A COUPLE with a 22-year age gap — she the older, he the younger — want people to know that their love isn't "wrong" — and it's real.
Speaking to The U.S. Sun, Alex Michael, 25, and Rachel Allen, 48, detailed how they met on Tinder in the fall of 2020, overcame hurdles like generational gaps and distance, and now share their story on TikTok, where they've gone viral.
Allen and Michael opened up about the benefits of their love, the challenges they've surpassed, and what they've learned about each other since entering the two-year relationship.
"We want to show people that this is a real relationship and that these relationships are not wrong," Michael said.
The Texas-based couple met on Tinder in the fall of 2020. While living at home with his parents during the middle of the pandemic, Michael said he began putting himself out there on dating apps mainly because has bored.
Though he had never been with an older woman before, he admitted that he was curious about the idea and progressively started to tweak his age settings higher and higher, until he was lucky enough to match with his partner.
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On the other hand, Allen had just finalized her divorce after a 26-year marriage and said that she downloaded the online dating platform to "get out there, have some fun, and try something new and different."
"And one of my friends had convinced me or talked me into getting on a dating app," she explained. "So I wound up getting on one and apparently my setting were set all the way, from like zero to one hundred."
Michael made the first move and messaged her first, but she acknowledged that she didn't respond to him originally because he appeared young.
She expressed that, at the time, she was interested in the idea of dating younger men.
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After failing to have an authentic conversation, she decided to message him back as a last-ditch effort before deleting Tinder.
Though she thinks that her partner is physically attractive, Caudle clarified that her immediate attraction to him was his attentive personality, great conversation skills, and, above all, his kind eyes.
"It just felt natural. It just felt so right," Allen said happily.
She made the decision to travel to New York for a quick trip, also with the hopes that she could potentially meet Michael, whom she had been speaking with for a few weeks.
"I didn't think I'd meet her because she was in Texas, but she just offered to fly up to New York and see you, and I thought 'Jesus, this woman's crazy,'" he confessed.
According to Dr. Sarah Hill, a psychologist specializing in women and sexual health, many people have taken a carpe diem approach to life following the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s this idea that if you feel like you can’t predict what happens next, then you need to just make decisions about what feels good right now because you don’t know how things are actually going to be in the long run," the Cougar Life dating app consultant explained.
“I think that sort of in our pre-COVID world, where people felt a bit more hemmed in, in terms of what the expectations were for their behavior, you didn’t see people willing to explore their actual desires,” Hill went on.
She added that people are more willing to explore these innate desires within themselves, saying, “I don’t really care what people think,” and “[going] after what they really want.”
Allen can attest to this because she shared that after ending her long-term marriage, she was open to the idea of exploring that side of herself, which came at a time of uncertainty worldwide.
"We were just thinking we gel well. We get along well. Why not have some fun together," she explained.
Michael says he was initially attracted to Allen's beauty, but it was her confidence, maturity, and understanding attitude about his complex living situation that kept him interested.
After a long-distance relationship that consisted of trips back and forth with a stop in Miami, the duo ultimately decided for him to move from New York to Texas and be together.
"I ended up getting a job that was remote, based out of New York, and I had been in my hometown for so long, living with my parents, and I was just not very happy," Michael revealed. "Rachel [Allen] was like, you can just come down and stay with me and just worked from home and everything."
He packed a suitcase, hopped on a plane to Houston one morning, and left without telling his parents that he wasn't coming back.
According to an age-gap dating survey done by Dr. Hill in conjunction with Ipsos and Cougar Life, one of the biggest challenges associated with a relationship like this is what other people think.
“A lot of those stereotypes surrounding this idea that older party being someone who is sort of predatory and is going after the younger partner in this is really sexual way," the dating app consultant explained.
The couple quickly stated that the basis of their relationship was genuine companionship and a strong bond because of their similar interests, and they don't even think about their 22-year age gap when together.
Michael received his fair share of negative comments about his romantic partner, whom he said is "young at heart and looks and acts young."
"A lot of people have misconceptions about our relationship, like I have some kind of fetish, or that she likes to groom younger men, or that she's like my sugar mama," he disclosed.
Dr. Hill noted that there's also a stigma for being the younger partner.
"There’s this stigma that this person is a gold digger, or they’re just looking to be somebody’s boy toy and to be taken care of,” she said.
Allen shared that she is not the first person in her family to date someone significantly younger, and it was common in her family to have ten-plus years of age gaps.
Thus, her family was familiar with the concept and many people accepted their 22-year age-gap relationship quickly, which the duo document on TikTok regularly.
Allen's eldest son found out about the relationship via a viral TikTok video of them and was not the happiest about the revelation but has since come around.
On the other hand, Michael's parents are still on the fence but are warming up to the couple being together.
Based on the previously mentioned survey, Dr. Hill shared that for a younger party dating someone that’s older, research finds that really important dating benefits are emotional maturity, financial freedom, and professional success.
In addition, she shared that the benefits of dating a younger partner are things like their sexual energy, physical attractiveness, open-mindedness, and "willingness to live in the moment."
“For a long time, we believed that women only valued these qualities, that only women valued having a partner who is emotionally mature, has their act together, and is financially independent, and what we’re seeing now is that this is something that men value too," she declared.
According to the survey, the top two benefits in both female-led and male-led dating groups were physical attractiveness-sexual energy, and free spirit.
Women prioritized a younger man with a free spirit and then physical attractiveness, while men dating younger were vice versa.
Since their start, Allen and Michael have traveled around the United States and beyond to experience countless adventures together, like sky diving, rock climbing, and more.
The pair were not without their share of rifts and briefly called their relationship quits in early 2022over claims of emotional infidelity and unwelcome behavior on Michael's part.
"This is my first real, committed, exclusive type of relationship, and I think there was a combination of immaturity, stupidness, and letting bad habits kind of fester," Michael admitted.
Since he had these supposed bad habits for years from when he was single, the younger partner thinks that they carried over into this relationship, where he "glanced at girls a little too long," or was flirty on Snapchat with other women.
Allen expressed in the interview that she called Michael out on it, and said: "This ain't happening."
"Those were boundaries for her, and I violated them," he added.
In order to save their relationship and make the necessary sacrifices, Michael put in the work and showed his commitment by removing temptation and deleting his social media accounts.
The couple also worked together on Michael's mental health issues and stated that "they're better together than apart."
“It’s impossible to be in a healthy relationship that doesn’t involve some level of sacrifice because nobody is perfect and you can’t choose a partner from whom you only get benefits,” Dr. Hill declared.
The dating expert also attested that there is a double standard for female-led age gap relationships compared to male-led relationships.
“You know what we call men who date younger women? We just call them men,” she stated.
Hill mentioned this in response to women being called cougars for dating younger men, a term that Allen herself said she does not identify with and prefers not to be called, though the couple admitted that they played with the term online.
"A lot of people judge our relationship, especially when they're looking at me sometimes, but there are plenty of men out there who have girlfriends that are younger and it's totally fine," she said.
Dr. Hill explained: “Older women, we call them cougars because we’re trying to derogate them and say that it's not okay for women to be in relationships that are seeking sexual gratification, or, even just based on a genuine organic connection."
She added that there tend to be a ton of myths surrounding what age-gap relationships are all about, and wants to destigmatize them just as Allen and Michael do.
"It's just an organic connection between two people who didn’t let age get in the way," Dr. Hill affirmed.
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"It's a normal relationship, but I just happen to be older than him," Allen stated proudly in the interview.
If there was one thing that Michael believes he has taken from the relationship with his older partner is that it has made him tougher mentally, and shared that he will use it as fuel to become successful.
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