Dear Carolyn:

Could you please set the record straight once and for all about age-gap relationships? I am 22, he is 39, and based on this fact alone, almost everyone I know had a huge problem with it, at least initially. I don't like him because I have an Electra complex; in fact, I thought he was much younger. He doesn't like me as a trophy girlfriend; in fact, he's embarrassed that people will think he's a lecherous old man. Is there any good reason for age to keep people from seeing each other romantically? We get along great, are attracted to each other, and I also enjoy spending time with his son. So what's with everyone and their stereotypes? (Mom, I hope you're reading this.)

Not Even Close to Anna Nicole

Take away people's stereotypes and you'll leave them with no smug certainties to keep them warm at night. How cruel.

I'm also not sure there's a "once and for all" when it comes to record-straightening, for that very reason -- people tend to find social gray areas chilling. They like to believe what they believe.

And age gaps are gray all the way. As long as both parties are adults -- the one black-and-white element -- the health of the relationship depends entirely on the maturity, experience and suitability of the two people involved. One 39-with-22, timelessly mated souls. Another 39-with-22, bus in a heap in a ditch.

It might help to know why you get judged. People on the north side of 30 tend to look back on themselves at 22 and reel at how little they knew, and so may find it hard to believe you guys don't have a conversation-straining life-experience gap. It's well-founded skepticism.

It's also irrelevant. You know what happens between you, and you have the conversations. If they satisfy you both, whee. And reassure your mom -- if it is a mistake, just think of how much you'll learn.

Dear Carolyn:

My sorority sister and good friend told me I could "hang out" with her ex (whom she dumped a year ago after they were together for a year) while she was out of town. Now he and I both like each other and want to date, but we've each talked to her and she doesn't want us to. Any advice? She says it was a special relationship and it would make her feel uncomfortable.

Dating Her Ex

Since you've never owned another human being -- I hope -- you should grasp that you don't need her permission to date her ex. She has no right to give or withhold it.

And since you can probably think of a "special" ex-boyfriend of your own, you should likewise respect her right to feel uncomfortable seeing someone with hers. And her right to say as much to you, since you asked.

In between is your decision. Is the chance to date this guy worth the strain on your friendship? All you can do is gather the facts -- that she's the one who dumped him, that she still sees him as special, that she doesn't own him, that she's a good friend of yours, that you have feelings for this guy, that there will be no magic solution -- and let your conscience sort it all out.

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