I am a child of divorce. I divorced myself after 3 years of marriage and two children. I am now 34 and I have pretty much not had a healthy successful relationship in say, oh, NEVER. I feel lonely a lot and even though my life is very full with my kids who are active in school and community activities I have felt something missing in my life for quite some time. I am a very attractive lady and have been on MANY dates with many nice men. But I have yet to find someone that I want to spend forever with. I recently started seeing a man I met at work and I have fallen very hard for him. I can’t stop thinking about him and I want to spend every moment with him. I am good at keeping it in check around him and I don’t think he realizes how I feel. Here is the problem. He is 20 years old. Logically I realize this can never go anywhere and I am just trying to ride out the storm. I want to know why this happened to me. Why couldn’t I have these feelings with someone my age that I could possibly have a future with? I am SO confused. I think about him all the time and I STILL feel lonely ALL the time. HELP!!
Sincerely, Lonely Old Lady
First of all, you are far from old. I suspect many readers of this site would dearly love to return to thirty-four. I know that's unlikely to help you, though. You FEEL like life is passing you by. You very much want to share life with someone special and the best you seem able to manage is to yearn for a much younger man. I can understand the feeling but nonetheless it must be said -- you are still an attractive woman with a long road ahead of you.
Can relationships possibly work with such an age difference? Certainly. We even have a common term for them, the May-December romance. In your case it's more like March-June, though. One of the most well-known relationships of this type is the 2005 marriage of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who at the time were 42 and 27, respectively. There is even an online dating service for people seeking age gap relationships, which is now apparently the more politically correct term.
Most people tend to be uncomfortable with such age gaps, however, and your letter makes it clear this is the case with you. Technically speaking you are old enough to be his mother. You realize many people would look askance at this relationship and the young man is also unlikely to see much of a future in it. More than that, you have not consistently sought out age gap relationships in the past. This is an anomaly for you. You didn't ask: "How can I make this work?" Instead you asked: "I am in yet another dysfunctional relationship and would like to know why."
As always, I cannot come to a definitive conclusion based solely on a letter. I can, however, make a few educated assumptions and hopefully point you in the most likely direction.
One term keeps popping into my head as I review your letter: fear of failure, where "fear" is the most salient word. You have experienced several failed relationships, including your parents, your marriage and a string of dating attempts. I suspect you have an extremely low opinion of your ability to make a relationship work. You have become conditioned to expect relationships to fail, especially those involving you.
After a while this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you begin dating someone you ask yourself if he could be the one. Is it worth going for it? Should you roll the dice and really try to make this one work? The answer is tied up in whether you think this relationship has a good chance of succeeding. After all, who wants to invest all that time and effort if the result is likely to be failure and pain? Unfortunately you believe failure is likely for virtually every guy you meet because every such relationship involves one fatal flaw -- you. That scared part of your inner self huddles in the corner of your mind, shaking with fear because of the relationship trauma you have suffered in the past. You keep waiting for that perfect guy to show up, the one where the fit is so incredibly right that this relationship MUST succeed, regardless of your ineptness.
You never meet that guy, though, because he doesn't exist. Every potential partner is human and therefore imperfect. Every relationship involves compromise and adjustment to make it work, all the skills you are convinced you will never possess. Meanwhile the elevator music playing in the back of your mind is a constant litany of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." I suspect this has a lot to do with why you have dated many nice men but have never decided to attempt a serious relationship with any of them.
Your co-worker is different. For some reason he doesn't threaten you the way the others did. I can't be certain of why, but I have to wonder if the unworkable nature of this relationship is also a large part of its appeal. You don't have to worry that you will be the reason for this one failing. It is already pre-destined to fail because of factors that have nothing to do with your perceived inadequacies. If (strike that -- when) this one goes down the tubes, your traumatized inner self reasons, it will not be yet another knock on your self-esteem. This one will not be your fault. It's because of your ages. So ... no pressure. Enjoy the ride for a while. Unfortunately, regardless of the reasons, you can see where you are going to end up and you don't like the view.
Your fears pose extra challenges for you in any relationship. If you become involved with a guy, you look constantly for signs that the dam is about to burst. Any turmoil may be interpreted as affirmation of your fear. "See? There we go again, failing. I better bail before things become too awful." Again, you create exactly that which you fear.
A more secure person often reacts to relationship turmoil differently. "This sucks. I know I can make everything all right again, now I just have to figure out how." For this reason, a confident person can have a better chance of sticking with a relationship for the long term.
I suggest the first step in making any relationship work is to heal yourself. You need to work past the effects of all that negative conditioning. Ideally you would like to develop positive expectations about your ability to succeed. This is a steep hill to climb alone. You may want to consider seeing a professional who can help you work through your fear. Behavioral psychologists are often qualified to help with this sort of issue, and may also be a source of help for learning confidence-boosting relationship management skills such as effective communication, conflict management and cooperative negotiation. A wide variety of self-help books are also available on these topics.
I suspect you will be in a much better position to assess potential partners once you develop more confidence in yourself. It will be like looking in the display case at the pastry shop: "Yum! I know I can handle that!"
All the best,
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