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All of my theories about why I was drawn to older men were partially true, but I never owned—or wanted to own—the most obvious: I was a product and a perpetuator of society’s collective messaging and conditioning that implies a man is valued in his older age and a woman is not.

An unspoken implication in the older man, younger woman dynamic, whether it’s fully understood or even conscious, is that men get better with age: They get more emotionally mature and financially stable; women, on the other hand, slip out of the realm of desirability, lose their sense of adventure and potency, and, as the years roll on, accumulate cumbersome emotional baggage.

But the grander point is this: I had been far more entrenched in the muck of our collective experience than I’d cared to admit.

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They are single threads in a larger tapestry, individual experiences framed within a larger, cultural context.

We are in it, we are of it, and we are perhaps just beginning to understand how to flex the collective power of that.

He was the founder of the alternative learning space I worked for, a school that taught young children how to express their emotions. At first we’d meet at restaurants and go on outings around town with other friends, but soon there were long, late-night conversations that led to kissing on the edge of my bed. My mother had always taught me that a good man would do exactly that, and even though the urban, progressive elite in me scoffed at that idea, in practice I acquiesced to it quite easily. After sneaking into a local circus to see the elephants, we ended up on the street outside a strip mall.

I was impressed by a man so invested in emotional intelligence. From a nearby cart, Sam bought a thick wedge of , a rolled leaf with areca nut and tobacco that’s meant to be chewed and spit out for a momentary high.

But, until recently, nothing really got to the heart of it. It’s all of us.” Something about the way she said it made me stop short.

I was on the phone with a friend, musing about my relationship patterns, when the proverbial light bulb went off. It had never occurred to me that the forces behind my May-December romances weren’t all that unique. My relationships had happened in a social vacuum, one in which the rules of engagement had patriarchy written all over them.

The firm friend, both 25, showed just how it's done with Lovato looking lovely in lilac while Gomez opted for classic black.

The stars were out in force at the In Style Awards, including Demi Lovato who looked resplendent in a lovely lilac dress by Alice Olivia.

It’s reflected back to us everywhere: in the media, in movies and magazines, and in our professional and personal lives.

It’s , Woody Allen and almost every Woody Allen film; it’s our current president; your female co-worker who has an affair with her much older male boss; it’s the neighbor down the street whose second wife is half his age.

It was an unspoken transaction, a power dynamic that discreetly entitled him to my compliance and affection, an undercurrent that I don’t think either of us perceived at the time.