Yesterday’s LW, a 23-year-old young woman dating a 41-year-old man who lives with his parents, sent me an email after she saw my response and your comments, and though her reply isn’t so much an “update,” I thought it was worth highlighting here so that we may collectively help her – and maybe someone else in her situation reading this — see the light and avoid further trauma. Her response to yesterday’s column:
I know most people dislike the age gap between us, but for me it’s not an issue. He thought I was ten years older than I am when I met him and I thought he was ten years younger. When we found out the actual age gap, we were about one month into dating and it didn’t phase us because we were already connecting on so many emotional levels.
We are trying to work some things out, but it just seems like everything I say he takes differently than I mean. I’m not sure how to handle that when he gets both defensive and combative. At times, I say something and when I try to elaborate what I mean, he cuts me off and says that I said what I meant. But for me, things are situational and if he misinterprets what I said, I want to try and explain it. Does he not trust me? Does he think I am just trying to lie about what I meant? I find it hard to talk to him because I’m worried that if I say how I feel, he will react with, “Oh so now I’m being invalidating…” or “I’m tired of feeling like the bad guy…”.
How do I say things so he doesn’t feel that way? I have tried saying “Baby, I’m not saying you’re a bad guy or that you meant to hurt my feelings, but when you said this it did make me feel a little hurt.” But it hasn’t worked so far. How do we bridge these communication gaps?
Listen, I’m going to try again here even though I know you don’t want to hear it: Your boyfriend, based on your description, sounds like a Grade-A creep. Everything – literally everything you’ve said about the guy – sends up all the red flags. He thought you were ten years older than you are? Puhleeze. He did not. Or, he probably did not. He’s just telling you that so you won’t think he’s the creep he is, dating a woman 18 years younger and only five or so years out of high school. And you only learned each other’s ages after a whole month of dating? That’s the sort of thing you find out about someone on the first date or two, unless you’re deliberately avoiding the topic. And why would someone deliberately avoid discussing age? Well, if it’s a 41-year-old dude dating a woman who’s 18 years younger and probably looks and acts it, it’s because he doesn’t want to seem the creep that he is. He wants to be able to say, “Wow! You’re only 23! You’re sooo mature – I thought you were ten years older!” And then at that point, you can claim that you’ve already learned so much about each other and invested in this relationship, that the age gap doesn’t matter (spoiler: it does).
Beyond the age difference, which you said in a brief follow-up email to me that you didn’t want to focus on because you want to “handle one issue at a time” and right now you’re “looking at the miscommunication,” what you’ve described here is NOT a miscommunication issue. Miscommunication suggests a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of some kind. Your boyfriend isn’t misunderstanding anything; he is deliberately gaslighting you and trying to manipulate you.
One of the appeals for guys like him in dating much, much younger women is that with young age comes naivety and it’s a whole lot easier to manipulate someone who doesn’t have the life experience to quickly and easily recognize manipulation like someone even ten years older than you are. That you grew up in such a restrictive home also lends itself to some naivety on your part; you’ve probably been sheltered from the kinds of experiences even someone at 23 may have that would help her/you discern authenticity from phoniness. So let me – let the commenters here – help you see what you are missing: Your boyfriend is a phony. He’s a phony and a creep and he in not misinterpreting anything you’re saying – he just doesn’t like it and he wants to control you like he thought he’d be able to dating a 23-year-old very sheltered young woman.
Finally, I don’t care if there’s zero age difference – if you’re dating someone who was born the very same day as you: If the person you’re in a relationship with says something that hurts you and you tell him so, and he brushes it off like your feelings don’t matter or – worse! – like you’re wrong about your own damn feelings, move the fuck on. Not next month, not next week. Now. Because of all the red flags, that’s just about the reddest it gets. A person who cannot listen to or respect your communication is not worth the effort it would take to “bridge the communication gaps.”
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at email@example.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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