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,
Andrew

26 comments:

  1. There are many people who are in healthy relationships where one partner is old enough to be the other's parent. That is not the issue here, in my mind.

    When you've lost what you believe to be everything, what is left to lose? You can tend to just drift into whatever happens next. "Freedom's just another word for nuthin left to lose." Feels like freedom. But why does it feel so bad? What can be bad about freedom?

    It's not really freedom until you recognize that you are okay without all that you lost. That you can go forward with nothing. You can now sort through choices without worrying about what people think. After all, they can't think worse of you?

    But if you stay in the "victim" stage, you will never accomplish this. If you lament over everything that has happened TO you, instead of trying to learn something about what the hell you did to get here.

    Integrity is something we personally own. It cannot be ripped away from us. If it has been lost, it's because it had some foundational weaknesses.

    This is no time to look for a good partner. It's time to be one. And rebuild, in truth, a sound basis for unshakeable integrity.

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  2. Glad you are back! Looking forward to reading more.

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  3. Yay! Glad you are back to posting. A wonderful one, as always.

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  4. Teri: I couldn't agree more! Once you have decided that you are okay in your own skin, that it is okay to be you even without a partner, THEN you have a better shot at being someone else's partner. I don't think Older Partner has reached that point, not by a long shot.

    Kmom & Joannmski: Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Welcome back to blogland, Dr. Andrew - it's good to read you once again!

    I had to read the enquirer's letter twice - on my first quick read, too quck to take in details properly, I got the feeling the letter had been written by a woman. This is an ultra-sensitive guy, for sure.

    Your reponse hit just the right note.

    Had the female partner been 5 or 6 years older I'd have felt a lot differently about this unfortunate relationship. Those 5 or 6 years
    are such important ones in a young life.

    I can't see a bright side here at all. Perhaps both individuals needed to learn lessons - hard but essential ones. I hope they come out better and wiser for it all, in some way.

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  6. I have always been rather suspicious of men (could be 10 years older instead of 33) who get involved w/ women that much younger-even if it is completely consensual. I guess the word "prey" comes to mind. Can he not find a woman more emotionally developed? Is he trying to "get the girl" before she forms stronger opinions or perhaps while she still thinks the novelty of an older boyfriend is "cool"? I've seen this happen with 25 year olds going after 18 year olds, but the motive seems the same. Sure, as one gets older, the age gap becomes less relevant, but I believe that to begin a relationship like this while one of the parties is only 16 means disaster down the road.

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  7. Andrew,
    I am so glad that you are posting again ! Welcome back ! Happy upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend to you and your family :)

    Your last paragraph to the 49 year old man really said it all.

    A 17 year old girl going out with a guy ten years older than her is creepy enough. But a 30 year difference ? Something is off here, on both sides.

    If at age 47 he was dating a 37 year old, no biggie. But this is literally his daughter. She isn't mature -- and you know what - except for chronologically, neither is he.

    Low self-esteem is painful. Feeling suicidal is sad/scary, and I empathize
    .
    Focusing on his own issues is hugely important. It seems like there is a lot there that is buried, that needs to be addressed and healed.

    I highly doubt the 17 year old girls' family or friends think much of this guy. He's doing a lot of damage there, and being indifferent or insensitive to it is another red flag.

    Let alone how HIS whole family and friends must think about the situation. He's burning bridges everywhere he goes.

    She's a child, (no matter what she says or thinks at this point) even if she can have sex.
    YUCK. Go find someone far closer to your own age.

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  8. Welcome to the US Andrew!! Hope Texas suits you well. Glad to see you blogging again and thanks for the congrats.

    I actually have some experience in a situation like this one as the best friend watching. The age gap wasn't as big, but the same issues were there.
    We were 15 years and it was all fun and games at the beginning. She even married him.
    He stole her teenagehood from her. He had real world stuff, bills, house, etc. and she willingly became a part of that, but then she regretted it. She got to play grown-up for a while and realized she couldn't turn back.
    This man's life is already half over, her's is just beginning. He needs to be the bigger person and let go of her. She has no understanding of true love at this age, regardless of what she may think. Unfortunately this relationship is doomed, she will change and grow up, most likely away from him. She may not want to be 21 dragging around a 50 year old.
    I would tell him he can't have his childhood back and stop ruining hers.

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  9. Hi Dr. Andrew! It is so good to see you back with keyboard in hand.
    About this letter, do you really think it was a "for real" letter? I hope there are no middle aged men seriously living with seventeen year old girls. Euwh! This sounds like, "Who's Your Daddy?" My son was 49 on Wednesday and his daughter is 17... there is no common ground on anything with that age disparity. I'm happy that you said he needed to get help right away. If they are indeed a "couple", she needs to get her head examined, too.

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  10. Great answer, Andrew! Age gaps are less of a problem as the younger partner gets a bit older, but even so, 33 years is QUITE a gap in ages, and that equates to quite a gap in life experiences. Truth be told, as a former young wife myself (17 when I got pregnant by my 22 year old boyfriend, now the 29 year old wife to a 34 year old hubby), I think that if this guy TRULY loves the young lady in his life, he'll encourage her to step out on her own, finish school, go to college, do a bit of traveling if it's affordable for her, THEN come back in 5 or 6 years and they can revisit the idea. I know a guy's got needs (so do women, for that matter) but a 16 year old doesn't understand enough of her own needs, much less understand what it means to help fill a man's needs for companionship and sex. The 16 year old needs time to mature before getting into such a serious relationship, and if the man truly loves her and wants what's best for her, he should gently back off and let her discover who she is as a person and to gain a little life experience.

    Anyway. You gave a fantastic answer from a guy's point of view. I'm glad to see you're back and dispensing such wisdom!!!

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  11. Enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for stopping by mine. I'm glad you are going to blog again.

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  12. It's not the age gap in and of itself that concerns me. I've seen it work, and work well, but no one involved was a teenager and that's the big issue here. As someone who was once (a very long time ago) a young woman who was attracted to older men, I get the appeal. To a young woman "older" translates to stablity. And if that woman hasn't had a lot of that in her life, someone who exudes this is going to be very attractive.

    Do I believe she's in love? Sure I do. But I'm concerned that her lack of experience with life has led her to invest herself in a man who's caught up some very complicated adult problems of his own and she's not going to be equipped to help him with them.

    This man has been married and divorced three times and is now reaching out to a girl whose biggest worries should be, "Did I study enough to pass my history final" and "What should I wear to prom?" This should bother him, but it doesn't appear to--at least as I read it. In fact, it reads as a retreat from the responsibility for one's actions.

    This man needs to distance himself from the most recent string of decisions and examine why he's done what he's done. A temporary (at least) separation from this girl wouldn't be a bad idea while he gets himself the help he needs and makes his peace with his past.

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  13. Good to see you back. Look forward to your postings again.

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  14. Hi, Andrew, thanks for stopping by to let me know you were going to be writing again.

    I was deeply disturbed by the fact that no one has mentioned the legalities of someone "Older Partner's" age dating a minor. Sure, he has problems that need to be addressed, but why hasn't the mother of that child taken legal steps to keep this pervert away from her daughter??

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  15. Andrew, I'm so glad you're back! We've all missed you.

    Here's what I see - this gent is replacing those suicidal feelings with a relationship. He's "fixing" things with someone who makes him feel important. Perhaps being the older, wiser (though that one's debatable) half of the relationship, he finds validation he didn't have before.

    Does he love her? He certainly loves the idea of her. At 16, I guarantee she's infatuated with someone who gives her such attention, but I doubt she has any inkling of what real love is. Her own issues are apparently coming into play here, as well.

    He needs time with a therapist to sort out why he needs someone in order to feel his life is worth living. This is a man ready to kill himself until "love" saved him. That's transferance, and I'm not convinced he's truly healed at all. In fact, once the bandage comes off, he'll see the wounds are pretty deep.

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  16. Andrew,
    Welcome back! Wow,what a letter to start out with. I agree with you in so many aspects of what you have said. The attraction between someone who is in their late 40s and someone who is 16 is fraught with problems. The attraction for the 16 year old may have been the confidence, money and knowlege of the older man. Now with all that has happened the "drama" of the media and the rebellion against the parents makes the relationship even more interesting. These attractions will fade over time and the gap in age will become apparent to both parties as they fail to connect on emotional and intellectual planes.
    The writer asks how can he believe in his own integrity. The answer to this is to become the observer, step outside of yourself and watch and note what you see. The question I would ask, "is this the best possible situation for the 16 year old girl that I am living with?" What impact is our relationship going to have on her life? The answers may be hard, however doing the right thing often is. It is easy to be selfish, it is often difficult to do what we know is right and even harder to let go of the very thing that we belive is the only "right" thing in our life.

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  17. Glad to see you back, Andrew.

    As to the Older Partner...the age gap is not so disturbing as the young girl's actual *age*. She will not be the same person in 6 months, or even a year. The late teens and early 20's are a volatile period in a person's developing and maturing persona/identity. Only if they are truly lucky will this couple develop in the same direction.

    If only he could step back and give her a few years to mature, and give himself time to find and define himself, then they might have a chance (assuming that they still were compatible afterwards). Unfortunately, they are probably both unable to step back and be objective about the situation.

    I think, as observers, we just have to hope that Older Partner and his young friend can find the least painful path to maturity, whether that be together or separately.

    That said, if my 15 year old daughter were to show up with a man old enough to be her father...well, let's just say it wouldn't be pretty.

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  18. Yeah! You're back!

    I have to admit that I am a little taken aback at the first letter you posted here. Entering a relationship at the age of 16 - an age in which physical maturity is usually outstripped by a lack of emotional and experiential maturity - entering a relationship with someone so much older is treacherous at best and would most likely result in emotional disaster.

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  19. Glad to see you back Andrew.

    I dated a guy when I was in my early 20's who seemed to be especially attracted to young women-- I was actually old compared to what he had dated previously. It didn't take me long to realized the guy was a control freak and that he was simply looking for a girl who was malleable. Gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about that guy.

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  20. Perhaps some of you might remember that my daughter, although "legal" at 19, was dating a 34-old-man from Illinois...whom she met online!

    There were some pretty hairy moments (for instance, she "sneaked" him down to stay with her for a long weekend), but she finally saw him for what he was: a drug-addicted loser, who had been rejected by eligible ladies his own age. He had to seek out the approval of naive, impressionable younger women. This relationship didn't end without leaving some deep wounds, but she seems to be a stronger person because of the experience. And she won't be fooled again!

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  21. Welcome back to the blogosphere, Andrew. You were missed.

    This guy is a perv. I just don't think it is normal for anyone of his age to date anyone under 18, or 21 for that matter. He is just lucky he didn't rope in a girl from a family like mine because by now he wouldn't be recovered enough to type a letter to you. Sicko!

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  22. It is so good to see you again. You have been greatly missed.

    I believe your assessment to be accurate, as always.

    The tragedy here is that this girl is missing her chance in life. Her whole life would seem to focus on her boyfriend during a time where she should be focused on obtaining a higher education in order to provide for herself down the line. Were he a decent sort, he would take steps to ensure that his new love dove does attend college. He has the benefit of years under his belt; he knows the pitfalls that she will face as she matures.

    Send her to college, allow her to mature and then, once she has reached her twenties, see if she still wants him as a boyfriend (my guess would be, "NO!")

    Of course, this is just my opinion!

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  23. I'm glad you're back.

    This piece of advice is well written. One is still considered a minor at the age of sixteen and personally, I feel that it is not proper to enter into a relationship with someone so young.

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  24. Hi Andrew!

    I'm so glad you are back!!!! Thank you for dropping by and letting me know! I'll link you back up now. YAY!!!!

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  25. Wow! You folks are amazing. So many welcoming messages after all this time. Thank you everyone, it really means a lot to me. And also thanks, as always, for pitching in with your opinions and helping to flesh out the issues. I can always write with the assurance that my online friends will make sure anything I miss will be covered. THANK YOU!!

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  26. Andrew! So glad you are back. Your blog helped me through some rough times. Re: The above situation - is this guy craving jail time? Duh! I've never really understood these older guys wanting someone who could in no way be intellectually or mentally close to being companion material - for me that would be sort of incest-like - finding someone my children's or grandchildren's age to pair up with - but then that's just me. I often kind of wonder if these March-September arrangements have a lot of control issues on the part of the older person - ??

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