Leonardo DiCaprio's breakup, Demi Lovato's '29' and criticism around relationship age gaps
When reports emerged that Leonardo DiCaprio, 47, had called it quits with girlfriend Camila Morrone, 25, the internet had plenty to say about the actor famous for starring in some of Hollywood's biggest films over the past three decades – and for solely dating women born after said career began.
"'Titanic' turns 25 this year, at which point I assume Leonardo DiCaprio will no longer want to be in it," one social media user tweeted. "3 things are certain in life: death, taxes (and) Leonardo DiCaprio breaking up with his girlfriend before her pre-frontal cortex has fully developed," another joked.
The discourse surrounding DiCaprio's breakup is emblematic of a larger trend lately of reexamining celebrity relationships with wide age gaps: Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift have both used songs to call out their significantly older exes for dating them when they were in their late teens and early 20s. Fans in turn have used situations like DiCaprio, Lovato's and Swift's to call out gender and power imbalances in relationships.
"We’ve reached an inflection point," says Andrea McDonnell, associate professor of communication at Providence College, citing issues such as the #MeToo movement, recent documentaries calling out famous men's misconduct and abuse, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Previous story: Leonardo DiCaprio's girlfriend Camila Morrone breaks her silence on their 22-year age gap
"There’s a sense that the status quo for women is not working," McDonnell adds of the dating scene and beyond. "And so on social media and in the public discourse, you’re seeing the Leo split as one example where folks are able to point out and mock his behavior as a way of pushing back."
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Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and the history of younger female celebrities dating older men
Hollywood has a storied history of famous couples with notable age gaps: stars such as Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Boggart (25-year gap) or Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio (12-year gap). Even more recently, Kylie Jenner and Tyga (who met when Jenner was 14 and Tyga was 21) and Florence Pugh and Zach Braff (21-year gap) raised eyebrows, as have several of Scott Disick's relationships.
It's a tale as old as the silver screen thanks to the love affair fans have had with the idea of two co-stars falling in love on set – and it was and is "common for older leading men to be cast opposite much younger romantic female leads," McDonnell notes.
"Like much of the media, casting in films both reflects and shapes the culture," McDonnell adds. "It reflects a society in which youth and beauty are highly valued in women and in which older men are associated with wisdom, prowess and power often through wealth."
Relationship age gaps are prevalent no matter the couple's genders, such as Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles, Holland Taylor and Sarah Paulson, and Elton John and David Furnish, though it's more commonly called out in cases with older men and younger women.
Now, some are calling out their former partners after feeling taken advantage of. Take Lovato's single "29," which has been adopted by myriad TikTok creators calling out their own past relationships.
"Finally 29 / Funny, just like you were at the time / Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy / But was it yours or was it mine? 17, 29," Lovato sings in "29," rumored to be about ex Wilmer Valderrama, now 42.
Lovato said in a 2015 interview with Ryan Seacrest that the two first met when she was 17, at which point Valderrama said she was too young for him. Seacrest told the then-22-year-old Lovato that they were still too young to date Valderrama, then 35.
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When Taylor Swift, 32, re-released her 2012 album "Red" last fall, she updated her breakup ballad "All Too Well," allegedly about actor Jake Gyllenhaal (who is nine years her senior) to include callouts to their age difference.
"And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes / 'I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age,' " Swift sings. Earlier in the song, she also references her ex missing her 21st birthday party.
And prior to her relationship with Gyllenhaal, Swift dated singer John Mayer when she was 19 and he was 32 ("Don't you think 19 is too young / To be played by your dark twisted games, when I loved you so?" she sings in 2010's "Dear John"). Both men have faced critiques on social media about dating younger women in wake of Swift's re-recorded albums.
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What can we learn from these relationships?
As long as both parties are over 18, these relationships are legal – so what's the issue? Developmental and relationship experts cite power imbalances – which relationships with older men and younger women can be susceptible to – as a sign that a relationship may not be appropriate.
"When it comes to dating, date within an age range where you feel confident and comfortable," says Rori Sassoon, a relationship expert and matchmaker, urging singles to find a partner with similar "levels of life experience and intentions of the relationship."
This Leonardo DiCaprio graph where he continues to get older and his girlfriends never age above 25 lives rent-free in my head. pic.twitter.com/bHlhw7Evmg
— Sarah Lerner (@SarahLerner) August 31, 2022
Meghan Gillen, an associate professor of psychology at Penn State Abington who studies developmental psychology and body image, encourages individuals in similar experiences to evaluate the situation for themselves: "Does it feel appropriate? Does it feel comfortable? Do you feel like you can relate to the person … or do you feel like the person has power over you?"
Famous or not, couples can gain status from a relationship with an age gap. But younger partners in particular also need to be wary of the gender, social and power dynamics at play.
"Significant age gap relationships require more work than the average relationship, from the public’s perception alone," Sassoon says. "If you’re only in it to feed your ego, beware."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Leonardo DiCaprio, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato: Celeb dating age gaps