DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: After 13 years of marriage, I find myself divorced and single again at 40. After making sure I was okay with myself after a year I started opening up to the idea of dating again. I joined some dating sites and started going out again.
When I was out at the Apple store getting my iPhone fixed, I was sitting up at the counter next to this young, attractive redhead. She seemed a little young for me so I didn’t strike up a conversation, although I did make eye contact and smile. To my surprise she started a conversation with me. After about 10 minutes of enjoyable small talk she got her phone back and she left, but not before saying good bye to me. There was definitely interest there, but I kept myself from closing the deal because I thought the age gap might be too big; my guess is that she was 25 at most.
My brother in law was with me, and he confirmed that she was indeed flirting with me. I told him that I didn’t ask for her number or invite her to coffee because of our age difference. But is the age difference that important? I read everywhere that age is just a number, but is there a threshold? Ironically, later that night the subject of Patrick Stewart came up and my sister mentioned that he is married to someone 40 years his junior. My counter-argument of course was that he’s freaking Captain Picard and he can marry anyone he wants to.
So tell me doctor, should I just go after any opening I’m given, torpedoes be damned? This young lady was intelligent, well spoken and seemed mature. I’m sure I would have been attracted even if we were the same age. Is age really just a number?
– Arizona Four-Oh
DEAR ARIZONA FOUR-OH: As a wise man once said: it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.
Age gaps tend to tricky in that it is both important AND unimportant and it carries some significant baggage. One of the unpleasant truths is that our society fetishizes the young, especially young women. We’re all taught that a woman’s sexual capital (ugh) is at it’s highest when she’s young and older women are seen as less desirable. When you look at online dating, you’ll notice a lot of older men who’re unwilling to consider a woman around the same age they are, opting instead to pursue someone considerably younger… and society tends to approve of this. While there is the fear of the stigma of being “the old dude in the club” or “dirty old man”, there are far more examples of May-December romances with an older male partner than a female one.
I bring this up because this is part of the dynamic that affects dating as an older man and it’s worth keeping that in mind.
Now, with all of that having been said…
If we assume everybody is ethical and on the up and up – both parties are on the same page, the older partner is careful about any potential difference in power in the relationship, etc. – then the biggest issue when there’s a significant age gap is simply the ability to relate. Someone who’s in their early to mid-20s tends to be in a very different place than someone who’s in their 40s; the younger person is frequently just starting out while the older is more established. There will be a number of differences in terms of cultural touchstones and lived experiences that can make it hard to relate. At the same time however, emotional maturity makes a difference as well – I’ve known a lot of incredibly mature and centered 20-somethings and 50 year olds who acted like they were still 19 year old frat boys. It all depends on the individuals involved and where they are in their lives.
In your specific situation, this woman initiated a conversation with you. If she was indeed flirting – and I’m willing to believe she was – then there’s nothing wrong with simply saying “hey, I had a great time talking to you and I’d love to continue this later,” and either asking her to coffee or to connect over Facebook or what-have-you.
(Ask if you can add her on Facebook instead of just tracking her down, by the way. The former is polite and considerate, the latter is creepy)
You seem like a down-to-earth, cool and considerate guy, AFO. I’d advise being careful not to ignore the amazing women who’re closer to your age, but if someone younger than you is expressing interest, then there’s really no harm in at least going on a date or two and seeing if you’re compatible. It’s all going to depend on the individual in question.
And just for the record: the key to telling whether she’s just friendly or flirting is to look for clusters of signs of interest – several signs of interest occurring in close proximity if not simultaneously.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I dated a guy for two and half years (I’m 24, he’s 23). It took me a long time to realize that he was a very emotionally immature person and as a result, selfish and unable to prioritize me. He was always pushing my physical boundaries and could never respect that I hate PDA. He never had any drive. I got a new job and moved away and the relationship went south from there (it had been on the rocks for awhile). However, there were many aspects that were positive: he knew some dark secrets of mine and didn’t judge, we were really comfortable around each other, I felt I could tell him anything, and some of our life goals aligned like kids and traveling.
Most of the things I was dissatisfied with or that were detrimental to the relationship I think stemmed from his emotional immaturity. He’d never follow through on what he’d say he would do (like going back to school). He never seemed able to stand up for himself or actually lay out what he was feeling honestly. The relationship began to feel very one-sided: I would make sacrifices but he’s never follow through. He’s never do something unpleasant in the short-term in order for a better long-term future. It was always words and no actions.
My question is this: am I wasting my time thinking that he can gain emotional maturity and that if he does, the relationship is worth trying again? Or should I accept that he never prioritized me and so he’s never going to?
(We’re not together now and he seems to have gotten that he needs to get his s
t together but I won’t buy it unless I see real progress, but I don’t want to keep him in my life however tiny an amount and keep waiting and hoping if it’s just not going to happen.)
I am so confused and conflicted because there were so many things that made is seem like the right guy and the right relationship. I’m terrified of trying again and it STILL not working out and putting myself through all that again. I’m really worried what my family would think if I were to try again only to have it fail again. How do I know if he’s going to suck forever, or if he has a chance to be better? How do I get over this conflict and move on if it’s not worth it? At first I felt used and thrown away by him but then we talked and he says he still wants me and never meant to throw me away. He wants to fix it. Since we talked now I just am so confused and conflicted. I don’t know what to do. Should I try again or find a way to move past this and hold out for someone better?
Second Verse, Same As The First
DEAR SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST: There’re a few questions you should answer to before you try getting back with your ex, SVSAF. And the first question is why you want to get back together with your ex in the first place?
I’m not being snarky or asking a rhetorical question, SVSAF. It’s one thing if you’ve had a significant time apart – time to grow and change as a person and to gain some much-needed perspective on life and your relationship – and you’re ready to give him a second chance. It’s another entirely if what you’re really looking for is the comfort of the familiar. Part of what make our exes so alluring (at least, assuming you parted on semi-decent terms) is that they’re a known quantity. When you date someone for long enough, your life’s rhythms get intertwined with theirs. This is part of why break-ups suck: you’re trying to re-establish your personal equilibrium and it can be challenging.
It also doesn’t hurt that we all have emotional filters that affect our memories. It’s very easy to let the warm glow of nostalgia gloss over the rough patches of a relationship or make them seem smaller and less important than they were while you were actually together.
The next is to ask how much the circumstances of both of your lives have changed. How aware is he of his past behavior? Does he realize that he was treating you badly (and hoo boy, pushing your boundaries is really bad behavior)? Has he shown any evidence that he’s not as selfish and self-involved? It’s all well and good to say he didn’t mean to throw you away, but words are nothing but hot air and empty promises without actual deeds behind them. Promises to fix things mean sweet f
k-all if he hasn’t actually taken concrete steps already. If he’s not already working to improve his life without the intention of winning you back, then the odds are that no, he hasn’t grown and matured and going back would be just an invitation to Break Up 2 – Electric Boogaloo.
Are you willing to put up with his behavior again if he hasn’t changed? One thing I see very often in messed up relationships is that somebody will promise to fix things and be on their best behavior for weeks or months… and then slowly start to slip back into their old patterns. Before you know it, you’re the metaphorical frog in the boiling pot. Do you have the wherewithal to call him on his BS – and make it stick – if he does?
But I’m gonna be honest here: I’m thinking the answer to all of this is “no”. It feels like you haven’t had enough distance and perspective on things and the wounds are still fresh and raw. This is one of the reasons why I always advocate the nuclear option of (at least temporarily) cutting contact when it comes to break-ups – it’s impossible to heal when you (or your ex) keeps picking at the wounds. I think this conflict you’re feeling is the lure of nostalgia versus what your gut is telling you: that this is a bad idea and nothing has actually changed.
I suggest listening to your gut.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)