One of things about getting a little older is that, if you've let yourself live at all, you actually have had some experiences to talk about. Some you might prefer not to talk about, others might need to remain unspoken, but still, you've got stories! So, when I saw this post, I thought, yep, I've been there before.
A reader recently shared her conflicted feelings about dating an older man:
I’ve been dating a guy that is 20 years older than me. I’m 28. I never saw myself being with someone so much older but since I’ve met him, I’ve never been happier. Older men are not always looking for a younger women because of her looks. They aren’t always controlling or want to treat you like a kid. At least this one doesn’t. He genuinely respects me, treats me like his partner, and listens to me. We really enjoy each other’s company and gradually, I find myself wanting to be with him long term. Although he looks great for his age, I have so much fear about his health 20 years from now. I watched my mom, grandmother, and aunt lose their husbands and so I have this phobia of losing my husband too. I really don’t know how to get past this.
I have mixed emotions about this subject too, mostly because we share similar stories. My Dad was 51 when I was born, and he died when I was 22. I’m ashamed to admit I was angry that he was an older father, especially when he got sick. While my college friends were off to clubs and bars on weekends, I was visiting my Dad in the hospital and watching him slip away. In my young mind, he was abandoning me, my brother, and most importantly my mother. I told myself I would never marry an older man. There was too much risk involved.
My father didn’t really get to see me as an adult, and I often wonder what kind of advice he’d give me now. Especially because I married a man who is older by almost fifteen years. I never pictured this for myself. In fact, I made it a point to only date men my age or maybe a couple of years older. But then, I met my husband and suddenly the limitations I’d placed on previous dates seemed pointless with him. I knew he was right for me, so I went for it.
About ten years ago, I made friends with a woman seventeen years my senior. She was whip smart, funny, kind, good looking - we hit it off really well. However, one of the points of connection for us was her failing marriage, which over hours of coffee and conversation, eventually drew us together closely, a little too closely.
Internally, I resisted being one of "those guys," the one's on the other side of crumbling marriage equation. Turns out, I landed there again several years later, with my last long term relationship. Totally different stories in many ways, but still, the few similarities caused me a lot of pause.
The "thing" with my older friend lasted less than a month. We were friends close to a year by the time things began turning in a different direction. Her flirting. Me feeling flattered. Her saying things like "I really love being with you." "You're perfect. Unblemished even." More feeling flattered. Plus a hell of a lot of resistance to doing anything about what was happening.
I was 26. She was 43. The age difference rarely seemed to be an issue, but what was - for me certainly - was the fact that she was married, and was doing nothing to change that. In addition, there was this sort of idealizing going on from her end, seeing me as an unsullied man without a bunch of baggage and bad choices in his history. She routinely compared her muddled life to mine, imagining that I had few troubles and had mostly made all the right moves.
And while some of that was true, it also put me in a position of never really feeling like it was ok to struggle. That nothing occurring in my life could really compare to the difficulties she had in hers.
This made the declarations of love that she eventually made even more confusing to handle. Who was it exactly that she loved? Me or the imagine of me she had in her mind?
The boundary crossing into physical intimacy between us lasted maybe three weeks tops because although I was fairly young, I was definitely old enough, and wise enough, to recognize this wasn't a healthy situation. And probably wouldn't develop into one anytime soon.
I think she was shocked when I broke it off. She basically disappeared from my life after that, unable to maintain anything resembling a friendship with me, something that hurt at the time, but which I now understand, given the circumstances.
Natalie from the blog Baggage Reclaim put up this post recently, and frequently writes about emotionally or otherwise unavailable men. Much of what she writes applies to their female counterparts. And I have had more than my share of relationships with women who fall into the "unavailable" category in some form or another. Most of them being women with a lot of "unfinished business" from past relationships which negatively impacted whatever we had together.
The example above, as well as my last long term relationship, were the two extreme cases. The others who would fall into that category just weren't fully open emotionally, were too readily lost in thoughts about the failures of their past relationships, and were afraid to risk that I might be different from all of that.
And the reality is that I was almost a mirror for some of this. I was just as risk adverse as these girlfriends were. Unable to fully believe I was "a great catch worthy of a wonderful partner," I sopped up whatever tasty table scraps were offered me from women who maybe wanted to give more, but really were in no position to do so.
I have certainly had a few relationships where these "unavailable" dynamics were not present, but when I look back with clear eyes, the majority of my adult life has been about being with, or longing after, women who either don't want to be with me, or can't be with me, even if they want to.
It's really been humbling to recognize this, but hey, better late than never! In fact, I have stepped away from at least three "opportunities" to repeat this dynamic over the past several months, realizing that it's so much better to be single and happy, than to long after, and maybe get with a woman who will ultimately not "be there" when it really counts.