Ben Franklin was an inventor, a statesman and one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers. He was also, apparently, somewhat of an expert on dating older women.
A recently publicized letter shows Franklin giving an unknown young man some insights into romantic pursuits. Franklin, addressing his “dear Friend”, begins with a celebration of marriage’s joys. “It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness…” he advises. “A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissars. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.”
Failing marriage, Franklin then gives his friend why carrying on affairs with older women is a good alternative. For starters, older women are better conversationalists, “Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations.” Furthermore, as women lose their looks with age, Franklin writes that they tend to become more agreeable.
Franklin also notes that women of a certain age can no longer conceive, a good thing because children “irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.” The future Ambassador to France knew what he was talking about: his illegitimate son William Franklin would become the last Colonial Governor of New Jersey and a steadfast British loyalist.
Reason four is that an affair with an older woman was a) less likely to be found out and b) more easily excusable than an affair with a younger one, as “considerate People might be rather inclin’d to excuse an old Woman who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his Manners by her good Counsels, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.”
Also, Franklin advises, the experience is pretty much the same (“in the dark all Cats are grey”) whether the woman is old or young so long as one covers “all above with a Basket” and concentrates solely on “what is below the Girdle.”
The last three arguments take a more ethical approach. “The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy,” Franklin says in reason six, whereas reason seven notes an affair with an older women is far more likely to leave her “happy.” Reason eight is a continuation of the point, reading simply “They are so grateful!!”
For obvious reasons, the letter was not included in published collections of Franklin’s writings in the 19th Century.