people, he or she wants similar young people.

    I think it’s bunk that girls mature faster than boys. We mature faster physically, and the difference between mature and immature isn’t as stark. But emotionally, no, I don’t see it.

  7. trumwill says:

    I think it’s bunk that girls mature faster than boys. We mature faster physically, and the difference between mature and immature isn’t as stark. But emotionally, no, I don’t see it.

    You know, come to think of it it’s awfully hard to measure maturity between genders because they so often express their immaturity in different ways.

  8. logtar says:

    I have not had a successful relationship with someone younger. Not sure why but it just does not work. While I would like to talk about love in a relationship… I believe that must people under 25 don’t know who they are and even less about what love is.

    I also want to note that maturity has little to do with age and more with experiences like the girl in your story. We are shaped by what we have to go through and I know plenty of 40 year olds that are still 16 in their maturity leveil

  9. logtar says:

    One last thing I thought about after I hit submit… it is easier to stay in behind in maturity level, lets say 18 year old forever, than it is to step ahead… while it is possible it is a lot harder.

  10. trumwill says:

    I also want to note that maturity has little to do with age and more with experiences like the girl in your story.

    But for the most part, within a society the experiences are pretty similar (up until 18, anyway) and so maturity level doesn’t vary too greatly except for the outliers.

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