#746: Breaking Up…Much Older Boyfriend edition


I’m pretty young (17) and my boyfriend of two years is now 28. We met through this sport which is really uncommon where I live and we were happy for the first year but since my parents got a divorce I’ve been feeling worse for every day. Now I don’t feel welcome in any of my homes mainly because they think that I spend too much time with my boyfriend (let’s call him J). So all in all I feel stressed because i don’t feel at home anywhere, I feel sad because my boyfriend is more about us being together all of the time than I am (though is was like that too like a year ago) and I recently started feeling suffocated, and that I want to be able to go out clubbing and exploring myself (also sexually and meeting other people, yes).

I just feel that he’s getting on with his life and that I still haven’t lived mine, so even though I love him and he loves me, I feel like I am wasting his time everyday since he’s looking for something real and is not exactly getting younger. At the same time he’s the perfect boyfriend who can always make me feel better when I get stressed out over family, school, job, this sport and more and if this wasn’t about him, I wouldn’t have any problems because he’d keep me happy and help me through this.

I can’t help but feeling that if it wasn’t for this particular sport which means the world to the both of us, I probably would break up and live my life for a couple years, including getting my own place, drinking at clubs, maybe study in a different city and get some tattoos (which he doesn’t really like but never holds against me). I don’t know what would happen if we broke up, maybe we’d just hold some distance for a while and then go back to normal, or one of us would have to quit.

This break up feeling is new though, it came when things got so much worse at home, so I can’t help but wondering if I’m projecting my feelings of betrayal and slight disgust that I have towards mainly my mother, onto him. I really don’t know what to do because my parents are too partial in this, none of my friends understands the extent to which this could destroy my life within this sport and how I don’t want to waste his time and I am just a wreck.

J also has to live in a relationship with someone completely unstable who breaks down in tears everyday which of course is worse for me, but it must be weary on him as well. I just feel really bad because he has always treated me like a princess through everything and has kept me sane through my parents divorce. But at the same time I want to LIVE! Find out who I am without him. I also know that I’m pretty unstable from 7 years of bullying and a manipulative relationship before him so thats not helping either…..

I just don’t know where to keep all of there thoughts because everytime I let them out I break down in tears..

Please help!

If J. is generally a good person who loves you and treats you well, then breaking up with him shouldn’t “destroy your life within this sport.” The sport was yours before you met him and will be yours after you leave him. If you feel afraid that he will make life in your sport difficult for you to continue if you end your relationship, that’s one more reason to dump him, not a reason to stay longer. In fact, that’s a reason to tell other people within the sport what you’re doing and why so that they can look out for you.

You are grateful for how J. helped you through a hard time when your parents were divorcing. It’s nice that he did that. It’s also what literally any person who cares about you would do for someone they love who is going through a hard time. “Basic kindness and empathy” is not a down payment on your eternal devotion to an unhappy relationship.

All of your reasons for breaking up sound like great ones to me. You want to try being alone for a while. You want to experiment sexually with other people. You want to become your own person. You want bodily autonomy (tattoos!). You say: “But at the same time I want to LIVE! Find out who I am without him.” You say: “I feel sad because my boyfriend is more about us being together all of the time than I am (though is was like that too like a year ago) and I recently started feeling suffocated.” LW, you are being self-aware, and smart, and thoughtful about your future and the things you want. You don’t sound like “a mess” to me, you sound like a young person who has been through a really hard time and who is now coming out the other side ready to embrace the world. He is chronologically older than you, but you have outgrown him (which happens in relationships, especially when we are learning how to have relationships), and that is more than okay.

I am going to sound like your parents for a second and I hope you will not tune me out. I need to say it.

A 26-year-old man who wants to date a 15-year-old (the rough ages you both were when you met) is deeply suspect to me. Not because you are not awesome and worth loving (you absolutely are) but because that age gap does matter. You can be thoughtful, cool, mature, and wise beyond your years, but you were still 15 when you met him and there is something not quite right about an adult man who sees the junior varsity as his dating pool. Your parents don’t sound like your favorite people right now, and I’m sure they’ve made a lot of mistakes while pre-occupied with their divorce, but I can absolutely understand why they don’t get your relationship with J. They are most likely terrified that if they crack down on it they’ll push you away forever, but also terrified for you, terrified that you’re being pressured into things you don’t want to do. Before you defend your relationship, keep in mind that you said “you feel suffocated” by it. “Pressure” doesn’t always mean “sexual stuff.” It can also mean feeling constrained in being able to do the things that you really want to do because of your relationship partner. This post from Scarleteen is relevant.

I feel like some of why he chose you is because you’re isolated in some way, feel a bit like an outsider, or are without enough support in your life from others…

…I feel like he chose you because he sees or senses something in you that makes you more vulnerable to his bullshit: like that your parents aren’t around, seem to be clueless, or set their standards for themselves so low that they also have low standards for you. Like that you’re already wounded in some way that makes it tougher for you to recognize danger when it’s whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Like that you think you aren’t thin enough, pretty enough, sexy enough or aren’t enough of anything at all, not even enough for a jerk like him, so you feel lucky he chose you while he’s busy making you unlucky as hell. Like that you’re in one of those states of limbo we often find ourselves in in our teens where we get lost for a while and have trouble with school, family or our own goals and dreams. Like because he knows someone younger has limited life experience which makes it harder to see when something or someone is bad news.

I feel like he chose you because he thinks that the biggest rebellion you have in you isn’t changing an unjust rule or law, fighting for the rights of people who need a voice, advocating for yourself when no one else will, winning something everyone said you couldn’t, or telling the whole freaking world to piss off when that’s what needs to be said, but… just dating some creep who will irritate your parents.

I feel like he knows — and enjoys — that he has more power than you do right now due to his age or gender, and that rather than seeking to share it, or helping you nurture and own your own power, he wants to keep his power, and take yours from you to have it all for himself.

And I know that he knows that age matters, despite his telling you, or agreeing with you, that it doesn’t. He knows that because he’s been your age before, and knows that things are different for him at the age he is now. When you’re his age, you’ll know that, too, but he also knows you don’t know that yet. – Why I Deeply Dislike Your Older Boyfriend, Scarleteen

See also: Gay Teens and Older Partners.

I would never try to tell you that your love for J. isn’t real, just…I meet a lot of 17 and 18 year olds in my line of work as a college teacher. As a group, you are amazingly smart, powerful, perceptive, talented, and hard working. Y’all fucking glow with fire and light. You’re at the beginning of your adult lives and the whole world is open to you and what you will see and do and become. And I cannot, I CANNOT, I can. fucking. not. imagine a good older person wanting to tamp that all down and say “It’s time to settle down!!!! Why aren’t you spending more time with meeeee?” I swear on the complete works of Agnes Varda and Krzysztof Kieslowski that someday you are going to be 28 and you are going to meet some 15-17-year-olds and you are going to think both “How cool they are, and how nifty that we both like old movies/bobsledding/antique poster art” and also “Ewwwwww, no, I wouldn’t *date* them. Creepy!” By the way, if J. was in any kind of coach or counselor or mentor role with you with regard to your sport when you met, I officially raise the threat level to KILL IT WITH FIRE. That doesn’t make your feelings about him invalid, but it makes me question everything about J.’s judgment and motives. A coach or teacher who dates very young people they mentor has given up all, and I mean ALL, rights to the benefit of the doubt.

You don’t have to feel the way I do about J., obviously, and you especially don’t have to do that right this second. Fifteen years from now the thought of him might give you a visible shudder, turn you into HULK, or it *might* give you fond memories of first love. You are the one who gets to decide how tell the story of your life. Similarly, I and others don’t have to see the good in him. I hope you can get that, and forgive your parents somewhat for their negative reaction.

Now that I’ve said my 26-year-old man/15-year-old/A WORLD OF NO piece and propitiated the Goddesses, let’s talk about what you can do to start to feel better right now.

Step 1: Tell somebody

It sounds like your support system has fractured, outside of J., over the last year. I can see why telling your parents you are thinking about breaking up is difficult, it’s completely unfun to hear 10,000 “I TOLD YOU SOs” when you are grieving and in pain. But you need to tell somebody and you need to start knitting together the prospect of your life without him.

If you have a school counselor and/or another adult you trust, tell them. “I’m thinking about breaking up with my boyfriend. He’s been a big support to me this last year, and I’m nervous about letting go of that. Also, I’ve been feeling sad and crying a lot lately.” Tell your parents, “I’ve been feeling very sad lately, and I think I might need some counseling help. Can you help me find someone/make an appointment/work out insurance stuff?” Get hooked up with some support and help that doesn’t come from J. It will be awkward at first if you’ve been used to keeping your relationship and your hard emotional stuff pretty close to the vest, but please be brave and talk to somebody about what’s going on.

If anyone (your parents) says ANY version of “what did you expect” or “I told you so” STOP THEM RIGHT THERE. “I’m gonna stop you right there. I am hurting right now, and asking you for help, and I don’t need to hear ‘I told you so.’ I need you to listen to and support me and help me get free. I need to know that you love me even if I make something that looks to you like a mistake.” 

Step 2: Tell J. 

If you want to break up with J. right now, you can do it! You already know everything you need to know in order to make a good decision, and he doesn’t have to agree with you that it’s a good idea. You are the sole decider of whether you continue to be in a relationship with him, and as soon as you decide it is done, it is done.

You can send a letter, you can call him on the phone, or you can break up face to face. If you do it face to face, do it in a public place like a park, and make sure you have your own transportation there and back. Don’t do it at his place, or when you are dependent on him for a ride in order to actually leave. Tell someone where you are going, and arrange to check in with them right afterward.

Script: J., your love and support has been very important to me, but I have decided to end the romantic part of our relationship. I hope we can be friends someday, and see each other at (sport) down the road, but for now, I think it would be good if we made a clean break and didn’t contact each other for a while.

If he asks why, you can say, “Lots of reasons.” “No one reason.” “I’m 17, and I want to make decisions about the next part of my life – where I should study, where I should live – for my own sake, without having to consider anyone else’s needs.” “I want to date other people.“I just think it’s run its course.” 

If he tries to convince you to stay, to reconsider, acts like he is not hearing you, argues with your reasons, uses “everything he’s done for you” to try to guilt you to stay or says other stuff to lash out at you and make you feel bad, end the conversation. “I can see that you are very upset, and I realize that this is a lot to process. Let’s end this conversation for now.” Being dumped sucks, but your reasons for doing so should not be outlandish to someone who is the 10+ years older boyfriend to a minor.

If you’re not quite ready to break up, there’s still something you can do to get some space to think: Tell J. you need some time to focus on your studies/family/friends/mental health and that you’ll talk to him in a month, but for now, you’d appreciate it if he did his own thing, too and waited for you to get in touch before reaching out to you.

He might (reasonably) ask if you’re breaking up with him, if there’s a problem, if there’s anything he can do, etc. Just repeat “I don’t know, but I do know that I need some time and space to myself right now. I’ll call you in a month and we can talk then” and get out of the conversation.

It is very important that he respect your request for a clean break or some space with no contact. If he shows up at your house, insists on seeing you, texts you a million times, bombards you on social media, sends you presents, etc., that is very, very bad! That is not romantic, that is him directly ignoring your stated needs. Any of those behaviors should trigger an insta-block/lockdown from you and you should also tell your counselor/trusted adult AND your parents about it. “I asked J. for some space, and he is not taking it well. If he shows up here, please don’t let him in.” You should also tell people you trust within your sport. “J. and I were dating, and I ended things, and he is taking it very badly. Can you help me make sure that he and I are competing on separate days/keep an eye out for him?” That thing, where maybe someday you look back at him fondly? He can help ensure that thing by not throwing a stalker babyfit when his teenaged partner breaks things off or requests some space. Trust.

Step 3: Fall back in love with your life

Forgot to say, the steps aren’t in an ironclad order and you can definitely start doing some or all of this stuff at the same time you tell trusted adults and J. what’s going on.

  • Tell a friend or friends what’s going on. Go dancing with them.
  • Make a list of 5-10 other people who do your same sport that you could maybe hang out with at sporting events.
  • Start making a list of what cities you might want to travel to and study in someday.
  • Sketch out tattoo designs that you want.
  • Go dancing some more.
  • Re-read your favorite book and/or watch your favorite movie.
  • Make a playlist of your 20 favorite songs that aren’t about love.
  • Practice your sport and get awesomely sweaty.
  • Go get a cool haircut or dye your hair a fun color or donate/throw out your least favorite shirt and that other piece of clothing that’s never been quite right. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just choose something that makes you feel good in your skin and gives you some autonomy and creativity where your body is concerned.
  • At school, walk up to someone you think is interesting but who you don’t usually sit with or talk to and ask if you can sit with them today. Do this every couple of weeks, until you’ve “met” (or re-met) 10 new people.
  • If you like any of those people, and they invite you to do stuff, say yes. Go. Have fun.
  • Are your grandparents alive & available to you? Call or Skype or visit them.
  • Do you have nieces/nephews/young cousins? Call or Skype or visit with them.
  • Pick one subject in school that is not your best subject. Resolve that *this* is the quarter you figure it out. Ask your teacher for extra help, find a tutor if you need to, go online and find some other resources related to it.
  • Do you have an old friend that you haven’t talked to since you were a kid? Write them a letter, on paper, that you mail with a stamp.
  • Spend a day going through your childhood toys and play with your favorites.
  • Dig out your childhood diaries and artwork. Hang the artwork up in your room(s) at both places you live. Marvel at your old diaries.
  • Go dancing every WEEK. Go as much as you want to.
  • Have good sex…with yourself.
  • Get a doctor’s checkup if it’s been a while. Get screened for STIs and revisit your contraception needs if that’s a thing that affects you.
  • Cook a meal for each of your parents. Ask them about their first crushes, their first loves. Do the dishes afterward.
  • When you feel the urge to contact J., call a friend or write in a journal instead.
  • Think about finding a place to volunteer. Reading to elderly people, working with kids (maybe on something related to your sport), pet puppies or kitties or snakes, work at the food bank. Anything that connects you to other people in a positive way is good medicine right now.
  • When you are good and broken up and ready, kiss someone interesting.

You will heal from this, lovely LW, and so will J. You are not the only two people on the planet. If he is as nice as you say, he will find someone his own age to be nice to. You are wise and wonderful and your survival and self-care instincts are clearly in full-working order. You will dance, and get tattoos, and travel, and conquer the world with your sport, and figure out how to have an adult relationship with your parents, and make a home for yourself, and find your people. Let go of this dude you’ve outgrown, grieve for the month or so it takes you to get over him, and feast on your life.

Moderator Note: I know people who read this site met the love of their lives at 15 or 17 and some people have happy relationships despite large age differences. For purposes of this post and discussion, your anecdotes about how “this can all really work out sometimes!” are irrelevant. Older dudes who date much younger people are NOT an unfairly oppressed group, NOT subject to anything that could be called “age discrimination,” and they don’t need your advocacy.  Plus, if your life is working out for you so awesomely, you don’t have to defend it in internet threads that are about a very different situation. Thank you in advance.

334 thoughts on “#746: Breaking Up…Much Older Boyfriend edition

  1. Thank you for that moderator note. The minute I saw the age difference here, my kneejerk reaction was “call the police”.

    1. I can see why that’s so, but I think the LW needs to be in charge of how to end this thing, and getting her free is more important than punishing the dude or taking the decision-making out of her hands by invoking the legal system, especially at this point.

      1. This was so good I am almost crying in my (college professor) office. Yes, I meet these young people too. Your advice and approach articulate things I didn’t even know I felt about them. Yes. LW, I hope this got you in all the right feels, and I wish you so well.

        1. Yes! This!!!!!! Young adults are so great! They are just terrific and I want all the good things for you, LW. Go be your terrifyingly amazing self!

        2. As a former high school teacher, I feel the same way. I was so proud of my students, and impressed with what they could do, and thrilled with their stories and happy to have shared interests… and I cannot CONCEIVE of how anyone in my position could see any of them as a potential romantic partner or try to keep them down. Thanks for putting it so beautifully, Captain, and for writing so compassionately. It’s often so tempting to just try to tell younger people what to do because “you’ll understand when you’re older,” but you have a way of validating others’ feelings and perspectives that I think makes it far easier to understand NOW.

      1. I don’t think a police call is warranted. We don’t have enough info about the extent to which he pressured her into a relationship, if at all. I think the Captain’s advice is much more helpful. It provides good strategies for dealing with any kind of break up and it will help this young person learn how to establish boundaries, stick up for herself, and deal with difficult situations all of which will serve her well as an adult.

        1. One thing to be aware of, if you’re reading, LW, is that depending on what the laws are like where you live, some people (pastors, coaches, school employees like teachers and school counselors) are what is known as “mandated reporters,” where if they hear of an inappropriate sexual relationship between an adult and a minor they *must* alert authorities or else lose their job. I still 100% think you should tell an adult about what’s going on with you and ask for support, but I think you should have informed consent about what a mandated reporter is before you reveal too many details of your relationship (like the fact that it started when you were 15).

          I am a mandated reporter at my job with college students, and I have some deep ethical concerns right about advising you to maybe *not* tell everything to a trusted adult (and about times when I might have to say “before you tell me anything else, I’m a mandated reporter, so I have to pass on certain information to authorities” to a vulnerable person), but I also don’t feel right about sending you to tell people without informing you of that possibility. Educate yourself about consent laws where you are and also about mandated reporting guidelines. Just one more complication of relationships between adults and minors that I wish your boyfriend had thought more about 2 years go.

    2. I have no shame in saying that I am terribly biased and even bitter towards relationships between teens and adults, to the point I can’t even hide this being my default reaction:

      Sorry, but I have a history as the “permanently single shoulder to cry on” friend during high school. There were times my social life revolved around giving interventions to friends who thought they were mature enough for the guys they dated on and off. Let’s say the whole experience has left me with this weird spidy-sense towards older guys, I mean, like the Cap said, there has got to be something going through a guys mind if he actually seeking out a relationship, not just attracted to, a teenage girl. On the flip said, the guy for some reason has very little going through his head! I mean, look:

      “I feel like I am wasting his time everyday since he’s looking for something real and is not exactly getting younger.”

      If this dude were really looking for something real , WHY IN THE HELL IS HE DATING A TEENAGER??!!! I mean no offense to people who settled down early in life, but if you ask any of these dudes what they wanted at 16, I highly doubt they would say they wanted to get married that very instant. And LW’s right, he isn’t getting any younger, non of us are, if he wants something real he should find somebody who’s on the same page, sadly for him the LW and most of the people in her age pool aren’t.

      “J also has to live in a relationship with someone completely unstable who breaks down in tears everyday”

      Oh dear God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Odin, the Buddha, anything holly that might be out there!!! This made me want to scream ‘you are seventeen, you are seventeen, you are seventeen frigging years old!’, I know of no sane human being, much less any adult, who thinks a teenager has their emotional life somewhat together. If this J dude really thinks the opposite, then I’m sorry, but like I said, that would make him really, really dumb. Everybody (except if you got some cognitive difficulty or had and accident) can remember the stress and confusion of their teen years, nobody should judge you or expect more of you, you are growing and the world is changing at a very fast pace, especially at seventeen. You have the right to cry, be terrified, change the color of your hair one day and shave off next week. A teenager is the last person I’d expect and demand stability from. I know this because I not so long ago was one.

      Again, I’m sorry, I know this sounds like a huge rant, but the red lights on this one are more irritating than the flash on my grandma’s old camera.

      I wish the LW the best of luck, and as a good break up text I recommend the “I just think it’s run its course.”; see if J learns a little something about teenagers, they out grow things really fast, that includes romances.

      1. Allll of this.

        When I was 17, I was actually dating a man who was 29. (A man who I later learned pretty mush cexclusively dated teenagers.) Not only was he a total skeeve who pursued and dated me at 17, but he ALSO *belittled me for acting like a teenager.* Normal teenage behaviors like not knowing as much as he did about a subject, or being naive or childlike, earned heaps of scorn.

    3. Also, and it’s really irrelevant in light of what Cap said above, I’m not positive but I think LW may be writing from a non-US country. It’s possible that this relationship is not police-calling-material there, although ai! Anywhere 15-year-old children can be legally “dated” by men in their mid-late twenties does not sound like a very nice place.

      1. The dating bit isn’t generally illegal anywhere; sex likely is, though as far as I saw LW didn’t mention whether or not sex is a thing she and J have done. J could lose his job for dating a minor if he’s in a position of authority, but there are few places where he could actually be prosecuted for that.

  2. “Basic kindness and empathy” is not a down payment on your eternal devotion to an unhappy relationship.

    So, so perfectly stated.  Should be on 10,000 T-shrits and thousands of billboards, each at least ten feet high.

  3. “Older dudes who date much younger women are *not* an unfairly oppressed group and they don’t need your advocacy.” – GIANT snort

    This advice is spot on. ❤ and Hugs to LW!

  4. First of all, I just wanted to acknowledge that initiating a breakup is hard to do, especially the first time you’ve done it. My first breakup was with a guy who was absolutely wonderful on paper but who just wasn’t right for me anymore and made me feel suffocated and frustrated. I remember prolonging it because it was never the perfect time (note: there is probably never going to be a perfect opening to initiating a breakup), or because I didn’t think I had good enough reasons, or I just…didn’t know how. I had obsessive conversations with friends and asked for coaching over and over. All this to say, I get the dilemma, but YOU CAN DO IT, and I wager you will feel much much better once you do. In the end, you just kind of have to get the words out. If you’re not sure what to do, I recommend just blurting it out first thing (“I want to break up with you”) and going from there, so you can’t chicken out.

    I also want to affirm that something can be the right decision and still make you sad. The thought of this can be freeing and feel right to you and *also* make you feel queasy and worried and upset. Allow yourself to feel sad, but acknowledge that you made the right decision. If you’re worried you might backslide or he might try to convince you to come back, ask him not to contact you for x amount of time (I usually recommend at least a month, based on observing friends’ breakups as well as my own). Reading your letter, I think this is the right decision for you and it sounds like it’s also what you want, so just trust yourself on that. Even if you disagree with the Captain’s assessment of your boyfriend, a relationship can be the right thing for you at one time and the wrong thing at another. And that’s OK.

    Secondly…I don’t know what your friend group looks like. But I’m the kind of person who’s kind of bad at keeping in touch with people, despite maintaining good feelings for them. If you don’t have any close friends right now, I urge you to identify someone you nonetheless have good feelings toward, who seems trustworthy, and take a chance and talk to that person about what’s going on. This is just my experience, of course, but I have found throughout my life that I’m usually surrounded by more sympathetic, kind, trustworthy people than I think. And I myself am the kind of person who’s totally opening to reconnecting with friends even if they haven’t talked to me in years. So if you think there’s that kind of person around, see if you can walk up to them after school/work/sporting event/via social media/whatever and ask, “Hey, have you ever broken up with anyone before? I’m not sure how to do it.” And see how things go from there. You may find there’s more support available to you than you think. Definitely reach out to the mentor-type adults around you (in addition to the people CA mentioned, is there a coach for the sport you’re in that you could maybe have a quick talk with, to head off extra drama?), but give your peers a second look just in case.

    I wish you many wonderful days of exploration and fun, LW.

    1. This, x 100: “I also want to affirm that something can be the right decision and still make you sad.” That is a fact that I wish 18-year-old me had known.

    2. The first time I broke up with someone, I really really cared about them. They were awesome and amazing but I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. When we did break up, I felt both immense relief and immense guilt and sadness. Breaking up with someone is hard. I won’t say its harder (or easier) than being broken up with, but it is a very different kind of hard, and sometimes it’s difficult finding people to give you the right kind of empathy.

      So, LW, when you break up with him, it might be super sad and you might feel really terrible. That’s normal. It’s normal to feel bad for hurting someone you care about. But you know it is the right thing to do and it is for the best. No one wants to be in a relationship where one of the people doesn’t want to be there. He might think he does, because that’s what heartbroken people sometimes do, but if he’s a good guy he’ll know in his heart of hearts that is wrong of him to keep you with him when you don’t want to be there. He’ll know it’s the right thing, too.

      1. So true. I also really, really cared about my High School boyfriend, and when I broke it off with him I cried for days and days, even though it was 100% my decision to break up with him and he did not expect it at all. I felt sad and depressed and happy and excited all at once. Breaking up is hard to do no matter which end of the break up you are on. It’s hard to leave someone you love just because you’re not “in love” with them any more.

    3. I also want to affirm that something can be the right decision and still make you sad.

      The first time I broke up with someone, I really really cared about them. They were awesome and amazing but I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. When we did break up, I felt both immense relief and immense guilt and sadness. Breaking up with someone is hard. I won’t say its harder (or easier) than being broken up with, but it is a very different kind of hard, and sometimes it’s difficult finding people to give you the right kind of empathy.

      So, LW, when you break up with him, it might be super sad and you might feel really terrible. That’s normal. It’s normal to feel bad for hurting someone you care about. But you know it is the right thing to do and it is for the best. No one wants to be in a relationship where one of the people doesn’t want to be there. He might think he does, because that’s what heartbroken people sometimes do, but if he’s a good guy he’ll know in his heart of hearts that is wrong of him to keep you with him when you don’t want to be there. He’ll know it’s the right thing, too.

    4. I said this in the last question about a first break up thread, but I’m going to repeat it. It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Your first break up is the hardest because it is the first time you’ve ever felt that particular hurt. Other break ups are hard, but you’ve been down this road before and you know you can heal. You know the path through that particular forest. The first time you do it, you don’t know that path. You don’t know that you can heal because you’ve never had to before. When I was in school, I would get super stressed with deadlines and projects all at once. Then eventually I knew I would get through it, because I had gotten through it before. Didn’t make it less stressful, but it made me better at dealing with the stress.

      So follow all of these amazing suggestions. Break Up. Learn to be you, whoever that is in this ever changing set of circumstances. Mourn, because mourning is healthy and has it’s place. Celebrate. Feel everything.

      (I gather from your letter, you’ve been in at least one relationship before so it might not be your first break up, but it might be your first “THIS WAS LOVE” break up, or first you initiated.)

      1. “Your first break up is the hardest because it is the first time you’ve ever felt that particular hurt. Other break ups are hard, but you’ve been down this road before and you know you can heal. You know the path through that particular forest. The first time you do it, you don’t know that path. You don’t know that you can heal because you’ve never had to before”

        YES!! This is perfect and was worth repeating.

      2. So true. It is not being overdramatic to feel like you might not recover from your first break up because you have no empirical evidence that you will.

        Also, it should be overtly said, I think, that just because you are sad about the break up, doesn’t mean you should get back together. If you and J end, LW, for the first few weeks or even the first few months, you may feel a sneaking suspicious that you have made the wrong decision. J may even decide to try to tell you that you have. Things will feel weird and maybe a little wrong because the way you have gone through life for a good long while has changed. That is totally normal and not an indication that you’ve made a mistake.

      3. I don’t really agree with this.

        LW, at the time the joys and sorrows of first love seem deeper and sharper than later loves could possibly be.

        My experience though says that later relationships will be richer and finer.

        You and your loves will be deeper people with more understanding of what you offer.

        The breakup now might be hard, but it isn’t like scar tissue, it’s like muscle tissues that are built up and stronger.

    5. If you don’t have any close friends right now, I urge you to identify someone you nonetheless have good feelings toward, who seems trustworthy, and take a chance and talk to that person about what’s going on. This is just my experience, of course, but I have found throughout my life that I’m usually surrounded by more sympathetic, kind, trustworthy people than I think.

      Yes. I have occasionally wondered “why has this person online added me to this somewhat private filter/reading group, when we don’t really know each other? Is it just that I’m safely a thousand miles away?” Reading omj’s comment, I think it’s that I’m safely a thousand miles away and the other person has confidence that there are a lot of good people out there, who will listen and sympathize even if they didn’t expect to be asked. A lot of people who, at most, will say “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. Good luck with that” rather than thinking you’re weird for asking them for advice or comfort.

  5. Re: point #2:

    I feel like another red flag is if LW tells J they have decided to take a break in order to sort some personal stuff, and J takes that statement as an opportunity to negotiate LW’s preferred time period down to something shorter, or tries to barter, “Okay I will give you two weeks if you do x thing you have been resisting.” Those would be attempts to turn the situation (back?) into something within J’s control, to (re?)assert themselves over LW’s autonomy. If J does that LW has my permission to KIWF as well.

    1. Or if he tries to bring their ages into it. You can decide that you need some space to re-establish boundaries at any age, and “not getting any younger” means he should be old enough to have patience and respect that.

  6. I feel like a total downer, but I just want to say that in some very male dominated sports the very fact a girl broke up with a guy can spell social difficulty for her within the sport. J. may not turn anyone against the LW, they may just automatically side with him because he is a dude. I really hope the LWs sport is not like this, but if she thinks she’s going to get major pushback from her fellow participants then just dismissing that isn’t helpful.

    To the LW: Even in the worst, most clicky sports clubs… Most people will get over themselves if you keep going, keep showing up, and keep taking the high road. It will be terribly hard and you will fret and every situation you think of will be worse than what actually happens. But I really do understand that it might feel like you’re ending your enjoyment of your sport with your relationship. The guys who automatically side with J. are not worth knowing. It sucks you have to be the brave one, but you can totally do it.

    1. I just slightly edited the post, because we don’t know the gender of the LW. I think you raise a good point, but I also wonder how the officials/organizers of the sport feel about people of car-renting age “dating” teenagers.

      1. Also, if J *is* LW’s coach, getting traction and distance is going to be very, very hard. LW mentions being bullied, and it could be that other participants in the sport are not people LW feels safe with or connected to. I certainly understand LW’s unease in those circumstances! Breaking up still needs to happen, though.

    2. I did just wonder if the sport could be something they do together – like, say, if they were skating partners. If they train together you could imagine that would be a circumstance in which an older person might regularly spend a lot of time with a younger one, and where a person might worry about ‘destroying’ their chances in the sport if the partnership was affected by the break-up.
      (I know nothing about skating. I was just thinking if it was a sport in which they compete together, it might be hard to take a break from each other in those circumstances.)

      1. I was wondering about something like rock climbing, where — if you’re doing route climbing, rather than bouldering — you need a partner to belay you (and be belayed by you in turn).

        Some people seem to end up climbing more-or-less exclusively with their Significant Other. So a break-up could leave someone stranded without a partner.

        But if it’s something like this, there are usually systems in place to let people find partners — for example, climbing gyms will usually have bulletin boards or meet-up sessions for people who are looking for partners.

        Note: based on what I’ve observed with climbers, having your romantic partner also be your climbing partner can be really stressful and complicated; inevitably, disagreements get freighted with anything that’s going on in the relationship at the time.

        You might find that doing your sport with someone who you aren’t dating is better for your progress in the sport, too.

        1. In my time as a ski instructor, I quickly learned to advise married couples that, if they could afford to do so, they should DEFINITELY take separate lessons. Suffice to say ski instruction would be a very lucrative profession indeed if taking referral fees from divorce attorneys weren’t so morally questionable.

          1. Ha. Even worse, the people who want to teach their Significant Other to climb themselves. I know of some cases where this isn’t a complete disaster, but man, the odds are not good.

          1. One of my friends was recently telling me how I should take her husband rock climbing once I have time and money again. He likes it, she doesn’t, but it not being a good activity to do with your significant other never occurred to me.

        2. Yeah, I was thinking that too. My cousins and I have a rule- never belay when mad. At our indoor rock gym, there’s been a few “accidents” where someone drops their partner after a tiff. Since the climbs aren’t that high, and the ground is really padded, nobody got hurt, but it’s scary to go into free fall from a ten foot drop. Unfortunately, there’s a layer of plausible deniability, so the gym people don’t throw people out after stunts like that.

      2. On the inability to take a break, I used to practice a very obscure martial art with a variety of ages involved and was dating another same-age participant. (There were also couples with serious age gaps, including one later-twenties man/teenage girl couple with almost as big an age gap as in the LW’s relationship). My partner and I were at the same level and spent a lot of time together training for our upcoming grading, and then about a week before the grading we broke up. As the only students grading at that belt level, we still had to grade together and do a lot of training together —- it was impossible to avoid each other. (Also a lot of our groundwork involved some pretty intimate positioning, which was tricky). Luckily we both kept it quite professional and we’re still friends now, but I can see if the LW’s in a similar situation it being very difficult to have a full break.

        Regarding making waves, although I was worried about the effect breaking up would have in our small group of participants, it turned out to be fine. Some people definitely took subtle sides, but there wasn’t any disturbance in class and everything continued on normally. (As the art was so obscure and we were some of the very few people in the country practicing it, we all generally put our personal dramas aside to focus solely on training. If the LW’s sport is anything like that art, it might actually help them out. I find smaller communities do tend to have more of a The Art Above All focus).

        1. I think there are a lot of people here looking at the letter and thinking about sports they know or are familiar with–I thought of a sport immediately myself, one I was loosely associated with but didn’t compete in myself, but which brings together a lot of people of different ages and also can be so small that it’s not feasible to just find another group to join.

          I’ve seen it happen both ways, even in smaller groups–I think some people just aren’t capable of getting any distance.

    3. It’s still a great idea for LW to find some other folks to talk to about this within the sports community, regardless of their gender. I was in a small, cliquey sports community for a while (and I still hang out with a lot of friends I made in that community, even though I stopped doing that sport), and the older members did care about the younger ones’ comfort and safety. In my experience, it did help that the sport was co-ed and there were many high-ranking women who ran classes and organized events, and they called out bad behavior when they saw it.

      LW may find after breaking up with her boyfriend that he’s not well-regarded in the community. She might also find that people think that adults dating high schoolers is business as usual, or that boyfriend has been the Missing Stair for a long time but no one thought to tell her–and if that’s the case, maybe this community is not a healthy one for her right now.

      1. Also there might be other clubs or dojos or whatever the appropriate thing is for LW’s sport that LW can switch too. It would be disruptive and sucky, but possibly still the best option based on what LW’s local scene looks like.

        1. Plus, if LW wants to study in a different town, they may be living in a new area soon anyway.

          There are a few situations I can imagine where a 26 year old dating a 15 year old wouldn’t raise immediate red flags (like: the club has no need to monitor members’ ages and boyfriend looks younger or LW looks older, or it’s not obvious that they’re dating, or it’s not really a club but a sport like rock climbing where you don’t interact with anyone but your climbing partner). But if everyone in the community knew, and no one said anything to boyfriend or checked on LW to make sure they were ok? Yikes.

    4. Also might be worth considering that, for a 17-year-old who may be heading off to Other Places to study and live, there may be other opportunities to resume playing the sport somewhere no one’s even heard of J. If things really go to pieces in the LW’s current scene, that might be something to hold onto and be optimistic about.

  7. I love your advice I think no matter the age gap it is so hard to leave someone you still basically care for and is for all intents and purposes a nice person, but who you just do not want to be with, It seems in our society people think should stay with someone and “Work it out” unless they have done something horrible (and maybe even something horrible it they are really really sorry *Eye Roll*)
    I wish I had gotten this advice when I was younger, other than hearing I was selfish or my expectations were too high, I or that I would never find anyone better. I feel like I wasted a lot of time in unsatisfying relationships because I was told your partner had to be jerk or something if you were gonna break up with them otherwise you were just a bitch, or so emotionally broken that you couldn’t care about other people the “right” way
    I hope LW finds the path that works best for them.

    1. THIS and I think this is worth looking at in more detail. I started dating again 2 years ago after ending a long term relationship and ended up dating someone for four months. We were incompatible in a number of ways that are important to me, including how we manage money, our families, our relationship(s) with our respective exes, etc. All things that were not going to change and could not be compromised on.

      Be VERY way of people who view incompatibilities like this as “things to be worked out” like my ex did. Even his mother felt the need to weigh in about how relationships are hard work, and anything can be worked out if you Just. Work. Harder. At. It!

      This is not true. Some things cannot be worked out. Some things you don’t want to work out. I personally do not believe that relationships should be like a day in the salt mines.

      1. “Some things you don’t want to work out.”

        And there you go. You are not required to work out every difference. It is perfectly ok if you want to walk away instead.

        Even if you do want to work out a major difference, take notice of just who does the compromising. When only one person compromises, that is not working things out. That is one person imposing their values on another person.

  8. Hey LW, I was in a very very similar situation to you when I was 17. He was 23, and we worked together and I was in school and did all this stuff and he didn’t have much going on in his life. Unlike your boyfriend, he didn’t get that *I* had a life, but like your boyfriend, he wanted me to spend like all of my time with him, etc. When I was choosing universities I’d only been with him for a few months but he put a lot of pressure on me to go to the campus in the city so that we could see each other more. I also found that I was trying to mold myself a bit to what he wanted and it threw me off track for my life a little. I originally had different plans than what I’m doing now.

    I broke up with him after 3 months. While your boyfriend sounds great, mine wasn’t but I didn’t really realize that until I was out! Honestly, if you want to break up then I would because you might see once you’re out that he was influencing you in ways that you were not comfortable with. I’m not saying that this is only limited to older boyfriends, but I think it might be more likely because their path in life is already more set and they might subconsciously or consciously try to influence you into a path that suits/benefits them or is in line with their plans, and you being much younger won’t necessarily realize this.

    I’m back on track now, sort of, I did end up going to the campus close to home due to monetary reasons and it’s worked out fantastically for me! I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life and I’m sure he had something to do with that but well, the path I’m on now is just as good as the one I was on before and I’m liking it, so hey.

    Another word of warning: while your boyfriend sounds great, and mature, mine was… not (also, he tried to pressure me into sex by the way, BUT I didn’t go with it and broke up with him mostly because of that), and he tried to make my life at work hell for the remaining time that he was there. He’d embarrass me subtly in front of customers and it’d seem like he was just joking but he totally knew what he was doing and I couldn’t just be rude to him back in front of customers, just smile and take it. It sucked. If you do break up with your bf, be careful about that in your sport, since it sounds like you both do it. Anyway, he quit after a few months and moved back to his hometown and I think he doesn’t do much now.

    I’m 19 now and my life is sooooo much better without him in it! I wish you the best of luck 🙂 hey mods, I hope this isn’t against the mod notes or rules. I’m in class right now so my thoughts are kind of disjointed and I may have broken a rule without realizing it.

    1. I dated a guy who was 23 when I was 17 too. Well, I was actually 18 and he was 24 when we really started dating, but it wasn’t that big of a difference. One memorable thing is that when we were first getting to know each other he once said to me “Crooked Bird, you’re not really 17… you’re 20.” I took it as a great big compliment. (I used to have all these people telling me I was mature, mostly because I was smart and well-spoken… which has nothing to do with maturity…) When I broke up with him two years later he told me I had been “drifting” ever since we’d known each other. (At that point he was 26 and had recently made a life commitment–not legally binding but he took it seriously–to a cause-oriented organization he had wanted to work for for years.)


      Of course, he didn’t really believe in “figuring out your life,” because for him there was only one true way of life, which was his particular brand of religion (and mine at the time.) Which was part of why our relationship was also bad. I started doubting and he did not take it well, which is probably a lot of the reason for the “drifting” comment. I mean, if you can’t try & figure out the meaning of life when you’re 19 or 20, when can you? (Oh, I forgot: never, because you’ve already been told what life means. Right.)

      Anyway, the ironic thing is, I am now married to a man 12 years older than me. Count them: 12. Captain, I swear I am not trying to make the point you asked us not to make, my point is actually this: my 6-year-age-gap relationship sucked, and the age gap had a lot to do with it. I was 18 when it started. My 12-year-age-gap relationship has turned out quite healthy. I was 23 when we started dating, 25 when we got married. It’s not that age-gap relationships can’t work, it’s that the younger person needs to have their feet firmly on the ground of adulthood, having gotten a good start on living their life, knowing themselves, knowing what they want, BEFORE they enter the relationship. Otherwise you end up in this horrible, confusing, dark tangled swamp of “I don’t know, I don’t know,” “It’s such a huge decision, what if I choose wrong”… with nowhere for your feet to stand, no *basis* for making decisions about how & with who you will spend your life. Or even the next few years.

      Anyway, Amberleaf le Haut, way to go, WAY TO GO getting out of it so quickly–wow! Took *me* two whole years–and most of the second one was the swamp. It took me two more years after that to actually be attracted to anyone again.

  9. I dated a 23yo when I was 17, and it ended for similar reasons–he was looking for a Serious Relationship, and I was still figuring out who I was and what I wanted. (Not as big of an age difference, but my parents were NOT on board. Age of consent in my state is 18.)

    LW, it’s a good thing to take time to figure out who you are and what kind of relationship(s) you want to have. You don’t have to feel bad for wanting that.

  10. “I need to know that you love me even if I make something that looks to you like a mistake.”

    Another great t-shirt.

  11. LW, part of aging is learning more about yourself and the world. I knew more about these things at 17 than I did at 12, and I know more about them now (much older than 17, lol) than I did at 17. Growing up is the time to learn more about yourself, explore the things that matter to you, find new things that matter to you. To decide what you want from the world, and what you are willing to give back to it. To figure out the kind of person you want to be. All of this requires a lot of space for you, the person doing the growing up. It’s totally fine to be happily caught up in a close relationship, whether platonic or romantic, at your age – if that is what you want. It is also totally fine to decide that said relationship is no longer working for you, and to spread your wings and do some more exploring.

    Your boyfriend is almost 30. People that age generally have come to realise and accept that youth is about exploring yourself and the world, and that people have legitimate boundaries that must be respected. Thus, if and when you end things with him, the mature response would be: “Okay, I understand. You have meant a lot to me, and I wish you the best,” or something along those lines. If your boyfriend reacts with ANYTHING other than understanding and support for your decision, then that is a big red flag. That flag would be telling you to run for the hills and never look back. I would say that about someone who was your age and reacted that way, but it is even more true with someone your boyfriend’s age who should know better. That flag would indicate that your boyfriend does not respect your wants and your needs. Take it from a fusty adult that mutual respect is the bedrock of a successful relationship.

    LW, I know you don’t want to hear this, and it’s true that in your case, this might not even apply, but men your boyfriend’s age who choose to date young women your age typically come across to women their own age as immature (both socially and emotionally), controlling, insecure, and oddly misogynistic. They say that women their own age hold them down too much, and they don’t like how women’s bodies change in the twenties and beyond. Your boyfriend might not be one of these people, and he might be completely understanding of where you are in life and what you want from life. But all of us here on Captain Awkward are replying to your letter with concern because we know that all too often, men like your boyfriend are as I described earlier in this paragraph. I hope for your sake he is the exception, rather than the rule.

    Women in this society are socialized to ignore their instincts and gut feelings. I urge you, LW, to always listen to your gut. It has data that your conscious mind does not. If, when you are telling your boyfriend that you’d like some space, you feel unsafe, then TRUST YOUR GUT, and try to extract yourself as soon as possible from the situation. The Captain is absolutely, 1000% right in all of her advice to you, but especially when she tells you to ensure your own physical safety during this conversation you are planning on having with your boyfriend. Most women who are abused experience this abuse at the hands of a male friend or romantic partner. I hope your boyfriend isn’t like that, but just in case he is, you need to make sure you will be safe.

    1. “men your boyfriend’s age who choose to date young women your age typically come across to women their own age as immature (both socially and emotionally), controlling, insecure, and oddly misogynistic”

      That’s how my ex was a bit, honestly. (He was 23, I was 17.) Not all people are like this, guy I like now is 24 and I’m 19 (we were 23/18 when we met), and he is NOTHING like this. But yes, this seems to be the case more often than not (I may be biased because I went through it).

      1. I also experienced this with one of my exes. Our age difference was not huge. I was less than 6 months away from turning 18 and he was almost-22 when we met. But four years when it’s early-20s/late teens is different than two 20-somethings or early 30s/late 20s (which is what my current relationship with my husband is). My ex was extremely immature (though he didn’t seem so at first, just because of sheer life experience). His time in high school had been pretty good, compared to the series of self-inflicted failures afterward, and he seemed to be stuck in that mindset. He did not fight fair. He did not acknowledge his immense privilege. Unlike your dude, LW, he was also very bad at being a friend (which was why I didn’t even try keeping in touch after the final breakup): he’d interrupt me or simply zone out whenever I’d talk about one of my passions, he sucked at being empathetic unless there was a way for him to immediately fix everything, he was an extreme victim-blamer, and he needed everyone’s attention focused on him at all times . It was bad, bad news, and the only reason I stuck around so long and didn’t acknowledge

        1. …hit post too soon.
          I was going to say: “the only reason I stuck around so long and didn’t acknowledge what was wrong was that he had the dubious distinction of being better than my first boyfriend.”

    2. “Take it from a fusty adult that mutual respect is the bedrock of a successful relationship.

      LW, I know you don’t want to hear this, and it’s true that in your case, this might not even apply, but men your boyfriend’s age who choose to date young women your age typically come across to women their own age as immature (both socially and emotionally), controlling, insecure, and oddly misogynistic. They say that women their own age hold them down too much, and they don’t like how women’s bodies change in the twenties and beyond”

      So much this. My little sister just got out of a relationship with someone who was 26 when they started dating – and she was only 20. This dude is closer in age to me and the more I learned about him the more I was afraid for her because he was so immature. He didn’t understand boundaries or respect her at all and it was just a nightmare. I am thankful she’s gotten out of that situation.

      An age gap of 5 years isn’t a lot after 35 or so, but because we live time essentially logarithmically, an age gap at 15 or 20 is a lot larger as far as maturity goes.

    3. Your second paragraph especially is gold, and something the LW should keep in mind. If J is as wise as he ought to be at his age, he WILL understand. He may not like it and he may feel hurt and rejected, but he WILL understand and he will make arrangements to handle his hurt without saddling LW with it.

    4. “…men your boyfriend’s age who choose to date young women your age typically come across to women their own age as immature (both socially and emotionally), controlling, insecure, and oddly misogynistic. They say that women their own age hold them down too much, and they don’t like how women’s bodies change in the twenties and beyond. ”

      I dated this guy! He was 38. I was 19. He cheated on his wife with me. Not my proudest admission, but I’ll note he waa a great manipulator and constantly pressured me for sexual acts and to stay in this uber-unhealthy relationship. He seemed to want to glom onto my youth, unhappy in his own age. In hindsight I’m glad she found out and broke me out of it. It makes me feel nauseous to think about it now.

      LW, I deeply hope your J is not like this. These guys are too common and they need to go take long walks off short piers with their bees and their suits made of red flags.

      1. “He cheated on his wife with me.” Am I the only one who noticed that LW’s boyfriend (paraphrasing) is in a relationship with a person he lives with who is very needy?

        That was a red flag for me: J “has to live with” someone. At 26. Sounds kinda like he’s two-timing and complaining to Younger Woman about Committed Relationship. If so, that would be yet another great reason to break up, because Dishonesty to at least one of these women.

        A different reading is that he lives with a relative he complains about. I had such a boyfriend once. He started making noises about moving to follow me to my grad school city where we could live together. To me that sounded like, “and then YOU can cook my meals and do my laundry instead of my mom.” So I told him he seemed to want more from the relationship than I did, and that I needed to concentrate on my studies. It wasn’t easy, but it was a surprisingly huge relief.

        1. You mean this?
          “J also has to live in a relationship with someone completely unstable who breaks down in tears everyday which of course is worse for me, but it must be weary on him as well.”
          I read this to be a reference to LW, the person whose parents are divorced. Much worse for LW, of course, but as a person who also spent most of her 17th year crying on a daily basis, I can say that there’s a lot of guilt about Having Feelings and bothering the people who are forced to deal with me.
          tl;dr: “live with” can mean “tolerate”

        2. this jumped out at me too – “having” to live with someone – but i wasn’t sure if it meant family member, or roommate, or ???

          1. I read that as referring to the LW.

            I.e., the LW is feeling guilty at ‘making’ the guy ‘put up with’ LW’s unhappiness and stress.

        3. It could be a roommate, too — I think a lot of people who haven’t had to have roommates in order to afford rent don’t realize that it’s basically like having another relationship sometimes, albeit a platonic one. My best roommate I accidentally introduced to World of Warcraft and we’d spend most nights playing in our respective rooms. My worst was… well, terrifying and abusive, and having left an abusive partner-relationship recently, I still can’t tell you which had my head spun around more thoroughly or hurt me more deeply.

          Basically, Darth Vader’s not just someone you might be dating, or your ex, they can also be your former roommate (or your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate) and still be doing as much damage, with the added bonus of living with them and financial/housing stability being thrown in for good measure.

          I don’t think anyone should HAVE to live with someone they don’t want to, but financially the choices are not always super viable and it’s rough to navigate. I lived with 5 other people in a flat and we had better harmony and boundaries than when I moved into a new place with just one of them as a roommate (once I had gotten a better job and some savings — living with 5 other people = $200/mo in rent in a city known for bachelor apartments over 5 times that, and I was scrambling to make that much for a while).

      2. Ahhhh. A coworker at my summer job, who is 38? I think now, said he dated a 19 year old student when he was 35. Interesting… There was also a coworker of mine who was 41 (I’m 19) and he was very clearly interested in me, but since I treated it all as a game I was not all that bothered. I found it kind of strange though; there were no female coworkers with stories like that in the reverse.

    5. >>LW, I know you don’t want to hear this, and it’s true that in your case, this might not even apply, but men your boyfriend’s age who choose to date young women your age typically come across to women their own age as immature (both socially and emotionally), controlling, insecure, and oddly misogynistic

      I completely agree with this as a general rule, but there are a lot of people saying things like this, and the thing is, **it doesn’t matter**. LW’s boyfriend may be one of the many somewhat-creepy guys who only date much-younger women, or he may be a genuinely nice respectful guy who doesn’t make a habit of dating younger women but who just saw something he loved in LW and has on the whole been a positive and supportive boyfriend for her during some difficult years.

      I had a friend at school who was dating a 19-20 year old when we were like 14-15 and her parents were breaking up, and I asked her about it when we met up years later, and she still thinks of him fondly. As an adult, she’s a little “woah!” when she remembers that age-gap, but at a time when she felt she couldn’t rely on her parents to be as present as she needed them to be, the older boyfriend was an important source of stability for her, and taught her a lot about how to create connections and supportive relationships in the world of adults. And she still feels that he liked her for being *her*, not for being an easily-mouldable 15-year-old. I had a similar relationship with a 25-year-old when I was 19. There were big life differences between us – he’d finished his degree and was dealing with Adult Life on a different level to me, I was just starting university – but he was completely respectful of me, and we had a brilliant time together, I definitely got more out of university for knowing him and learned a lot about How To Adult Well and How To Relationship Well, and fifteen years later I still miss him a lot.

      But you know what? Both me and my friend were still right to break up with our respective older boyfriends. Not because they were older, but just because those relationships had come to a natural end. They were successful, happy relationships which gave us a lot, but which ended. That’s OK.

      I’m not saying this to be a defender of Ye Older Man, but just to say that LW, your boyfriend might be genuinely a lovely guy, not creepy at all, and this might have been a lovely, respectful, mutually-supportive and important relationship. These things are definitely possible! But that doesn’t mean you owe it to him to stay together, or to squash yourself into someone smaller than you are to be with him. You can still grow out of a happy, respectful relationship. You can still break up with a guy who is nice and lovely and sweet and wants the best for you. You can still feel sad even though it’s the right thing to do. Your right to break up with him and move on with your life isn’t dependent on him being a bad guy.

      Lots of luck.

    6. Please take this comment to heart, as well as the Captain’s breakup advice.

      I am another person here who pretty much only dated people with largish to sometimes pretty significant age gaps. These relationships ran the gamut of skeeviness from “basically OK” to “nopetopus”; that much is neither here nor there for purposes of this comment, but I wanted to explain why I’m saying what I’m saying here:

      You seem nervous to break up with J. for reasons other than just being worried about what your OWN future holds and whether you yourself can emotionally handle the consequences of a breakup (you can, by the way!). I have to say that the way you write about J. and just the tone here is pinging all of my alarms due to a really strong resemblance to couple of people I was involved with way back when who took a very long time to extract myself from. Neither was physically abusive, but both engaged in various degrees of stalking (one of them pretty severe) and harassment involving third parties. I also have an intuition that if this guy feels you pulling away he will pull out all the stops to try to keep you. He may already be doing that, emotionally. Also, if you are sexually involved with him and choose to continue a sexual relationship for any period of time, please be very aware of the possibility of reproductive coercion.

      1. “I am another person here who pretty much only dated people with largish to sometimes pretty significant age gaps.”

        The tricky thing with this is that it CAN work and it has occasionally worked, but in the vast majority of cases it is not a good idea. We all, however, want to think that we are the exception to the rule.

        1. We sure do want to think that. Five years ago, I would have been screamingly defensive about how my super age gap relationships (I had two, 9 years and 19 years, poly) were different and special and okay.

          Both of those relationships are past tense for a reason. But if I could go back in time and tell myself that, I probably wouldn’t believe me.

    7. On the women his age probably seeing him as immature. I totally agree. Even if he isn’t creepy, or anything like that, he is most likely pretty immature for his age. When I was 16 I was head over heels in love with a guy ten years my senior. Two years later I had no idea what I’d seen in him. For me, those two years changed a lot. Not only my life, but me as a person. A lot of growing up happens during those two years. 18-year old me barely recognised 16-year old me. That guy? From 26 to 28 he barely changed at all. Last time I talked to him I was in my early twenties, and he was still pretty much the same person he’d been at 26.

      LW, what I’m trying to say is that even if he is a great guy, and he’d never guilt trip you or manipulate you or do anything skeevy at all, people his age don’t change as much in two years as people your age tend to to. So even if he is a great guy, he might not be a great guy /for you/ anymore. Growing away from each other happens a lot. Specially in your teens.

      (And my guy? Last I heard he was in prison for statutory rape. And in hindsight I realise that he was pretty skeevy.)

  12. LW, your story reminds me a lot of my mother’s. She married my father at age 17; he was 24. She also had my sister that year, and me later. A year after I was born, my father moved away and never contacted any of us again.

    While I’m grateful for the chance to live, it breaks my heart that my mother gave up so much of her life for us. She never got to live by herself, to be a young adult without responsibilities, to take low paying jobs to get her foot into the door of more profitable industries.

    I don’t know you or J, but I do know that you can lose the freedom and autonomy of being a young adult in an instant. Your fears about not being able to do those things you want to do are so valid, and being denied those opportunities can leave scars of regret that last for the rest of your life.

  13. add me to the list of “dated a mid to late 20-year-old when I was 17” voices. to be honest, in hindsight he wasn’t about being powerful or domineering… he was just so *deeply pathetic* that the only relationship he could have where he felt “equal” or “wanted” was one with somebody nearly ten years younger. he was very threatened by my personal hard-line choices, by the things I was capable of doing, and by the very things he said he loved me for.

    one of my favorite ex-boyfriend anecdotes is when he was driving me home and we were arguing about something, he pulled his car over (a Volkswagen bug) on the side of the freeway, got out, and started walking away. I said “Hey, how am I getting home?” and he turned around and threw his keys at me. so I picked up the keys, got back into the car, and started driving it home (I had a learner’s permit and I WAS PISSED). I made him run after the car for a good 20 yards before I pulled over and let him get back in. 😀 if I’d been ten years older, I probably wouldn’t have stopped for him, but just left him there… good times.

    1. There are so MANY of us on the “the list of “dated a mid to late 20-year-old when I was 17”. I honestly had no idea I was part of such a… distinguished club. I hadn’t thought of my 23-year-old in a long time.

      1. I was about to say the same thing! I’ll post my story a bit further down but WOW.

        (Sadly, I think about him every day… in a Oh-god-I-hope-he-never-finds-me sort of way.)

      2. Isn’t that strange? And a few of us with “dated/almost dated or hooked up with/nearly hooked up with someone at least double my age”… and I, unfortunately, am in both camps.

        1. *raises hand* Triple. He was nearly triple my age. I think heffalump’s use of the phrase “deeply pathetic” is apt in my situation as well.

      3. I… yep. It is a rather large club.

        The wild(?) thing is, I’m 33, and when folks in their early 20s message me on online dating sites asking if I’d consider someone younger than my stated preference (which is +/- 5 or whatever), my response varies between RUN AWAY and BUT YOU ARE A BABY.

        People in their early 20s (or teens) are not babies! But they also are like, on another planet in terms of life experiences. I’d have no problems dating someone older, although the only folks who’ve messaged me asking for that were +20 years and ONLY looking for women 20 years or more younger.

        Actually, I see that a lot on OLD — men exclusively looking for women 18-25 and they’re at least twice that age. I’m fine with other people having different preferences but that tends to be a red flag for me embroidered with RUN AWAY.

        1. Yes, I get hit on by way younger guys all the time. These men do nothing at all for me. Like you say, they are on another planet in terms of life experiences.

          And yes, many older guys are looking for women who are young enough to be their daughter. It’s definitely a red flag that smacks of entitlement, immaturity, and insecurity. Some of these men contact me based on my photo alone (I appear much younger than I actually am). Then, when they finally read my profile and notice my actual age they will say shit like “You look so young, too bad you’re so old”. lol

          I’m in a peculiar position, in that I am looking for a man within a few years of my own age. At mid-life, that’s not easy to do for women. So far, the only guys I’ve chatted with who have no age preference are either desperately pathetic, in poor health (and seeking a caregiver), or are encumbered with dependent children who need raising. No thanks all around.

          1. Ah god this scares me so much. I’m a late bloomer and can’t did any internet dates I like at 26. The notion that it gets harder because guys turn into entitled dicks is HORRIFYING

  14. Thank you, Captain! This is like a nice letter to my younger self, validating her feelings.

    Dear LW… I was in a relationship with a similar age gap when I was a teen and, while all the feelings I had were good and true and valid, the one thing was that the “me” at 17 was not the “me” at 19. I’m still the same messy complicated vulnerable sparkly person that I was then, but my feelings, values, and outlook have all changed as I grew older and had more experiences. This is a natural and valuable process. It’s why people want to grow up! It’s a good thing, and it’s good to be here now.

    The thing is… the man he was at 26 was pretty similar to the man he was at 28 and so on. He had already acquired all of the experiences and adventures he wanted; he’d already figured out who he was, where he was going, what he wanted… and what he wanted was a wife. And that’s what I would have had to grow into – the future had two options: be that girl forever, or leave him. Or, most likely, I would be stuck being that girl for as long as I could before my growth burst out of that box and I HAD to leave – when would that have been? after I had committed, bought a home with him, married him, had his kids…?

    For you, at 17? My dear, I want for you a big future, as big as you can hold. I want you to LIVE! If you want to go, off you go.

    1. Yeah, I met a a guy the summer between high school and college, when I had just turned 18. He was a rising senior in college. He was super-sweet, but he already had his life planned out. He was going into the military after graduation with the intention of being a lifer. He also got really serious, really fast at a time when my world was just opening up. A month after I started college, he made it clear that he expected us to date while I was in college and then to marry after I graduated. He encouraged me to study something that would make for a portable career since the military would move us around a lot.

      I picked my jaw up off the floor and dumped him.

      1. I met my future husband as he was just starting his military career. He had a 5 year commitment. Having had family members who were military lifers, I know something about the reality of that life for family members. And no way was I going to follow a man around the country from one podunk town to another, living in substandard military housing on one crappy paycheck, and having few options for my own career. He was an officer, but still.

        Fortunately, he became disillusioned with military life rather quickly, despite his plum assignment in the SF Bay Area. As soon as his commitment was up, he resigned his commission and we moved in together, then married the following year.

      2. I had a similar jaw drop moment once (it was “only” a 5-year gap relationship, when I was 19). I asked for a 2 week break, because I really needed to get my head on straight about some stuff, and needed some alone time from everyone.

        Him: We can’t break up! What about moving to Vancouver?
        (we live nowhere near Vancouver)
        Me: We’re not breaking up, I just want a … Vancouver? What the hell are you talking about?
        Him: *spins this long rambly fantasy about moving to Vancouver after he graduates college the following year, never mind the fact that I was only 2 years into my own degree….*
        Me: Vancouver? Where is this coming from?
        Him: We talked about this! I asked you what you thought of it!
        Me: You asked me what I thought of Vancouver 5 months ago, and I told you it was a pretty city. That’s it.
        Him: Right! So I have this plan …
        Me: Never mind. We’re breaking up.

        I still use “Vancouver” with close friends as a cover word for, “And this is when things went completely off the rails…..”

  15. LW: I can’t help but wondering if I’m projecting my feelings of betrayal and slight disgust that I have towards mainly my mother, onto him.

    You’re not.

    It’s something kind-of-sort-of-like that, but not that.

    “If my parents, who said vows about not parting before death, are breaking up, how serious and long-term are my relationships?” That’s a gross over-simplification that also ignores a lot of other things going on in your life right now, but you’re not projecting because of this divorce, you’re re-assessing in light of this divorce.

    Our parents are our first models for how relationships should work, for better or worse. And when their relationship changes, it’s a pretty seismic event for us; it shakes up all kinds of things. But not all shake-ups are bad, just as our parents are not perfectly good or perfectly evil. So no, you’re not projecting anything from one relationship onto another.

    …and I am just a wreck.

    You’re not a wreck, LW. Feeling awful when you’re in an awful situation does not make you an awful person. It makes you a human being. Your parents are getting a divorce, and you’ve come to the realization that your current relationship has run its course. Those are not happy things for anyone, and feeling unhappy is a healthy, natural response.

    I wholeheartedly endorse the Captain’s advice. Get your family and friends to support you. Use the Captain’s scripts. Follow the “falling back in love with Life” advice. Because part of healing from all of this involves acting and doing. There will be times when you just need to stop and be still and cry, but those times too will pass, and you will want and need to fill the time, and the best thing to do is fill that time and spend your energy on things that make you happier and healthier.

    Take a month off from your relationship. Save money, connect with friends, use the scripts with your family, and start planning your awesome future.

    1. My husband was 31 when his parents got divorced, and he took it really hard. Its a natural reaction no matter what age you are.

      1. Yep. Even if you’re in your 50s or something, at the very least there will still be some kind of emotional and logistical adjustment for adult children like two visits and phonecalls per time period instead of one, a parent calling you for support more often bc they are single, a parent discussing their legal stuff around health and dying with you whereas their spouse handled it before, etc etc

      2. I am 31, and there are rumblings that my parents’ marriage might be on the rocks, and it is devastating to even think about. Just another datapoint for the LW: you are not a mess for being deeply affected by your parents’ divorce.

    2. I was coming on here to comment about that same phrase: I can’t help but wondering if I’m projecting my feelings of betrayal and slight disgust that I have towards mainly my mother, onto him.

      I agree with RodeoBob that you probably are not projecting, you are re-assessing. Our relationships don’t exist in a vacuum; events that occur in one relationship usually have a ripple effect on our other relationships.

      Perhaps, instead of projecting your feelings about your mother onto him, try thinking about this as “seeing him in a different light”. You are looking at your relationship with J through a new perspective, and you might find that from that angle, you are seeing a different side of him. Maybe something he did reminds you of your mother’s actions. Maybe something he said mirrors what you heard your parents saying to each other before the divorce. Stuff like that isn’t projecting, it is simply noticing common themes in relationships, and if what you are noticing triggers feelings of disgust and betrayal, pay attention to those feelings.

      And even if you really do think that you are projecting your feelings about your mother onto him, that does not invalidate your other concerns about the relationship.

      I think it is a good idea to take some time away from him while you sort out how much of this is projection, and how much of this is because you are noticing something about J that you hadn’t picked up on before.

      1. Agree! There’s a big difference between projecting your feelings about a situation and *applying* them. It might be coming from a place of emotional instability right now, but there’s nothing wrong or irrational about going “hmm, this crappy situation is making me re-evaluate whether this other situation might also not be as awesome as I had previously thought”.

  16. Just a quick note from my mobile, LW, to say that at the ripe old age of thirty looking back at my post-teenage years, the biggest regrets I have are about the opportunities I passed up, not the ones I took that didn’t work out the way I’d wanted. Whatever else you’ve got going on, you know pretty clearly that you want to get out and love your life. So do it! Your mountain is waiting.

    1. Absolutely echo what jaqqbuncad said! I didn’t marry until 35. Part of what makes me so happy in my marriage and completely devoted to my children is the fact that I took the time to just be me. I tried the hobbies I wanted to try, traveled where I wanted to explore, hung out with people for no other reason than I enjoyed their company and dated the men I did for the same reason, spent my money how I wanted and lived my homelife as I wanted, too.

      By the time I met my husband, I got a lot of the “younger me” things out of my system, I was a whole person, and I was totally ready for the level of commitment and maturity that marriage and motherhood demand. Don’t set yourself up for a lifetime of regretting the things you could have done. Don’t chain yourself to commitments you’re not ready to make.

      You are brave. End this thing. Mourn the ending – it’s the right thing to do but you are still coming to the end of something that was important and you’re allowed to grieve that for a bit. But then move on to the wonderful future that awaits.

      1. Me, too (got married at 32) and deliberately kept single during my 20s because I had so many things I wanted to do and chose to be “selfish” about. It’s perfectly possible for someone to have burned through all of that by 25 or whatever, but there should definitely be no rush to settle down instead of living life.

    2. This to the power of ten! With the exception of some unwise financial decisions, ALL of my regrets from my younger years are due to turning down opportunities because I worried that they would hurt someone else. (Funnily enough, those “someone elses” had no problem taking their own opportunities at my expense. And I suvived just fine anyway.)

  17. You can break up with another person for any reason you want. Even if the reason is “I don’t want to do this anymore.” That’s totally a Thing You Get To Do. For whatever it’s worth, with age differences, for me it’s not so much about the number of years as where you and the other person are in life. As the Captain said so beautifully, you’re at a point where there is so much open to you, and you want to get out there and explore and learn more about who you are, who you want to be, what works for you and what doesn’t, and that’s another Thing You Get To Do.

    J is in a different spot in life right now, and that’s also ok. It just means that the two of you, together, may not be the best fit. It doesn’t mean either of you is “bad” or did anything “wrong.” It just means it’s not working out, and that happens. (Yes, I also have concerns about people well into their 20s who want to date teenagers, in general; but it seems like that’s been covered pretty well, and I don’t have anything new to say about it.)

    Anyway, consider me another voice in the chorus saying: Follow the Captain’s advice. And then get out there and do all that stuff you want to do, and maybe some stuff you may not have discovered yet. Learn lots of stuff, make some memories, and remember to take care of you in the process.

  18. Hi LW! It took me a long time and a lot of disappointing relationships to figure out for myself what counted as a “good enough” reason to break up with someone. (I’m 25 now, and still working on it.) I was treating every relationship I had by comparing it to my parents’ or sibling’s marriages, which meant the bar for breaking up was “I have decided you are evil,” when it should have been “I’m not feeling it anymore.” Here’s a list of reasons I’ve decided to break up with people, all of which were valid, in order of frequency:

    — I’m not learning anything from you anymore.
    — There are things in my life you don’t understand, and I don’t feel like explaining them to you.
    — It’s too much work to start a rewarding conversation with you.
    — When I do/see/learn something cool, you’re not the first person I want to share it with.
    — I have more fun with other people/alone than with you.
    — There are parts of me that I end up abandoning when I spend a lot of time with you.

    The common thread in all of that? I have broken up with lovely, sweet, good people because they made my life more boring. A lot of times, the people themselves were really interesting, and I was interested in them, but we weren’t interesting *together.* They didn’t help bring out the interesting in *me.* What I’ve learned is that that’s more than enough reason to end a relationship.

    At the same time, after I ended a lot of those relationships, I saw things that were much, much bigger concerns, but that I was too close to see at the time. Like the partner who agreed to double-up on birth control methods, but always weaseled his way out of wearing condoms. Or the partner who cared more about winning arguments than listening to me.

    In any case, it sounds like you’re done. That’s a good enough reason.

    1. Thanks for this. I always felt a little guilty for breaking up with one guy solely over distance–I wanted to start college free to date locally since our relative distance wasn’t going to change soon. I was otherwise happy, and always wondered if it was wrong to break up for that reason (I eventually married someone from much further away…). It eventually turned into feelings of having dodged a bullet–he was a big fat liar and I’m gullible. Fortunately his attempts to jerk my heartstrings after backfired–the first very ill-timed serving to piss me off–but I always kind of wondered, lacking later realizations, if I ‘should ‘ have chosen differently.

    2. Oh lasers, I love the way you think!
      I too have broken up with many guys who’ve made my life more boring. This is only surpassed by the relationships that made my life more stressful. Life is too fabulous to get bogged down this way, which has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned.

  19. LW, you are my daughter’s age and I want to give you a hug so badly my arms physically ache at this moment.

    One thing I would like to highlight is your concern over J and the person he lives with who you said is unstable. I feel like this fact, this person, might be holding you back from breaking things off with J, like you don’t want to add more drama to his life. Please remind yourself that he is an adult, which means he is old enough to handle any drama himself. Whether or not he actually does handle that drama is not on you, it is on him, the one who is an adult. You need to focus on YOURSELF and YOUR needs.

    Breaking up with J will be hard, and sad. But as omj noted above, just because it’s sad doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. I would beg you to tell a trusted adult that you are in this relationship and that you want out, and let them help you through it. Listen to the Captain’s wonderful advice, and please update us on how you are doing after all of this is over. I want you to follow your dreams, LW. You deserve a huge and beautiful life, lived on your own terms.

    1. One thing I would like to highlight is your concern over J and the person he lives with who you said is unstable.

      My reading is that the “completely unstable” person is the LW describing themselves, not a third person in the situation.

      1. Oooooohhhhh, I think you’re right. Too much candy corn at lunch affected my reading comprehension. The rest of my comments still stand though.

    2. LW, I’m going to sound extremely heartless here.

      J’s unstable roommate is not your problem. It’s his. Do not make decisions about YOUR life in order to spare him from pain. Down that way lies bees.

      I say this because, as the veteran of many, many breakups, there will always be something in your partner’s life that makes you want to spare them pain. If it wasn’t the roommate, I guarantee it would be something else. But it doesn’t matter, because you’re done with the relationship.

      When I wanted to leave my Darth Ex, there were so many reasons I didn’t! He didn’t have a job! His epilepsy! Other women had been ~so mean~ to him! (that last is my favorite abuser lie, actually) But when I was well and truly done, none of those things mattered because none of those things were really my problem, they were his. He could get a job, he could manage his epilepsy but didn’t, and it’s not my fault that other women made him sad. (I’m 100% sure he now tells terrifyingly young women about his evil cuntbitchwhoreslut ex-wife who touched all the dicks in Afghanistan and leeeeeft meeeeeee women are so eeeeeeevil and but you would never leave me, right baby?)

      You have to do right by you, even if that makes him sad or makes his life harder. It’s okay to do it.

      1. Ha! This struck a chord. When I had just gone to university I was picked up in freshers week by a postgrad (well, of course, proof of how wonderfully intelligent and exceptional I was — ha again.) Within a week he had proposed to me and informed me that he had a serious heart condition and knew I was the one woman for whom it was worth while trying to live. I was initially very flattered/thought I was living in a novel (never a good sign) but suddenly woke up one morning about two weeks later thinking ‘um, no, don’t even really like him that much’. For the whole rest of the time that I was doing my degree he would suddenly appear lurking about or sitting in cafes staring at me accusingly. Never once occurred to me to tell someone in the department, say, that this guy was (in a small way) making my life hell. LW, you’ve very sensibly written to CA: bet you anything that there’s other help for you closer to home as well. If someone’s making you feel uncomfortable and shitty (and it goes on for THREE YEARS) tell someone about it! Don’t make my mistake!

      2. I think the person LW is talking about is themself. She’s saying that J has to live with the fact that his GF is an emotional wreck (Which LW -You aren’t, you’re a normal teenager who’s having a hard time), and that having to be around someone who’s crying and upset all the time.

  20. When I was a teenaged girl, my peers and I all thought it was a sign of maturity if an older man was interested in us. The girls who dated guys older than them (college aged) were seen as somehow having done something REALLY COOL, and it was pretty common to hear girls scoff at guys our own age and talk about how we wanted someone “more experienced.”

    In hindsight, 15 years later, I can see that we had all been basically groomed by society to believe that appealing to grown men was something other than the dangerous thing it truly is. Grown men who look to girls far younger than they are for sexual companionship are not people who have the best interests of someone in mind. They are men who are preying on minors. It’s likely they’re unable to succeed in pursuing women of a more appropriate age range and have turned their gaze to “easier targets.” Young people.

    A well adjusted, good person in their mid-late 20s is not going to look at high-school aged girl and want to sleep with them. They may find things in common with them, they may enjoy their company, those things aren’t alarming on their own — it’s the addition of “yes, I want to get intimate with this person” that is a dangerous sign. It is on the adult in the situation to step back and say “no, this isn’t right.” They should not be initiating this, nor should they be accepting advances from someone so much younger than them. It’s alarming, and in some states the age range of LW and J. actually crosses the legal line for the age of consent.

    1. I remember that! I was so, so proud of myself for bringing a college boy to prom (although he was only a year older than me–not quite the same thing, but the feeling came from the same root, I think) and saw it as a contrast to how much of a “loser” I’d been in high school. In retrospect, the “having weird (but lovely) friends and playing Dungeons and Dragons at lunch” part of my life was the healthy part that I look back on fondly, and the relationship was the thing I try not to think about anymore (partly because whoops turns out I was gay). I never thought about the implications of that way of thinking until just now, though–and you’re right, it is super weird that I thought of that as an accomplishment when you strip away the cultural baggage.

    2. As a former older-dating high school girl, I can say that there really wasn’t any cachet among my peers in dating someone older. But I really *did* find guys my age (in high school) made even worse boyfriends than did my 29-year-old abuser. They really *weren’t* mature enough for me. And unfortunately that is one of the things that set me up to date older men.

  21. I can very much relate to the part where the LW felt supported and cared for during a tough time in life by their BF. I wasn’t underage (I was 18) when I started dating my then-29-year-old BF, but I was very naive and inexperienced. I was also going through the worst of the family drama related to leaving a very strict religion ensconced in a collectivist cultural background. He wasn’t a bad or predatory guy (he exclusively dated older women or women his own age aside from me before marrying his wife), but the relationship definitely had an expiration date, one that was hard to see when I saw him and leaned on him as my almost-sole source of unconditional support.

    I didn’t fall apart after he broke up with me (and rightly, since I was so unhappy that I cheated on him as an “out”. ah, regret), but I did find friends and build a social support network that I’m all the better for now, nearly 10 years later.

  22. One of the really crap parts of any breakup is the fact that some thing or some space that used to be awesome is now going to feel uncomfortable. It suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. It truly does. For you it’s playing your sport. For others, it’s going to be hanging out at their favorite coffeehouse, or attending youth group at church, or doing anything at all with your central shared friends group. It will be awkward, it sucks the enjoyment out of it (at least for a while), sometimes other people express their own disappointment that you spoiled it. There’s no way around it.

    IME, just thinking about that potential loss makes contemplating a breakup that much harder. However, it isn’t justification for continuing a relationship that isn’t working.

    Learning how to deal with that sudden change in “climate” is likely something that will come up more than once in your life. This may be miniscule comfort, but I believe that the lessons you learn now as you negotiate this piece of it will be a life skill you’ll call on and be glad you have.

  23. Oh, LW. I am twenty-five now but when I was seventeen I was in a relationship with someone with, honestly, a much larger age gap – and we’d got together at least in part because he treated me like I was an adult and like I mattered and like I was worth listening to, and in the space I was growing up that was incredibly, incredibly valuable to me.

    And then I started feeling like you are, like I wanted to find out who I was on my own (seriously, right down to the tattoos – my ex was furious with me every time I talked about getting ink, because he thought it was “wrong” that I was willing to commit to permanent body art but not to him; but, well, he’s my ex, I’ve got my first tattoo, and I’ve got the next several planned out), and like I wanted to have more freedom. And I stuck with it for, honestly, at least another four years or so – because I wanted to prove a point to people (including my parents) who’d said it was wrong because of the age gap (and weren’t seeing what I was getting out of it), because I felt like I owed him, because I felt like I’d be throwing away something that had the potential to be great.

    But that feeling – that feeling of wanting to see who I was outside his influence – didn’t go away, and honestly I wish I’d listened to myself sooner on it, but I’m not sure how I could have done. The moments when I most wanted to break up with him were the moments where I felt I had the greatest clarity, and yet I somehow managed to talk myself into considering them the moments when I was most disconnected from reality and most self-destructive. The strength of your feelings there and your desperation aren’t a sign that wanting out is the wrong decision, or an irrational decision, or whatever.

    I believe you that he provided something you need. But — he should be supporting you finding out who you are, and if once you’ve got more of a handle on that you decide you want to be with him again? Chances are he’ll say yes.

    For the sake of completeness: I did realise, once I was out, that the relationship had been bad for a very long time, and had been bad since the beginning. And at my current life stage, I get seriously twitchy about the idea of dating anyone much under the age of 22 – I TA a bunch of classes, and I absolutely do not under any circumstances want to risk tangling that power differential up with relationships. Neither of which mean this applies to you, LW, obviously – but I just really, really wish people had given me more support and understanding, and been more willing to treat me like a rational agent and as though I mattered to them, when I was in my mid-to-late teens. I wish they hadn’t just come along when I was dating this guy and tried to tell me he was a creep. I wish they’d seen what I was getting out of it and realised what he was providing me with and why I so desperately needed it, rather than telling me I should be giving it all up for reasons that came down to questioning my sense and judgment again. I see now that wasn’t how the people in my life meant it; but, as we say around here so much, intent isn’t magic.

    It boils down to this: I believe you had good reasons for starting this relationship, and I believe he has been good for you, and I believe it’s brought you joy. But that means that I also trust your desire to try something else, for a while or forever. I believe in you. You’ve got this. ❤

    1. “he treated me like I was an adult and like I mattered and like I was worth listening to, and in the space I was growing up that was incredibly, incredibly valuable to me.”

      That is so, so important. When I was 17 I had a relationship with someone much older and I think he sincerely cared about me, but he had his own huge problems and there were a lot of other things.

      In an ideal world the people who are responsible for us, like parents and family, would treat us like we matter and are worth listening to, and we’d find other people who feel that way about us. But the sad reality is that often it’s someone who is attracted to a young person for their own reasons, from neediness to predatory sexuality.

    2. I’m with you on this comment 100%. I was in a long-term relationship with a 10 year age gap at 15 (although tbh, we met when I was 14), which at the time gave me a sense of power, importance, and agency that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Other vulnerabilities made this person also a source of shelter and safety. Having a place that felt safe, and that I felt I had control over, was priceless. It was also useful. I honestly can’t say if I loved this person, although at the time I believed strongly that I did — even so, having one space where I felt safe was perhaps necessary to give me some perspective and room to consider who I was and what I wanted.

      It turns out what I wanted was not him (I wanted the same things as you – a clean slate! Travel! Sex with new people!! Flirting with people my age!!!), and in fact that I had vastly outgrown him. We broke up pretty uneventfully; I felt coldhearted and he felt lonely, but respected my decision. LW, I’m sure you’re in this relationship for good reasons, and I know that when adults you trust completely dismiss something valuable to you, they seem unhelpful and out of touch, especially when you’re having a problem within the Good Thing they’re vilifying. It absolutely IS sketchy and wrong for a 20-something to be dating someone in their teens, from the adult’s perspective, because at 22 I can tell you that 14, 15 or 17 year olds are in very different stages of their lives and they look YOUNG from this side of the fence. But I know there is value in the relationship you have (or you would never have been in it!), and that you ARE mature and capable, and I hope you can move forward trusting your instincts and desires — which it sounds like, to me, are pointing you away from your partner and into the upcoming adventure of young adulthood.

      Your feelings about this, when you look back, may well be different and complicated. But I trust that you can decide what’s right for you, and when this has run it’s course. Stay safe, LW.

      1. Are… are you me? Almost the exact same situation here, except I was 14 when I first met him, and he was 13 years older than me. It was for many of the same reasons — power, importance, agency. etc. Much like the Scarleteen quote, the relationship also gave me a sense of value, helped me feel like an adult, and gave me a sense of control over my life — especially important in a dysfunctional household where one parent was a narcissist and the other their enabler. Sigh.

        While I’m sure the relationship served a purpose–I wouldn’t be the same person if it hadn’t been for it–it was really bad for me in so many ways. What it gave me in validation, it also took away from me in other ways that I didn’t realize until far later: things like learning how to create my own self-esteem rather than getting it from external sources alone. Also, things like going out and being a teenager and doing teenager things, instead of staying in the house, on the internet, with my much-older jealous boyfriend who didn’t want me hanging out with other boys (never mind that he had a girlfriend whom he was cheating on; I was the one who wasn’t allowed to spend time with others of the opposite gender).

        I ended up breaking up with him, but it was a long and difficult road and he tried pulling me back to him many times afterwards. When I look back on the situation, I realize how truly weird and creepy it was for a 27 year old man to be dating a 14 year old girl, but at the time it seemed perfectly normal to me. It’s very strange how time has changed my perspective on that quite a bit (as I approach age 27 in just a few months.)

        To bring it back around to the LW–

        LW, it’s all right for you to have gotten value from this relationship, but to also say that you’ve gotten all that you needed from it and to feel like it’s run its course.

        Also, LW, I remember the days when I used to cry every day. Life can be so hard, especially given where you’re at and what’s been going on with your family. But what I wish I’d realized back then is that while it can be wonderful to have a significant other whose shoulder you can lean on during those hard times, it really, really helps to have someone else to talk to if you can, especially a professional. Boyfriends came and went when I was going through those hard times in my life, and they sometimes helped with the crying and they sometimes made it worse. Ultimately what made it get better for good was finding an amazing therapist. While significant others can be wonderful support, it’s amazing how much of a difference a trained professional can make, if they’re good.

        LW: You are strong, courageous, smart, and resourceful, and you have the power to choose whatever is best for your life, now and always. Jedi hugs if you want them. ❤

        1. “It’s very strange how time has changed my perspective on that quite a bit (as I approach age 27 in just a few months.)”

          Yeah. I met (19) and settled down with (21) my late husband very young. He was 20 years older, and a lot of the reasons I started dating him were those “he took me seriously, he treated me like more than my appearance, he talked to me about important things and cared about my thoughts and opinions and observations” reasons that so many people cite, and I didn’t really think there was anything all that weird about the age gap–after all my mum and dad were 9 years apart and met when she was 16! And she’d never even dated anyone else! I’d at least dated before him, so it was different, right? But as I get older–and keep in mind I’m dating a man who’s eleven years younger than me–when I hit 39, the age my husband was when we met, and looked at 19 year olds I knew, I realized that whatever my feelings about things, there was literally no way he should have even considered me as a dating prospect, and I cannot imagine now, at 40, asking a 20 year old out. I’ve been asked out by plenty of 19-23yos in the last few years, and I have always said No, because wow, that’s not an okay mismatch at their age.

          1. This is something I’ve read about again and again–that in dysfunctional age-gap relationships, the younger partner thinks everything is okay (or that, if it’s problematic, THEY are the one making it that way). But that’s only while they remain that young. Once they hit their late 20s, they’re like, holy god, I cannot believe that relationship’s retroactive skeeziness ew ew ew and my having been ok with it makes it even weirder. IIRC, someone actually did a study or survey and found this pattern of changing perceptions from teenage “It’s all good” to late-20s “HULK SMASH.” But it may have more to do with life experience than age.

            I feel like this is the one high school health class lesson from which I genuinely could have benefited, yet nobody was talking about it when I was a teen. I wish there were more “official” resources out there about how to tell an exploitative relationship from a healthy one when there’s a big imbalance of age/power.

          2. Yeah. And I think that even if you’re a very mature-for-your-age late teen/early 20, the things that made you that way probably also are the things that stop you seeing exactly how skeeztastic your age gap relationship is. Not that that’s true of all of them, I’m sure, but most of the men I dated before I started seeing my late husband were older than me–from 14 to 20 years–and I look back now and am just absolutely shocked that I didn’t realize how exploitative those situations were!

    3. Oh, and LW? Before the no-good very-bad-idea relationship with someone 20 years older than me? I’d been dating someone 7 years older than me. We broke up, we didn’t speak for five years in the middle there, and during that time I learned to code and he learned to feminism. This November we’ll be celebrating our 11th anniversary, because we’ve decided it’s funnier to count all the years we really weren’t dating, and both of us kind of give past-him the side-eye now for dating me then, but you know what? We’re here. So “you can always get back together in the future” isn’t just a platitude. We’re poly and happy and settled and we’re building a little network of family, and it’s lovely. So again I say: you’ve got this, and you get to decide what’s right for the you-of-now, and if you decide to break up then, yeah, you probably will end up feeling guilty and ashamed when people come out of the woodwork to tell you how much they disapproved of your relationship, but it is completely okay to tell them that they’re not helping and need to stop.

    4. “I wish they’d seen what I was getting out of it and realised what he was providing me with and why I so desperately needed it, rather than telling me I should be giving it all up for reasons that came down to questioning my sense and judgment again.”

      This, so much. My mother once asked, in a voice full of scorn, why I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship for so long, and I can never tell her, “Because he occasionally treated me like a jewel instead of a constant unattractive, fat stone around his neck.”

    5. Would that I could have this comment framed. That’s absolutely how I felt about so many of my skeevy “friendships” and relationships. It felt like they were the only people who took me seriously. I thought they cared. Maybe they did! But not enough to be responsible about the age gap. The truly respectful thing to do would be to take a step back and… not use a minor’s insecurities to their advantage. But I wanted to be with them, because of course I did, because I was so desperate for that validation, I so wanted to be important to someone. It was so much better than the crap going on at home.

      Just… LW, be gentle with yourself about this. It makes perfect sense to be with someone who feels like a rock in a storm. You are going through so much. No wonder you feel so unstable. No wonder you want this to work out. No wonder you are worried, doubting yourself. But you’re smart. You already see the cracks in this, and you know it’s not what you want. Go after what you want. It’s worth it. You are worth it.

  24. LW, if this relationship is not making you happy, then end it. I know it’s hard and it hurts and you will probably worry that you’re making a mistake – I’ve been there; I put the relationship on life support until I was really super super sure that I didn’t want to be with this person now or ever. It was a waste of my time, and probably hers as well. So if you’re not feeling this guy, then dump him. It doesn’t mean your parents were right all along or that you’re stupid for getting into this relationship in the first place or that you led him on or ANY of these things that you might be feeling (or hearing from other people!) right now. All it means is that you no longer want to be in this relationship. And maybe you will never find someone who makes you feel exactly like he did back when things were good, but every relationship is unique, and you will find happiness with someone else (even if that someone else is yourself alone) in time, even if it is not the same kind of happiness, I promise it will be at least as good, if not better.

    1. This is NOT the same situation – she was 21 when I was 28, we are in a small community where there aren’t that many queer women and age gaps between legal adults are a thing that happen – but I recently broke up with someone from the opposite side for age gap reasons. I just, like. There was nothing wrong with her as a partner or a person! She was and is amazing, like, really the best, whoever she winds up with is incredibly lucky. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that even though I haaaated a lot of my twenties, now that I’m on the other side, I wouldn’t have missed that stuff – the crashing on a friend’s futon after dancing all night even though I have to be to work/class at 9 the next morning, the scuzzy overcrowded apartments and weird road trips and dating people who are no good at all or perfectly fine but Wow Not For Me, being single for a while and getting to be deliciously alone and all-to-myself. Hell, even taking years to get into therapy and get my head on straight – I needed that time to stumble around not handling my shit. Mistakes! Making lots of mistakes. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have skipped a second of it, and I also wouldn’t be willing to do any of it again – I’m ready for a more settled life now. And I couldn’t feel okay with asking someone to just skip all that good stuff and be ready to stay in with me and go to bed at 9:30 after Netflix and a balanced dinner. And even if I did try to do all that twenties stuff again, I’m thirty now, frankly it would be hard to be fully invested. I would be rolling my eyes and checking my phone in the corner. I know myself. That is where I am at.

      So we broke up. And I am pursuing professional certifications and hosting brunches and going to bed at 10 every night, and I miss her, but I’m happy. And she is living precariously in an artist’s cooperative in a big city, making roommate decisions by consensus and riding her bike pellmell through the financial district and scraping together money from two part-time jobs and going to all-night dance parties and otherwise doing things that sound exhausting to me at this point and from what I hear from friends, she misses me, but she’s happy.

  25. It’s very disorienting when you outgrow your much older partner. In my case, I was 18, he was 27. As I grew up, I kept metaphorically tugging at his sleeve to grow up with me! Come on! It’ll be fun to be a grown-up! Let’s do this! And he just…. wouldn’t. Because he was already grown up, and this was how he liked his life, all stunted and him-centric. Which is why when we broke up, the next person he dated was 18, too.

    I look back fondly on some of what we had. I shudder at the rest of it, though. Which is fine, because it means I learned a thing or two about a thing or two, and it all adds up to what I am yea these many years later.

    1. It took me so long to realize that was what was happening with my also-9-years-older fiance! It’s really weird to realize a relationship failed because you out-matured your much older partner.

    2. I’m laughing at this because I, at 15, would literally clean the house of/maintain the bodily hygiene of my 10-years-older partner. Also did a lot of “if you don’t like your job, get a new job” cheerleading, which lead nowhere. Disorienting to say the least!

      1. So, um. I used to cut my 20-years-older late husband’s toenails, because if I didn’t he wouldn’t really do it until they started catching on things, and had been stabbing and scratching me in the night for ages, and then he’d just sort of cut his nails with whatever was handy. I was pretty matter of fact about it at the time, but I have to say, if I even suggested cutting my boyfriend’s nails I think he’d look at me like I was a mutant. It’s amazing the shit we normalize.

    3. Yes! So weird. Luckily my much-older-boyfriend has over time finally gotten his grownup together and is an awesome human now, and has found other awesome humans to date who are not me. 😉

  26. LW, as a fellow participator in fringe sports with limited opportunities locally, I can tell you that in MOST sports people will get over any relationship drama eventually, if you keep turning up and behaving like a grown-up.

    Sometimes it doesn’t happen (hello, massive infidelity scandal from 10 years ago), but most of the time it’s just awkward for a couple months and then it becomes OK again.

    1. Another thing about this: Even if it doesn’t get better, I promise there are other clubs and sports and that having to drop out of this one for a while, even if it is your main social circle/source of support/friendship, is something you can survive. Your freedom is important and sometimes requires sacrifice to obtain, even if it really, really shouldn’t.

      I sincerely hope your partner doesn’t pull a “pick sides” thing or sew seeds of division amongst your mutual friends, but I am telling you that if that happens, you will be okay.

  27. “Don’t do it at his place, or when you are dependent on him for a ride in order to actually leave.”

    Don’t do it at your place either, in case he won’t leave. I had a high school boyfriend who fucking collapsed and curled up into the fetal position, sobbing when I broke up with him. In my house. When my mom wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours. We were in the entry way by the front door, and I couldn’t think of what else to do, so I opened the door and dragged him outside and then locked the door on him. After about 5 minutes of continued ugly-crying, he got up and started yelling and banging on the door. I ended up going to the kitchen window, opening it a crack, and telling him that if he didn’t leave, I would call the police. That was over 20 years ago, and just typing this is making my shoulders go up around my ears.

    It would have been soooooo much better if I had done this in the kind of public place where I could have just slipped away and gotten myself home.

    1. That is an awful way for him to behave, but is it ok if I smiled when reading how you reacted? Because dragging him outside and physically shutting the door on his antics? Greatest reaction ever. U R da best.

    2. I know this was terrible for you but I just have this mental image of you dragging this boy outside like a sack of garbage and I can’t help but laugh because its just so.. silly. oh high school, I’m so glad I only had to go through it once. You handled that amazingly. When I broke up with my high school boyfriend he went from sweet to pissed in .05 seconds and screamed what a bitch I was, ect. ect.

      1. Okay, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

        No lie, I have a horrible experience of bodily forcing someone I deeply love out of my home, and it’s definitely one of my worst memories. But the mental image of someone just kind of…awkwardly rolling up their sleeves and dragging a guy outside like he’s a stubborn cat on a leash is kinda…yeah.

        So freaking sorry you had to deal with that, though. You really did handle that like a boss.

      2. “I just have this mental image of you dragging this boy outside like a sack of garbage”

        You aren’t far wrong. He was one of those tall but really skinny boys, and I ended up reaching under his arms and sort pulling him by his shoulders. (Hard to describe–my hands were hooked under his armpits so that I wasn’t actually pulling on his arms.)

        My reaction wasn’t so much an eyeroll/deep sigh thing though. More like an “OMGOMGOMG WTF is he doing I have to get him out of here WTF?!?!!?” And I didn’t pull him out until I had told him he needed to get up and leave a few times.

    3. I am a terrible person for laughing at your high school boyfriend but I think the benefit of that experience is that I can hardly imagine any breakup after that ever being more awkward. For either of you, honestly.

      Go you. 🙂

      1. Indeed. And I’m going to hold on to that image in case it gives me fortitude and perspective should I ever get trapped in an ugly situation with a person who won’t leave. It is awesome that that actually happened in real life. (Not him turning into a sack of wet cement, but you handling it as if he had.)

  28. One thing I want to make clear that the Captain touched on – ending a relationship does not necessarily mean that this relationship was a failure. You’ve been with him for two years. That’s a long time, especially in your teens when you’re growing and changing quite quickly. Just because he isn’t right for you now doesn’t mean that he wasn’t right for you before. You’re just growing apart. This happens to almost all relationships you have in your teens, whether they’re with another teenager or with someone older. If you get a lot of “I told you so” that doesn’t go away even after the Captain’s scripts this is probably a good thing to remind yourself (or point out to the culprit if you want). Just because it might be ending doesn’t mean you did anything wrong in dating him to start with.

    1. I would like to give this a million thumbs up.




      Trust me, I have been heartbroken a million times more over the way relationships ended when they dragged on past their expiration date than if I had just gracefully ended it and moved on.

      1. This! The one regret I have about my second relationship is not ending it about six months sooner. I ended up doing some shitty stuff towards the end (nothing I seriously regret, but more “that’s… not who I want to be” stuff).

        1. ‘Becoming someone you don’t want to be’ is an underappreciated reason for breaking up.

          1. It really is. I spent years convincing myself that who I wanted to be was who he wanted me to be, and the freedom since to just be… *anyone* is. It’s staggering. And a little scary. But I wouldn’t trade it.

          2. I turned into a cruel, heartless asswipe in the last six months of my one long-term relationship. I was hoping that if I neglected and treated him like an errant toddler when I did have to interact with him, he’d leave on his own without me having to sit down and verbally break things off. It didn’t even work. I would not recommend it as a strategy.

      2. I am currently watching the horrible fallout of a relationship ending after more than a decade when it should have ended after 2 years. It’s so so bad. It could have been a “yeah, that was a nice college relationship but it ran its course” but instead it’s “traumatized children and public abuse with bonus joint finances”.

      We really need to stop culturally harping on the “one and only”. I say that partly as a snarky poly person, but just in general. Meet someone. Have fun. Love them. End it when ending seems right, not when it’s a product of hatred and desperation. Look back fondly. Meet someone else, or don’t – whatever works.

  29. LW, I’m going to share the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me, when I was about your age: you don’t need a good reason to break up with someone. You just can. He can be a genuinely good, sweet, supportive man who cares about you, and you still don’t have to date him if you don’t want to. You don’t need to stick around until you find a good enough reason to break up, and in my experience doing so is going to slowly destroy any lingering good feelings you have for him. You can just break up, even if he’s not a bad guy. Even if he’s been good to you.

    1. I wish my mother had told me that. She was of the “He likes you! Give him a chance!” school, so I would try to date people out of guilt and then dump them almost immediately – sometimes before we could even go on an actual first date – because I just didn’t feel anything for them. In retrospect, it would have been a lot less painful for everyone if I’d just said “no thanks” up front.

      1. Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh this school, I do not understand it. Actually, one of my friends told me a horrific story about being pressured into dating before she was ready, and there was also a significant age gap…turns out her mother was sleeping with her boyfriend and was using her as a pretense for keeping him around. Awful.

        I am honestly kind of confused about parents who encourage their kids to date/who to date?

    2. Absolutely. At least two of the people I’ve dated are still really, really good friends of mine decades later. Others I’m happy to see when I run across them. It was still a good idea to break up with them, and I’m glad I married my husband and not them.

  30. One thing I learned from my teenage years, is that the entire *point* of being a teenager is to learn, and grow, and change. That can mean different things for different people, but it also means that there is nothing wrong with you for wanting to move on and break up with your boyfriend.

    Now, some people do meet their life partner in their teens. This does happen. But it is also perfectly normal for people to have a bunch of casual, short-term experiments with dating and seeing people during that time. Especially as we figure out our sexual and romantic orientations, our identities, our sexual desires and preferences, what sort of relationship works well for us, what our long-term goals and interests are… all of this can change in the space of weeks or months, let alone years. Hell, I only figured out I’m non-binary a few months ago, and I’m over 30!

    And the thing is, one thing all that growth needs is space. That doesn’t mean don’t date, or don’t commit. But it does make it easier to have that space when the people you’re dating are in a similar life-phase to you. It means you have people you can connect with about it who are in the middle of the same thing, who get what’s going on in a more fundamental way.

    Your boyfriend? Has already had that. He got to have his teenage years and young adulthood. He got to have that chance to learn who he was, to grow and change and experiment with different ways of being. He likely has a pretty good handle now on who he is, who he wants to be, and what his plans are for his life. And even if he’s the most careful and caring and cautious person in the world, chances are his relative certainty and confidence about who he is and what he wants is going to stifle, in a thousand unseen and unpredictable ways, your own independent growth.

    It’s okay to want to break up with him because you want to explore that growth. It’s healthy. And if he’s as awesome as you say he is, he’ll realise that and will wish you well on your journey, and be grateful that he got to be there for part of it.

  31. Oh, Captain, that list of how to fall back in love with your life is so beautiful it actually made me tear up a little bit. Wish I could embroider it on a pillow — at the very least I’m going to print it out and put it up somewhere where I see it often, because it’s a great idea for those times when we look at our lives and see endings overshadowing beginniings.

  32. I went out with someone (my own age) when I was 16-18, and the first year was lovely and the second year was kind of awful and suffocating. Like you, LW, I partly stayed because I couldn’t see how I could continue doing the activities I loved (in my case singing in choirs) with mutual friends and groups if we broke up.

    Eventually, I got off with a mutual friend, which was the only way I could give myself “permission” to break up: it seemed worse to have kissed someone else and keep it a secret than to break up, so we broke up. And then, super-irresponsibly, I went home and used a old gold stud to pierce my ear halfway up! I still have that piercing and it makes me very happy. I am thirty-seven in November, so it’s literally half my life ago. And it is still my, “wow, I am really glad I ended that relationship” piercing.

    (I totally carried on singing, by the way, until I went away to university and then I got involved in some other things and didn’t sing for a few years, and that was marvellous too. Sometimes I am in choirs and sometimes I am not. I am never not glad I ended that relationship!)

    Good luck, LW! I hope your break-up and your life-reclaiming go as well.

  33. Dear LW

    Please listen to the Captain’s advice, especially the part where she lists amazing things you can do. Try those things and others. For example reading to kids is fun, so is helping out at animal shelters.

    If you can, maybe now is the time to arrange trips out of town to look at colleges?

    I know you said that your sport is uncommon in your area. Are there similar sports? I ask this because it is possible that hanging out with people in your sport will get uncomfortable. I think that it probably won’t and you’ll probably make new friends, but if it does it’s good to have other options.

    I think you’re an awesome person LW and when you and J split (which will probably happen soon) you’ll have other awesome boyfriends.

  34. LW, I hope that you are reading the comments for the wonderful nuggets of wisdom and commiseration, and I hope that when you read the comments, you do not get angry and defensive on behalf of your boyfriend, the way I would have when I was dating a man 25 years my senior. But if you do, that’s okay, because some good things have happened and he cares about you and you care about him. Those are real feelings right now, no matter how your breakup shakes out.

    You don’t have to hate him to break up. You don’t have to think he’s a creep to break up. You don’t have to be suspect of his motives in dating you to break up. You can break up just because you want different things. You want to do stuff he doesn’t want to do with you, and that he doesn’t want you to do, and you want to sleep with people who are not him. Those are really excellent reasons to break up.

  35. “If J. is generally a good person who loves you and treats you well, then breaking up with him shouldn’t “destroy your life within this sport.” The sport was yours before you met him and will be yours after you leave him.”

    LW, this isn’t the norm, but I know several men who, if there was a problem after breaking up with their girlfriends, *would offer to leave the group in which both of them are*. Because they know about patriachy and don’t want to make the woman loose all her social contacts because of potential awkwardness. Theese guys exist.

  36. Dear Sugar says “Wanting to leave is enough.”

    She is absolutely correct.

    In one sense, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how old he is: wanting to leave is enough.

    In another sense, the age difference matters very much. Not only for all the reasons people have already mentioned that may or not may apply to your relationship, but also for this: It is very difficult to grow into your own authority and your own life and voice when your partner is much older than you are. Whether he uses that age gap deliberately to quash you, or whether he is the most considerate and empathetic partner ever, there is always an age dynamic present, the way there is with parents, strangers, adults on the street, older friends, etc. The voice of “experience” likes to tell youth about that experience as a lesson, a caution, and an example.

    I’ve had two relationships with much older partners. One when I was seventeen (age gap of 16 years) and another when I was 24 (age gap of 19 years). The first person was an immature creep who only dated much younger woman so he could tear us down and train us like scared dogs. The second person was a truly lovely, kind, caring, thoughtful, sexy, interesting person who was supportive and loving. But the age dynamic was similar in both cases.

    You deserve to choose your own path freely, without being constrained by how other people think you should learn and live. It sounds like you already know that. Follow your instincts.

    I have had a sign in my kitchen since I got divorced. It says “Fall in love with yourself.” I wish that for you. Go forth and be amazing.

  37. Chiming in here as I used to have a bit of a habit dating / semi-dating older men:

    – For me, these situations would begin by becoming acquainted and liking each other without realizing the age difference. After we would confess mutual attraction, the age difference would come up, and after some brief mutual side-eye, we would kinda shrug and go for it anyway. If the LW and J met this way, hearing all those I-told-you-so’s post-breakup is particularly annoying because it’s an insult to you that you let yourself be duped by essentially a predator. I am going to assume the best of J because: a) it’s more respectful to you; and b) it doesn’t fundamentally change my advice.

    – You can be perfectly compatible with someone in all but one important area, and that one area will sink the whole relationship. It is important to recognize ship-sinkers and shut it down as soon as possible. No matter how far you both are into each other, it is never too late to get out. The longer you wait, the worse it gets.

    – Particularly where there is an age difference, the potential for relationship ship-sinkers multiplies. For my relationships, I noticed a pattern that I called “stage of life incompatibility.” This is where two people just simply need different things as a result of where they are in life; in my opinion, this difference should be respected as a ship-sinker and acted upon accordingly.

    My favorite example from my life was when I considered dating a guy 30 years older than me – he bought a plane ticket, came to visit, we had a fantastic long weekend together, and then we had a very grown-up conversation where we decided we weren’t going to be right together. The issue? My kids were 3 and 1, his kids were 15 and 17, and he didn’t want to “do the little kid thing again.” Makes sense! Glad we had this talk. We stayed in touch for a while and then ultimately fell out of contact when I started a new job and he started dating someone (someone his age that actually lived in the same city he did). If I had been 20 years older, it might have ended differently, but we deal with life the way it is right now, and that was the way it was.

    It sounds like you and J might be suffering from stage-of-life incompatibility, and I think it will be your ship-sinker. You already articulated to us that you know you and J need different things, and if J is as wise as he ought to be at his age, he will respect that. I want to underscore the Captain’s advice that you STICK TO YOUR GUNS when you tell him you need space / need to break up. If he reacts badly and tries to guilt / manipulate you into staying, take all the generous assumptions I made about J above and throw them out the window.

    Good luck!

    1. My Ex was >10 years older than me. I’d known them (without knowing their age) for a number of years before we started to do more stuff together and eventually move in and declare ourselves an item (I was in a bad place. They were super-supportive. Sometimes people really ARE that nice. This one wasn’t.). I don’t remember when exactly age came up (we were both postgrads at the same university, so I’d assumed we were in the same age bracket) but I remember thinking that maybe it didn’t matter after all – we had so much in common. (Interests. Hobbies. All of those, yes. Basic values, not so much. The former was obvious right from the start, the latter not so much.)

      The ‘I’ve been there, I know how the world works’ came up often. And for a while I accepted their word as gospel (they often *did* know certain things better than me; I’d moved from another country and _didn’t_ necessarily know ‘how things worked’); and eventually came to the conclusion that one of us was immature, and it wasn’t the person with fewer years to their name.

      1. “The ‘I’ve been there, I know how the world works’ came up often. And for a while I accepted their word as gospel (they often *did* know certain things better than me; I’d moved from another country and _didn’t_ necessarily know ‘how things worked’); and eventually came to the conclusion that one of us was immature, and it wasn’t the person with fewer years to their name.”

        This. I find it applies in non-romantic relationships, too.

  38. Hi LW.

    I was you.

    When I was about to turn 17, I met a 29 year old and we dated for about two years, through my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. My parents were not divorcing, but my father was serving in a war zone overseas and having trouble reintegrating into civilian life, dealing with PTSD, etc., and I was also dealing with the upheaval of transitioning to college.

    My boyfriend was not a bad person. He was not controlling; he was very sweet and loving and supportive and all that jazz. (I will get back to this later.)

    I broke up with him for the very same reasons you mention here. I didn’t really know who I was. I was missing out on a lot of opportunities for personal development and growth because of our relationship.

    I broke up with him because he was waiting for me to graduate college so we could get married and have a family. But I don’t want to get married and have a family (still don’t). I was just beginning to find out who I was, what I wanted, what I liked and didn’t like. It was very hard to explore those things within the confines of our relationship.

    I think you should break up. I think you should break up for all the reasons you mentioned in your letter, and for all the reasons you have yet to discover.

    This does not make you a bad person or a bad friend, or ungrateful or mean. Let me throw this out there as something I learned from a recent relationship: being caring and supportive and loving in a relationship, especially through the hard times, is what partners should do. It is not an extra, it is not above and beyond. It is the baseline for what you should expect from a partner and what you should strive to do as a partner. It does not mean you have to stay with someone or that you are indebted to them for the rest of your life, or that you owe them a relationship because they did what any good partner in a good relationship should do.

    This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and I spent a year in a relationship after it should have ended, and two years being friends with someone, because they had been a supportive boyfriend while I was struggling with some mental health issues.

    I have come to realize that that is what they SHOULD have done, that is what I would do (and have done), and it does not mean that I owe them in perpetuity.

    Going back to your relationship, my boyfriend was not a bad person.


    He should not have been dating a 17 year old. Full stop. I am thirty now, and I cannot IMAGINE a universe where me dating a 17 year old is even a possibility or something I would desire in any way. We are still on friendly if distant terms and he married recently, but Now Me gives Past Him ALL THE SIDE EYE for getting involved with a teenager. A TEENAGER. And I seriously question my parents’ judgement and lack of attention to this. Bunny’s comment encapsulates why perfectly.

    LW, please believe me when I tell you that these years, although they have been difficult and may continue to be difficult and full of heartache, are precious and beautiful and irreplaceable. I’m not saying this as “your college years are the best” bullshit. I’m saying that you while you will continue to grow and learn and change throughout your life, these years have the potential to be some of the most challenging, strangest, rewarding, and eye-opening years of your life. These years are a blaze of beautiful potential for you, whether it’s huge public potential or quiet, introspective, alone potential.

    And it’s already happening. Those feelings that you’re describing are the new parts of you stretching and waking and nudging you and saying hey, we’re here. And we’re ready. Those feelings are pushing at the boundaries of your life – the boundaries of this relationship – and telling you that it’s time to stretch beyond them. They’re from Past You and Now You and the Future You that is starting to come into focus.

    1. “I am thirty now, and I cannot IMAGINE a universe where me dating a 17 year old is even a possibility or something I would desire in any way.”
      I’m only twenty-four and I feel the same way. I’m friends with a guy who’ll be 21 next month. We’ve known each other and been friends for many years and three-and-a-half years isn’t that big of an age difference but we’re only now starting to see eye-to-eye in many things. He’s always been very mature and we have pretty similar personalities and yet there were still situations where you could see our different positions in life clearly. (An example that comes to mind is when he got his driving license at 18. He managed to make every conversation about cars somehow and while that was obviously understandable I was so annoyed since I had gone through this four years before myself and with all my friends and classmates and didn’t want to spend hours talking about cars and driving a second time. Granted, this could also happen with someone my age who just got their license but I still feel it’s a good illustration.)

      “And I seriously question my parents’ judgement and lack of attention to this.”
      I have this with a former teacher of mine. His daughter is friends with my sister. She’s 18 and dating a guy who’s 30. They started dating last year and I’m just so weirded out by, well, all of it. I met the guy once (before any of that relationship even started; I believe he met his now-girlfriend at that very same event) and I thought he came off as immature, selfish, a bit creepy, and like someone who absolutely wants and needs to be the centre of attention. But apart from my general questioning of him and his morals (he explicitly said he doesn’t get along not only with women but all kinds of people his age which, whew), not to mention the fact that this relationship was actually illegal before she turned 18, I am above all completely flummoxed by how her father, a teacher is so cavalier about all of this. I don’t know him to be irresponsible at all and my sister, who’s over at their house regularly, confirms that he tries to d everything to make his daugthers happy but I feel like in this situation, he tries too hard.

      1. I’m kind of curious to know what you think he should do? Ban her from seeing him? Ban him from seeing her? Tell her at every opportunity that he doesn’t like her boyfriend? Genuine guestion: I am really not sure what a parent who wasn’t happy about their kid’s choice of partner can do, especially are plenty of people here saying that they stuck with their older-bad-idea partners for longer than they ought to have done, precisely because they were determined to prove their parents/other authority figures wrong.

        (Also, do you live somewhere with a staggered age of consent? Wouldn’t a relationship between two teenagers be just as illegal if it was sexual? Do you think a parent should always intervene?)

        1. Where I live, and in many places, the age of consent explicitly addresses age differences, and explicitly excludes two teens very close in age from being prosecuted for having sex (unless there’s something else abusive or exploitative about the situation), since the main point of the laws is to protect teens and children.

          There are also extra legal restrictions if the adult is in a position of power over the teen (beyond the baseline power that any adult has over any child).

        2. Honestly? I don’t know. Like you say, if I were the parent I’d fear my child hanging onto that person even longer just to prove me wrong. So I’m glad I’m not in that situation. I’m talking more about, hm, how do I say that? I’m more uncomfortable with how he seems to feel than with how he actually acts? No, that’s not right. My sister tells me he praises this guy and goes along with his every whim and I just feel like that is not a good idea – like, he doesn’t need to be antagonistic but I just wonder why he doesn’t even seem the least bit concerned. Granted, I don’t actually know his feelings so he could very well actually be putting up a brave front while thinking unkind thoughts. I do think, though, that when she was still underage he would have been well withing his rights to forbid his daugther to go on a month-long trip to Rhodes with that guy. I’m finding his going along with every questionable idea this guy has really weird and uncomfortable, is what I’m saying.

          And nope, relationships are only illegal if one partner is of age and the other isn’t, and even then only when there’s more than a two year difference between them. So, a 16 year old and an 18 year old is okay, as is a 15 year old an a 17 year old, but a 17 and a 20 year old isn’t. And I’m actually not a fan of parents intervening in their children’s relationships at all – I just continue to find it weird that a teacher and father of a 17 year old girl doesn’t seem to find it the least bit weird and uncomfortable that a 30 year old (who, btw, was known for always having his sights set on very young girls) would take an interest in his daughter.

          1. Thank you, that makes a lot of sense! I took your “so cavalier about it” to mean “not intervening” rather than “positively facilitating the relationship”, and I would say that not intervening would be the right thing to do. But there are definitely non-authoritarian ways of supporting your child and trying to give them the tools to make empowered decisions without actively banning them from doing things.

            So, for example, that trip to Rhodes – given a reasonably sensible and adventurous 17-year-old, I don’t think I’d try and stop them going away with their partner, but I would want to make sure they thought about how they would get away and come home if it wasn’t fun or wasn’t working out, and that they had access to money, knew who to call for help and so on.

        3. I’m going to answer this question on the assumption that you’re asking it in good faith, although based on your wording, I don’t think you are.

          We have seen over and over on this blog people who stick it out longer than they should have in unhealthy, abusive, or just unhappy relationships for a lot of reasons. Often, a part of it is trying to make a relationship work in spite of the naysayers, not wanting to hear “I told you so” from everyone else (there’s a reason the Captain gave the LW scripts for this), having to admit the person was a bad choice, etc. etc.

          During the part of my life where I was dating my much older boyfriend, my parents were pretty much checked out. They’ve never been particularly attentive parents, and my father was deployed overseas on a very dangerous tour. My mother is autistic and was never emotionally equipped to be a good parent (she’s a good person and we’re friends now, but she was not an engaged parent and pretty much left us to our own devices). In retrospect, I am quite lucky that my boyfriend wasn’t a bad person, wasn’t abusive, and wasn’t predatory. Things could have been a lot worse.

          That being said, she never had a conversation with me about what exactly was the deal with this 30 year old who was driving me to school and camping out on our couch, never initiated any conversations about dating, what a healthy relationship is, etc., never spoke to him about what exactly he was doing hanging out with a 17 year old (I was actually 16 when we met, a few months away from my 17th birthday), and kind of adopted an “I don’t want to know” stance, so if I came home with even the flimsiest excuse, she would accept it. Incidentally, this guy lived with his parents at the time, and I’m wondering why they never pointed out to their son that our relationship was technically illegal for a few months in the state where he lived until I hit 17.

          ANYWAY. I do not think that banning your kid from dating a particular person works. I don’t think it works because I was a sneaky teenager once, and I think all it does is make it that much harder for your kid to come to you when they need help, or things have gotten out of hand. I don’t have kids and don’t plan to, but if I did, I would want my child to know that no matter what they did or where they are, they can call me or come to me for help, and I will help them, not punish them, because if my child gets into something dangerous or into an abusive relationship, I want to be there for them. Not have them suffer alone because they’re more afraid of me than of being hurt.

          Running on the assumption that the kid in question is a minor who lives in your house, I think it is totally fair to set reasonable limits (curfew, no boyfriends/girlfriends staying over in your room, etc.), but I think the biggest thing you can do is stay ENGAGED and ATTENTIVE to your child. Meet their boyfriends/girlfriends. I really think that most Creepy Older Would-Be Suitors will bail once they’ve sat through a few family dinners and realized that this parent is checked in and paying attention to what’s going on. As the Captain pointed out, there is a REASON that people like this go for children who are in homes where there is not a lot of attention being paid to what they are doing.

          Don’t put your kid on the defensive. Don’t make them feel like they have to Prove Their Love is True by staying with this person because you are badmouthing them (and again, this is another tactic – Your Parents Are Wrong, If You Leave Me You’re Wrong and Evil and Agreeing With Them). Don’t interrogate them – have conversations with them. Pay attention to their behavior and if they’re becoming withdrawn, unhappy, or covering up signs of emotional or physical abuse. Have conversations about healthy relationships and stress that they’re valuable and worthwhile.

          A lot of what I’m talking about is not something you should start doing when your kid turns 17, or comes home with the Creepy Adult Partner. It’s stuff parents should be doing throughout their kids’ lives. Your kid is not going to magically turn to you for help when this happens unless you already have a strong, mutually respectful, honest, and open relationship with them. My mother never had a conversation with me about dating, relationships, sex, or anything like that. I had to navigate it on my own and I came through relatively unscathed, but I was lucky. A lot of my friends weren’t. As an adult now, I think that it was incredibly neglectful on her part not to have these conversations with me (again, she didn’t have the emotional ability to do so).

          I don’t plan to have kids, but if I did, you can bet we would spend a lot of time talking about healthy relationships, and I hope I would give them a strong enough foundation that they would not accept mistreatment from someone else because they would know that they don’t deserve it, they don’t have to put up with it, and they don’t have to accept it.

          The child who comes from a home with good, open relationships with their parent(s), where their parent(s) (or other responsible figures) are engaged and paying attention to them, where they feel they can talk openly about their life and their decisions, where their opinion and thoughts will be respected and not ridiculed, where they are allowed to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes, and where they feel they can turn to an adult or parent for help and advice, will be much less likely (in my opinion) to stay in a dangerous or abusive relationship than the child who feels they have no other options, are not worth being treated well, or don’t have someone they can talk to without judgment or punishment.

          1. I feel much the same but wouldn’t have been to put it so succinctly, so thank you so much for this! Sadly, there’s never a guarantee for these things; apart from the fact that my parents divorced almost ten years ago and our father is estranged from us (something neither me nor my sister feel particularly sad about, though), my family has been and still is like how you describe a “good” family in your last paragraph. I was friends with a very toxic person for not very long and my good home life helped me breaking it off and dealing witht he aftermath. My sister, though, got into a real abusive relationship three years ago and is only just now starting to deal with her resulting depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I believe our family made it possible for her to end it more quickly and cleanly and get a better grip on what happened afterwards but my mum still blames herself to some degree (just two days ago she said “I wish I’d never allowed that pig into our house, I can’t believe I let that happen!”). Not a fun situation for all involved but I still shudder to think about what could have happened to my sister had she not had the good family background she did have.

          2. This. Seriously.

            I mentioned above that I was a 14 year old girl in a relationship with a 27 year old man, many, many moons ago. I didn’t have any healthy relationships models or discussions about what healthy relationships looked like; my parents were and are a wreck of a relationship and should have gotten divorced a long time ago instead of making each other endlessly miserable for decades.

            Additionally, when my parents found out about the relationship, they forbade me from seeing my much-older boyfriend and threatened both him and me (which only cemented my resolution to sneak around behind their backs and gave me a Romeo-and-Juliet complex about the whole thing).

            So, when I got in over my head and he ended up being an abusive creep, I didn’t have anyone to turn to and had to handle everything on my own.

            So, basically, you’ve perfectly assessed the situation and I actually *lived* the hypotheticals you’re talking about. 😦

          3. I completely agree with all of this, and I am sorry if my wording gave you the impression that I wasn’t asking in good faith! There were a couple of things that led me to ask the question: the specific wording “I don[‘t know how he can be so cavalier about it” – which I took to mean “not intervening”. And to me, a parent actively intervening in the relationship of an 18-year-old would be extremely *bad* parenting, and frankly wrong. However, I completely agree with you that there is a huge amount parents can do to support their children which is not actively banning or disapproving of their child’s relationship. Myrin has clarified that what she is uncomfortable with was seeing the father expressly approve and facilitate a relationship that looks kind of creepy to her, which makes a lot of sense.

            Secondly, when I thought about this more last night, I realised I’m pretty uncomfortable with the focus on “illegality” and age of consent. I am not *completely* against the idea of age of consent, but it is a very binary, geographically specific and artificial way of deciding when someone is ready to begin a sexual relationship, and I think they often offer only a symbolic protection against exploitation, when the real protection (as you say) is a much more holistic, involved, supportive atmosphere and relationships between young people and those responsible for their welfare. When I was growing up, all the relationships involving that my gay male friends had were default illegal, because the age of consent was 21 for sexual rel. This didn’t protect them: it meant they were incredibly vulnerable, because if the relationship was “wrong” anyway, then there was no significant difference between “mutually consensual and fun for all”, “formerly good relationship turning stale and miserable”, and “abuse and coercion.” The same is true for other laws which seek to restrict the circumstances in which someone can consent to sexual activity, such as criminalisation of the purchase of sex. I think it is self-evident that children cannot consent to sexual activity and adults can, and obviously the law has to pick a specific day when you transition from one to the other, but I think that as a young person in a sexual relationship which may or may not be exploitative, which side of your 16th (or 17th, or 18th) birthday you fall probably isn’t often a very helpful way to think about it.

        4. I’m a parent of a 15-year-old girl, and if she came home and told me she had a 26-year-old boyfriend, I’d certainly give both of them a talking to, alone and together, and I wouldn’t hesitate to get the law involved if it was warranted. Since you ask.

          1. I wrote a pretty detailed reply to Mary but it looks like it’s trapped in the spam filter….

          2. I have a boy and girl, both aged 12, and I would do the same thing. For both of them. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think these kinds of relationships are any better for boys than for girls.

          3. As someone who pretty much was that girl, it would not have helped. Vocal family disapproval just would have intensified the ‘us against the world’ codependent thing we had going on, and wanting to not prove my parents right would have made it even harder than it already was to disentangle myself. (I mean, don’t go in the opposite direction – knowing your parents really like your fiance and will be disappointed also adds a difficulty level – but trying to break people up very often just drives them closer together.)

          4. Yeah…I have to admit that even talking to adults *when I was specifically asking for help* about abusive/dysfunctional relationships didn’t have the effect I wanted (i.e., wake me up to what was really happening and make me feel safe and confident about ending it). If anything, the vehement “This is totally a messed-up situation and there’s no excuse for it and he sucks/don’t blame yourself at all” only made me feel less understood, because the nuance I was experiencing inside wasn’t there in what I was hearing from others.

            What did work, actually, was reading an essay by a classmate of mine who’d been through something totally parallel but gone several miles farther down Dysfunction Highway. I saw it as precisely the nuanced, balanced, yet highly cautionary tale I needed and immediately backed away from the person who’d been steering me down Dysfunction in the first place. It was a real gift to read that essay, and I wish now I’d had the self-awareness to say so to the author. It’s not easy to write from such an ambiguous, ambivalent inner place while never seeming obviously to take sides.

          5. That makes sense, but there is a pretty big difference between 15 and 18, and the person I was responding to was talking about someone who was 17 at the youngest when she started dating someone older, and possibly only a month or two off 18. I think that whilst you might worry as a parent in that situation, what you can actually *do* is much more limited, and I certainly wouldn’t feel it was appropriate *for me* to take an authoritative approach. Other parents may differ in their approach.

  39. Oh, LW. I’ve been you. When I was 15, I met a man named J I thought was the love of my life. He was 9 years older than me. We were together until I was 21. We were engaged. It took me far too long to jump off of that suffocating sinking ship. Don’t be like me. Jump. Find yourself. Don’t build yourself around someone else when you haven’t had a chance to figure out who you are yet. I think was killed my relationship was that we started out in a similar emotional/developmental place – but I grew past it. I started branching out. And he didn’t, and he tried to hold me back so we would stay the same. I don’t know if yours is just like that, but maybe he is. You don’t owe anything to your J for supporting you through your parents’ divorce. Set yourself free. Leap. Fly.

    I may be writing a letter to myself at 17, here. I don’t know if it makes it through the translation barrier to you, LW.

    I don’t think you’re wasting his life, LW. I think thinking about his needs is threatening to hold back yours.

    Take care of yourself. Breakups are hard even when they’re very necessary.

  40. Breakups are nearly always hard so don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you because it’s hard and you’re feeling bad about it. But do take care of yourself.

    Thanks for this post, Captain. I’m still getting used to the idea that the relationship I had when I was 17 with someone 12 years older was, on the face of it, a problem, because it felt so great to have someone who took me seriously.

  41. “getting my own place, drinking at clubs, maybe study in a different city and get some tattoos”
    Superficial much?

        1. It’s true, I do have a long history of zero patience for drive-by posters who come just to be mean.

          1. Hey sweet, a convenient place to mention how much I enjoy the moderation here 🙂 I love that people who come here just to be mean get shut down with a quickness. And it’s not just disagreeing with someone’s views, bella is factually incorrect that “getting my own place, drinking at clubs, maybe study in a different city and get some tattoos” is somehow superficial or not exactly what a 17 year old who wants to do those things ought be doing.

          2. Seconding Mel Reams. I feel safe to be part of conversations here largely *because* I know that these sort of comments – and far worse ones we never see – get shut down quickly.

            A supportive space gains nothing from people who comment purely to be mean or snippy.

            Not to mention that “getting my own place, drinking at clubs, study in a different city and get tattoos” are, y’know, NORMAL AND HEALTHY LIFE GOALS for people who have not had much chance to branch out on their own. Not superficial. Normal.

            And if it’s goals as normal as these that LW feels stifled from pursuing then they absolutely have good reason to feel worried about their relationship.

          3. Joining in the chorus that the moderation here is top notch, and it makes one of 3 websites (three on the whole internet) where I read the comments.
            Thanks, Captain and The Moderators!

          4. Joining the chorus. I like that meanness is reflected back at the mean person. I like that JenniferP takes more time with people who are trying but confused. I like it because it shows a very practice what you preach. I intentionally look for mod comments to see real life demonstrations of boundary enforcement. Its awesome. (Its also awesome that it keeps the safe pretty reasonable in terms of comments).

        2. Dude, I don’t always agree with everything the Captain says, but this is just responding in kind to unnecessary (and frankly pretty nasty) snark at a teenager who wants to do age-appropriate things. I don’t see how she’s being a jerk here.

        3. “You have a long history of this.”

          Except…not. Over the years, I’ve seen many examples of the Captain having respectful debates/discussions with commenters who disagreed with her perspective and advice. That respect, though, is a two way street. I 100% support the Captain’s zero-tolerance policy for jerk commenters and join the chorus of folks who find this a generally positive and welcoming comments section in which to participate.

        4. There is a very real difference between being a jerk to people who don’t agree with the site-owner’s views and letting people whose only purpose in commenting is to make someone already in a tight spot feel bad know that that kind of thing is not okay. If you cannot tell the difference, I think probably you need to work on your reading comprehension.

          But hey, I have my own place and enjoy drinking at clubs, having tattoos, and living in a different city, so probably I’m just superficial, amirite? (Like, seriously, citizen, take a look at what you’re defending. This is the hill you want to die on? Really?)

    1. Exactly the type of bull older people would say (come on, you at least wanted/did one of these). This is the reason why much older people should not date teenagers, at least you’re just some stranger making a bitter comment on the Internet, but can you imagine the LW’s boyfriend (soon to be ex, fingers crossed) saying this? He’d be the biggest douche-noodle on the planet.

    2. I did many things at 17 (including, yes, drinking and dying my hair an unnatural color) that seemed superficial to other people but were emblematic of big steps into adulthood/loving my own body/being my own independent person. If LW’s boyfriend is telling her that she can’t do these things, that’s a really big deal–he doesn’t get to control where she lives or what she puts into or on her body, and if he’s telling her that he does have that power, something is terribly wrong.

      1. Yes! And the fact of the superficiality of some of them (I’d argue that traveling is a PRETTY BIG THING, actually, even for an older person, and ditto for getting one’s own place) makes it EVEN MORE a big deal that LW feels that this relationship is preventing LW from doing them. Like, if your boyfriend makes you feel like you can never go to nightclubs without it being a Big Deal, that’s Bad.

        1. ditto for getting one’s own place

          Didn’t Virginia Woolf write something about that? I think she thought it was kind of a big deal.

      2. Yes. And also, as someone who just started dying her hair an unnatural colour in her late 30s, I can say that while it’s only a small thing, it makes me feel more like myself, and isn’t actually an entirely trivial choice, it turns out. Tattoos to follow shortly. What on earth is the point of belittling someone’s wish list of activities as superficial anyway? One of my goals for today is to go home from work and plonk by butt on my couch and watch netflix while patting my cat – so what? If I felt like a lover was stopping me from doing that with their judgement and disapproval I would be thinking hard about why I was seeing them because who the hell wants to feel judged and ashamed in their daily life – even for trivial things?

        1. High five for unnatural hair colors! Mine’s been purple for about 5 years now, and I’m just now considering my first tattoo. Oh, and I’m not a teenager anymore. Take that, Bella. I can do with my body what I want, and it’s not superficial; it’s called feeling beautiful and giving zero fucks. 🙂

          1. Yes! I had to stop dyeing my hair anything but slightly-more-red and slightly-more-dark-brown and put aside my plans for visible tattoos when I started working in a conservative office, and even though I’m paid plenty to give it up, a big part of me still misses the feeling that I could do anything to my body any time I wanted, no fucks given.

          2. Yeah I would be sad if I had to stop dyeing it for work purposes. Currently my job allows me to do it, and I think my chances are good in my industry (I’m an IT sysadmin) but I would consider dyeing it back to natural for a corporate job that was otherwise really appealing or if I was desperate for work. But… I really don’t want to. When I first did it it was a trivial choice, but then I discovered that actually I really do feel more comfortable in my appearance when I look like this.

        2. …..wait….this describes me. And those are my EXACT PLANS for today! Do… do you have blue hair too?! Are you me from another mother?! 😸

          1. Hahaha mine is currently purple, but blue is next on the list. It was pink for a while too which was fun.

      3. I was a second semester sophomore in college at age 17, taking 22 credits when a full load was considered 15. I worked, I never dyed my hair, I never drank, I never went out to parties.

        I made no friends in college at all. I was terrified of failure and completely miserable the entire time, to the point of suicidal thoughts. I didn’t allow myself to experiment and be independent until I was 25. I’m 36 now, and I still feel very much behind my age peers. But one thing I did learn in the last 10 years is that you need to do you, not what other people think or say you should do.

        (Although I don’t dye my hair. I’m female presenting and I shave my head BALD.)

        LW sounds like a very well rounded youngster who is much more emotionally healthy than I was at that age. GO DO YOU, LW! The world is awesome and a lot of fun.

    3. Yeah, right.

      “testing my ability to rely on my own and be independent, being social and meeting new people, getting an education and maybe seeing more of the world while I’m at it, and expressing myself in a way that appeals to me”

      What a horribly “shallow” set of goals.

    4. Oh man… Living by myself and living alone abroad were HUGE developmental leaps for me.

      Thanks, Bella, for calling these critical parts of my life “superficial.” Christ almighty what a condescending thing to say.

      Also… It was important to learn early I am not much of a fan of clubs. Saved time down the road.

    5. Okay, two out of the four things you just quoted are pretty fucking substantial life goals. What, while STUDYING and FINDING HER OWN HOME, LW’s not allowed a goddamn tattoo and a night at a club?

      Jesus, getting your own place can be a rewarding but demanding challenge in your thirties!

    6. How dare anyone want to have fun and enjoy their life! Real adults know that on your deathbed you get a prize that says “least superficial and most virtuously long suffering” to put on your gravestone.

        1. Crap I’ve already missed out on my free prize tattoo! I KNEW that blue dye job would come back to haunt me. 😦

    7. In what way is this superficial? It’s learning how to be an adult, interact in adult-y situations, change some scenery to see what else is out there, and explore bodily autonomy. It’s exactly what I hope 17-year-olds would WANT to do.

      1. Not to mention that even if her goals *were* in some way superficial, so what? If they harm no one and make her happy, it’d be a pretty massive red flag if her boyfriend wanted to stop her from doing them.

    8. LW, please know that this commentor is utterly and completely wrong. Getting your own place in particular is *massively* important. Not only is it a big part of learning to adult, but it’s also really important to be able to compare future partners to living alone. That is, I absolutely loved living alone. I loved not having to clean up anyone else’s mess, I loved having all my stuff stay exactly where I put it, and oh god I can’t even tell you how much I loved having alone time finally after years of mildly to massively invasive roommates. The reason I moved in with my now husband is that having him around is actually *better* than living alone, and living alone was pretty fucking great.

      And like other commentors have already said, it is a really, really big deal if you feel like you can’t go out and do something fun like have a few drinks at a club. Not to mention the desire to get some tattoos! It’s your body, nobody else ever ever ever gets a say. I’ve been thinking about getting another tattoo myself and I fully expect my husband would be just as supportive about that as he has been about everything else I’ve done since we’ve been together.

    9. Gosh, I’d forgotten about how, when I was about 17, I pretty much took the position that drinking at clubs, tattoos, etc. were superficial.

      It didn’t take much growing up to realize how incredibly superficial that position is. Clubbing is just not my jam, and it was really unimaginative of me to think that not-being-my-thing somehow meant other people’s jam was intrinsically less real or valuable than the stuff that I enjoyed. Or to imagine that clubbing vs. reading, say, measured more about the person doing the activity than “does this human like to do X activity in their free time”.

  42. “I feel like I am wasting his time everyday since he’s looking for something real and is not exactly getting younger.”

    This line made me smile a little ruefully because (if I am reading the letter correctly), it’s something that LW feels is adding to the feeling of suffocation, whether J said it or projected it or both. I know that when I’ve had that line used on me, it’s always negatively to underline a sense of “hurry up and maybe make a choice that’s wrong for you,” or “ignore your gut instincts and do what someone else wants.”

    The thing is, we all age at the same rate and we’re all not getting younger, and that can be a positive, good thing. We’re all adding experiences, more of a sense of self, and better judgment as we DON’T get younger. It sounds like you, LW, have a good idea of where you want to go with your next steps in life.

    1. Er, we all age *chronologically* at the same rate, not necessarily emotionally. You’re definitely not wrong to feel like you’ve outgrown J.

    2. *nods*

      *rings the Incompatible Life Stages gong like it’s a cowbell and we’re all Blue Oyster Cult*

    3. To my ear, it sounded like feelings LW was having towards Themself. It took me many years to advocate for myself, and this feint is how I would have negotiated an out.

      I lived with a guy ten years older than me starting at age 17. There was control of me, given I was underage and worked a 60-hour week in the same semiskilled work that he did. He never advocated that I go back and get my GED (I’d left abusive parents) After I was of drinking age (main event in small town) and had more friends, I packed and moved out while he was at work. Somehow, I never saw him again. The first guy I met after him insisted I go get my GED. Some guys go to pathetic lengths to feel superior.

  43. Just here to echo the many concerns and worries about you LW. Generally men in their 20s/30s/etc dating teenagers (especially 15 year olds!!) are not good people. Others have talked about calling the police, I won’t (the police are useless anyway) but… there are laws about this kind of thing for a reason. Please just be careful.

    /done being patronizing i promise

    No matter what OP, you have support here and your life is just beginning, you should feel free to do whatever you want. Get a tattoo, have fun, and damn the haters. 🙂

  44. “He’s not getting any younger” applied to someone who’s twenty eight makes me raise my eyebrows a bit. My broad social group – the local music scene – runs from early 20s to late 40s (and a handful of folks much older and younger). None of us in that lower end would think to apply that to someone in the higher end who hasn’t ””””””settled down””””””, much less say it to someone in our younger age group – LW’s boyfriend’s age group. Like, it might get thrown around jokingly, but the key word is JOKINGLY, and only with someone you know well/know would find it funny.

    Like, any adult seemed super old to me when I was a teenager, so I think that’s where it’s coming from. Now I don’t even think of my friends in their 40s as old. So LW: he’s not some old dude who’s going to keel over at any second and such every single second is ~precious~. He’s twenty eight. He still has plenty of years left and you’re not holding him back by not wanting to put your life on hold for him. Life doesn’t have an age cut-off for ”””’settling down”””’ and if you can’t tell by my use of quotes there the concept is considered by many including me to be bullshit. I have friends who didn’t have kids (usually the barometer for settling down?) until they were forty. PLENTY OF TIME.

  45. Hey there! I just wanted to chime in about dating within your hobby, particularly sports. LW, I’m also part of a pretty small sporting community where people date each other a lot. It’s scary the first time you break up with someone within your hobby, because it does feel like if it goes badly you might lose that whole hobby. But in my experience, sporting groups are really good at dealing with that. Your fellow sports people already value you for what you bring to the sport – your physical abilities AND your personality. They’ll still want you there.

    I don’t know whether the sport you do is solo or a team sport, but either way, my experience is that sports groups encourage people to put aside their personal gripes when playing and focus on the sport. And that goes for ALL KINDS of interpersonal problems, not just breakups. Don’t like that person? Well, you’re teammates, and you’re working towards the same goal (winning!) so keep focused on that and not sniping at each other. Someone you don’t like is on the archery range at the same time as you? Forget how well they’re shooting, just focus on being the best that you can, right now.

    That said, if someone is being genuinely gross or bullying, people shouldn’t try to gloss over it. Of course there are people with the same cultural problems as anywhere else in sporting groups, but people SHOULD be willing to stand up to unacceptable behaviour.

    If you’re part of a team or a club, maybe it would help you to talk to the team captain or someone on the club board, just so they know what you’re going through and can make sure you’re supported. I’ve done it before as a team coach. Sports communities of any variety like having members, value their members and want them to stay. They want you to stay.

  46. Oh, LW, I feel for you.

    When I was a kid I didn’t like spending time with my peers; it was much more enjoyable to perform for my parents’ adult friends. Starting when I was 17, I dated a lot of adults, with ages ranging from 23 to 45. (The 45-year-old guy who wanted to date 17-year-old me was flat-out sketchy. I’m really glad that was an online-only relationship and he lived 3000 miles away.) The pattern continued into my 20s, when I dated people who were 10 or 12 years older than I was. When I was 28 I married someone who was 34; when I was 35 I married someone else who was also 35. I apparently just really like being around people in that 29-to-35 range, and wasn’t willing to wait until I was in that range myself to get romantically involved with them.

    A lot of the people I dated were great and we had great relationships, but there was no escaping the imbalanced power dynamic. We could pretend it wasn’t there as long as we were getting along and things were good. Breakups, though… it is really hard and scary to break up with someone who’s significantly older than you, because they simply have more resources. They may well be physically bigger and stronger; even if you’re both athletes, they’ve been an athlete for longer. They probably have more money, more ability to get around under their own power, more stable housing, and more social cachet in your shared social circle. They probably also have more self-confidence and know more about the sorts of rhetorical tricks that might convince a breakup-minded partner to stay around. These things may not all be true of a given person, but at least some of them may be ringing a bell for you.

    This is why people worry about relationships with a big age differential. It’s dangerous for the younger person to be in them because it can be dangerous to try to get out of them. Think of it like there being a physical exit door–it’s a lot easier for you to get out that door if the other person isn’t so much bigger and stronger that they can hold it shut while you try to push it open.

    It’s absolutely not about you not being mature enough to act like an adult or decide what you want and reach for it. Teens often deserve more credit than they get for maturity. Looking back on it, I think I actually was pretty mature for my age, and that was definitely part of why I wanted to be around people who were older than I was. I agree with the Captain that you sound like you have a great grasp of what you want from life, and that all the things you want are absolutely worth chasing after. I’m much more concerned about your boyfriend’s maturity, or possible lack thereof. If you’re not feeling it with this guy anymore, absolutely take a break or break up entirely. But do it with Team You on your side, helping you push that exit door open, just in case he does try to keep you in a situation you no longer want to be in.

    It really sucks to be in that space where you want more than your peers can give you but people rightly side-eye anyone who’s more than a few years older. Aim for friends in that sweet spot of, say, 19 to 21. Look for people who, like you, act older than their age, rather than younger. You want someone you can soar with, not someone who’s generously holding himself back and waiting for you to catch up.

    As for whether the breakup feeling originates in your parents’ divorce, that may have been a triggering event, but my guess is that it brought things to the surface that you were already feeling. It’s natural to look at other relationships that are in trouble, and see whether you may have missed some of those signs of trouble in your own relationship. In a healthy relationship, watching other people break up will probably leave you wanting to hug your partner and maybe ask them to work with you on fixing a few minor issues you’ve noticed before they become big issues. In a relationship that’s struggling or that has run its course, you may be motivated to move along by realizing that you strongly sympathize with or even envy your newly single friend or relative. You’re in an anxious place and have lost the stability that you’re used to having in your parents’ home. If that brings up some additional anxiety around your relationship with your boyfriend, listen to that and trust it.

    Best of luck as you sort through your options, and keep doing what’s best for you.

  47. Can I just say,
    “But at the same time I want to LIVE! Find out who I am without him.”

    That ^^^ is not a teenage thing. That is a life thing. I was nearly 30 when I broke up with my husband for pretty much the same reason. I know people in their 50s who leave relationships for this reason.

    Also, I find it kinda scary that you think (on some level) that staying with this guy = feeling dead. That really sucks.

    1. My sister met her first husband when she was 13 and he was somewhere in his twenties. Many years, marriage, and two children later, she realised that she had never been alone and independent and responsible for herself in her life, and wanted to prove that she could, just for a little while. He didn’t take it well, and it turned out that ‘alone’ (well, ‘single mother of two’) was better than being married to him. Before that she had no idea that the idea that his wife was ~capable of independent survival~ was such a threat to him!

      So, er, yeah. Exploring your self and doing different things and generally stretching your wings before settling down is a good thing to do, and anyone trying to stop you from doing that is a bad sign. :-/

  48. You’re 17. Go be 17. He’s had his chance and I’m very suspect of men who want to “lock down” a relationship with a girl who has not had much in the way of significant life experiences. What is he afraid that you might learn? About the world? About yourself?

    From what I have seen, people who want to date those who are THAT much younger than they are tend to be very insecure about their lifestyle, their job, their social skills, their finances, their skills in pleasing a partner, etc. And they target an age group who are easily impressed. Add to that the fact that your family is in turmoil and it sounds like he targeted someone who would require very little from him besides basic comfort and attention. And he wants to spend all this time with you because he’s afraid you might someone your own age who suits you better.

    There is so much out there for you to explore and learn. Go out, meet new people. Try new sports. Get piercings you’ll eventually regret. (It’s all part of the process.) You should be able to do that without worrying about whether that makes a 28 year old man unhappy. At 17, you should not have to worry about being “something real” to a grown man. You should be learning what “being something real” is supposed to mean, at your own pace.

    1. You should be able to do that without worrying about whether that makes a 28 year old man unhappy. At 17, you should not have to worry about being “something real” to a grown man.
      All of this. Consider: proportionately, J is as much older than the LW as the LW is than a ten- or eleven-year-old. A teenager might think it’s fun and cool to be admired by someone that age, because everyone likes being thought of as an awesome person, but you’d find it a little bit odd if that teenager considered that kid to be their only source of validation and happiness, no matter how legitimate their feelings, even if no sex was involved.

  49. It sounds like in addition to finding someone to talk to about your boyfriend it would also be very useful for you to find someone to talk to about your relationship with your parents. You know that your relationship with them is complicated and that this is hard on you. But I’m also finding your parents’ response to your relationship with J a little…strange. It’s odd to me that their concern is that you are spending too much time with J (when you yourself would like to spend less time with him) rather than that he is behaving badly towards you by 1) dating you starting when you were 15 and vulnerable 2) pressuring you for a commitment that you don’t want to make 3) pressuring you to spend more time with him than you want to. Maybe I’m overreading, but this makes me think that maybe your parents aren’t the first people you should talk to, because maybe they are making you feel responsible for things that really aren’t completely your responsibility. Maybe it would be useful to first talk to a trusted adult who isn’t your parents who can give you a reality check on all aspects of the situation, including your parents’ reaction.

  50. Man, I wish, I WISH, I had an idea out of what I wanted in my personal life at 17. I knew I was going to college but that thing where you’re excited about discovering yourself, meeting new people, traveling, etc.? That is AWESOME and GOOD. If your boyfriend is a decent person then he will understand that this is awesome and good and not try to smother this excitement out of you just because it may mean that you break up.

    Also, this? J also has to live in a relationship with someone completely unstable who breaks down in tears everyday which of course is worse for me, but it must be weary on him as well.

    You’re not obligated to be nothing but perfect and pleasant 100% of the time for the sake of your romantic partner. We’re all human and go through rough patches and have problems. Please don’t see yourself as a burden to him just because you’re going through a rough period.

    1. Good grief, yes! Grown-ups don’t have it together; we’re just generally better at seeing the end of the rocky stretch, and also at crying in the shower.

  51. Hi LW,

    Not a lot of people have touched on the sports issue but since it’s something obviously important to you, I hoped I could give some advice. You shouldn’t have to give up a sport you love after a break up, but you might need a break from it to get a clean break from J. Here are some suggestions that could help you through that period:
    -research the cities/schools you might want to go to and see if your sport is practiced there
    -train for your sport. Lift weights, do cardio, swim
    -try practicing a new sport too. Often the skills of one sport can help you in another. Learning yoga could improve your rock climbing. Trying rugby could improve your roller derby game.
    -invite a friend to learn the sport with you. They might not be able to train at your level, but it’s fun to share a sport you love.
    -coach younger kids/teams. This might not be possible with how small your sport is, but if there are younger/less experienced people around your sport, maybe you can mentor them.

  52. If anyone (your parents) says ANY version of “what did you expect” or “I told you so” STOP THEM RIGHT THERE. “I’m gonna stop you right there. I am hurting right now, and asking you for help, and I don’t need to hear ‘I told you so.’ I need you to listen to and support me and help me get free. I need to know that you love me even if I make something that looks to you like a mistake.”

    Wow, this made me cry. I cannot over emphasize how important this is because, LW, I remember the empty feeling I’d get when I was with ex-bf of that age. How I thought that all my friends secretly thought that I was silly and stupid for being with him. How I knew my family hated him and how they would tell me so every time he came up in conversation. After we broke up, my mother played “Bad Romance” on repeat for a day because she was so happy. My little sister threw away every memento she could find. And yeah, I was mostly happy to be out of the relationship at that point but I was still sad. He was my friend and had helped me through my first years of college. And all I could feel while mourning that was guilt and shame. LW, you have done nothing wrong. You are not at fault. Please don’t let those feelings or the fear of them make you put off a mini -break or a break-up. We’re all on this planet to learn and anyone who is judging you for this has some seriously screwed up priorities. You’re amazingly insightful to see your relationship for what it is right now and to have plans outside of it. Your Team You should know/be reminded of that. And if your people can’t see that, then it is time to find some new ones. *jedi hugs*

  53. I just want to add that “I need some space so I can find out who I really am” is a 100% valid reason to break up at 17, regardless of the age of the partner. That was a big part of the reason my first boyfriend and I broke up, when I was 18…and he was only a couple of years older than me. Essentially I realised that I couldn’t be in a “we” before I’d had the ability to become a fully-formed “I”. If that makes sense.

    So while the older-guy thing might add extra dimensions of potentially-problematic-stuff, be in no doubt that even if the guy were the same age, your reason for taking a break would still be totally legit.

    1. I second this. I broke up at 19 with my age appropriate boyfriend of two years for pretty much that reason.

      And it was scary, and hard, and sad. I felt lonely, I missed being in a relationship, I worried I’d made a huge mistake. After a few weeks of regular friend dates I realized I needed to break off all contact at least for a while, and when I’d done that I felt so cold-hearted. It was still the right decision. Now 15 years later we are not close but glad when we happen to see each other.

      The person initiating the breakup also needs to grieve the relationship, and that’s normal.

      LW I’m rooting for you. Decide what you need and want, and go do that. The Captain’s scripts are great.

  54. My dearest LW,

    When I was 18 I entered a sexual relationship with a man in his 50s. Former teacher (by all of 24 hours — it started the day after I graduated high school), my mentor, and a man I thought (due to my complete lack of dating experience and bumpy friendship record) I loved deeply. It ended badly, as these things often do, and in an effort to protect our secret (which wasn’t much of one) I had no one to talk to. My depression and resulting behavior in the aftermath cost me dearly with my college professors and peers, and it ultimately cost me my chosen career.

    You are at a place where you don’t have to go down my road. I cannot applaud The Captain’s advice enough. I emphasize her recommendation to *tell somebody.* A teacher or coach who sleeps with a minor should get in hot water, but I understand all too well how you might be made to suffer what should be his consequences. (My bad decision worked another 15 years before retiring. He’s now in the state hall of fame.)

    Professional help would be great at helping you navigate your life as it is and as you want it to be. This experience requires a nuanced unpacking, and you will view it through different lenses as you live your life. And that’s what’s so important right now. Make plans *for you.* Figure out who and what you want to be. Fuck up, learn from it, do better. Do great things because you want to. Someday you’ll meet someone who will be a for your life at a certain time and place. If you’re really lucky you’ll find someone who fits in your life forever.

    Be brave, my dear, and know you are thought of.

    1. i’m so sorry you went though that, especially alone. i really feel like this guy was a predator, more than you were a bad-decision maker.

  55. LW you can do this! If you feel suffocated it’s time to leave. Be warned that if he starts making comments about how “he thought you were more mature” or whatever that this is a massive manipulation tactic – older people dating younger people sometimes get a lot of mileage by trying to make them live up to some definition of “mature” that they’ve imposed, where “mature” means they get everything their way… See also comments when you try to break up that imply not breaking up is the adult thing to do. It can be a powerful trick if you’re not on the look out for it and are keen to prove that you’re cool and grown up and so on. The most mature and adult thing you can do is look out for your own interests and make decisions for your own life, and stick to those even in the face of lots of arguing and upset.

    I really hope you go forth and get awesome tattoos and meet cool people and live in different places and spend lots of great time being young and figuring out who you are as a single adult person. I hope you don’t spend any more time trying to live up to the weird standards of an adult man who dates 15 year olds and who wants you to be both really young and manipulable and compliant but also to settle down at the grand age of 17.

    1. oh my god yes, to the “more mature” trick. see also: “i thought you were a cool enough person (to put up with my bullshit)”

      1. Ah yes. You definitely want to be the “cool girl” (or other gender but it’s often girl so I’ll just go with that for the purposes of this example please insert accurate gender here) not like the evil ex with all her demands and being all uptight and clingy and awful like she was, what with how she wanted stuff and had opinions all the time. It’s a classic. These days the moment I start thinking “I need to be the coolest and chillest person in the world” I take a loooong look at why I feel like I don’t deserve whatever it is I’m pretending not to want. Like…is it really a terrible thing to want? Usually not.

  56. Hey LW – you mention that you don’t feel like you have a home, and that there’s some distance between you and your parents. The Captain has a lots of good advice about improving relationships with parents, or placing boundaries, so maybe check some of that stuff out. I think that it’s important that you have a safe place where you feel like you belong and can be happy, so also put some energy into making that space. When I was at school I was a music student, so the music room was somewhere I could go and feel safe but also peaceful, and I had a good relationship with the music teachers so that was really helpful sometimes. I also had a friend who was really supportive, and her mother would let me drop around and always invite me to stay for dinner, or stay the night if it was a weekend. I was really lucky to have those two people in my life. So if you don’t feel like you have a ‘home’ with either of your parents at the moment, maybe talk to some of your friends.

    My first relationship was with someone six years older, and I was 13 when we got together. It was long distance, but we visited often. I didn’t disclose that we were involved to my parents (though looking back, I think they must have known?), and I didn’t tell my friends until I had broken it off with that partner. While people can feel hurt that they weren’t in the loop for something that’s a big part of your life, I think most people would be sympathetic to the situation you describe – you know it’s a controversial age difference, your parents don’t approve, and you felt like you couldn’t talk about it. If you have friends in this sport you love, definitely bring it up with them. It’ll be good to have someone know the situation and understand that you two have broken up (or taken a break, or having difficulties, or whatever).

    Anyway. I’m sorry that you’re going through such a stressful, unhappy patch. But I think it’s really great that you’ve been able to identify and articulate the things that are causing this and how you’d like to see things change. I wish you luck!

    1. This seems right on, and maybe one of the things that is changing about you, LW, is you are starting to be able to parent yourself a bit more? It’s awful that you might be in a situation where you might have to — 17 is still very young — but does it resonate for you at all to think “what would I advise *myself* at this point if I were my parent, doing a good job at parenting?”

      Thinking about some of the things you mentioned about sports, and how involved your bf has been in your involvement in them, I am wondering if this has taken the form of driving you to practices, meets / games / matches, *being interested in how your progress was going*, that sort of thing, at times when maybe your parents were not stepping up to do that because of whatever has been going on with them in the lead-up to their divorce. Parenting is of course an attitude and a philosophy and etc. etc. but it is also one zillion daily and weekly and monthly concrete tasks, and maybe your parents were not doing a lot of those tasks, and you really needed someone who would and could. If that’s part of the dynamic, you probably have both a lot of gratitude to your bf and also a lot of attachment to him — apart from anything else — as the person who does remember what time your practice happens and how your last match / meet / game went and which ones you are looking forward to and which ones you are nervous about in future, and what your goals are for how they go. Having to lose that would be a big deal, for sure. Maybe now you can drive so you can get yourself around more, but maybe you don’t have access to a car even now. That kind of thing. That makes a big difference to how your daily life looks.

      Thinking of yourself as your own good parent, though (and it is *so unfair* that you might have to do this, but if you do have to do it, it might be useful to think exactly in these terms) — think, “my daughter likes sport X and we don’t have a car to get her there. Should she keep getting a ride with a person who has started to make her uncomfortable, or should she scale back her involvement temporarily? I wonder if there is anyone else who would be willing to rideshare with her?” etc. Like think your options through from the perspective of a good and caring parent looking out for you. You deserve one, that is for sure.

      1. sorry I just realized I gendered you. “My kid likes sport x, and we don’t have a car to get hir there” etc. is what I should have said. And this was actually meant as a reply to multicoastal, above.

  57. Another thought. When I was 18, I entered a relationship with someone a few months younger than me. We both entered the relationship *aware of and agreeing, verbally and explicitly* that the relationship had a definite end date.

    Because we were 17/18. Because one of us was definitely leaving the county to attend university elsewhere a few months down the line. Because the other of us had never dated anyone at all before, and it would have felt cruel of me to *tie them down* to a possible long-distance relationship before they got the chance to see anyone else. Because 17/18 is an age range where there are a lot of changes and challenges and growth, and this can mean that two people merely months apart in age can end up at wildly different life stages and maturity levels, and we realised all of this and prepared for it.

    That was one of the best relationships I had before meeting my current partner. Because knowing that and being explicit about it gave everything such a feeling of freedom. We had space to just really enjoy every moment, and things ended while we were still deeply fond of each other. We got to transition to friendship and celebrate each others’ later romantic successes.

    Don’t feel like you *owe* your boyfriend anything, LW. You both shared some time together. You got to have some experiences – good and bad – together. And now it’s time for both of you to move on so that you can each experience more of life at the life stage you’re at. Him, too.

  58. Unlurking after many moons of reading this blog because eighteen-year-old me is honor-bound to second the Captain’s sound advice.

    LW, all the comments re: the age gap are on point, but I actually think this has more to do with who your boyfriend is, and who you think you are. Eighteen-year-old-me had a very sweet boyfriend too. He was kind down to his soul, ludicrously handsome, and chose me despite my being odd, frequently depressed, and– as even my own mother pointed out– not beautiful enough to justify our being together for almost three years. I was very lucky to have such a generally good first relationship and I don’t regret being with him in the slightest.

    But I remember my senior year, when eighteen-year-old me got into her Dream School a million miles away and sweet boyfriend could not hide his misery. I remember him sulking through my seventeenth birthday party, waiting to be alone with me so he could break down about how much more I laughed with my friends, how little he measured up. I remember sixteen-year-old me standing awkwardly by his side at homecoming because he was too embarrassed to dance, and I remember our fight when I was asked to dance by someone else. I remember when we met, when I was fifteen, and he told me that loving to read and write were “fuzzy” skills, and that all the real work in the world were done by mathematically skilled people like him; and that was the first time I had ever, ever wondered whether the things that nourished my soul were really worth anything at all.

    When eighteen-year-old me chucked him, he sat down on my lawn and wept until he couldn’t breathe enough to form coherent sentences anymore. I have so much sympathy for twenty-year-old him, because I know what he was saying every time he passive aggressively alluded to the day I would get bored of him and run off with someone bookish and funny and strange, like me: “You terrify me.” Because this was the fear! This was what he had tried, for nigh three years, to get me to swear I’d never do. I left.

    In a way, he was right. I ran off with myself. I left him crying in front of my house, locked the door, put on my favorite tunes. My life was about to start.

    And oh, dear LW, I am only twenty-two now so I remember it starting so clearly. That summer I was sad, panicked, and eerily calm by turns. But I felt like every heroine in every book I never bothered telling him about, on the cusp of adventure or self-actualization or shallow, meaningless nothingness. The grief over him was mine, the excitement for school and life and other boys’ mouths was mine too. And I was never so sure of anything than I was about not feeling all of his feelings anymore.

    When eighteen-year-old me was almost at Dream School, a million miles away, she stuck her hand out the car window to feel the glorious, infinite choices flying through her fingers. She was shiny like fucking chrome and she was ready.

    You don’t need to have a good enough reason– I didn’t. Don’t let the “good girl” bullshit keep you waiting around until somebody cheats on somebody so you have a proven breach of contract. Dancing and getting fucked up and doing rad stuff to your own body awaits. Misery and joy await. You await.

    1. I would just like to say that feel like this is one of the best comments I’ve read for a while. It really resonated with me.

    2. It sounds like you’ve long since realized that those doubts he instilled in 15-year-old you were baseless, but if you ever still worry that your love of reading and writing are somehow “less than”, I hope you remember how much these commenters (myself very much included) were touched by your gorgeous words here.

    3. THIS. So much this. This should be framed and handed to every girl as she enters high school.

    4. Wow. Really. This sentence in particular: “But I felt like every heroine in every book I never bothered telling him about, on the cusp of adventure or self-actualization or shallow, meaningless nothingness.”

      That whole paragraph, really. But man, that sentence hit home. You’re an amazing writer. Thanks for bringing that skill out where we can see it. 🙂

    5. “I remember when we met, when I was fifteen, and he told me that loving to read and write were “fuzzy” skills, and that all the real work in the world were done by mathematically skilled people like him”

      Engineer and scientist here, this made me SNORT FIRE OUT OF MY NOSE. Science is a joy, but so too do creative arts keep us inspired and nourished. Also, what good is your discovery if you can’t communicate it? Feh!

      1. Seconding the table flipping rage here. I’m a programmer, which people like to think is all about worshipping the purity of your code in glorious isolation but is actually a fundamentally social activity. Reading and writing are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to be a professional programmer. I know from painful personal experience that there is no level of coding brilliance that can overcome the inability to READ YOUR FUCKING SPEC AND FOLLOW IT. Nobody cares how good hypothetical programmer Alice is at building widgets if we needed her to build a thingamajig, asked her to build a thingamajig, and the entire rest of the team’s tasks were handed out under the assumption that Alice was actually going to build a thingamajig.

        I really love programming, but if STEM fields were the only important ones that would not be a world I would want to live in. Art matters, without beauty and joy and awe and wonder and silliness, why fucking bother?

      2. BB! Spat Out My Coffee reading that you SNORT FIRE OUT YOUR NOSE. LOLZ.

        Agreeing with you. Great scientists that are great writers are the ones remembered best. Thinking of Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, and many, many more.

        “There is genuine paradox and real poetry lurking, with subtleties to exercise an inquiring mind and wonders to uplift an aesthetic one”.
        from Climbing Mount Improbable, by Richard Dawkins.

    6. First, this is a gorgeous comment.

      Second, I want to highlight “You terrify me.” Because that’s what is at the base of all these power-imbalance, controlling relationships (with or without the age gap). The controlling/older partner, the one who says NO to your bodily autonomy and NO to your dreams and NO to your life? That partner is afraid of you. They are afraid of you and all the you’s you could be and what you’d discover if you stepped outside the box they built so carefully to keep you in. For some reason, maybe it’s ability or past choices or fear, they keep themselves in that box too. They’ve sabotaged in some fashion their own ability to be amazing and now they want to sabotage yours. They feel inadequate and they know in their heart of hearts that if you just peeked out the window at the larger world, that you would fight and run and never look back.

      Sure, they’ll couch it in terms of being afraid that you’d find someone else or that you’d get hurt or any number of things. But really? They’re afraid that you’ll do what they don’t think they can: live.

      1. Yes this! I knew a girl in university who had a boyfriend (a much older boyfriend) who was a stay at home, work manual jobs, salt of the earth kind of guy, and she’s intellectual and loves to travel and is super creative. And 15 years into their relationship he started to worry that he was tying her down and she would leave him for someone more interesting and younger and his response to that fear was to go with her and travel the world, to broaden his own horizons in a way that terrified him and he never would have done on his own. He’s not actually a guy I’m super into (for other reasons), but in that moment I had massive respect for him. That is how you deal with fear of a partner being more adventurous than you – you don’t try to crush them down and make them small enough to fit in your life, you grow your own life to fit theirs. You recognise that the price of entry to loving that person is going to be sometimes joining them on adventures and stuff – the alternative is breaking up, not trying to make them smaller.

  59. LW, I’m 28. I understand that a teen and a twenty-something can have a genuine mutual attraction, and even a relationship, regardless of anyone’s gender or even– and I’m being frank here– level of maturity. But let me tell you some things about being 28 years old:

    He is well aware that you are “jailbait.” As in, he knows that having sex with you, or even a strong implication that he’s having sex with you (ie. dating you) is enough for him to be brought up on criminal charges and jailed or imprisoned, as well as fined money he doesn’t have, as well as being placed on the Sex Offender Registry, all of which would permanently affect his life. Negatively. No matter how he tries to explain that it was consensual, loving, or that he didn’t even do it. He knows this. And whether he’s flouting the law because he’s dangerous or flouting it because he loves you, the potential consequences– the risks he’s running– worry him.

    (If it doesn’t worry him, that means he’s a serious criminal and you need to run away. Only people who think laws “don’t apply” to them assume that they will never be caught, and if laws regarding the age of consent don’t apply, trust the statistics, laws about stealing, violence, and everything else under the sun don’t apply either.)

    He is also aware that you are too young to settle down. As wonderful as the relationship may be, no matter how much he likes you or loves you, he has always understood that he’d lose you when you go to college, if not sooner. He’s probably surprised, when he thinks about how old you were when you met and how long two years is for a teenager, that the relationship has lasted this long! That’s abnormal. Two years is nothing to a 28 year old, but it’s a REALLY LONG TIME in high school. To give you a sense of scope… Your 2.5 years feels like 11 months to him. If it was 3 years, it would feel like 1 year to him. And he may not think about that difference every day, but trust me, he’s aware of it. He’s already asked himself what you plan to do when you graduate, and if there’s REALLY nobody at school you’d like to date instead of him.

    If he has no warning that you’re feeling restless and want to end it, he might be surprised and a little hurt when you break it to him. And yeah, people are people, he might be a little touchy for a while when you see him at sport things. He might even stop showing up for a while. But keep in mind that “a while” is months for him, not weeks, so you might not see him for 3-6 months and might not be able to talk with him for a year or so. Or, he might have noticed your feelings, prepared himself for it, and is just waiting for you to say what you need to say. It’s even possible that HE thinks you should break it off, but is continuing to be very available and “with” you– as supportive as he knows how to be– because he knows you’re going through an awful time with the divorce and whatnot and wants you to feel safe and loved. Whether he’ll be surprised or has already prepared himself to think of you as just a friend, any decent guy isn’t going to flip a table just because you feel the way he knew you’d (sooner or later) feel and end the relationship with him.

    Of course, there is the exception. It is possible that you are in fact dating an ephebophile and/or predator and/or wife husbander (that last means someone who picks out person who is legally underage and grooms that person to be their future spouse, regardless of either person’s actual gender). In other words, it is possible that you are dating someone who is knowingly doing something wrong and not only won’t accept the break-up, but won’t accept that you are a person instead of an object. Because it is not possible to know whether he’s a normal 28 year old or one of these kinds, it is very important that you follow the advice people are giving you about staying safe.

    Make sure you take home anything you’ve been keeping at his place, in his car, etc. Make sure to put back anything of his that has been kept in your house, your school locker, your gym locker, etc. Make sure to break up in a public place, with your own ride home; if there aren’t a lot of people guaranteed to be around, ask a friend to come with you and stand where you can see them (I advise against a parent, because he may assume you are being pressured to break up and try to keep seeing you– possibly even out of genuine worry that you’re being abused at home again). When it’s over, go to that friend’s house or go hang out in another public place, and stay out for hours, doing something fun like watching a movie, bowling, eating ice cream, window shopping, and just chatting about things that have nothing to do with him. That last one is arguably a safety issue– going home, or going somewhere alone right afterwards, is almost as dangerous sometimes as being alone when you break up with someone, IF they actually are criminally-minded– but just as importantly, home isn’t “home” for you right now, and it’s the last place you want to be! Hang out with your friends or just chill out in public, doing something that ISN’T emotionally draining. Recharge your batteries and refresh your spirit. You’ll need that, even if you’re sure you don’t (and the more you live and date– and break up with!– other people, the more you’ll see the difference this makes).

    And good luck! You have a beautiful life to live, SO much ahead of you, and I hope this whole mess comes out well. If he’s any kind of a decent guy, even if he has to take time off to get over his feelings for you (which is normal, and he doesn’t need to be told if he needs to do this), he’ll always be a good and supportive friend, who sees the best in you and wishes you well on your adventures. =)

    1. I think you may be mistaken about the legal assumptions in your second paragraph. Per http://www.ageofconsent.us/, the age of consent in many (most?) states in the U.S. is 16, and many more are 17, although there are some where it is 18. It is entirely possible that the LW and their boyfriend live in a state where the age is 18, but it is also entirely possible that they do not.

        1. ^This. The issue of consenting age is also a complex one, so if LW isn’t in the United States, or if the boyfriend is “in a position of authority,” or if they live in a jurisdiction with stricter consent laws than the rest of their state… etc. But yeah, I was mainly thinking that he could be accused of having done something when she was underage, if she isn’t still. Sorry for the confusion.

      1. If someone’s first reaction to a warning about age of consent issues is to nitpick the age of consent rules… that says not good things about the someone.

    2. “In other words, it is possible that you are dating someone who is knowingly doing something wrong and not only won’t accept the break-up, but won’t accept that you are a person instead of an object.”

      Actually, IME, people like this don’t consider themselves to be doing something wrong. They know that certain other people may believe these things to be wrong…but those people are silly sociointellectual fad-followers (and/or children of our Puritan forbears) who deny people their normal, healthy sexuality and love-relationships out of misguided overprotectiveness of the young. And they think that they treat their young/future partner more “like a person” than they do anyone else on the planet. Which may actually be true, as far as it goes…particularly if they treat everyone like an object and don’t know the difference. The problem is, the young person can’t always tell the difference, either, and buys into all this nonsense out of loyalty. This is grooming: it’s intellectual, not just sexual, and often couched as “teaching.”

      1. Edit–by “people like this,” I don’t mean the LW’s boyfriend or older age-gap partners in general. I meant the Schrodinger’s ephebophile and/or predator and/or wife husbander ArynChris mentions above. They don’t always moustache-twirl or know that they should, but sometimes you can spot them by their rhetoric.

  60. I’ve been that guy – not quite that big an age gap, but briefly dating a 15 year old girl when I was nearly 20 – and I can honestly say in hindsight that is CREEPY AS FUCK. It’s not a definitive problem, but it is a situation that requires a LOT of scrutiny and honesty and acknowledgement of the power differential present in an age difference at that stage of life. Much like our LW’s scenario, I ended up scaring that girl away because I was looking for something more serious than she was … and that was a good thing, for both of us. It forced me to think about what I was looking for, and why I wasn’t looking for it/finding it in someone my own age. I hope J. has this period of intrspection too.

    1. OK, hold up for a sec. I think the Captain’s let-me-be-the-parent-for-a-second-here discourse covers some of the more disturbing stuff potentially embedded in the age difference, and covers it in a much more sensitive way that is going to help the LW. Remember that this relationship is still present-tense, not past-tense. The LW is struggling with a lot of emotional stuff and “Hey, BTW also, don’t you realize you are the victim of a pedophile?” is maybe not the most useful framing here.

      1. Thank you. These types of reactions are exactly the thing that gets people stuck in relationships for longer than they should be because they’re trying to defend/prove people wrong. I did this exact same thing because I felt like I had to show everyone who said that we wouldn’t work out because of the age difference wrong. The LW already spoke about their fears of having to deal with the “I told you sos!”

    2. Technically, at worst, a hebephile. Pedophiles would be attracted to prepubescent children. But in either case, that isn’t really the issue at hand.

      1. Yeah, this is an issue that oddly gets my goat. When we say that a person who’s sexually attracted to five year olds is the same as a person who’s sexually attracted to fifteen year olds, we open ourselves up to a whole slew of unfortunate implications. Chief among them is the idea that there’s a bright line between “child” and “adult”, and everything on one side of that line is WRONG WRONG WRONG, but it’s all good once that line has been crossed.

  61. Jedi hugs, LW. Those crying jags are a strongly worded memo from your deeper self to your surface self, so take heed.
    Thank you, Captain, for the world of no piece. I feel validated for having felt uncomfortable when the teacher of one of my classes at uni was dating a student. Although we were +/- 21 yrs rather than teens, it’s a dating pool issue, as you say.

  62. P.S. When you break up and have no contact, the time frame for feeling better is about six months IME. What would others say?

    1. I find that it depends, but six months is a pretty good guess in the absence of better data. I mean, after a definitive breakup, I tend to feel “better” in 4-10 days, but “over it” is different for every relationship. I’ve felt absolutely miserable for a week and a half and then basically been over it immediately afterward bar a little bit of Airing of Grievances with friends afterward. But I’ve also had breakups where I felt “better” in a day or two but didn’t feel “over it” for months.

      1. I’ve always had a theory that it takes you one third of the time you’ve known the person to stop missing them. So far it’s always been right!
        It’ll probably be more like eight months (but hopefully less of that time will involve constant pain).

        If the relationship was abusive, however… I’d give it a lot longer. There’s a lot more grieving that has to be done when you realize that you were a victim and no one tried to help you.

        1. I’ve heard “as many months as years” and “half the time of the relationship” and a bunch of other metrics, but honestly I think it just takes what it takes. I was twelve years “getting over” my first relationship (although I’ll admit that was a very unusual case, and it’s not like I didn’t date that whole time, it was just always present), and once dated a guy for three months and took four months getting over it, blah blah. It really does just vary.

  63. Hmm don’t know where my other comment went. Just wanted to say, LW: Jedi hugs, heed the crying jags; Captain: thank you for pointing out the significance of what people regard as their dating pool.

  64. When I was 12 I dated a 22 year old for a year and believe me when I say, breaking up is hard. It took me months to break up with him even though I knew he was bad and abusive to me. I’m 20 now, and I still wonder how he’s doing but then again when I think of him I turn into the hulk… I wish I had advice like this when I was going through something similar. Breaking up with him was the hardest and best thing I did that year.

    1. That wasn’t dating. 12 year olds can’t “date” 22 year olds. 12 year olds are “targeted” by 22 year olds. I’m so sorry this happened you. Someone should have prevented it and protected you. Hugs to your younger self.

  65. I was either 14 or juuuuuust 15 when I started dating an 18 year old (who turned 19 a few weeks after we broke up). We had been in the same youth group for a long time, flirting and enjoying each other’s sense of humor and intelligence, but after 4 months I just wasn’t feeling it, and I tried to break up with him. And he convinced me to stay dating him on the ride back from an event we were at. And I felt trapped and stuck for the next two months, but tried to make it work by putting MOAR feelings into it. When we eventually broke up in a very dramatic way that would be too identifying here, but it ruined our friendship for years and his feelings were much more hurt by the extra lovey-doveyness in the last two months being rescinded than he would have been if I had just broken up with him cleanly at 4 months. I still sometimes feel bad about out, but looking back at 15yoMolly, I just want to give her a hug. She was dealing with a lot of crap and nearly-19-yo boyfriend should have known better than to try to use her to feel better about himself during a difficult time of his own.

  66. LW, as someone who was pretty much in your exact same shoes, I am here to tell you of your future.



    I met my ex-husband when I was 17 and he was 27. He was my first sex partner. He was a lot of firsts actually. We married when I was 18 because I enlisted and everyone said “Either marry him or leave him.” Do you know what I started realizing when I was married? I started realizing how *angry* I was. Because of all the things I could never have. I thought I was going to slut around in college and touch a lot of cute butts, and now I faced the possibility that I would never, ever have sex with another man. And he knew my rage and his compromise was “let’s have threeways with ladies!” which was so magnanimous of him, suggesting we do something he likes which did not solve my problem as a straight woman into dudes.

    He wouldn’t let me cut my hair. He wanted me to tattoo wings on my back to match his–I don’t want matching tats and I think wings are overdone. He tried to steer me away from going to college. He wanted veto power over my friends. I HATED the sex we had, but I didn’t realize how bad it was because I had nothing to compare it to. He pressured me to have a baby which I cannot explain to you how much I didn’t want. I felt suffocated–I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I wanted, because I had never had an opportunity to figure that out without someone actively shaping me. He deliberately tried to change who I am, and I thought it was sweet that he was modeling me into a perfect wife. That is not sweet! That is actually terrifying! He pressured me to stay in the Army, a job I found traumatizing and soul-sucking, so that HE wouldn’t have to work, and I could support us while he played his video games and did nothing around the house ever.

    It sounds like your guy isn’t a Darth, LW, or maybe he is and you haven’t seen it yet. The huge age gap makes me VERY concerned that he’s a Darth who’s pulled the wool over your eyes. When I look at teenagers, every part of me is like, “They are certainly aesthetically attractive for their age range and I’m sure many people of similar age find them appealing but god damn they look like tiny babies to me.”

    Anyway. Five years after a divorce, I’m lying in bed with an undercut, a flower tattoo, many friends, no babies, next to my 14th sexual partner who I’ve been dating for a year. The sex is amazing because I know who I am and what I want. I figured out polyamory is a thing I can do, so when my current partner isn’t in town I sometimes call a friend with benefits. Sometimes my boy and I have threeways with other sexy people of all genders, as it turns out I like FFM threeways just fine when no one forces me. No one micromanaged my growing up to suit themselves. The next time I get married, it will be because I’m ready to settle down, non-monogamously, with someone.

    Please PLEASE break up with him. I’m here to tell you that you may love him, and you may deeply regret breaking up with him, but it’s so, so, SO important that you find yourself now, while you’re young. Maybe you’ll find you made a terrible mistake leaving him (I doubt it) but you know what? That’s better than hitting 40, or 50, or hell, even 30, and being filled with rage at him for stealing from you, stealing your youth and your opportunities and your freedom.

    1. Maybe I’m projecting, but this seems like just as good an argument against marrying while enlisted and marrying young in general. DON’T settle. DON’T let yourself get pressured into a definitive relationship, especially living with someone with no way to leave or to force them out, period. The first person who has to be ready is yourself. The first person you have to know and love is not your partner– it’s yourself.

  67. LW – I have two different takes on this. First of all, my sister’s experience. She is a little older than you, dating someone about 10 years older than her who is also her coach in the competitive sport she plays. It is not always a healthy relationship (because of the competition), and not the one I would choose for her, but they make each other happy overall and that’s what matters. But she was older than 20 when they got together and had dated around, and she knew she wanted someone a little more stable. He didn’t know her age when they first started seeing each other (which was before he actively became her coach). Her boyfriend is the same age I am, and I can say with 100% certainty I would never have dated any of the dozen of her guy friends who hung out at my parents house because they all seemed so young to me, but her boyfriend being attracted to her isn’t *wrong*. He never saw her as a child, whereas I had watched her friends grow up. It may be that if your boyfriend got to know you in this sport he does not see you as a teenager, just as someone with shared interests. That doesn’t make him creepy, wrong, or a jerk.

    I am married to someone younger than me, though with a much smaller age gap. Because of physical appearance, I thought he was my age or older when we met and he thought I was younger. I am 36 and he is 32. We are at the same stage in life, however, and the age gap is essentially invisible. You may find that you have healthy relationships with guys who are older than you, and that isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is feeling trapped by the relationship, and that is true for ANY relationship, including friendships!!

    The biggest age gap I know, by the way, is my best friend’s mother and stepfather. Her mom was 16 when she was born, and when my friend was 12 her mother met her stepfather. He was 17 years older. However, they had both been single parents and their background was similar, and so while her mom was much younger, she also had the life experience to be on an equal level with this man. They’re great together. Age gaps themselves don’t have to be a problem.

    Go live. Be you. I spent my 20s traveling in Europe and pursuing my education and while I had no money, I definitely now can say I have no regrets about what I “should have done.” You have the right to learn who you want to be. That’s what becoming an adult is about, and you don’t need someone who has already made the transition deciding how you should do it.

    1. I agree: the only relationships with a wide age gap that have succeeded to my personal knowledge were between people at the same stage of life experience. Besides relationships in middle age and beyond, I know of only one with a similar (actually identical IIRC) age spread to the LW’s, and in that case the at-the-start 17-year-old was used to handling adult responsibilities as an emancipated minor and felt nothing in common with her own graduating class, while he had no idea that she was under 25 until she told him.

  68. I know captain has to be all tactful and helpful and that’s great

    I however, am going to get right on blasting that creepy asshole.

    Seriously. Captains right. The same way you look at someone as little as three or four years younger than you, is about half as bad as someone in their mid to late twenties would view a teenager.

    I’m 26 myself and even someone as young as 19 seems juvenile to me.

    And yes its true that a grown ass man like him is well aware of life experiences and world views associated with his age and yours and he absolutely knows you won’t know. Everything she said is true.

    We all think we see our own situations more clearly than outsiders as kids. We all think everyone else just doesn’t get it especially with out questionable boyfriends.

    It’s not true

    1. I’m 29 and often work on a college campus. Anyone under 22 seems VERY young to me, like I have to stop myself from referring to them as kids and children all the time. 17-year-olds do not, in any way, seem like people who should be in my dating pool. I do think they’re awesome and get along with quite a few people in that age range as friends, but no no no I do not relate in any way to people who are on the upper end of this age gap sexually/romantically.

    2. Aye. Some of my dear friends are a few years younger than me (some as little as two years; I’m 24) and nearly every time we speak I hear little reminders that jump out at me that say “yep S, this person is indeed in a different place in life to you.” And I don’t mean that in an objectifying or condescending way, just that it’s hard for me to not Activate Older Protective Sibling Mode sometimes (which I damn well don’t because… its likely to be found to be condescending).

      See what I’m saying here though? My brain says “protect this person while they’re still sorting their life out” rather than “this person is potential candidate for my dating pool”*

      *tangent: I referenced a two year age gap. Just clarifying 22 and 24 isn’t an immediately obvious BEES!thing imo, rather that in the 16 – mid 20s, life stages and what people are doing can really be widely different. Very interesting developmentally this period, your brain is still getting your frontal lobe sorted at different rates.

  69. Hey LW!

    I just wanted to touch on something COMPLETELY UNRELATED to the age gap and other things in your letter and is something you mentioned!

    You want to experience life with other people, sex with other people, and these are TOTALLY OKAY THINGS TO WANT.

    When I was 22, I had been living with my boyfriend for four years (we started dating at 16 or so but were the same age, moved in together at 18) and I had never been with anyone else, not long-term dating, not sex, nothing but one-shot things before we settled into We Are Relationshipping. And I felt really, really crappy because… I wanted to know what sex was like with other people, what dating was like with other people.

    This is not a moral failing on your part. This is not at all unusual. It is TOTALLY OKAY. I told him I wanted to break up with him but he didn’t want to, and silly me, I thought that was reason enough to stay (and the guilt and the tears and the sadfeels and my parents liked him and everyone thought we’d get married because MY parents were high-school sweethearts and never dated anyone else in their lives so…). I wound up cheating on him (and I still feel TERRIBLE about that, but it was absolutely me trying to… end the relationship I didn’t want to be in anymore). That did end things, rather more horribly than just breaking up would have. I also discovered that not only do I enjoy sex with people-who-are-not-him, but also people of different genders and sexualities than his!

    Also, I did not chase my dreams at 17 — I wanted to play my instrument, which I was very good at and doing things at colleges with, but my boyfriend did not want me to leave the area and my parents disowned me rather than be party to my going to COLLEGE (gasp!) and so I gave up, and my biggest regret to this day is that I didn’t find a way to do it. I found ways to do other amazing, incredible, impossible things, so I know I had it in me, but I had to learn that I could do impossible things first. To this day I’m doing impossible things! It’s the best.

    You’re 17, life is all about figuring out who you are, who you want to be, and who you want to make of yourself. You get to re-assess this at any time, but right now this is like, time specifically laid out for you to do you, and get comfortable and happy with who you are and want to be. All relationships end until they don’t, and that’s not at all a failing on anyone’s part. I am so excited for you because you sound so strong and thoughtful and passionate, and you are going to kick ass at life, and nobody’s going to hold you down. I’m so sorry you’re going through rough times and hurt from both your parents and your bf, but these are part of life too. Time doesn’t heal wounds but it puts the pain at a distance, and the distance lets us get some perspective, and that perspective is what lets us really start to heal. Hugs to you!

  70. LW, I’m all for what everybody has said about protecting yourself in case you ended up with a Darth while setting him free to find what he’s looking for if you didn’t end up with a Darth, and heading out to find yourself regardless. And here’s a breakup song:

  71. Sweetheart I hope you listen to the good advice, hugs and purrs from me and my cats. Be your own best friend. Go out and live a little or a lot before you decide to be in a relationship again .

  72. Chiming in to say I have no reason to believe he’s a Darth, and I think applying the general principle of “these things never work out” would be a disservice to the LW.

    But LW should break up with him anyway.

    Because s/he wants to, because even if he isn’t explicitly holding hir back (and he very well might be, if the “not getting any younger” comments originate with him) there is a demon in her head who is wearing his face and saying these things to hir. It comes through very clearly in the letter: your old life is ending, and it’s scary and sad and sometimes it even hurts a great deal. But your new life starts the moment you decide the old is over, and from your letter it sounds like it’s going to be fantastic!

    Best wishes.

  73. That cover of Fergie’s Big Girls Don’t Cry is beautiful!
    LW, the Captain has given you some really excellent advice. I hope you can sit with it for awhile and then decide to act in your own best interest – now and always.

    The phrase that really stood out to me in your letter was “wasting his time” and I want to tell you that no, you haven’t wasted his time. He had his teen years and his early 20s and he has had his time and his chance to figure out who he is and what he wants. It is he who is taking YOUR time – your teens, your youth. He may be a lovely young man in many ways, but now it is time for you to take back your time and your life. You have had a rough couple of years – it’s been emotionally hard. And you have managed to form plans, imagine dreams, participate in a sport you love AND write this amazingly insightful and mature letter to the Captain.

    LW, you have everything it takes to build a wonderful, interesting, exciting life that is centered on what you need, want and enjoy. Please accept this amazing challenge your inner wise mind is asking you to take. Break it off with your older boyfriend and realize your own truth, and your own strength. It’s all there. Trust that voice inside of you – and embrace your life!

  74. Yo so I have a related question:

    In the LGBT community in the city I’m in right now, I’ve fallen out with a friend, and one of the reasons is that because she has just graduated (22) and has started dating a teen (17-18) who has either not graduated/just graduated highschool. Idk her partner seems very sweet but my first private reaction was ‘NO FULL OF BEES’ as she’d been bringing them to bars under aged without anyone knowing they were under aged. I’ve been told I should support the community/not say anything because apparently ‘It’s not that bad’ but yeah. Any help here?

    1. “Not that bad?” NOT THAT BAD!?

      You don’t support a community by condoning blatant law-breaking. You don’t support a community by condoning unsafe and potentially abusive behavior. That’s not supporting the community–that’s stepping around the missing stair.

      I’m not going to say that’s it’s your responsibility to interfere in the relationship itself, because it isn’t. But if there’s a group of your friends heading out for drinks and Younger Partner is among them you can absolutely say, “Hey, y’all know that Younger Partner is underage, right?” If they shrug and don’t seem to care, then don’t go with them. Don’t let them draw you into an argument, don’t let anyone wear you down with pseudo-logic.

      I see this sort of “logic” in the BDSM community all the time. People trying to “support the community” by covering up abuse and sticking up for abusive individuals, because they think it would “make them look bad” to shut anyone out of a group or kick them out of a party.Hosts and group leaders rationalizing that if an incident didn’t result in a police action that it wasn’t serous enough for them to pay attention to.

      It’s very tempting to fall victim to that mindset when you are part of a marginalized group. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for dangerous, abusive, or ILLEGAL behavior. I can’t say if your former friend’s relationship is dangerous or abusive, but sneaking underage people into bars is definitely illegal.

      1. Thanks for this Eureka. I’m in the UK so 17 was definitely dodgy, I think they stated dating when her partner was 17 but she didn’t tell anyone? In retrospect I’m annoyed at her because frankly if I’m going out with friends in my twenties, I know there are some very with it teenagers but I’m not sure they’re going to care about our thesis/adult stuff in the LGBT community which is more along the lines of ‘How do I pass in a work environment/money/50+ hour jobs/working as an LGBT doctor/lab scientist?’ rather than then going out and just being themselves. Like, at the moment I could teach people their age (I’m 25) and yeah. I remember mentioning this to my friend and I think she got annoyed at me for it.

    2. yeah no, that’s pretty bad. Even with the ‘possibly maybe 18’ it’s like – when did they meet? When did they start dating? how long ago? I don’t know how underage drinking laws work but couldn’t she get them into trouble doing that? I mean if they’re 18 then okay, got to put a ‘k you’re adult now’ number somewhere – either way there’s just not a lot you can do unfortunately. :/

      1. I think they were 17 when she met them, and she didn’t mention this to anyone in our group. She also has had a history of doing things without telling people and getting really annoyed if you disagree with her. Like, I don’t mind partners coming to places to drink at all, but I modify what I talk about depending on how old someone is because someone 17 doesn’t need to hear me talk about my job, or is probably not going to get nuisances of some life experiences my friends have gone through. (The other thing that made me fall out with her was she started saying things like ‘stuff not men/kill all men’ which, okay, I know misandry jokes can be funny, but she is a white posh lady, some of our group is disabled (me!), refugees and are people of colour and it started sounding really distasteful because if anyone is killing all men we’ll be the first to go frankly :|. I’m even more annoyed in retrospect at her for that around her partner because her partner just seemed to be absorbing all this from her directly and wasn’t able to express themselves?)

    3. Nothing about that seems weird or dodgy to me, and neither the dating nor the going to bars would be illegal where I live. So it seems odd to me to say unilaterally that it is *clealy wrong* and that anyone who doesn’t see the terrible wrongness is condoning abuse. But you obviously feel uncomfortable going out drinking with someone who isn’t legally allowed to drink (or even be in bars? I don’t know how your laws work), and that is OK. If you don’t want to spend time with someone who is drinking underage, that is absolutely legit and you are allowed to be discomfited by that and to limit the time you spend with this group.

      1. Yeah, 17/18 and 22 doesn’t seem inherently wrong or abusive to me either. Where I live, the drinking age is 21, but most people drink underage in college anyway, so I don’t see much difference between taking a 17/18-year old to a college party and bringing them to a bar. (And I also think the drinking age *should* be 18, since it’s ridiculous and infantilizing that people can make most major life-changing decisions at 18, including joining the military, but aren’t allowed to drink until they’re 21–but that’s a whole other rant….)

        Laboratory Unicorn – I agree with Mary that it’s totally legit if you don’t feel comfortable spending time with the friend and/or the group, even though I don’t personally find the situation weird/wrong. I’m not sure what more you can do, though.

        1. From where I’m from in the UK, older uni students (usually men) can pick on younger uni aged people, sometimes with the help of alcohol. In my opinion it’s creepy, and just because we think that the LGBT community should be safer doesn’t actually mean it is? I wouldn’t be happy with any of my friends from that group doing that same things that these guys do just because they identify as LGBT or as a woman. You shouldn’t get a pass for that.

          17/18 to 22 is actually a big age gap for me (that’s four or five years!), because you have a whole bunch of experiences happening there in that time. I broke up with three people one after the other when I was 18. I’ve stopped spending so much time in that friend group (I think the answer here for me is that I need a more mature friend group) but it’s hard to communicate this point to friends in my community because as Eureka said, ‘People trying to “support the community” by covering up abuse and sticking up for abusive individuals, because they think it would “make them look bad”’.

          This friend has also done some fairly grim things in the past too, so I think this just may be the final straw for me, but this letter and these comments have helped me put things into perspective. 🙂

          1. I am also in the UK and had two (straight, although I later came out as queer) relationships with 25-year-old men when I was 19, and eighteen years later I am still very happy about both of those relationships, so again, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the age-gap you’re describing. Which is not to say that no 22 or 25 year olds target people in their mid-late teens, of course, and maybe what’s happening here is that your “friend” does this regularly and there is background stuff that makes it seem particularly dodgy. I think you need to be careful about the generalisations, though: I did just fine as a 19-year-old dating a 25-year-old who was figuring out how to start his career when I was starting university, and if you are going around stating that that kind of relationship is intrinsically abusive and that anyone who disagrees is covering up or enabling abuse, then it seems very undrrstandable to me that your friend is annoyed.

  75. Dear LW –

    When I was 15 I fell madly in love with a 21 year old. We became very good friends. My mother liked him, and he took great care to justify that in his actions – getting me home on time, keeping me clear of his wilder friends, making actual, solid, good friends with her as well as me.

    When I was 16, he let me know my feelings, which he had previously firmly failed to notice, were requited.

    When I was 16-and-a-half, *I* went to the store, bought condoms, and several days later took them out of my wallet and said “So. I’ve been thinking.” He said “Maybe think for another week or so, okay? Just to be sure.”

    When I was 18, he very gently and lovingly told me that I wasn’t going to settle down with him and have his kids, which was the life HE was ready for, I was going to get the Hell out of that town, go to college like he knew I wanted and needed to, and have my life. And then he very gently dumped me on my ass and went back to being my friend, even when I was sort of a pain about it.

    I still love him, 27 years later. And I still know he was dead right, and that he really, genuinely did love me.

    I don’t really have advice. The Captain seems to have a pretty solid handle on that.

    But maybe this is a story it’ll help you to hear, so here it is.

  76. LW, the Captain and a lot of commenters have covered a lot of ground that I would have, and I urge you to listen to them and their stories and do the breakup because the breakup is a thing you want to do.

    One thing that I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about is the way that having an older partner at a young age can feel stifling even when both of you are trying your best to give each other space. I dated an older guy when I was just in college, not that big of an age gap, understanding and great dude, but even then I found myself taking some of his opinions as gospel. When he said he didn’t like filk music, for instance, I basically stopped listening to the songs in my collection and seeking out any more. Now, that may not sound like much (and I don’t even like filk music that much! It was all of five songs!) but the cumulative effect was that my aesthetic judgment and my tastes were boxed in because I took his opinions much more seriously than I should have. Because he was Older, and Wiser, and More Experienced, and More Confident in Expressing His Opinions.

    When I confronted him on any of this, he was baffled; he wasn’t trying to lay judgment and he wasn’t trying to tease me, he just was expressing his opinions and figured I knew I shouldn’t take them that seriously. And once he broke up with me and we’d spent some time apart, I did get more perspective and today feel a lot better about debating artistic judgments and totally disagreeing with people, even people I love.

    So yes, even in the best of relationships, when you’re learning how to Adult you can take the opinions of the person you love very strongly, and only later start to realize that their opinions may not be right for you. That’s a good reason as any to not be in a relationship with someone, especially if they react poorly to you having contrary opinions at all.

  77. “That is not romantic, that is him directly ignoring your stated needs.”

    This is kind of a pedantic semantic point, but it *is* romantic. Because romance is exactly all about dudes winning ladies by ignoring their actual desires. It’s why romance is a bullshit lie that fuckes uppe everybody who buys into it, male and female.

  78. LW I almost always dig the Captain’s advice and this time is no different. I just want to add a resource that might be helpful for you; How to Adult is a youtube channel that rocks my socks and may well rock yours too. Good luck with all of this!

  79. Why, yes, I am 51 years old and found great solace in this piece for teenage girls about breaking up. In part, “I embarked on a research project that consisted of dating people and then breaking up and getting my heart broken over and over and over and over again. The feeling has not gotten any less devastating—the shift from “girlfriend” to “ex-girlfriend” status always leaves me utterly paralyzed by the pit of shiny and well-meaning jellyfish I have come to understand as my heartplace. What has changed is that I now beast through the aching immobility of heartbreak by conducting specific rituals, exercises, and experiments, all designed to snap me out of paralysis and to channel my angry energy into making things instead of destroying everything.”


  80. LW, I think the Captain and a lot of other folks have given you really good advice. Including about how a relationship that is suffocating you is a relationship worth leaving, but the Captain and the others have said a lot about that already, much better than I can. The only thing I have to add about the relationship is: My wife is two years older than me, and that doesn’t matter at all now. But we knew each other as young teens and it mattered then. Not enough to notice much in our day-to-day friendship. But enough that I am so, so, so glad that we did not even discuss the possibility of dating until we were well into our twenties. We would have struggled much more and probably hurt each other badly if we had tried to be a couple when we were younger and that age gap mattered. So – I guess I’m trying to say, that even if you are one of the people who met a possible long-term love interest early, the route there probably involves re-assessing whether this guy might be The One (NB: I don’t believe The One is a real thing) in ten years and have a break-up now still have been for the best. (I think it is much more likely you have outgrown him now and forever, but as someone who is prone to decision paralysis myself, I wanted to throw that out there in case it helps make a break-up decision seem more manageable.)

    I also want to pause and offer another perspective on the part where the Captain said: “As a group, you are amazingly smart, powerful, perceptive, talented, and hard working. Y’all fucking glow with fire and light.” And I want to say, it’s OK if you read that and thought, well yeah, but that doesn’t describe me at all.

    I thought it wasn’t me, when I was seventeen and read things like that. (It probably was me, and I just couldn’t tell yet, but it doesn’t even matter anymore.) It sounds so epic, doesn’t it, to glow with fire and light? But sometimes it’s more epic in retrospect. Sometimes we can’t tell that’s what we’re doing until twenty years later, or ever. Sometimes we get all burnt out and just need to crawl under our blankets and be a soggy mess for a couple minutes or for a couple years. Sometimes the light is from a fire that is burning someone up painfully and they would give anything for it to go away. Sometimes, like in LofWT’s beautiful comment above, people can feel the infinite possibilities run through their fingers and know they are shiny and ready.

    I look at your letter, and your words burn with a glorious fire, so hopefully you don’t need this comment of mine at all.

    But if you by any chance you feel like you’re underwater right now, that’s a perfectly valid way to be, too. I know, I know, this is the only life you get, none of us know the measure of our days, etc. And all of that’s true. Don’t wait to live your life, not for your boyfriend, not for anyone. But you can still go clubbing when you’re thirty. Still get a tattoo when you’re fifty. If there is a fire in you that needs to burn before you die, you will still be able to glow with your own light when you are 80. You don’t need to live up to some ideal of burning right this very second if that’s not where you’re at. You just need to keep living your life, one day at a time, and you will grow up, and the odds are very, very good that it will get better from here.

    1. Why can’t I *like* this?

      I’m in my twenties, and a soggy mess. There is so much pressure to glow with fire and light.

      1. I know, right? Everything down to the music on the stupid radio was all “Now is your TIME, this is your PEAK, seize the MOMENT,” and I was…well, I was doing some very important work, getting my head cleaned out from a near-lifetime of untreated PTSD and depression, and that was indispensable groundwork for what has been a pretty decent life. But at the time I felt like I was slogging through glue.

        1. I’m glad to hear my comment resonated for some folks. Since I can’t tell whether it’s relevant to LW or not, I was worried it might be kinda off-topic and kept having to rephrase stuff as I was writing so it didn’t come off as “It’s normal and OK to be super-depressed and stressed out as a teen, so don’t worry about actually changing things to make them better!” which was – not what I was trying to say. So I’m glad to know that I seem to have said something in the ballpark of what I was trying to say after all!

  81. Hi LW,
    reading your letter felt almost like a message from my past and as a longtime lurker I’m writing my first comment here. When I was 17 I started dating a guy who was 38. It started as an affair and became a long and pretty committed relationship. I loved him but after four years I began to doubt if I wanted to stay in that relationship and I tried breaking up for a variety of reasons. Like you I wanted to explore the world, my sexuality, wanted to party, wanted to fall in love, go to other cities or countries. He on the other side wanted to have children, spend every free moment with me and I’m pretty sure he would have liked to marry me (which is not all that common in my country). On the other hand he was not even able to earn his own living or, in general, keep his life together. I felt majorly indebted to him because he helped me through a rough depression.
    So when I first tried to break up he pleaded and promised to get his life on track. He did. For about a month. And then, out of the blue, his brother died and I had to be there to take care of him. To repay the debt. And I stayed for another tree years. There were good times and even great times but more and more often I felt like I was lying whenever I said “I love you”. Though since our lives were so deeply intertwined, we had the same friends, basically lived together and I felt like no one else would ever love me (I see now that I was and am a bright, funny, attractive and sometimes depressed young woman and there are amazing people who love me in various ways) I never had the courage to actually break up with him. And after all he had spend all these years with me, waiting for me to be ready to have children – how could I cheat him out of that promise?
    But somehow I had also outgrown him. So many things about me as a person had changed and matured – which is not unusual for someone in their teens and tweens. He was still the same guy, acting youthful, still not able to be responsible even for himself.
    Finally I made the decision and broke up with him. It was a tough talk and a tough time and I never regretted it for a second. We never spoke since that day (it’s been two and a half years) and I hope with all my heart that he is happy. I do regret dragging it out for those three years.
    If you really feel the way you described in your letter I hope you are able to act on your gut. There is no need for you to be unhappy. It will not make J. happier.
    And in my experience after all of that: the partying is great, the sex is experimental, falling in love is beautiful and living alone can be awesome! I recommend to try it.

  82. Hi LW,

    I’m late to this thread and haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but as another teacher and just genuine liker of adolescents I wanted to throw my voice into the chorus with all the people saying that the critiques here of J. are not about anything having to do with you or your ability to experience “real” love or emotion or anything like that. When you are older and people ask: “Have you ever been in love?” you can absolutely include this experience on the list. I always include the first time I fell in love when I was 16 which now, at 30, still rings true to me as having been the genuine item, even if longevity was not part of its make up. The problems commenters here may have with J. are not about any deficiency in you or a lack of maturity on your part. To be completely honest, if you wrote a version of this letter where J. was 17 instead of 28, I think 99% of the Captain’s advice would be the same. If you feel suffocated, if you want to be alone, if you want to try new things/new people, all of those are VALID reasons to break up with someone, no matter the age difference.

    Listen to yourself, heed the Captain’s advice about how best to protect yourself in your life and in your sport, and know that the thoughtfulness we see here in this letter makes you more mature and more self-aware than many, maybe most, legal adults. This decision is first and foremost about you and what you want, not what any of us or your parents think about your relationship. I don’t want you to fall into a trap where you stay with J. longer than you want to so that you can prove to us, your parents, yourself, whoever, that the relationship was “real” in some way.

    I suspect a lot of the advice you are getting here seems contradictory: Trust your gut! v. You’re too young for J.! How can your gut be worth trusting if people are saying you’re too young? I urge you to push past the easily-reached impression that these two ideas are in conflict with each other or even really connected. No matter your age, if a romantic relationship is making you unhappy (or any relationship for that matter), listen to that unhappiness. It is a message from yourself with advice about how to proceed. It is a message that is valid no matter the circumstances of the specific relationship. As the Captain says, “wanting to break up is reason enough.” Nothing else is required.

    As to those of us on the internet, and your parents, and possibly other people in your life who think the age difference is NOT OKAY, what we think (it’s not okay) and what you may think (it is okay) about that one facet of your relationship DOES NOT CHANGE the suffocation you feel or the restlessness you describe. So when you hear some of us exclaiming about the age difference, know that deciding to break up with J. doesn’t make any of us “right” or you “wrong.” And know that these expressions of concern are not meant to undermine your autonomy or question your ability to know your own mind or emotions.

    Go forth, be happy, be young, be single, and good luck.

  83. I was an 18-yr-old who began dating a 31-yr-old shortly after I started college, and a lot of the comments above resonate so very hard. Thankfully, I only spent 6 months in that relationship, long enough to learn valuable lessons but not so long as to pile up regrets.

    In my case, the problem wasn’t so much that he wanted to settle down while I still wanted to discover myself; it was more the opposite. He saw me as someone with a lot of growing still to do (true!) whose growth he could influence and guide and control so that I’d wind up as the perfect mate for him. I don’t think he was thinking about it in these specific terms (until I threw it in his face during our break up; see below), but he was absolutely trying to pick up where my parents left off in terms of raising me and shaping me. Except, of course, my parents knew that it was *time* to leave off. They accepted that I had to become my *own* person. The boyfriend, on the other hand, thought that any time I had an idea of myself that differed from his ideas or me, that was evidence that I was still immature and exercising poor judgement. Eventually, when I broke it off, and I said I didn’t want to date Dad v2.0, he rather creepily responded that it was clear that I still needed SOMEONE to continue parenting me, considering what a piss-poor excuse for an adult I was making.

    I am sure that if I had tattoos or piercings or neon colored hair, or had discovered my taste for beer at that time, he’d have hit on that as proof I was still in a teenage rebellion stage. As it was, my boyfriend to obliged to psychoanalyze my decidedly “vanilla” tendencies for signs of childishness. My habit of dressing in layers (turtleneck, t-shirt, flannel) couldn’t just be what I was comfortable in; it must be because I was slavishly following grunge fashion (1994!). My disinclination to engage in oral sex couldn’t just be a matter of honest preference; it must be a symptom of tragic repression. My long hair, which he didn’t like because it always got in his face when we had sex, couldn’t just be something I liked for its own sake and always had since I was little. It couldn’t just be my choice for my body, or something I was proud of maintaining. My vehemence about not cutting it couldn’t have *anything* to do with my last chemotherapy treatment being nine years behind me at the time. No. In his eyes, my insistence on hair-down-to-my-butt was either a sign of raging vanity (“I just like the way it looks.” “Correction: You like the way it makes you look to other people.”) or a symptom of neurotic prudishness (“You’re Lady Godiva covering her nakedness!”) depending on what point he was arguing at the time.

    Basically, anything about me he didn’t like was proof I wasn’t finished growing up, that I still had childish things to put behind me. And if he had to argue me into putting them behind me, well, it only proved I needed someone like him to teach me what’s what.

    Later during our break-up it came out that he didn’t really see me as the person I was, but rather as embodying the perfect married life that God would give him as a reward for having been sufficiently good and devout. So I suppose this trusting teenager who was into him emotionally/sexually/romantically and who craved his approval fit in with that expectation. What an opportunity! God had given him his very own Galatea to sculpt! With just a little “encouragement” (pressure) from him, surely I’d outgrow my chosen religion, which he saw as merely a phase I was going through, and convert back to the Catholicism I was raised in and that he adhered to. Surely he’d convince me to move back to his home state with him and marry him in a church and have his babies. Surely I’d put aside my childish ambitions to write science fiction and fantasy, and come to appreciate the pure art of poetry as exemplified by himself.

    And of course while we were dating there were all sorts of clues that he was pretty damn insecure about our age difference. He didn’t want us being too close or kissy in public, for fear people would look at us and think he was a pedophile. For the same reason, he didn’t want me to act “too young” when we were out together. And he thought that 13 more years of life experience meant he knew EVERYTHING better than me, even if it was a family/cultural/regional tradition that I’d grown up with and had introduced him to myself, even if it was something to do with my own body.

    It all came to a head one morning when he chastised me for something petty and I realized the way he was doing it, talking over my protests louder and LOUDER to shut me up and quell any back-talk… was exactly the same thing my dad had always done throughout my teens. It sort of all snapped together that he had never treated me as a friend. He didn’t see me as an equal. He saw me as someone to shape, someone to raise, someone to train, and someone to have sex with, but not someone to respect. Not someone to confide in. Not someone to treat as an equal or a peer or a colleague.

    So that’s the day I broke up with him.

    Some months later we tried to get it back together. It was disastrous. It ended in a phone call during which he was simply vicious to me. About a year after that, he emailed me, asking, couldn’t we still at least be friends? I think he was trying to assuage his guilt over the way the relationship had gone. When I pointed out that our relationship failed because we’d never *had* a friendship, his reply was downright vindictive. Thankfully, it was also hilariously cliched. I had a good laugh.

    Like I said, I learned a lot of good lessons from those 6 months with Mr. Wrong. Lessons like, “If you laugh during sex and he takes it as an insult to his manhood, that’s a bad sign.” Lessons like, “If he keeps after you to cut your hair when you’d rather wear it long, that doesn’t bode well for other issues to do with bodily autonomy.” Lessons like, “A healthy sexual partnership involves respecting the other person’s preferences and dislikes.” Lessons like, “Someone who can’t take criticism of his art is not someone whose validation you need for your own art.” I learned a lot about boundaries, about the value of being loved for who you are now and not who your lover thinks you might become. Lessons like these stood me in good stead in building my eventual relationship with Mr. Right. Also, ex-boyfriend stories have been a source of much entertainment between us. The experience definitely didn’t go to waste!

    But I’m constantly grateful I didn’t stay with him long enough to let him stifle my personal growth with his demands that I turn into the dream wife he wanted to be married to. And I wish the same good fortune to LW–may they feel free to discover who they are without pressure to conform to the expectations of J., or to those of anyone else of *any* age.

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