On TikTok, everyone is talking about Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but it’s not just about his new mustache or “Bullet Train” performance.
Many may recognize him as the heartthrob from “Anna Karenina” or the protagonist of the “Kick Ass” movies. Or for younger fans, Nickelodeon’s “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.” As Taylor-Johnson’s professional career soars, celebrity-watchers are also delving into his personal life and his marriage to Sam Taylor-Johnson, a director 23 years his senior.
In Hollywood, age gap romances aren’t uncommon. Think Olivia Wilde, 38, who was most recently linked to Harry Styles, 28. Or George and Amal Clooney, Hollywood’s power couple with a 16-year age difference. Though unconventional, these dynamics aren’t inherently unhealthy. But the recent chatter surrounding Taylor-Johnson’s romance may be more about power imbalances than it is about the specific people involved in the conversation.
What we know about Sam, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s marriage
The Taylor-Johnsons met on the set of “Nowhere Boy” in 2009, when Aaron, who was around 19 at the time, auditioned in front of then 42-year-old director Sam (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and eventually landed the role of John Lennon.
That same year he proposed, and the two welcomed their first child together, Wylda Rae, the following year. They officially got married in Somerset, England in 2012, according to E! News.
“As soon as we finished (filming), he told me he was going to marry me,” Sam told Harper’s Bazaar in 2019. “We had never been on a date, or even kissed.”
“And a year to the minute after we met, exactly one year to the minute, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me,” Aaron added.
The duo recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.
“We renewed our vows to one another and confessed our love in front of our nearest and dearest friends and family it was a celebration of love and joy! A decade of marriage… Sammy you are my love, my life, my soulmate, my wife, my world!” he wrote in June.
The comments, however, were disabled. The Taylor-Johnsons have previously cited their age difference as a reason why they tend to keep their personal lives private.
“The attention was intrusive,” he told New York Magazine in 2017 of the initial public reaction to their relationship. “But having to deal with that early in my career probably got me to a place where I can more quickly just go, ‘Oh, (expletive) it’ instead of wanting to rip someone’s head off for asking questions I don’t like.”
What’s going on with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Joey King?
So why is everyone suddenly talking about Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson?
Online interest resurfaced after fans shipped Aaron with his “Bullet Train” co-star, Joey King, 23. None of the stars involved have commented on the attention.
“if joey king breaks up aaron johnson’s marriage i think she should be eligible for an EGOT,” one fan wrote.
More:Justin Bieber, Hailey Baldwin, Selena Gomez and the harmful nature of ‘shipping’ celebrities
The conversation about age-gaps we should be having
No one knows what goes on in someone else’s marriage. And many correctly point out Aaron was over the age of 18 when he started dating Sam.
Beyond this specific pair, the conversation every couple needs to be having is about power, experts note.
“Power dynamics are something every couple should be mindful of, but power may be more critical for couples with a significant age gap,” therapist and USA TODAY columnist Sara Kuburic wrote in May. “This is not to say we can’t learn from our partners, but they should see us an equal they can rely on and share the mental load with.”
Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, pointed out our views of what is appropriate is ever-changing from a societal standpoint.
“We are recognizing now that adolescents really don’t think in the same way as adults or view things in the same way as adults until well into their early to mid-20s,” she previously told USA TODAY. “When somebody is an older adult in a relationship with a teen, there’s a huge power imbalance and the ability to consent is compromised.”
Science has shown that in comparison to adults over the age of 25, adolescents’ decision making skills are muddied by an array of factors: their lack of life experience, their vulnerability to peer pressure and their underdeveloped brain maturity. Years of neuroscience evidence also support that their brains are wired to prioritize short-term rewards over long-term consequences and as a result, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
However, experts also caution that the criticism surrounding the Taylor-Johnsons may be gendered: We’re more culturally reluctant to accept when an older woman pursues a younger man, which “doesn’t match (society’s) expectations, so they judge and stigmatize it,” according to sociologist and sex coach Jenn Gunsaullus.