The Day I Introduced My Older Man to My Kids (But Not the Way You’d Think)

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.