I have to warn you, this post is about Dane Cook.
This is exceptionally depressing. Honestly, most days, I don’t think about Dane Cook – not even enough to hate him. Any knowledge I have of him has been gained through some sort of pop culture osmosis. I think he made a weird creepy movie about being a stalker a few years ago. I think he’s a comedian, maybe? I don’t know of any specials he’s done, or jokes he’s told, or TV shows been on, or anyone who genuinely likes his work. But let’s accept this strange truism: Dane Cook is, apparently, rich and famous and successful for (insert reason here).
But the reason that I have decided to give a flying fuck about Dane Cook for the first time in my life, is that six years ago, he started dating a teenager. Cook was 45, and his girlfriend had just conveniently turned 18, even though she’d been to parties at his house before then. But apparently nothing untoward happened prior to her turning 18 – he was just a forty something man who was friends with a child. And then she legally became of age, at which point he realized that there was a romantic spark (gasp!), they began dating, and six years later, we get to look at wedding photos of a beautiful bride and her dad’s golf buddy.
I posted this on Threads:
Post by @theeverywhereistView on Threads
And I honestly and truly did not think that there would be Dane Cook defenders in my mentions, but of course there were, because it’s the internet. It’s just a collection of horrible, pervy hills that people are willing to die on, including one where everyone is screaming “If she’s 18, and he’s 45, it’s not illegal.”
And when you’re defense is “It’s not technically illegal!” then you might need to take a beat.
Because it might not be illegal, but it’s still really fucking wrong.
It’s not like a maturity switch is flipped when you turn 18. I remember that landmark birthday passing and feeling not different than I did at 17 or 16. My body didn’t change. My brain didn’t change. My friends and my boyfriend didn’t change. I didn’t magically undergo some process that meant that overnight I was ready to be hanging out with every single adult, carte blanche. Not everyone understood this. That regardless of whether or not I was legal, I was still a kid who needed to grow the fuck up. I remember a man stopping me while I was walking by myself one afternoon in Miami. I held up my age like a shield. “I’m 18,” I’d said, hoping it would get him to go away. “Well, that’s okay,” he’d replied. He was 37, and had recently broken up with his girlfriend, because her kids were too much.
And I remember thinking that they were far closer to my age than he was.
I’m old enough to remember the countdown timers for the Olson Twins turning 18, some relics of which still exist in dark corners of the Internet:
It was universal; it happened to all of us – not merely beautiful celebrities. It was something that we all sort of accepted, something girls experienced more than guys, but even the boys were not exempt. We were teenagers, and someone in their 30s felt that it was completely appropriate to pursue us. And I remember feeling weird about it, but not in a way that I could really articulate. I thought that perhaps I was just immature, and that’s why I didn’t want anything to do with someone fifteen years older than me. Maybe it was fine? Maybe I didn’t get it? Maybe we were adults, even if the guy worked at Microsoft and owned a house and we still lived in the dorms and couldn’t buy booze? And some of them laid claim to my friends, whisked them off to a world that I didn’t understand.
And I thought it was a feminist thing, to not question it. That we were adults, after all, in charge of our own bodies, and our own choices.
Now that I am old, though still not as old Dane Cook was when he started dating a literal teenager, I realize just how fucked up it all was. That none of it was okay. That yes, we were adults, that yes, our bodies were our own, but we still shouldn’t have had men who were twice our age trying to fuck us. That anyone who readily cited age of consent laws was telling on themselves – the only thing stopping them from dating someone even younger is the law. They’re youth vampires, trying to suck the life from teenagers so they can feel virile. These people see younger partners as things to own and control, as trophies to put on shelves, as conquests, as not actually people.
This isn’t the first time Cook has pursued a much younger woman. Apparently he’s had a pattern of it. When he was 38, he was romantically linked to actors Julianna Hough and Amanda Cerny who were 22, and 20, respectively. Cook’s own Instagram feed revealed that numerous underage girls have been in attendance at game nights he’s hosted at his house (which is how he met his wife, when she was underage.) And he’s one in a long line of famous men pursuing teenagers. Jerry Seinfeld was 38 when he started dating 17-year-old Shoshanna Lonstein, who was still in high school. The late Paul Walker started dating Jasmine Pilchard-Gosnell when he was 33 and she was 16. Wilmer Valderrama isn’t the worst alum from That 70s’ Show (the bar is in hell) but he’s dated numerous actors who were significantly younger than him – Mandy Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Lovato – when the latter were all teenagers.
A story recently broke about Russell Brand – allegations of rape and assault, with one woman noting that she was 16 when he started pursuing her in what was technically a consensual relationship with a man twenty years her senior. She was above the age of consent in the UK, but not in the US. “It’s not against the law” is a pretty fucking shitty defense in light of all that. It becomes a nebulous thing, determined by state or national laws. Is it okay that a thirty-something man is fucking a 16-year-old if it happens in England but not in the United States? Are we somehow okay with that man waiting two years to have sex with that same teenager? Because the problem with sleeping with teenagers isn’t merely that it’s against the law. It’s that if you are in your thirties, you shouldn’t be talking to girls who don’t have the life experience to realize how fucking creepy you are. And that’s the whole point, of course. That’s a big part of why they are pursuing women (hell, children) this young – because anyone can be manipulated by an adult they care about, but teenagers are especially vulnerable. Imagine the influence that grown-ups had over you when you were a kid. Imagine how caught up you were in your first relationship. Now imagine those things colliding.
It’s legitimately fucking terrifying. And it’s not something that you grow out of. If someone has a relationship with you as a kid, the way you view them doesn’t magically morph and change because you get a few years older.
The argument that comes up again and again is that both parties might truly care about one another. But an adult who really cares about you wouldn’t try to have sex with you when you’re still figuring out who you are. The full grown men who are pursuing highschoolers who find themselves concerned about ages of consent show that they aren’t afraid of harming another person; they’re just afraid of consequences.
It makes this SNL sketch seem way less farcical.