Taylor Swift Explores Age Gaps


On November 12th, 2021, Taylor Swift re-released her immensely successful third studio album Red. After losing the rights to her own music, Swift decided to re-record all her previous albums up to her album Reputation, which was released in 2017. Along with the release of the song “Red (Taylor’s Version),” nine previously unheard tracks were added onto the album, as well as a short film written and directed by Swift herself. The film All Too Well is an extensive music video to Swift’s new ten minute version of her hit song of the same name. It is widely believed that the song is about Swift’s whirlwind romance with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who is famous for dating significantly younger women. Both film and song highlight the issues that come exclusively with age gap relationships.

All Too Well stars Sadie Sink, known for Stranger Things, and former teen heartthrob Dylan O’Brien. The video takes us through Swift’s emotional process and explores the mindset of a young woman (Sink) who feels the vulnerability arising from an age gap and the downfall of the relationship.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor Swift dated for a few months in 2010. Swift was not yet twenty-one at the time, while Gyllenhaal was nearly thirty. Swift didn’t miss this specific factor: Sink is nineteen in reality, while O’Brien is thirty. It is noticeably uncomfortable to watch the fresh-faced Sink make out with the bearded adult O’Brien. This cinematic decision instantly establishes skepticism of the relationship. The film illustrates the unequal power dynamic created by the age deficit; for the young girl, the experience is intense and defining, while for the much older and inherently “experienced” man, it is clearly more trivial.

A fan-favorite lyric from the song is “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath.” This line underlines the dissonance between each partner’s expectations of the relationship. Evidently, partners being on the same page—a crucial component of a healthy relationship—can be difficult when they are in such vastly different stages of life. 

Swift explicitly pinpoints the significance of age in the relationship in the line “You said if we had been closer in age, maybe it would’ve been fine … and that made me want to die.” The turning point of the romance occurs in a scene where Sink claims she feels dismissed, infantilized, and abandoned by O’Brien during a dinner with his friends. O’Brien is defensive, and attempts to gaslight her while she struggles to articulate her feelings. This scene is especially important as it is the only one with dialogue, clearly emphasizing the significance of this conflict between the lovers.

Age gaps often come with an irreparable power imbalance, as All Too Well demonstrates flawlessly. In our society, age is often a factor in unequal power dynamics: teacher and student, parent and child, senior and freshman. In most situations, we are taught to respect and obey those older than us, but more often than not, this respect turns into a dangerous, god-like portrayal of the older party. A healthy romantic relationship requires equal footing between partners, which is objectively harder to achieve with large age gaps.