new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

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new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by yunoquestionmark on Thu Dec 01, 2016 11:30 pm

Long time lurker of the blog, but I decided to just ask my question here rather than sending in a letter.

Here goes the condensed version of the story. I'm 32(m), and I've recently become the object of affection of a 21(f) year old. I'm fairly recently out of a long term, marriage track, relationship. I mention that because I feel that as a result of that my judgement may be impaired.

This new person had previously shown me indications of interest, but due to having been in a relationship for the entire time I knew this person I never reciprocated. This person however has, in the last month especially, greatly increased communications, attempts to get invited over to my apartment, and attempts to be alone with me. The problem is, it's kind of weirding me out. She's super smart, funny, shares a lot of the same interests as I do, and is pretty to boot... but that 11 year age difference just keeps coming back into my mind.

At what point does it, the age difference, become potentially coercive even without any intent to coerce? Can I ethically date this person when I have 11 years more life experience than she does?

I'll make no secret, I want to date her really really badly. Some of the conversations I've had with her in the past month have just floored me with their complexity and depth... but something about them has always bothered me too. It's a curious kind of "senpai has noticed me" vibe that she gives off. Everything quickly turns to her asking my opinion on things, asking for recommendations of books and movies, basically continually putting me in a teacher role. I don't know if she's just feigning inexperience, if she's actually interested in what I know and can share, or if she's simply trying to boost my ego by playing dumb (which I know she isn't, if anything I'd say she's probably smarter than I am by a fair margin). We met initially working at a volunteer organization dealing with mental health, but I quickly wrote her off as friends only at the time because I was quite happy in a relationship and she was 19. The undercurrent is of course from her own admission, she struggles with mental illness.. as do I.. and this adds extra layers of complexity to the situation.

Among my friends whom I've brought this up to I've received pretty mixed responses... most of the guys and some of the women I've talked to about it have said "yeah whatever age is just a number go have fun and get over your ex" but a not small number of women have also cautioned that this person is simply looking for stability and sees that in me ( I work full time, make okay money, am in graduate school, live on my own, dress well, etc...) and this is where it gets back to the coerciveness.. how quickly could I find myself in a position where I'm effectively playing caretaker to her? giving her a place to live, buying her food, etc... in other words at what point does she become dependent on me? And through that dependence then can any consent be truly "enthusiastic"? I have no workplace, or any type of financial power over this person but I'd be concerned that through us beginning a relationship I would quickly find myself in a position where I have financial power over her, and that isn't a position I want to find myself in.

I decided to ask this here because I need an objective view on this...

My rational mind is telling me that there's nothing wrong with dating her.
My gut is telling me to run.

Is there a way to ethically enter into a relationship with someone when there's 1) a decade wide age gap, 2) mental health issues with both parties, 3) and certain lingering psychological trauma on my part from my breakup?


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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by reboot on Fri Dec 02, 2016 8:29 am

Interesting, your gut is telling you to run and your rational mind is saying stay. Usually it is the opposite when attraction is involved so I would be very cautious. If your gut is saying, "No", something about your dynamic with her is setting it off worry and overriding attraction. You are trying to logic yourself into a relationship that is making you uneasy on some level.

With this in mind, your answers are "Yes" to 1-3, on an population level none of those are insurmountable issues. But in your case, "No" because something does not feel right about the situation to you. If it did, your head would be worrying, but your gut would be all in. Do not try to logic a cautious gut. It never ends well

Edit: Because I cannot type


Last edited by reboot on Fri Dec 02, 2016 4:01 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by Enail on Fri Dec 02, 2016 2:31 pm

I agree with Reboot that it's usually a good idea to listen when your gut tells you to run. But if your gut isn't enough for you, I have a few thoughts:

The idea that the age gap means you'd land up playing caretaker seems pretty farfetched to me unless things about her or her situation make you think it likely; 21-year-olds might not be as likely to have their lives together as people in their 30s, but that doesn't mean they don't have lives and life skills and ambitions. And honestly, that's kind of putting the cart way before the horse when you don't even know if a serious relationship is something she wants with you. So on that front I'd say it's more of a 'watch for red flags but otherwise don't worry too much' issue.

But I'm inclined to agree with your gut. The thing that would really concern me is the 'sempai notice me' bit. A big danger with age gaps is that the older person's life experience and more established situation, preferences and habits can land up creating a skewed power dynamic where the younger person lands up deferring to the older and seeking their approval all the time. It can be challenging to  to have an equal and healthy dynamic even with a younger partner who is very assertive about their own wants and needs and who has confidence that their opinions are equal to those of their partner, and this woman doesn't seem to have that mindset at all. Personally, the vibe you're getting from her would send me running away screaming.
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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by BasedBuzzed on Fri Dec 02, 2016 6:49 pm

Fact that you're worried probably provides a massive dent to any risk of power dynamics being abused, and it's already not as bad as you think it's gonna be (if I parse the complexity and depth of conversation part right). Still, I assume you're not gonna end up breaking off all contact if you decide you're not interested in a relationship, so the discussion about how you're a tad uncomfortable with the level of deference is gonna happen anyway. Perhaps first sort that out, and then see if anything changes in your discomfort?

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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by Werel on Fri Dec 02, 2016 7:42 pm

Seconding Enail that worrying about becoming her caretaker is probably a little premature, especially if you're not sure either of you is interested in a long-term thing. But I also agree that your gut is sending you some pretty clear messages about the vibe between you two. I don't think that it's inherently wrong to have a casual relationship with somebody where there's a big experience gap, nor that there's anything unethical about starting a relationship that's not intended to become serious. But if as just friends you're uncomfortable with the pedestal she seems to be putting you on, y'all might not have the right dynamic for even a casual thing. Rarely does an uncomfortable relationship magically improve when both parties become way more invested in it (usually the opposite).

I guess there might be a devil's advocate argument to be made that the "notice me senpai" thing is just a flirtation tactic she's employing in pursuit of you, and that if you were actually dating she might feel comfortable enough to assert herself as a peer, but that seems like a stretch. If you really, really wanted to test the waters, BasedBuzzed is right that a conversation as friends about the deference--not framed as "you need to solve this problem," but as a "what's up with this?" chat--might give you some more information to go on.
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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by yunoquestionmark on Fri Dec 02, 2016 7:52 pm

reboot wrote:Interesting, your gut is telling you to run and your rational mind is saying stay. Usually it is the opposite when attraction is involved so I would be very cautious. If your gut is saying, "No", something about your dynamic with her is setting it off worry and overriding attraction. You are trying to logic yourself into a relationship that is making you uneasy on some level.

With this in mind, your answers are "Yes" to 1-3, on an population level none of those are insurmountable issues. But in your case, "No" because something does not feel right about the situation to you. If it did, your head would be worrying, but your gut would be all in. Do not try to logic a cautious gut. It never ends well

Edit: Because I cannot type

Yes this was the same as a lot of my friends when i asked them about it. Most of them know me well enough to know that I'm not big on casual and I don't like leading people on... I think what's bugging me is I can't decide if it's her that doesn't feel right, or if I'm just being mistrustful of my own attraction because of my breakup. I know that dating while depressed/anxious/neuro-atypical is doable because I've done it many times but it's definitely more challenging.. especially when both partners are those things. we don't need any Cassandra's Disorder developing anywhere...

Enail wrote:I agree with Reboot that it's usually a good idea to listen when your gut tells you to run. But if your gut isn't enough for you, I have a few thoughts:

The idea that the age gap means you'd land up playing caretaker seems pretty farfetched to me unless things about her or her situation make you think it likely; 21-year-olds might not be as likely to have their lives together as people in their 30s, but that doesn't mean they don't have lives and life skills and ambitions. And honestly, that's kind of putting the cart way before the horse when you don't even know if a serious relationship is something she wants with you. So on that front I'd say it's more of a 'watch for red flags but otherwise don't worry too much' issue.

But I'm inclined to agree with your gut. The thing that would really concern me is the 'sempai notice me' bit. A big danger with age gaps is that the older person's life experience and more established situation, preferences and habits can land up creating a skewed power dynamic where the younger person lands up deferring to the older and seeking their approval all the time. It can be challenging to  to have an equal and healthy dynamic even with a younger partner who is very assertive about their own wants and needs and who has confidence that their opinions are equal to those of their partner, and this woman doesn't seem to have that mindset at all. Personally, the vibe you're getting from her would send me running away screaming.

This is what I'm saying and I guess what I was trying to say with the caretaker bit... I just didn't lay that our correctly. My apologies. From some mutual friends that know both of us I know that when she is in a relationship she tends to be extremely, extremely subby... being described as a 'Class 3 clinger' even... which isn't a problem for me as I tend to like to spend lots and lots of time with my partner... but I'm a switch on the best of days and I tend to work best with another switch. I'm actually in the process of writing another topic about that in the gender and society forum as I'd value some insight there too. I don't want someone who defers to me all the time and I am definitely not looking for a little...

BasedBuzzed wrote:Fact that you're worried probably provides a massive dent to any risk of power dynamics being abused, and it's already not as bad as you think it's gonna be (if I parse the complexity and depth of conversation part right). Still, I assume you're not gonna end up breaking off all contact if you decide you're not interested in a relationship, so the discussion about how you're a tad uncomfortable with the level of deference is gonna happen anyway. Perhaps first sort that out, and then see if anything changes in your discomfort?

I have no intention of breaking off all contact with her, I enjoy talking with her and gaining her insight on topics and her view on the world. Like I said, I think she's definitely smarter than I am and the only difference is I've had 11 more years to read and experience things and that's seemingly providing food for her curiosity...

Werel wrote:Seconding Enail that worrying about becoming her caretaker is probably a little premature, especially if you're not sure either of you is interested in a long-term thing. But I also agree that your gut is sending you some pretty clear messages about the vibe between you two. I don't think that it's inherently wrong to have a casual relationship with somebody where there's a big experience gap, nor that there's anything unethical about starting a relationship that's not intended to become serious. But if as just friends you're uncomfortable with the pedestal she seems to be putting you on, y'all might not have the right dynamic for even a casual thing. Rarely does an uncomfortable relationship magically improve when both parties become way more invested in it (usually the opposite).

I guess there might be a devil's advocate argument to be made that the "notice me senpai" thing is just a flirtation tactic she's employing in pursuit of you, and that if you were actually dating she might feel comfortable enough to assert herself as a peer, but that seems like a stretch. If you really, really wanted to test the waters, BasedBuzzed is right that a conversation as friends about the deference--not framed as "you need to solve this problem," but as a "what's up with this?" chat--might give you some more information to go on.

this is really good advice and I think I may need to do this soon as she's started finding facebook events that I'm saying I'm going to and then also saying she's going to them (no harm they are public events.. just seems funky that 3-4 of the ones I am going to in the next couple of weeks she's now suddenly going to them too after talking to me.)


Thanks everyone, given me a lot to think about and consider.

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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by yunoquestionmark on Thu Dec 08, 2016 9:15 am

Update on this.

Talked to her about all the questions/requests and finally got her to start making suggestions back to me, so I don't feel quite so much like "senpai". Things have escalated, my friends have pointed out that she's definitely into me, we are hanging out this weekend... I am terrified.

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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by Enail on Thu Dec 08, 2016 1:53 pm

I'm not sure whether this is terrified because you'd really like this to work out and aren't sure how to handle things, or terrified because you feel uncomfortable with the situation on some level, so just a reminder in case it's the latter: You don't have to reciprocate, no matter how into you she is. It's always okay to say no.
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Re: new prospect, but I'm worried about the age gap.

Post by yunoquestionmark on Fri Dec 09, 2016 8:23 pm

That's true, I don't have to reciprocate. After having spent even more time talking to more folks about this I really feel as though a lot of the concern is in my head. That the "Gut" feeling is just that I'm instantly paranoid about anyone showing interest in me due to my own insecurities (what do they want? I haven't got anything? They want to take advantage in some way...) kind of thing.

I know a lot of it just that 1) I feel she's way above my league because yeah she's younger, more intelligent, and cuter than I am... 2) this makes me wary of her based on my past experiences with people who took advantage of me and 3) since I lost someone who wasn't as good looking or smart it makes me fear the same thing happening..

But I've decided that at least for the moment I'm okay with seeing how things go. Trepidation I guess is a better word than terrified... because at this point in my life I'd really really like to settle down and get married ... and it's like yeah going after a woman my own age would probably get me that faster.. there's no saying it won't get there with this person. And the only way I'll find out is to see.

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