No, He’s Not My Daddy

I’ve come to expect all sorts of reactions when I tell people that I’m dating someone eighteen years older than me. The blood-curdling screams have been (thankfully) few in number, though I usually expect jaws to drop and eyebrows to shoot up into hairlines.

There are also those whose expressions remain suspiciously blank. When their trained smile spreads across their face at just the right moment, and there’s no unconscious flicker of facial features–not even so much as a forceful blink–I know that the rumor mill got to them before I did.

I expect people to find out about my relationship. But instead of just admitting that they know, people treat it like a dirty secret they’re not supposed to be privy to. Um, hello? It’s not a secret anymore. We’re even “Facebook official.”

Before I was dating a man significantly older than me, when I was just normal, seemingly-well-adjusted Julie, it always came as a shock to people when they realized my parents were divorced.

“Huh, that’s funny, I just always assumed your parents were still together,” they’d say.

But after becoming Julie, The Cradle Robbed, people’s assumptions changed. When I mention something about going to visit my dad, now an overwhelming number of people ask, “Oh? Do you have a good relationship with your dad?”

“Uh, yeah, I try to see him when I’m in town. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. I guess I somehow thought you didn’t really talk to him much.”

I have to give them credit though, since it is a pretty tactful way of saying, “Gee, I just assumed you had daddy issues.”

There’s a saying people use to make themselves feel better when others disagree with their choices. It’s something along the lines of, “The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter won’t mind.”

I hung to that saying like a koala bear in a eucalyptus tree when we first went public with our relationship. My mom and I have always had trouble getting along, so when she made it perfectly clear she didn’t approve, she was immediately thrown into the “doesn’t matter” bin. My friends supported me, so they went in the “matters” category. The horrible roommate? Well, I didn’t care about her thoughts anyway, so she was automatically dumped in “doesn’t matter.” My sister? Her opinion definitely mattered, even more so since it was the right opinion.

Sometimes I felt like it was me against the world, like I was single-handedly trying to annihilate the stigmas and stereotypes associated with a younger woman dating an older man. I had to be careful with my well-meaning jokes, in case people thought I was using it as a defense mechanism. But somewhere along the line, I stopped trying so hard.

It might have been close to the time that my mom came around and said she was “accepting but not condoning” my choices. When she met my boyfriend and instantly liked him, I hesitantly put her opinion back into the “matters” bin. When she got to know him better and began to vocalize how great he is, her opinion was in that bin to stay.

But then I noticed something with my friends. They were supportive of me, because they’re good friends and that’s what they do. But I realized that supporting me doesn’t necessarily mean supporting my choices. When I first told my friends about the new guy I was dating, most of their advice was not to “get hurt.” I failed to notice that their usual giggles and eager questions were curiously absent, but I didn’t pay it much attention.

Now that the relationship has been going on a year, the absence of their glowing approval is more noticeable. When I try to crack jokes about the age difference, or about how my boyfriend, with his “old-man tastes,” loves candy corn, they just stare at me uncomfortably, unsure of whether or not it’s okay to laugh. (Or it could be that I’m just not funny.)

Admittedly, my friends from home have only met him once, at a wedding. We all sat around the table during the reception, exchanging pleasantries and catching up on each other’s lives. My boyfriend looked like some error in the seating chart had placed him at the kiddie table, and I had to stop myself from childishly passing him my plate and asking him to cut my steak into more manageable pieces.

From their awkward silences and uneasy smiles when the conversation turns to him, I can tell that they’re still leery. My local friends see more of him, but they still haven’t gotten to know him. Double dates aren’t an option when it’s obvious the other two people on the date think they’re unable to relate to him.

And so I found myself reevaluating that saying I used to cling to. Upon realizing that my friends are taking my mother’s former stance of “accepting but not condoning,” I had to decide whether I valued my friend’s opinions.

It didn’t take long before I realized the answer was, “Of course!”

I realized that I was caring too much about what other people thought, as though how other people perceived my relationship would dictate how successful it was. I’ve always cared about other people’s opinions, but this is one area where I need to forget what other people think. I have to realize that people are automatically going to assume I have daddy issues, that not everyone is okay with a relationship like mine, that some people won’t laugh at my cheesy jokes, and that not everyone has to love the choices I make.

I adore my friends and, of course, their opinions matter to me. But it’s not essential. I have their support, even if I get the feeling my relationship skeeves them out a little bit. And that’s fine for the time being.

In the meantime, I’ll lean on my family and my boyfriend for support. I just hope his walker can stand the extra weight.

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Julie Hartley

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36 comments

  • You should buy him some tennis balls to put over the legs of his walker. That would make a nice Christmas present.

  • Dude, there are studies that say that the relationships that last the longest have a man that’s at least 5 years older than the woman. So you’re one step ahead of the rest of the game!

  • Great article. For whatever reason my sister and I have always liked older men. My boyfriend is 11 years older than me and her husband is 18 years older than her. It’s silly for people to be awkward about it and assume it has to do with “daddy issues” there are many more reasons for women to choose older men. My sister and I have a wonderful dad. Recently my boyfriend ended up in the hospital and when sickness made him look older (and no make-up makes me look younger) nurses and doctors kept asking if he was my dad. Which would make me in my mid-twenties. My response was “No, I’m his girlfriend” Then I would say “YES! I look young!”
    Hopefully as your friends mature and their tastes mature they will start to find “Old people activities” cool. Isn’t there a certain coolness with not having to share him with your friends? He’s your secret stash of man. Or maybe, you will eventually out grow some of your friends. It boggles my mind that you are the only one in the group that finds an older man exciting. Oh well, C’est la vie.

    • There’s an evolutionary reason for women being attracted to older men, actually. As I explained in my monogamy article, women are attracted to power and wealth. Well, older men *tend* to be the ones who have more power and wealth….

    • I’ve always kind of found myself attracted to older men, but I think it’s more because of the ruggedness/sophistication/experience factor than anything else. I think that was one of the things that drew me in, but it’s definitely not what makes me stay. It makes me feel better to know I’m not alone though!

      This past weekend I was actually with a group of girls that I hadn’t talked to in a while. One of my friends blurted out the details on my relationship, and everyone’s reaction was so varied. One of them screamed and started to tell me how it was all kinds of wrong, one of them said I was wasting my youth, and then the third girl got really excited and started asking me for tips on how she could land a guy in his thirties!

  • Oh yeah, Julie, I have MAJOR daddy issues. And Q is only 29… don’t feel bad!

  • Hey, two random questions for y’all….

    How do you like the threaded comments feature? I’m noticing that it facilitates banter. 😉

    Also, how’s the speed of the site working for you? Are you noticing a long lag for your comments to get posted?

    • Actually, I’m pretty sure that it’s the people bantering that are facilitating the banter… but that could just be me. I like it… since you can get updates on the embedded replies. I have noticed a small lag with the submit button… but just a couple of seconds… so nothing that really bothers me. Here… let me try.

    • Ok, that one took like 1.5 seconds… not really a lag.

      Sorry for the multiple posts guys…

    • I think the lag comes if you’re not logged into the site, since the comment is sent through a spam filter first.

      Let’s find out….

  • 18 years is a big difference if one person is 18 and the other is 36…but it becomes less of an issue the older you get. Until you get old enough that death is on the horizon. Like 60 and 78. That might not be an awesome situation to be in.

    Anyway, I’d rather know why you’re dating an man that much older than you. What do you tell people when they ask/ They must ask…right?

    • Yeah, that 18-year difference was a HUGE issue when I was in college.

      *grumble grumble* prison time *grumble grumble* :-p

    • “Why not?” is usually the reply I’m tempted to give. It wasn’t something I planned, and I didn’t go out seeking an older guy to get in a relationship with. Initially, I thought it was the most scandalous thing ever and there was no way I could let myself get into a relationship with someone that much older. But then we got to know each other better, and the age difference is just something that’s hard to explain.

      I think why it’s so weird for so many people is because my friends look at him and think “old person.” That’s what people perceive to be his defining feature, and everyone has such a hard time getting past it. I hardly even think about the age difference anymore. It’s rarely glaringly obvious, and we’re able to relate so well and are so compatible that it’s never been an issue. Even though there’s an age difference, we’re in similar life stages.

      I know it’s going to sound cheesy if I say that he’s pretty much my ideal guy, but so far he is. Even those weird little things I’ve always hoped to find in a guy are there with him, and I just think it would be foolish to essentially try and find him in a younger version, especially when age differences aren’t a deal breaker for me.

      It also helps that he looks about a decade younger than he really is. Don’t let that animation above fool you, because he doesn’t look a day past seventy! 😉

  • I think you are lucky to have friends who support you and it’s important that you distinguish the difference between their support of you and their support of your choices. My friends and I always support each other, even when we don’t agree with one another’s choices. If someone matters, they matter. Not everyone should have to agree with your choices all the time. When my sister dated a sex offender, I didn’t agree with her choice, but I didn’t stop being her sister.

  • Funny and well written! 🙂

  • Julie: Just to play Devil’s advocate… what about kids? Is he open to the idea? Do you want them? Are you ok with having kids that have a retired father by the time they’re in college?

    Just curious!!!! 😛

    • Haha, this is scary knowing he might read this. Yes, I definitely want kids, and he does eventually as well. We haven’t put a time frame or anything up, but we’re on the same page (if it goes in that direction).

      And his age in respect to kids wouldn’t bother me. My own father had me when he was 40 and my youngest sibling when he was 43, and he still went on bike rides and played catch with us, so I guess that’s all I know anyway.

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to open any cans containing worms or anything… I was just curious. My parents were both very young when they had me and my brother, so I guess I can’t imagine waiting that long. But if you’ve discussed it, then that’s great!

      Tell him he can yell at me if he reads this and gets upset. I can take it!

    • She’s got plenty of time to wait on kids, Res- my father has himself a 4 year old son, and Papa B is twice my age.

      I’m thirty, btw.

  • My husband is 29 years older than me. We’ve been together for over 4 years and are very much in love. My step-dad is the only one who didn’t approve and stopped talking to me after we got married. His loss. Everyone else in my family loves my husband and when people see us together and meet him, they get it.

    Good luck with your relationship Julie and know that there will be haters and people that don’t understand but all that matters is your relationship with him and your love for each other 🙂

  • I once dated a guy 20 years older than me. I was 20. He was 40. My dad loved him. He (my dad) of course didn’t know we were secretly seeing each other. My dad just thought he was a really cool boss (yes, i was an intern!). It didn’t last for more than a couple of months. But, yes, old men can be very charming.

  • It’s cool that you have an older boyfriend.

    How long have you been a stripper?

    No, but for real, I only date older men except for that douche bag in high school. I was a senior; he was a freshman, but he was so mature. We made out in the science lab and then he left me for a sophomore. Assole.

  • I have dated women older than me and I found it to work. I don’t have to worry about performance and their eyesight isn’t too well so they think I look like Robert Redford.

  • I’m all about the older men too. The younger ones usually just act…young and then I get annoyed.

  • An 18 year difference is not necessarily the norm, but to me it makes way more sense than Hugh Hefner and his girlfriends. I think with some people you will always face some sort of criticism unless you’re dating the person they think you should be with. (For example: My boyfriend is Catholic, my family is Baptist. It’s not a major issue, but it’s still something they don’t necessarily agree with.)

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