You're only as old as the boy you feel

Women are making radical choices in their relationships - seeking out younger men for companionship and fulfilment. Australia sees the spectacular rise of the toy boy…

Deborah-Lee Furness has had one for six years. Carrie Fisher says they're great for fitness and self-esteem.
Demi Moore has become more famous for hers. But Jamie Lee Curtis thinks she's already good enough without one.

Toy boys, and toy boy relationships, are hardly new things.

However, the older-woman-younger-man combination remains one of the last relationship taboos. Or is the tide of opinion changing?

Demi Moore recently created tabloid uproar when she stepped out with Ashton Kutcher, a Hollywood hunk 15 years her junior.

In the wake of stellar sanction, more and more Hollywood female stars are openly flaunting younger men by their sides.

Is this "flavour of the month" phenomenon finally tipping the scales on a long-standing taboo?

Trends in women's relationships in Australia indicate a resounding yes. Australian women are increasingly reaching out for younger men.

Historically, toy boys have not been this popular since Victorian England.

In the days of Madame Bovary, married women had large numbers of playboys pandering to them behind boudoir doors.

However, the last 10 years have seen a number of women, many of them the rich and the famous, openly seeking out younger men for companionship.

So, how much does Demi have to do with it?

Dr Millsom Henry-Waring, a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne, feels the current focus in the media has had some influence.

"What I think it does is highlight that these relationships exist and that people do it, but then it's up to the individual as to what happens," she says.

Amy Sinclair, editor of NW Magazine, says the portrayal of women in "toy boy" relationships is forging newer role models for women and affirming their right to be curious.

"I think that maybe if someone has the option of dating a man who's younger, maybe in some ways they think if Demi can do it, why can't I?"

"And they think, 'Well, it's less taboo if she does it'. But I don't think people will think 'Oh Demi's got a toy boy, I must get myself one too,'" says Sinclair.

However, she feels that what is acceptable in Hollywood may be less acceptable for women elsewhere.

"Stars are looking younger and younger these days. They have so much more at their feet and they can get whatever they want. I don't think these opportunities are there as much for the average woman," Sinclair says.

Yet these "star privileges" are also reflected in women's roles in everyday society, where career women have reversed traditional roles.

Evelyn Field, relationship psychologist and professional speaker, says women's social position has changed radically over the past 10 years influencing their appearance and power significantly.

"Now, if you say you're 40 or 50, unless you're quite overweight or have grey hair, no-one really notices. No-one thinks twice, because women now have the money to look after themselves in a very attractive way," Field says.

Women lead more fulfilling and independent lives - often comparable to Hollywood stars - meaning they feel more confident about the choices they make in their relationships.

Yvonne Allen, the founder and managing director of Yvonne Allen and Associates, one of Australia's oldest and most successful introduction agencies, feels this change in women's lifestyles may equate to the shift towards toy boys.

"Many women are forging ahead in what was once considered a man's world", she explains.

"They are successful, they are able to stand on their own feet, provide for themselves and fashion their own lives. Maybe that includes being able to say I happen to find a younger man much more attractive, just like an older man might say about a younger woman," Allen says.

This increasingly seems to be what women are saying, reflected in the growing demand for younger men her agency is receiving.

Since establishing Yvonne Allen and Associates almost 30 years ago, the number of women asking to meet younger men exclusively has risen from nil to 15 per cent.

Online dating service RSVP.com.au - based in Sydney - has also recorded a similar trend.

Hollywood sisters doing it for themselves:

  • Demi Moore, hardly looking 40, is dating Ashton Kutcher, 25
  • Carrie Fisher, 46, has admitted to a recent fling with a 23-year-old
  • Deborah-Lee Furness, 43, has been married to Hugh Jackman, 34, for six years
  • Naomi Watts, 35, has had an on-again-off-again relationship with Heath Ledger, 24
  • Sharon Stone has recently been linked with Adrien Brody, 15 years her junior
  • Cameron Diaz, 31, is dating Justin Timberlake, 22
  • Goldie Hawn, 57, found a soul mate in Kurt Russell, 51
  • Madonna, 44, married Guy Ritchie, 34, last year
  • Susan Sarandon, 56, and Tim Robbins, 44, have been together for 14 years
  • Joan Collins, 69, is a whopping 33 years older than fifth husband, Percy Gibson
  • Melanie Bowman, the website's marketing manager, says: "It appears the majority of women are happy to date someone up to five years younger than them, and the older a woman is, the more the age gap appears not to matter. They'll happily go for younger men."
    In this year's August survey, RSVP.com.au reports nearly a third of women aged 31 to 55 felt they could comfortably date a man up to 10 years younger.

    In women over 55, almost a fifth felt they would be happy with someone up to 15 years younger.

    So what is it about younger men that women are suddenly finding so attractive?

    Allen believes it is a feeling of youthfulness and status that men their age do not deliver.

    "I think it's their energy, virility, youthfulness, handsomeness in their eyes, a way of being reminded of their own youthfulness," she says.

    She also thinks that men of the same age may feel intimidated by a woman's newfound career success and earning power.

    "The reality is that younger men these days are often less intimidated by the woman who achieves. Women appreciate this because they're looking for an equal in a relationship," Allen says.

    Field believes there is more to it than that.

    Single women simply outnumber single men while men their own age are less comfortable about sharing their emotions with their partners, says Field.

    "Some younger men are more sensitive new-age types, which you don't get with the older Aussie. I mean, once you get an Aussie male over 55, he's a pretty contained sort of person. They don't share their feelings or show their love as much," she says.

    Is this generation of Australian men and woman simply growing apart?

    Dr Henry-Waring suggests women perhaps think they can teach a younger man newer tricks.

    "I think there might be an issue about men understanding the new woman generally, but I don't think that it necessarily applies to Australian men exclusively," she says.

    But what needs to be understood, says Yvonne Allen, is that women essentially desire a companion who can make them feel secure and attractive.

    "One of the things I find very important for us to come to grips with is the fact that we are not all about age. Some people are old at 20, they're never going to move, change or grow. Some people are exciting in their 70s, " she says.

    "But who is to judge? If the relationship works for the couple, that's all that matters. If two people have something really good for both of them, God bless them," Allen concludes.