Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dismaying Story #123: More Than Just A Gap

I’m ba-aack!

My last Dismaying Story post was over a year ago. During that time my family and I moved to a different country and I’ve been working in a different profession with a more time-consuming lifestyle. Some things have not changed, however: I am still passionate about writing, about people, and about how we treat each other ... all the same reasons I started this blog to begin with.

So I have decided to begin posting again. The frequency will probably be closer to weekly rather than daily as before, but hopefully my former readers (and a few new ones) will still pop by and offer their insights.

Amazingly, reader traffic on this site is still steady after all this time, mostly from Google searches. I plan to post in the near future on which topics generate the most searches, but that is for another day.

I have also received a few email questions over the last year. Today’s post is based on one such question.

So, awayyyyy we go....

Dear Andrew,

I have just read Dismaying Story #42: When an Age Gap Doesn’t Work.

I was very touched by your reply to the lady who wrote to you.

I have been married 3 times. I am not sure why so many, I suppose I have always looked for love or just been rather silly in my choices.

I was married to my last wife for 19 years and have 2 lovely boys. But I think I knew from the start things were not exactly right. Anyway 19 years later she finally admitted she had never loved me but had been fond of me.

This resulted in me feeling so wretched and so lost. I had also had the 3 years from hell prior being subject to malicious and unsubstantiated allegations that lost us everything. Last year I fell in love with someone 33 years younger than me. Trouble is she is nearly 17 and the relationship hit the media and my wife capitalized with my partner’s mother to publish a whole lot of one-sided media reports. This had the adverse affect of what they intended and we are now living together.

In so many respects I have never been happier. But society and people judge so quickly and to suddenly be a social pariah is very very hard. In addition we are told my partner will change and will realize how stupid she was and I will lose her. Makes a positive belief very hard.

In your advice to the woman above you advised she heal herself and conquer her fear. I am seeing a consultant psychologist, he gives similar advice. But how can I move past needing approval where there is none to be got? How can one believe in one’s own integrity when it has all been ripped away so publicly?

I wonder if you can help at all. The only way out to me at times is death but this does not seem to be the correct answer.

Signed, Older Partner

Dear Older Partner,

First things first – death is never the “only way out” of a relationship. The fact that you include suicidal thoughts in your letter is disturbing. I urge you to seek professional help immediately, even if you don’t believe you were serious. Such thoughts are nothing to mess around with.

Beyond that, I must admit that I also found other aspects of your letter personally disturbing. Let me see if I have the math correct – she is 16, you are 49, and you are now living together as a couple. It is difficult for me to be detached on that score since that is exactly the age difference between me and my high-school-aged daughter. I am trying to imagine myself dating one of her friends and I just can’t get there. The difference is far too great for me.

It seems many lawmakers agree with me. Something on the order of a dozen or so U.S. states define 16 as below the age of legal consent. It’s no wonder her parents and your wife reacted with outrage and were successful in drumming up negative media interest.

As I try to think through your situation I constantly circle back to the questions of “why.” Why are you involved in such an unusual relationship? Why is your teenaged partner interested in being with someone older than many of her friends’ fathers? What has happened in each of your lives to make this relationship mutually appealing?

I have no way of knowing the answers to those questions, but your letter offers some tempting clues. You felt wretched, lost, like you had gone through hell. Then along came this young thing with needs you seem to fill. That makes you feel better because someone wants you, and you latch on. It is also tempting to assume that sexual attraction to a young woman just coming into physical maturity plays a role. Whatever the factors, there is almost surely more going on than just “I met someone with whom I am compatible.”

And what about her? Why isn’t she interested in dating guys who are 16, or 18, or 20? Is she confident in her self-worth? In her ability to sustain successful relationships? Obviously I cannot know but I bet there are serious emotional scars underlying her choices.

Could I be wrong? Sure. There is a chance the two of you just happen to have the characteristics the other needs to fulfill your lives ... but I believe the chances of that are extremely low. It is far more likely that the two of you have issues that have led you into a relationship many people find offensive.

Does my view seem hypocritical? In the post you mention above I am supportive of people who enter into relationships with more than a statistically normal age gap. There is a limit, however, to what I personally consider to be acceptable and you have apparently exceeded it.

I suggest you take a long hard look in the mirror and consider whether this relationship is really healthy for you, and especially if it is healthy for her. I bet if you look closely enough you won’t like the answers.

All the best,
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