I’m 25 and currently semi-secretly dating a man 17 years my senior who has 7 children, one of whom is only 4 years younger than me. BF and I are coworkers, met at work a year ago and had an instant connection. A select few people at work know about us. They expressed surprise and confusion (and a little revulsion) at first, but seem to have accepted the idea.
His children and parents love me (his eldest child even gave me gift ideas for his birthday the first time I met her). The youngest five are from one mother and she takes care of them primarily, and BF has emphatically stated they are not my responsibility. A couple come over, I ask about school, let them play my Xbox, give them junk food and they go home. So that’s not really a problem.
Here are my main concerns:
1) Telling my family. I CAN’T. I love my parents so much but they are pure-hearted, frankly naive, upper middle class, white collar conservatives who want me to marry a dashing young astronaut. I can’t help but believe it would crush them and make me a pariah to my extended family, who are deeply religious and conservative (I’m the black sheep atheist though, so I’m kinda used to that). Script ideas?
2) His kids. SEVEN. From three different mothers! It took a while for me to put aside my prejudice and accept that he came from an abusive, broken family (13 siblings from 4 different mothers). He never had a proper family unit and views my own family with poorly concealed awe. Whenever he mentions my dad (who is thankfully old enough to be his father) there are stars in his eyes. STILL THOUGH. Guess I still can’t put it all aside…
3) MY kids. Still can’t decide if I want them, but I definitely want the option. He stated at the beginning he would never have more kids, but hinted recently he “might not be done yet.” Part of me really likes the idea, but another part is horrified at being the 4th mother of his children and asks me wtf I’m doing with my life.
4) The ageplay. As an example, if I tease him too much, he’ll tease back and say that I’m grounded unless I stop. Usually the convo has a sexual overtone. We’re just joking and honestly I really like it. But the fact that I like it makes me feel weird.
What’s happening? Is my situation okay or not? He’s a sweetheart. Gentle, loving, extremely witty, very protective. I’m very happy with him. Just getting a random hug from him makes me grin like an idiot, even after a year.
I feel conflicted and could use advice.
– In Over Her Head
Dear In Over Her Head,
You are the boss of you, and you are the only one who can decide if this relationship is adding happiness to your life. Neither I nor our kind commenters can decide what’s okay for you. If you decide to break up, nothing we said could keep you there, and if you choose to stay and be happy, no amount of doom and gloom from us can change that.
Let me put my own history & biases on the table: When I was 25 I had a short but intense (&unwise)(&hot) relationship with someone 30 years my senior (that I would have rather chewed off a body part than told my dad about) who had kids around my own age, and I heard a lot of romantic and sexy stuff from him about how magical and great my 25-year-old self was and how I was the One True Thing he’d been searching for all this time. I enjoyed myself a lot at the time in between bouts of agonizing about whether this was normal and wondering who could I tell about it.
At 42 I roll my eyes at the memory of basically every word that came out of both of our mouths. The “you’re grounded, young lady” jokes with accompanying sexual overtones are probably the least cringe-y thing I can remember because they were honest and funny. I could not have been talked out of anything back then, and you cannot be talked out of anything right now (nor should you necessarily be), but wow, my lens on all of that has changed with time. Now I know many times over the hard lesson that having great chemistry with someone is not always enough to build a happy life with.
What I’d like to do is to suggest some questions to ask before you think about getting very serious with your boyfriend, and especially before you think about having kids with him. Ask him, ask yourself, and ask the situation some questions. Off the top of my head:
Does he date or has he dated women his own age? For instance, are his prior serious partners roughly the same age as he is, or do they all trend younger? Does he have female friends his own age? How do women his own age in your office see him/interact with him/do they seem to respect him or do they roll their eyes at him? How does he treat & talk about women his own age? Age differences aren’t always a problem in romantic relationships, but there can be icky, sexist aspects to them. I would especially beware of someone who is in search of a “clean slate” or a “new beginning.”
Is he a good dad? Is he a great dad? Is he present in his kids’ lives, does he know all their ups and downs and stories about their days and their friends and stuff? Does he have the time & emotional bandwidth for all of them? Is he truly a partner with their moms in raising them (even if the romantic relationship soured)? Is he supportive financially? How do the mothers of his children talk about him?
If he is thinking about settling down and having kids with you, what does he think will go differently this time? I’m sure you’re pretty amazing, but I’m also pretty sure that the lady he had five kids with was also “amazing” once upon a time. People do learn and grow as they age, but the best predictor of future behavior is often past behavior. The kind of dad he is and has been is probably the kind of dad he will be. Is he good enough at it for you, to be the kind of dad you want for your theoretical future kids?
There’s maybe a story in here about someone who is very charismatic and good at beginnings but not so good at the middles of things. I would be very leery of anything that smacks of a redemption narrative, like, “Finally with you I will be the man I was supposed to be all this time.” :Cue 42-year-old-woman-eye-roll:
I think the secret nature of this relationship and how that all evolves in the next year or so will be a good test for you. Is it stable & happy & viable enough to make it worth running the Family Opinion gauntlet? Or does it only work for you if it stays a secret?
If you do decide to tell your folks about your boyfriend, the more basic the script the better, probably: “I’m dating ______. We met at work. I’m really happy so far.” The more matter-of-fact you can be about the facts that you know will worry them, like, “He’s been married before and has kids from prior relationships,” the more people *might* take their cue from you about how to react. When they raise objections to him, try a strategy of not arguing with them. “Yep, that gave me pause, too/I can see why that would raise some eyebrows/I had a lot of questions about that, too, etc…. but so far my fears have not been founded.” You don’t owe your parents living the exact life they pictured for you, but I think you’ll do better if you acknowledge why they might see some red flags (’cause you see some red flags, too).
Time and a track record of happiness & good interactions over time sometimes have a way of smoothing out family & friend (& advice bloggers) reactions to relationships that seemed shocking at first (just like at work, with your colleagues who had “revulsion” at first but have settled into acceptance). I’m not saying that your family will relax (you know them better than I do) but they’re either gonna freak out in the beginning or they won’t, so you might as well be matter-of-fact and sure of yourself in how you present this instead of doing their freaking out for them.
I wish only happy things for you, dear Letter Writer. Please remember: Relationships don’t have to last forever or move toward marriage/kids to be fun or important or worthwhile.