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..
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.