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.