QUESTION: I’m 21, and a couple months ago, I started dating a man who’s 49. I had never dated an older man before, but we just had this instant connection—he just happened to be 28 years older than me. The age difference never really bothered me, until we started going out in public together and people kept giving us strange looks. We’ve only been dating for a couple of months, but I’m worried that this will tear us apart. How do you deal with people’s reactions when you’re a younger woman dating an obviously older man?
CHELSEA SAYS: First and foremost, you can’t live your life for other people. If you’re always trying to win over everyone’s approval, you’re fighting a losing battle. At the end of the day, you have to do what makes you happy, and if being with this older man works for you, then all the power to you (and him).
You also can’t choose with whom you connect. Dating an older man falls outside the boundaries of what’s considered “acceptable”—but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that people aren’t used to the boundaries being pushed that far. It used to be the same way with same-sex and interracial relationships, and look how far we’ve come on those fronts. If you want to build a long-term relationship with this older man, which it sounds like you do, then you need to realize that people are going to take notice because it’s different, not necessarily because it’s wrong. Besides, what’s wrong with being a trailblazer? Take pride in setting yourself apart from the pack—it’s what we Americans do. As long as your intentions are true, you shouldn’t let public perception stand in your way.
Since this is your first time dating an older man, it’s normal to feel a little uneasy when you’re out in public together. But if after the first few times it hasn’t gotten any easier for you to be with him in public, then discuss it with your older man. See how he feels about it. If it’s something that bothers both of you, maybe now isn’t the time to venture into a May-December relationship.
If you both decide that you want to be together regardless of your age difference and people’s reactions in public, then talk about how you’re both going to handle it. If people stare, will you acknowledge them or just ignore them? If someone passes a comment, will you defend your relationship or crack a joke to make it less awkward? It’s easier to cross hurdles like this when you’re both doing it together.