Carolyn Hax: Parents hear alarm bells over daughter’s boyfriend

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 9, 2013

Dear Carolyn:

Our daughter, 25, has started seeing a man 16 years her senior. Yes, do the math: He’s 41.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m 51. Am I crazy to feel this is just not right? The man’s last girlfriend was also in her 20s and most of his “crowd” are just as young.

My daughter’s answers to this are, “He’s young at heart; he had a rough time and made changes when he reached his 30s; he’s a good man.” My husband and I have serious doubts. I think even if he were much closer in age, those same doubts would be there.

Yes, we raised our daughter to be smart, successful, caring and open-minded. And she is. We’ve talked about this issue a few times. Each of us shedding a few tears. I just can’t find it in my heart to accept him. (We’ve never talked to him about how we feel, although our daughter says he knows.)


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

She says she has a hard time understanding where I’m coming from. She doesn’t come over to the house with him. I feel the distance between us widening, and I’m just a wreck. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say I’m okay with the relationship when I’m not. How do I get past this?

Is Age Really Just a Number?

Whether age is “really just a number” is a legitimate and interesting question, but not the one I’d be asking here. You veer that way yourself: You suspect having doubts “even if he were much closer in age.”

Yes, exactly — because the doubts aren’t about his age per se. His age triggered your “ick” reflex because it’s close to yours, a normal reaction you need to acknowledge then get over, because adults are adults and love is love.

The doubts, though, you take seriously, because this might not be love. His back story — young girlfriends, young friends, the “young at heart” coffee-expeller — suggests he’s seeking comfort in your daughter’s demographic vs. seeking an equal in your daughter. It’s unsettling for anyone to see a loved one targeted instead of appreciated, be it for age or income or ethnicity or whatever else.

You also have the added distress of hearing your daughter recite the Oath of the Gullible, also known as a list of excuses for someone — and of knowing she has a ready-made reason to tune you out. “They’re just freaked by his age,” she’ll tell anyone with ears.

So act first, and “get past this” later. Namely, speak up again — but with careful respect for your daughter’s autonomy and judgment. Your bobbled first tries likely motivated her to dig in to defend her judgment.

Opening: “I’ve handled this badly, I’m sorry.”

Detail 1: “I was wrong to make this about age. Happiness is about the right person, not the right age.”

Detail 2: “And that’s why I reacted: His track record might mean he’s choosing people by age. Not that you’re not lovable for you — you are. That’s what you deserve.”

Bottom line: “Who you date isn’t my business. I just ask that you be watchful — of anyone who has a pattern, not just this guy.”

Closing: “In return, and in hopes that set the record straight, I will trust you and butt out.”

. . . And cross your fingers. Good luck.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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