Q: I have just entered into a relationship with a man whom I really love and care for. I have one small but nagging concern about our relationship -- I'm 22 years old and he's almost 40. Is this a problem? Will it be a problem in the future?
Jim: There's nothing inherently wrong with such an arrangement, but there are certainly some things you should consider before going too deep into the relationship.
The first has to do with the basic difference in your life experiences. You're barely beyond college-age; he's approaching midlife and has already spent considerable time in the adult world pursuing a career and having romantic relationships. Under normal circumstances, he will have achieved a greater degree of maturity than you have at this stage in your life. Now, I'm not accusing you of being "immature." And it's quite possible that he's young at heart. But you should honestly consider whether the difference in your levels of life experience will impact your relationship before forging ahead.
In addition, some young women are attracted to older men because they're really looking for a father figure. The men recognize this and end up manipulating or controlling their younger girlfriends. Take a personal inventory and consider whether you view your boyfriend as a peer and partner, or if you're seeking an unmet father-need in your life. If it's the latter, you should put a halt to the relationship in fairness to you both.
I know plenty of happily married couples who have significant age differences between them. But you do need to take these things into account before moving forward.
Q: When I got engaged last week, I got a hostile reaction from my parents, especially my mom. She believes we're "too young," even though we're both in our mid-20s! I'm wondering if this is because of the "empty nest" syndrome -- my mom and I have always been close, and I'm the last of her children to leave the home. We've always been a tight-knit family and this crisis really concerns me. What should I do?
Juli: Even though, in your mind, parents should greet an engagement with a lot of enthusiasm, it's fairly normal for them to have some anxiety, and even hostility. You've already touched on the idea that it will be difficult for your mom to let you go. Your marriage means a huge transition, not only in your relationship with her, but in her own life. Give her time to adjust to the idea of losing you.
Having said that, your parents may also have legitimate concerns about your engagement. Often they can see something that you can't. For example, they may observe that your fiance is controlling or rude. If they're hitting on something that could be true, validate the concern. You could say, "I can see what you're saying. That's why we are going through premarital counseling." This mature attitude will assure your parents that you're going into marriage with your eyes wide open and that you're aware of possible red flags. If your parents continue to harp on the same concerns, remind them that you've already talked about that and considered their advice.
Also, be careful not to put your fiance in the middle of the drama with your parents. Emotions are probably running high on all sides. Don't make decisions or statements that could do lasting damage to the long-term relationships. Your parents will likely come around to supporting your engagement and marriage. In the meantime, reaffirm your love for them, acknowledging that this is a tough time for them.
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