May-December love affairs have always piqued our curiosity, but they’re especially titillating when May is the gent, December is the lady and both are famous.
Such younger men/older women romances are all the more captivating when May is 27-year-old Ashton Kutcher (search), December is 42-year-old Demi Moore (search) and there are three children and a secret wedding in the mix.
"The power and potency of an attractive woman like Demi, who could have anyone for a husband, and all the beautiful young models and starlets Ashton could have — it is a big statement," Susan Winter, co-author of the 2000 book "Older Women, Younger Men," (search) said of the marriage.
Judging from all the attention the lovebirds get and the fact that more TV shows and movies have older women/younger men relationships in their storylines — like "Prime" (search), which opens this weekend — the phenomenon obviously still fascinates people.
"It's always been sort of taboo, because our traditional image of a relationship is that the man would be older and the woman a little bit younger," said Albert Lee, senior editor at Us Weekly. "It's always going to cause a little bit of intrigue."
But it's also becoming more accepted.
“Hollywood is just going to reflect reality, and the reality is that on and off the screen, people are having these Ashton-Demi types of relationships,” Lee said. “It may be less scandalous, but it’s still going to be talked about — just because it’s against the norm.”
After a 2 1/2-year courtship, Kutcher and Moore tied the knot last month in a hush-hush ceremony. It's the first marriage for Kutcher and the third for Moore, who was married for almost 13 years to Bruce Willis (search), with whom she has three children, and to rocker Freddie Moore (search) from 1980 to 1984.
Since the current Mr. and Mrs. Moore got together, the tabloids, paparazzi, entertainment media and general public have been mesmerized.
"Talk about meeting your soul mate," the actress told Harper's Bazaar in its September issue. "I truly feel I have been given that gift."
She also addressed her age in the interview, though didn't say much about the age difference between her and Kutcher.
"It's been a challenging few years, being the age I am, with so much focus now on how I look," Moore told the magazine.
Moore and Kutcher also spoofed the gap on "Saturday Night Live," with Moore playing an elderly woman to Kutcher's young stud. Kutcher has even been talking about producing a sitcom pilot loosely based on their relationship.
Despite the press' and fans' particular obsession with them, Ashton and Demi are certainly not the only couple of their kind in Hollywood. Some broke the mold years ago, such as 59-year-old Susan Sarandon (search) and 47-year-old Tim Robbins (search).
"Age hasn't been a factor," Robbins told Playboy in 1995. "Each person is who they are. I've met young women who are old; I've met older women who are young."
Couples with comparable age gaps are actually a growing throng: Cameron Diaz (search), 33, and Justin Timberlake (search), 24; Madonna (search), 47, and Guy Ritchie (search), 37; Barbara Hershey (search), 57, and Naveen Andrews (search), 36; Geena Davis (search), 49, and Reza Jarrahy (search), 34; Courteney Cox (search), 41, and David Arquette (search), 34; Julianne Moore (search), 44, and Bart Freundlich (search), 35; Sheryl Crow (search), 43, and Lance Armstrong (search), 34; and Francesca Annis (search), 61, and Ralph Fiennes (search), 42, among others.
"I've always been attracted to older women," Andrews told the London Daily Mail this year. "They look infinitely better to me."
Davis joked about the age difference between her and her husband when they got engaged in 2000, saying their maturity levels compensated.
"I'm 44 going on 29, and he's 29 going on 32, so I'm the young one in this relationship," Inside TV quoted her as saying then.
Not all the relationships work out — take Naomi Watts (search), now 37, and Heath Ledger (search), now 26, who split last year — but then again, Hollywood romances are inclined to be fleeting, whether several years separate the couple or not.
In the movies, the "older woman" theme has been slinking into the occasional film at least since "Sunset Blvd." (1950) and most famously with the legendary Mrs. Robinson (search) in "The Graduate" (1967).
"Tadpole" (2002), "American Pie" (1999), "Gosford Park" (2001), "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988) and a smattering of other films have also woven the "sexy mature woman" thread into their plots — but they haven't usually been flattering portrayals.
"In the movies, their angle has been slanted toward the older woman who's pathetic or manipulative or she loses out," said Winter, whose book with Felicia Brings was inspired by relationships both writers had with younger men.
But now the new film "Prime" — starring Uma Thurman (search) as the "mature woman" (whose character, Rafi, is all of 37); Bryan Greenberg (search) as her younger, 23-year-old boyfriend, Dave; and Meryl Streep (search) as her therapist, Lisa — is a romantic comedy that's all about such a relationship.
And in this case, there's no trace of the seductress, the manipulator or the desperate has-been in Rafi, or the goofy, immature man-child in Dave.
"It was very current. It reflects what's going on now in society," said Clarissa Cruz, a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly. "Older women these days are in shape, they're sexy, they're vibrant, they have these great careers ...
"Uma Thurman is hot. There's no question why he would be attracted to her. And it's not like he is the boy toy, either."
The movie "Proof" — based on the well-known play by the film's screenwriter David Auburn and starring Gwyneth Paltrow (search), Jake Gyllenhaal (search) and Anthony Hopkins (search) — has Paltrow's and Gyllenhaal's characters in such a relationship, though it's not the central plot. And TV shows have also been tackling this kind of May-December romance with increasing frequency.
On "Sex and the City" (search), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has a serious, lasting, loving relationship with a much younger man whom she is still with when the show ends. On "Desperate Housewives" (search), Eva Longoria (search)'s character, the bored-and-married Gabrielle Solis, has a love affair with the very young gardener John Rowland, played by Jesse Metcalfe (search). Kutcher's sitcom, if it happens, would be another addition to the genre.
"It's becoming more acceptable, and films and TV shows are responding to that," Cruz said.
But the older women/younger men trend certainly wasn't always OK.
"It really was another story before: It wasn't, 'You go girl!'; it was, 'You get out of town, girl!'" White said. "They would never ask a man about a 15- to 20-year age difference when he's older."
There is still something of a double standard, with less shock and fewer questions when older men and much younger women wind up together. And movies continue to incorporate the more common kind of age differential, like "Shopgirl," in which Steve Martin's 50-something Ray has a relationship with Claire Danes' 20-something Mirabelle.
Still, older women have been pairing up with younger men in the real world and offscreen in Hollywood for ages (pardon the pun).
"To state the obvious, men and women hit their sexual peak at different ages. A lot of these kinds of relationships have a lot to do with that," Lee said. "And a lot of men are attracted to older women. The older woman has poise, is more confident and can teach the younger man how to be an adult, not just sexually but emotionally."
John Brandt, a 23-year-old production assistant for FOX News in Washington, said when he first met his now 32-year-old girlfriend, he didn't know how old she was. But when he found out, he said, "I was kind of surprised for a moment, but I just got over it. It wasn't that big a deal."
And the gap hasn't detracted from the relationship at all. If anything, it's enhanced it, according to Brandt.
"We have the same maturity level and shared interests," he said. "She's more confident, she knows what she wants. I don't have time to play guessing games. ... She's definitely the best girlfriend I've ever had, by a long shot. She's awesome."
And if films like "Prime" and couples like Demi and Ashton are doing anything for those of us commonfolk, it's making the updated May-Decembers less forbidden.
Said Winter: "Hollywood does liberate us, because they are not held to the rules of this world."