All Too Well: Age Gaps and Privacy in the Spotlight
With the release of Red (Taylor’s Version), Taylor Swift’s gut-wrenching ballad All Too Well has once again broken (and comforted) the hearts of millions of people. From the mention of the infamous red scarf to having dinner with his sister, it was clear: All Too Well is about Jake Gyllenhaal.
In October 2010, paparazzi spotted Swift and Gyllenhaal walking hand in hand around New York City with paper coffee cups, knit beanies, and the glow of a new relationship, all surrounded by falling leaves. At the time, Taylor was 20 years old while Jake was 29, nine whole years between them. For the most part, news outlets tended to ignore the age gap, but when they did talk about it, the media blamed Taylor. Business Insider even released an article titled, “A Timeline of the Age-Inappropriateness of Taylor Swift’s Romances.”
The oldest age of consent in any U.S. state is 18 years old, though just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Up until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of discourse surrounding the love affair. People have begun to discuss the age gap since the 10-minute version of the song came out on November 12th. As usual, ‘Swifties’ (Taylor’s fans) have taken to the internet to analyze every lyric. Fans noticed that Gyllenhaal’s girlfriends have slowly gotten younger as the years pass. The pattern continues today, as he has been dating 25-year-old French model Jeanne Cadieu since 2018. Swift goes as far as calling him out in the re-recording by singing,
“And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes
I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age”
TikTok user @mrh_music broke down the history and ages of Gyllenhaal’s past lovers through a graph titled Jake Gyllenhaal v. Girlfriend Age Difference. The video shows a consistent increase in Jake’s age while the line representing his partners’ ages fluctuates greatly.
The graph begins in the year 2000; Jake is 20 years old while his girlfriend Jenny Lewis is 25. The trend line dropped in 2002 when Jake, 22, began dating Kirsten Dunst, 20, until 2005. He dated veteran actress Reese Witherspoon, 31, from 2007 to 2009. Almost immediately after his relationship with Witherspoon ended, he moved on with 20-year-old Taylor Swift. The pairing nearly broke the internet when the infamous pictures of the two bundled up in scarves and winter coats on the streets of New York City came out. Since then, all of Gyllenhaal’s partners have been younger than him, with the closest gap being between him, 33, and Minka Kelly, 32, in 2013.
While the ages have varied over time, it’s significantly clear that Jake’s partners have, for the most part, hovered around the same age, especially over the past few years. Taylor continuously mentions her innocence and commitment to the relationship throughout All Too Well singing,
Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze,
And there we are again when nobody had to know / You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath.
Her mentions of age and innocence remind listeners of the stark difference in ages and life experiences. When asked about Taylor and Jake’s relationship, Grace Huntley, LMHC, a therapist through the mental health platform, Alma, told Glamour,
“Anything under the age of consent is of course a no-go. After that, it depends on the individuals and is less about age than it is a matter of maturity, power, and life experience. Romantic relationships are a complex exchange of power. It’s really, really hard to tell what’s happening in another person’s relationship. But it’s always okay to voice your discomfort, to go back and say, “That was not okay.” A whole decade can pass—and that memory can feel not so far away.”
Taylor’s deliberate choice to cast Sadie Sink, 19, and Dylan O’Brien, 30, to play ‘Her’ and ‘Him’ in All Too Well: The Short Film once again reminded fans of the age difference. The casting announcement sent fans across social media into a frenzy, fueling the assumption that All Too Well is indeed about the one and only Jake Gyllenhaal.
The release of the 10-minute version and short film for All Too Well has not only provided more information about Swift and Gyllenhaal’s whirlwind romance but also highlighted other celebrity relationships with more significant age gaps, like Florence Pugh and Zach Braff’s 21-year age difference.
During the Spring of 2020, Academy Award-nominated actress Florence Pugh, 25, wished her boyfriend, Zach Braff, 46, happy birthday through an Instagram post. She strategically turned off all comments before posting, though that did not stop people from harassing her with a slew of criticism regarding her relationship with the Scrubs actor. Just days later, she posted a four-minute video defending her relationship, stating,
“I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love, and I would never in my life ever, ever tell someone who they can and cannot love,” she continued. “It is not your place. It has nothing to do with you.”
“The abuse that you throw at him is abuse that you’re throwing at me, and I don’t want those followers…I don’t want that on my page. It’s embarrassing, it’s sad, and I don’t know when cyberbullying became trendy.”
While the 21 year age gap is significantly larger than Swift and Gyllenhaal’s nine years, it’s important to note that Pugh is five years older than Taylor was at the time of her relationship. As Huntley mentioned, relationships are less about age than they are a matter of maturity, power, and life experience after the age of consent, which the Midsommar actress explained to Sue Perkins on her podcast An hour or so with…
"I've always found it funny, how I can be good enough for people to watch my work, and support my work, and pay for tickets, and I'm old enough to be an adult and pay taxes, but I'm not old enough to know who I should and should not have sex with," Pugh shared. "Once again, [it's] making a young woman feel like shit for no reason. I think I did feel shit for awhile about admitting that, and then I thought, 'How ridiculous is that?'"
So what’s the difference between Florence and Zach and Taylor and Jake? I’d say that Braff and Pugh’s openness plays a vital role in the reception of their relationship as it attracts more attention. Swift and Gyllenhaal have said on multiple occasions that they like to keep their personal life private, declining to comment on their relationships. The discourse surrounding both relationships highlights the parasocial views on celebrity relationships and the personal lives of those involved. While it’s fun to pick apart the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs, the truth behind All Too Well remains between her and Gyllenhaal.