Dear Mr. Dad: My mom is 46 and has been divorced from our dad for two years. Recently she met Doug, who’s 33. He seems nice enough and mom says she’s happy, but my sister and I (both in our early 20s) think she’s making a big mistake dating a man only a few years older than her daughters. Can an age-gap relationship like that really work out?
A: I wish it weren’t the case, but the simple answer is that there’s no guarantee any relationship—age-appropriate or not—will work out in the long run. As you and your sister know first-hand, the divorce rate in this country is very high, and couples have all sorts of reasons (some better than others) for splitting up. If your mom and her young boyfriend do break up, the age difference may not have anything to do with it at all.
How much of your resentment do you think comes from watching TV shows like “Cougar Town,” which depicts older women on the prowl for younger men? I’m sure the show has plenty of entertainment value (although I don’t really see it), but I’m just as sure that it doesn’t even come close to accurately portraying real-life relationships between so-called “May-December” couples. I can certainly understand how you might resent that show (and the whole concept of cougars) for the way it stereotypes just about everyone in it.
So here’s a question. If your mom were dating a man 13 years older than she is, would you and your sister be just as upset? Younger woman/older man relationships don’t even raise an eyebrow (unless it’s a 25-year old who has “fallen in love” with an 80-year old. The fact that he’s worth $200 million has nothing to do with it. Right.). I’m assuming that since you didn’t mention it, your mom’s net worth is something less than $200 million, which means that Doug’s motives are probably pretty pure. So, really and truly, what’s wrong with an older woman dating or marrying a younger man, as long as they care about each other, are compatible, have common interests, and are positive influences on each other’s lives? Or looking at it differently, what’s wrong with a younger man wanting to date or marry an older woman?
As to how you and your sister deal with this situation, I think you should start by making an effort to get to know Doug a little better, and try to see him for what he is (and what your mom sees him as): a human being, flaws and all, who just happens to be 13 years younger than she is. It’s perfectly normal for you and your sister to feel protective of your mother and to want to keep her from getting hurt. But if you give the guy a fair shake, you might be surprised to discover that he’s as nice as your mom says he is, and that you actually like him–despite their age difference.
But whether you like Doug or not, if he makes your mom happy, she’ll continue seeing him. So the best thing you can do is accept the situation and keep your criticism to yourself (which is probably what she did when you and your sister came home with boyfriends she didn’t like). The last thing you want to do is to mess with your relationship with your mom —that’s a very hard thing to heal. And when all is said and done, all you really want is for your mom to be happy, right?