I introduced Fred to my sons a couple of months into our age gap relationship. I explained to them that we had tried dating, but since there was such a big age difference—he was 25 years older than me—it just didn’t feel right, so we remained “friends.”
I soon invited him to family holiday gatherings. He was always popular, friendly, and a perfect gentleman around my family. But they got to know him as “mom’s friend,” as I had a mental block that stopped me from calling him my “boyfriend.” The word just didn’t feel right. I’m a red-haired 40-ish mother of two sons, and he’s a small, old gray-haired guy with a limp who takes naps. How can I call that a “boyfriend”? A few months into our relationship, my 13-year-old son introduced him to his friend and said, “This is Fred, my mom’s boyfriend.” There was a moment of silence. It was an awkward word for all of us.
It’s the same feeling as getting flowers from a man. Getting flowers creates skepticism in my heart. I see flowers coming my way and I think, “Oh no. What does he need forgiveness for now?” I left a debilitating marriage several years ago, and the only time I ever got flowers was when my husband was begging for forgiveness. Flowers are an evil symbol in my life. I don’t need flowers and gifts and a hand to hold and affections and security from someone else. I concentrated on work and raising my sons and taking care of my home more than wanting a man around or having a social life. But that’s why Fred was perfect for me.
Dating someone was not at the top of my list anyway, and having a “boyfriend” was certainly a word that was somewhat repulsive. The word confines me. It makes me feel committed, and as time goes by, it can only lead to stronger feelings, trust, love, and eventually, the dreaded marriage. The word “boyfriend” is a label that I do not feel is necessary in a relationship. The word bears expectations. Being someone’s “girlfriend” was the same as being owned by someone else. Freedom and making my own choices is a much stronger desire than having a label like that, especially with someone who has a daughter who is older than me.
Fred, on the other hand, walks along my side as proud as can be, showing me off to his friends, parading me in public on an imaginary pedestal, making sure that everyone sees that he can make a young redhead happy and content. He called me his “girlfriend” early on in our age gap relationship, and I quickly corrected him by saying a label like that would not be acceptable for me. I only had to say it once. So, he called me his “favorite redhead,” which was much more comfortable for me. After nearly eight years, “favorite redhead” is still a comfortable label for me, because it is ambiguous and does not define the relationship we share.
Labels reek of expectations. If you want expectations and labels in a relationship, like to get flowers, feel committed and strong in your relationship, and it is comfortable, the age difference doesn’t make any difference. Age is just a number. If a label and expectations scrape your spine, then adjust your vocabulary to something that is softer. “Favorite redhead” is a nice label for me. Find what works for you.