When it comes to dating, there's always been a double standard about age gaps. An older man who dates a much younger woman is often applauded, while an older woman who sets her sights on a younger man is typically met with side glances and referred to as a "cougar."
Still, recent research suggests that a rising number of younger men are seeking older women and vice versa. Case in point? One survey found that 81% of women are open to dating someone 10 years younger than they are, and nearly 90% of men are interested in dating someone 10 years older.
TODAY special anchor Maria Shriver was curious to know why these relationships are becoming more common, so she sat down with several couples and a dating expert to dig deeper into this rising trend.
"The pool is already so small to find the right person for yourself. Why are we making it even smaller? Men don't."
Maria spoke with matchmaker Julia Spira, who says she's been noticing this shift in the dating game for quite some time.
"Women are now going to be dating like men," she explained. "These days, women have the economic power, they've got great careers, so they aren't necessarily looking for somebody to be their equal on a bank statement."
Three couples, whose age differences ranged from 6-20 years, also joined in on the conversation. Tracy Tutor, a 46-year-old real estate agent, and Erik Anderson, a 26-year-old personal trainer, star in the hit Bravo TV show "Million Dollar Listing LA." Anderson told Maria what originally inspired him to ask Tutor out.
"The younger girls, they really don't know what they want, and they're kind of lost. And then I feel lost. And then I saw her confidence and I was so attracted by just how she works really hard for what she wants."
Tutor also found Anderson's forward-thinking perspective refreshing.
"Until I met Erik, I went out with a ton of men who were attracted innately to the fact that I was confident, successful — until we were alone. And then it was, like, 'Oh, I don't want you to have too much of an opinion,' right? Like, I like the idea of you, but not really," she explained.
Laquelle Mills is six years older than her partner, Malik Rashid, and makes more money than he does, but she appreciates the fact that he can provide for her in a different way: through communication.
"I definitely think he's a better communicator than me. I think this generation, I believe that they're more fearless, they're able to say how they feel in that moment, handle it and move forth," she said.
Rashid is also not threatened by his partner's higher income.
"I'm not concerned with my woman making more money than me at all," he said.
Colin Willard is 16 years younger than his partner, Theresa Gage, and he believes that he has something more important to offer her than a massive salary.
"The younger generation of men see that being a good partner (means) making sure your woman's fulfilled emotionally and mentally and physically," he said.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for these couples, and they admitted that contending with outside judgments on their age gap can be challenging.
"A lot of the judgment actually comes from women. With the movements that have been happening, why now would you choose to judge another woman for embracing her sexuality and her own strength and choosing to date someone younger, that would never be judged by a man dating 30 or 40 years younger?" Tutor said.
Gage also acknowledged that many women who date younger men tend to worry that their partners will move on and find someone younger.
"You know, in the beginning I think it was definitely part of our conversation, like, 'Are you going to trade me in for a younger model?' And his answer was, 'Well, you might trade me in for a younger model,'" she said and laughed.
Still, Tutor said it's worth putting yourself out there because you never know who your perfect match might be.
"The pool is already so small to find the right person for yourself. Why are we making it even smaller? Men don't. Why should women?" she said.