My grandmother had a sign in her house that read, “age: if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. It’s almost like you don’t have to grow up if you set your mind to staying young; but my younger self was ignorant and naïve about so much. Particularly in the relationship department.
My parents are 14 years apart in age and I used to joke with my mother when I was fourteen that I should have a boyfriend twice my age because she couldn’t argue with it. Of course, that’s both silly and illegal! But, the relationship age-gap problem came about early in my life. Sure, I had a high school sweetheart that I dated for 2 years… but, I broke up with him for someone more experienced, older, with a better grasp of who he was.
I was 17 when I met this man… I’ll call him “Hopper” just for fun. He was 27 and he was a teacher (not mine!) and attractive and “manly”. He had his own car, he had a career, he had life and relationship experience. He was cute… I had a crush, what of it? There was some flirting and I was 19 when I called a quits on my youthful relationship and Hopper had been waiting all along. I had spent a lot of time with him because we both volunteered for the same organization. So, I brought him out to a park to tell him I was single and enjoy that first kiss. Ah-maze-ing. Not because it was genuinely fantastic, but how would I know? My high school boyfriend was the only person I had ever kissed – well, if I don’t count the “dare” I took in first grade with an icky boy.
Here I was, graduating from high school with a boyfriend going to his high school’s ten year reunion. I was pumped! This man actually liked me and who was I? I didn’t know. Things got a little awkward when he started substitute teaching at my alma-mater and he actually had to teach my ex. But, oh what a beautiful beginning into adulthood! I was drunk on this guy and I just loved everything about him and our relationship.
So, my parents were okay with it because he was a gentleman and the law was okay with it because I passed that magic age-marker when I was 16 and he was never my schoolteacher. I went off to college and Hopper visited most weekends. A few months in, though, I spotted a new man who sparked my interest. Yet again an older, more experienced man made his way into my life. This one was three years younger than Hopper but on top of all the other good things about older men, this one was from a big city… he had street cred. I simply had to break it off with Hopper. Boy, was he upset! I had met his mother after all, I had attended his brother’s wedding and apparently we were next – a belief we definitely didn’t share. No, no, my new man – we’ll call him “J2” was it for me.
Years have gone by and I’m not in contact with Hopper anymore and sporadically with J2 and some other exes I accrued along the way. J2 is so called because my first boyfriend was J1- the OG. J1 and I actually talk a lot because he up and married my best friend and they just had a baby and life is good that way. Protip: J names indicate a broken heart in most of my experience. *Nod* to someone special that might be reading this.
I’m 28 years young now… the same age as Hopper was when we started dating and now I cannot think about him without becoming a little sick inside. Here’s why. The law is stupid. It’s okay for teenagers to date other teenagers and for 20 year olds to date other 20 year olds… if they’re in the same place in life. But Hopper was 28 fucking years old and had a crush on me when I was 17 and defiled me and wanted to be with me for life. I feel sick about the time I spent with him when I should’ve been interacting with peers. I am disgusted that I didn’t look outside of myself to see the situation it was but I was nineteen.
I know a lot of people that would argue that’s plenty old enough for a late-twenty-something to be dating but it’s not. Sure you can vote and smoke cigarettes legally at 18 and you can sign up for the military at 17 (another age marker that is highly inappropriate) but you should not be dating someone who could’ve been your teacher! It’s messed up thinking back that he taught people the same age as I was and he was screwing me. EW! So, I’m pissed at the law, I guess. I’m also pissed at my parents. Parents out there who’s son or daughter is dating someone much older… of course they are going to be parent-friendly! They couldn’t not! They’ve figured out this parental relationship thing years ago!
The whole teenage rebellion thing had to play a part in all of this. You want something so bad that is inappropriate but you think in a good way and you’ll move mountains to be with someone you think you love. Guess what… you know nothing about love at 19. I actually have a few friends that met in high school that are married and perfectly happy but I would argue that’s because they always loved each other during the appropriate stages of life. Their love now isn’t high school love, it’s matured right along with them and that’s wonderful! It’s beautiful, actually but in this case no one is in the wrong. In my case it was nothing but wrong. I still see Hopper on a very rare basis, like I said, we both volunteer for the same organization so I can’t completely avoid him. Every time I see him I start to feel violated. I should point out that nothing he did was outright abusive and maybe he didn’t even see it as coercion but, HELLO! I was a teenager.
So… Most of all, I hate him. Being twenty-eight now, I realize a person should know better. I’m in love with my husband – 9 months younger than me – but if I was single, I certainly wouldn’t be scoping out high schools like Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused”. Okay, okay. So college freshmen are old enough for there to be some attraction that isn’t totally pedophiliac but dating them is just… wrong! I happen to think that no one knows who they are or what they want in someone else until they’re at least twenty-two. My mom was twenty-six when she married my 40 year old father and he’s old enough to be my young grandfather now. I love him more than I love anyone but my mom is young and facing the possibility of needing a care-giver for him in the next few years because of his early-onset dementia. They did love each other once very much so… my brothers and I are proof of that. Again, though, she was twenty-six. She’d graduated college and started a career and knew who she was and what she was getting herself into… no one can predict illness and she sticks by him.
Moral of the story… significant age gaps in relationships in which one partner is under the age of twenty-two are despicable. But, try telling that to my 19 year old self… the older partner should know better and flirting is okay but it’s their job to be respectful and put the brakes on any potential serious relationship status.