By Annya Loya / NM News Port
A new Taylor Swift release has people talking about relationships between older men and younger women.
When the 11-time Grammy winner put out a re-recorded version of her 2012 hit album “RED” in November it brought up talk of the emotional album’s supposed inspiration, her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. He was 29 and Swift was 20 when they dated.
As a companion to the album, Swift also made a 10-minute version of her song “All Too Well” and a short film in which an actor who looks like Gyllenhal acts like a jerk and gaslights a Swift lookalike as the relationship fizzles.
The song, video, and a recent performance on Saturday Night Live have the singer’s fans, known as “Swifties” all over social media, discussing the dynamics of what they perceive as the details of Swift’s love life and arguing about the power dynamics of relationships involving big age gaps
Although Swift, at 20, was a legal adult who had been working in the music business in Nashville since she was 14 and touring since 17, some argue that the relationship was inappropriate. Others say the two were consenting adults.
We spoke with a couple of women who had dated partners significantly older or younger.
Jasmine Casillas, 22, met her partner, who’s 12 years her senior when both were students working campus jobs at UNM. They were both in relationships that ended at the same time when they realized they had a lot in common and started dating.
In the beginning, Casillas said they worried their family and friends wouldn’t approve because of the age difference. Their families and his friends were fine with it, but it took longer for her friends to come around. But as they got to know him better, they came around, she said.
“Because our age difference is so wide, there’s always a comment,” Casillas said. “I love my partner and I know he loves me.”
Still, she said she understands the issue people have with relationships such as hers and why they might not approve.
“My partner isn’t someone who’s known me since I was a child. I met him when I was an adult. We started dating consensually when I was an adult,” Casillas said.
Dating someone who’s older has been a positive thing in Casillas’ life, she said. She appreciates his experience, which has helped her navigate life without making the same mistakes.
“Don’t be so quick to judge,” she said. “People are with each other for different reasons. As long as they’re not abusive, and no one is being hurt, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Casillas said.
Relationships with big age gaps are often seen between a younger woman and an older man but that’s not always the case.
Lissa Knudsen, a 47-year-old doctoral candidate in health communication at UNM, is dating a guy who is 17 years younger. They’ve been dating for two years but they have both experienced big age gaps before.
Knudsen married her ex-husband when she was 28 and he was 50. Knudsen said while they were married she was constantly being called a “gold-digger” and a “manipulator.” Though divorced, the pair share a 17-year-old daughter and are still on good terms.
“It was interesting because he was never seen as he had the power in the relationship because he was older but that I was this manipulating woman going after his money,” Knudsen said.
She said age differences do not mean there has to be a power imbalance in the relationship. But that doesn’t stop others from making false assumptions.
“In the Taylor Swift situation, there’s this assumption that she was victimized and she was powerless. And I think that’s not really fair to Taylor Swift. Because she’s clearly proving throughout her life that she’s a very powerful person,” Knudsen said.
For example, people have mistaken Knudsen for her partner’s mother. Sometimes that’s mortifying and sometimes she just shakes it off.
“They try to stigmatize age difference couples because they don’t meet societal expectations,” she said.
Knudsen did not deny that in such relationships there could be potential power imbalance but it is simply not her situation. She also encourages that before someone assumes anything about relationships like hers, she should talk to the people involved.
Knudsen said, “This person who’s an icon of empowerment is also seen as a “needs to be protected” sort of weak, younger person. And I don’t think I agree with that. That’s not how I see Taylor Swift and I don’t think that’s how she characterizes it.”
Annya Loya is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annyaloya