Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Self-confidence in a relationship can overcome age difference
Maryland: I've been dating someone for five years who is 16 years my senior, and we've talked about marriage. He and I are a great match, though I do at times wish the age difference were less significant. People often mistake him for my father. I can understand it, but it bugs me to the point that sometimes I find myself snapping "BOYFRIEND. Not FATHER."
The difference does make me feel self-conscious (I'm not a particularly self-confident person anyway). Stereotypes don't help either. I always feel like people think I'm dating him for money, etc., but that couldn't be further from the truth.
Can you suggest a better way for me to deal with judgmental people and be a little easier on myself as well?
Carolyn: The best way to deal with these often innocent mistakes, as well as the not-so-innocent stereotyping, is to face the biggest problem you mention: your low self-confidence.
I realize I'm treading close to the stereotype line myself — but when someone professes to insecurity in a letter about having a significantly older mate, it just screams, "I feel better with someone taking care of me."
That in itself isn't a problem, as long as you like who you are and appreciate this configuration.
But your bristling at the comments is the universal flag for "I'm not comfortable in my own skin." And that suggests a couple of things. (1) Your current romantic arrangement is a Band-Aid for an underlying problem; (2) you haven't found peace emotionally, so the conditions upon which you might base a marriage are still in flux.
So please take some conscious and concrete steps to address your shaky confidence — a process you can launch with either therapy, a concerted effort to join/start/focus on things you enjoy and do well, or a combination of the two.
Maryland again: My problem is not so much needing to be taken care of. We're both hardworking adults and take care of each other. It's how to deal with people who assume the stereotypes like the one you (admittedly) do.
Why is it politically incorrect to judge people in same-sex or interracial relationships, but okay to say I'm looking for someone to care for me?
I do think it would help to improve my self-confidence, but that still doesn't help me deal with other people's ill-informed assumptions. Or are you saying that if I'm more self-confident I simply won't care what other people think?
Carolyn: I'm saying exactly that.
I'm also saying that, while it's possible for olders to seek youngers out of immaturity, where the younger ends up being the dominant partner, it's also fairly common for much-olders to assume a nurturing/dominant role. And I'm saying that being in a relationship while you suffer from shaky confidence puts that relationship on shaky footing. If you're fearful, doubtful or more comfortable deferring to than challenging someone, then it's easy for a schism to develop: Your relationship on the surface goes the way of the more willful partner, and your heart stays on your private, undeclared path.
People who lack self-confidence need to recognize they're predisposed to attaching themselves to someone who's comfortable holding the reins.