Dear MKE SEX,
I need perspective on a relationship and I need to know how to explain to a know-it-all young adult that sometimes convention is correct.
I have my sister’s oldest daughter living with me. She’s 19. She and her mom aren’t close at all. Her dad moved out of the country years ago. He visits occasionally and turns her world upside down every time. Their visits are always fraught.
Over the last several months she’s grown very close to my best friend—a 42-year-old man. I’ve had issues with their budding friendship for a while (for various reasons, some of which I don’t fully understand). This man is part of my family. My youngest child adores him. We all adore him.
On my birthday (thanks guys) they informed me they were dating.
I am enraged. My best friend is a thoughtful (albeit privileged and selfish), supportive, cautious, but emotionally stunted human. They are actually fairly well matched. But she is 19.
They started sleeping together while her dad (who abandoned her for years) was home visiting and she was in an emotional shit-storm about him and their fucked-up history.
I am horrified, and I am having a hard time getting through to her why this is wrong. I could use some help. I blame him for this, but she gets very upset, saying I’m treating her like a victim. I’ve used every argument I can think of to get through to her. But she’s 19, and she has feelings for him.
Because it seems clear that they’re going to do what they want, I told them that my position is this:
1. I cannot and will not try to do anything to prevent this (other than an initial complete flip-out when they told me).
2. Out of respect, keep it the fuck out of my house.
3. It is costing me my friendship with my best friend, because I have lost all respect for him.
What else can I do? What should I do?
I’ve read your message a bunch of times, and I think the only real “answer” here is one that is probably pretty unappealing. Given that they’re both technically adults, you have to let their relationship play out and wait to help pick up the pieces if necessary. It was healthy to let them know that you’re displeased, but if you continue to be openly negative/hostile about the relationship, she is likely to not turn to you when things go bad. If I were you, I’d want to stick close by and know exactly what was happening with them, so that you can be helpful and supportive if she needs it later on. It might be very difficult, but you might consider going with something like, “I’m not sure this is the right thing given the age difference and the circumstances, but I love you and am not going to fight this.”
I can only imagine all the things you’re feeling right now. I think it’s rather astonishing that a man in his 40s isn’t mindful of the ramifications of engaging in a relationship with someone so young who is also a member of his chosen family. If I were you, I’d probably feel like your friend chose a relationship with a teenager over your decades-long friendship. I’d also feel very worried for your niece, and protective of her feelings. I’m sure there are at least 20 other things you’re feeling at the same time, too.
I understand why you’d like them to keep the relationship out of your sight and out of your home. But, if they continue to see each other/date/whatever they’re doing, you might want to ease up on the “not in my house” rule—assuming you want her to continue to live with you. If they’re intent on being together, they will likely pick their new relationship with each over their long-term relationships they each have with you. NRE (new relationship energy) can be like a powerful drug that makes us feel like that being with our love interest is the top priority. Forbidding their relationship in your home could push her out and into living on her own (or with him) if you hold on too long. If that’s okay with you, then hold it forever if you’d like.
I’m in my mid 40s now, and my oldest daughter is 21. I understand a lot about how you’re feeling right now, because I would feel very similarly. But I have another perspective to lay out for consideration. My ex-husband was 10 years older than I was when we met. Ten years is different than the 22 years that separate your lovebirds, but it was still huge. I was 18, he was 28. He already owned a small chain of locally owned record stores in Des Moines (our hometown) and was a well-known and respected businessman. My family was so set against it. But I was looking for something to be attached to. We dated for three years and then got married and had three kids together. We were generally happy for our time together.
But because I was so young when we met, I continued to grow and develop and change. Because he was almost 30, he didn’t do as much of that. I left him, but we stayed close and co-parented the kids together. I have zero regrets about my choice to be with him, though I know I gave up a lot of experiences in our 13 years together. When I left, it was the right choice. But when I was with him, it was also the right choice.
The fact that you’re squicked out by this relationship is understandable. And you know all the players personally, where I only have your snapshots to work off of. But it’s possible that this isn’t going to end terribly. Even if it does, drawing hard lines will likely only alienate both of them, creating an “us vs. them” dynamic that could isolate her further from family who have her best interests at heart.
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