Q: Hello Dr. G,
I have to say I love reading your letters. You manage to combine compassion and good sense – a delight, and instructive!
I am suffering because I’m in love with a man a great deal younger than me – originally from Iran (i’m of European descent. I also have a lot of respect for his background). We’ve known each other for over 2 years. I think he is probably the best man I’ve even known, and I’m afraid I’ve encountered quite a few opportunistic men! But this man is respectful, sweet natured, intelligent, passionate, expressive and honest. We are honest with each other. We’ve talked about the fact that we care for each other – we have a friendship at the very least. Nothing more has happened, as I think we’ve both been unsure…
We have both experienced a lot of hurt in our lives. The positive side of that, I think, is that we can understand each other’s emotional landscape. We’re both “deep” but we can laugh too, and talk for hours.
Right now he is going through some very rough times for a number of reasons, and I’m supportive of him. I finally managed to let him know (roughly! ouch!)) just how great the age difference is. It’s about 30 years! He’s in his late 20’s and I’m in my late 50’s!!! It was only fair to let him know. He had greatly underestimated, and I do look a lot younger than I am (I know everyone says that, but really people never guess… : ) The dynamic hasn’t changed since I let him know.
I get a sense that he is still feeling some hurt from the past, and just has an awful lot to deal with right now (he did ask me out in the past but I hesitated). If I was younger I would simply wait it out, to see, and give him time to get through things …. though I would be hoping it would work out, and just about follow him anywhere! But I’m NOT younger.
It’s causing me a lot of pain. I’m afraid I’m hurting myself, but I find him so special and I really care. Should I make more of an effort to close off my feelings? Do I need to “get real”!? That’s what my friends say! After all, I still look darn good for my age, but that’s got to diminish, and that physical attraction is important even when the rest is all there too…
Thank you for any advice you can offer.
– Submitted by Mairi, 57, Canada
A: Dear Mairi,
What a lovely letter. Thank you for your kind words and for reading our posts! Your story hits close to home, so I’d like to offer you some personal thoughts but also an objective perspective, as this is likely to be most helpful to you.
We always hear the expression, “Age is just a number.” I often ponder this. Is it? Really? I think my conclusion after years of pondering this is inconclusive: YES and NO. I think the ‘yes’ comes from the fact that when we fall in love, age really is just a number. Age does not really dictate the emotional or visceral response we have to another person. There are many fascinating books published on the topic of dating and mating and what draws us to another individual. It is rather a mysterious process and from the outside one can judge superficially, but it’s always different from the inside. For example, if you were to marry this younger man and then start to show your age in 10 years, one could from afar judge and seem baffled at how this could be…however, that person might not realize that at one time you did not look so much older. And certainly, love is timeless and ageless. A connection is a connection, and nobody understands really why we make connections with some people and not with others (even others with whom a “connection” might be expected or seem logical). Love is not rational, logical, or predictable.
What we do know is that we are socialized in certain ways when it comes to love. For centuries, it has been the norm for an older man to take a significantly younger, fertile, unsoiled woman. This now translates in the modern day to a complete acceptance of a 50 year old man marrying a 30 year old woman. However, people will look twice when the ages are reversed. Why is this? Well, aside from socialization, perhaps it does challenge nature to some extent. Evolutionarily, it makes sense for men of ALL ages to desire and seek out the youngest and most fertile looking women. Men are hardwired to know innately with whom they must procreate in order to ensure the survival of the species. Although they certainly are some younger men who know very early on that they CHOOSE not to procreate (ever), we also know that it takes awhile for men and women to “grow up” and know themselves well enough to make that decision. It is more common that someone (man or woman) know something like this for sure somewhere in their 30s. There is some risk to pursuing a relationship with a much younger man when you’re not sure whether they will want children at some point and thus have to leave you in order to have their family life. (Note: Adoption is a wonderful choice that would make it feasible to have a life with a much younger man who wants children, however, many younger men do not like this option or do not fathom themselves doing down this road).
So, is love truly blind? Yes, probably it is. But, can relationships last despite the blindness when there are significant differences? Sometimes, but often not. I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but let’s have a reality check here. Fifty percent of relationships/marriages end. Of those that remain, I’m pretty sure they’re not all happy, because many people stay together because of financial security and children and various other reasons. So, I think what you can walk away knowing is that your relationship may or may not work out in the long run…but here’s the key to happiness: DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THE LONG RUN! We do not know how long we will live, much less how long a relationship will last. But when you wake up every morning, you hope that you have that day. Enjoy it. Take it all in – all of your blessings. You may not have another day. I’m not saying that you should be reckless or careless with your heart or with anyone else’s heart. All I am suggesting is that you live more mindfully, in the moment, rather than making tomorrow the focus of today. Say to yourself, “I, HERE, NOW.” That truly is the key to happiness. So many of us live our lives focused on the final outcome, the goal, etc., that we miss all the wonderful moments in the journey.
Ok…so if you are now feeling completely confused by my letter thus far, let me break it down for you. Should you pursue a relationship with this younger man? I cannot answer this question or make that decision for you. Only you can know your heart. Is it likely that you two will live happily ever after? Well, who knows…perhaps a little less likely than other relationships…that are also unlikely to last. So, my point is…one does not know how long a ride will last. But there’s no point in never taking the ride just because you know it will end. You must live your life. Think about all of your options. Will you always regret that you did not go out on that date with this guy if you don’t? Will you always wonder what “might” have happened? And if you do decide to go with the flow, but the flow ends in a year or two or three…would you regret having experienced this wonderful blessing of love and intimacy? If you think so, then stay friends. But perhaps you won’t regret loving someone, even in an unlikely situation.
I wish you all the best in life and love!
– Dr. G.