It’s inevitable that, when one of the internet's boyfriends settles down, his fans will freak out over the news. It’s a cycle as old as celebrity itself, whether it’s Elvis marrying Priscilla, the Beatles' various couplings, or the One Direction guys sowing their wild oats. So, the news that Chris Evans, America’s ass, had married Warrior Nun star Alba Baptista was always going to make some of his more ardent fans a little frenetic. It was also sadly unsurprising that the reports elicited a startling level of misogyny towards Baptista and a renewed cycle of discourse over their age gap. Evans, who has never been married before, is 42. Baptista is 26.
There is something about a prominent couple with an age gap that inspires some of the more questionable opinions in online fandom. Very real questions about power dynamics and the historical mistreatment of younger women at the hands of older men quickly give way to a kind of concern-trolling that further reduces these celebrities to something less than human. In the case of Evans and Baptista, it’s led to people calling Baptista a “child bride” and Evans being labeled predatory. Some started to scream about how our brains don’t fully develop until we’re in our mid-20s, so by that logic, Baptista isn’t mentally capable of consenting to dating a fellow adult.
This particular strain of exaggerated panic over couples with any sort of age gap over, in general, 15 years has exploded in visibility across fandom. Some of it has come from a caring and reasonable place, but when two consenting adults face cries of grooming because one is in their mid-20s, it feels like something has gone very wrong in our wider understanding of consent.
It’s tough to ignore how much of this supposed concern is a mere shield for the same glut of garden variety misogyny we see directed at the spouses of the internet's favorite male celebrities every day. Either the woman is a powerless child who isn't mentally mature enough to consent or she’s an aged harpy preying on the essence of young men. We saw how thoroughly the latter was applied to Olivia Wilde when she dated Harry Styles, wherein she was labeled a predator for dating a multimillionaire who was pushing 30. One of the most insidious tools of delusional fandom is to infantilize their subjects, to invalidate the choices of adults by stripping them of their agency on all matters. This is how you get Club Chalamet-style antics, with so-called fans asserting their moral dominance over total strangers to justify baseless anger and casual sexism. After all, it’s not as though Evans' fans were especially kind to Jenny Slate when they dated.
There’s a weary predictability about seeing a 40-something famous dude settle down with a younger woman. It’s a tale as old as Hollywood, an inevitable consequence of an industry that fetishizes youth and writes women off as grandmas in waiting when they turn 30. We’ve long had to swallow the lie that women’s worth is limited to their child-bearing years. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn't had at least one dodgy experience with a man, whether it's being leered at on the street, abused in their own homes, or turned into a public spectacle for the most basic of errors. I personally know too many women who thought they'd met their dream older guy as a teen, unaware of the predatory intentions behind their desires.
Young women and girls have long been molded into the meek, compliant ideal. It wasn’t all that long ago that the entertainment world readily endorsed middle-aged men literally grooming girls. Rolling Stone member Bill Wyman met his wife, Mandy Smith, when she was 14 and the press documented the pairing with leering excitement. Smith faced massive amounts of slut-shaming despite being a teenager. Ted Nugent and Steven Tyler both have been alleged of legally adopting young teenagers, presumably so that they could continue sexual relations without issue. The “hot for teacher” headlines that continued for decades after Mary Kay Letourneau raped 12 year old student Vili Fualaau revealed the troubling endorsement of abuse as love that prevailed even when the genders were flipped.
If celebrity exists for us as a mirror into wider societal issues then it stands to reason that the age gap romance discourse is rooted in our fears of manipulation, power imbalances, and a renewed social hunger to protect those who were previously discarded as nuisances by patriarchy. We see a rich older guy dating a younger woman with less fame and think of how many female celebrities were coerced into violent situations by noted abusers. But it doesn’t take much for that reasonable stance to tip into ludicrous territory, and the internet has long stumbled into that well.
Being famous blows up so much of your life. It’s not a normal concept, so it’s no real shock that celebrities don’t date in the same way us normies do. Chris Evans’s love life has been torn to shreds online since he became an A-Lister and it’s remarkable anyone could survive such invasive nitpicking. His own brother, Scott Evans, even talked about the particular hell Chris faces whenever he's been in a public relationship in a July 2023 podcast appearance. It’s certainly a space that has bred a lot of abuses, but to conflate every single relationship with the most appalling excesses of the system is simply unfair. To label anyone from Evans to Zach Braff to Olivia Wilde as a child groomer for dating a consenting adult not only denigrates victims of abuse but insults a bunch of strangers just trying to make their own decisions in life.
But make no mistake: societally speaking, we have a real problem with how frequently older men from all walks of life seek out much younger women. This isn’t limited to famous people, and singling out a handful of celebrity couples misses the forest for the trees. Chris Evans marrying Alba Baptista cannot and should not be lumped into the same category as child sex predators or victims of abuse at the hands of those they thought they could trust. Adulthood and love are both messy and oft-inexplicable experiences. There’s no formula for working them out, let alone an age quota.