A common rule of thumb when it comes to dating is that it’s OK to be interested in someone who is half your age, plus seven years. However, the rise of the "older woman-younger man" relationship has loosened this relationship convention and instead celebrates the age-gap romance. According to a survey by dating website EliteSingles, 20-something men actually have a preference for older women three to six years older than themselves.

The biological theory has always been men prefer younger women because they are likely to bear more children, while women prefer older men because they offer resources and stability. But evolving gender roles in modern society have led to more equality between the sexes, challenging this antiquated notion for men. Sam Owen, ElitesSingles Partner psychologist, believes "young men nowadays probably also recognize that older women are adept at diligently juggling so many responsibilities (career, children, housekeeping, fitness, finances, socializing), which makes them intriguing and attractive and a more secure option."

The dating website analyzed the upper and lower age search limits for more than 450,000 of its members to reveal the age of a man and a woman’s perfect partner. The survey found men aged 20 to 29 prefer older women to younger ones, and women preferred a younger man as they age, according to YourTango. This contradicts the stereotype that all men are focused on finding a youthful partner, as these singles indicate a preference for a partner three to six years older than themselves.

Similar to their younger male counterparts, younger women have reflected this interest in older men. Women between 20 and 29 years old desire men who are up to 10 years their senior and no younger than up to three years. This affirms the stereotype that younger women do seek older men because they tend to be emotionally mature, have more financial freedom, and have an established career that lets them devote more time to a relationship and fatherhood.

Shifting back to the older woman-younger man relationship dynamic, it has garnered a collective gasp from society. Despite celebrities like Demi Moore and Mariah Carey marrying men who are over a decade their junior, the public still struggles to come to grips with these romances. Age-gap romances, though, do actually leave more room for gender equality, which tends to make couples happier.

A 2008 study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly found women who are 10 or more years older than their partner report more satisfaction and relationship commitment compared to women who are the same age or younger than their partner. The success of these age-gap romantic relationships may be attributed to the vitality the younger man brings into their lives and the maturity and confidence men find in their older counterparts. Moreover, regardless of the age, men seem to be more strongly drawn to these relationships at the start because of physical attraction.

The rise of older woman-younger man relationship celebrates the beauty of the aging woman and her active role and power in society. To call these women “cougars” has a predatory connotation that is not accurate, considering these younger men are just as eager as the women to initiate the age-gap romance. These women are not mother substitutes either who are “robbing the cradle,” but instead are an example of the modern day woman who knows what she wants and goes after it.

After all, “age ain’t nothing but a number.”

Source: Agnew CR and Lehmiller JJ. Commitment in Age-Gap Heterosexual Romantic Relationships: A Test of Evolutionary and Socio-Cultural Predictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 2008.