Should I be creeped out by my dad's relationship?
November 25, 2008 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Last year my dad and my step-mother divorced after 20 years of marriage. It was not an easy break-up, and my dad was pretty devastated in its wake. While it was wrenching for me to think of my dad being alone in his mid-sixties, I cheered myself knowing that my dad, being a very smart, handsome, together guy with a whole lot of awesome qualities, is definitely a catch and would almost certainly end up with someone terrific. I always pictured him being with some fun, free-spirited woman, probably a widow, someone who could match his intellect, stand up to his occasional bull-headedness, and win the hearts of his kids. He’s now with with someone, alright, but not at all what I’d imagined or hoped for.

My dad is now dating a woman nearly 30 years younger than he. The part that’s really, really bugging me, though, is the fact that she is about 18 months older than I. She and I could have been classmates. She’s 36, he’s 64. He is, quite literally, old enough to be her father.

My dad and I are close in every aspect but this. We haven’t fought about it or anything, but on the very few occasions we’ve talked the girlfriend I’ve told him that I support him, but that I am also not at all comfortable with it, so we really just avoid the topic altogether. I really want to turn the situation around on him, and ask him what he’d think if his daughter was boning a 62-year-old man, just to put it in perspective, but I haven’t, because it would be petty and not serve any real purpose other than being antagonistic.

The added layer of ickiness here is this: when I was very young my parents divorced in no small part because my dad fucked the babysitter, who was not above the age of consent at the time. I don’t want to get into a giant flamewar about the questionable ethics of grown men fucking “willing” teenagers here; I mention it because, even though I’ve forgiven him for that long ago and this is a relationship between two consenting adults, it does, in some small way, echo back to that predilection.

To complicate matters further, today the girlfriend e-mailed me for the first time, and in it she included a few suggestions for what to get my dad for Christmas. It wasn’t snotty; in fact, I could tell she was trying to reach out and genuinely be nice, but goddamn lady, you’ve been dating him for six months and already you’re trying on the step-mommy role. I haven’t written back yet, although I will eventually, and when I do I swear I will be polite and as bland as milk.

So my conundrum is this: intellectually, I’m glad my dad has found someone, and that he is happy. Emotionally, it creeps me right the fuck out that 25 years ago she and I could have shared a locker.

Other important facts: I live on the opposite side of the country as my dad, so while we talk regularly I only get to see him once a year or twice a year at the very most. I haven’t yet met the girlfriend, nor do I have any desire to do so for the foreseeable future. Also, they are dating exclusively, but having just emerged from a divorce I don’t think that my dad would actually get married again, at least not for a long, long while. I hope.

I know that ultimately dating decisions belong solely to my dad, and I really want to be supportive of him. I’m just having a tough time not being completely grossed out by the vast age difference between my dad and his girlfriend and the itty bitty age difference between his girlfriend and his daughter.

Am I wrong here? Should I just get over myself and just be delighted my dad found someone he loves? Or is it totally creepy that my dad is dating someone less than two years older than his own daughter? Please help me find clarity and peace here, hive mind. If you’d prefer to e-mail me privately, send it to maydecsux at gmail.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The added layer of ickiness here is this: when I was very young my parents divorced in no small part because my dad fucked the babysitter, who was not above the age of consent at the time.

Okay, that is awful and gross - no disagreement on that.

But the woman your father is with is not an underage babysitter. She's not even a naive twenty-one year-old. She's thirty-six. Don't conflate the two. That's all I have to say about it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:01 PM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

As much as it may gross you out, who your dad chooses to have a romantic relationship with is his choice, end of story.
posted by jayder at 12:01 PM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

He's your father and he's rebounding. I've found that when parents date later in life like your dad, the parent/child tables are turned around a bit. You're going to, to a certain degree, have right of refusal on his mates if they get serious and I don't think you have to be so reticent about expressing your approval or disapproval with him. I wouldn't let his girlfriend know your concerns but I definitely would say something to your father about the age difference. If he assures you it's nothing serious (ie, he's not planning to marry her) then you probably should just let it go. And fwiw, this seems to just be the way men roll at his age. Even as they age past their forties, men seem to still be only considering women in their 30s as eligible. The babysitter thing is a little disturbing but this woman is a woman, not a teenager, so it seems his tastes have changed a bit.
posted by smallstatic at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2008

Yeah, that babysitter point is awful - but that was how long ago? Probably two or three decades ago?

The thing is your dad was acting very poorly back then, but he is a different man nowadays, and the new woman isn't your babysitter - so you really should just take that comparison right off the table - it doesn't have any bearing on this situation to anyone but you.

James Woods was dating a 19-year-old when he was 53 and said, "If you ever bought a dog, what did you buy? You bought a fucking puppy... You don't buy a 13-year-old German shepherd. You buy a nice young puppy -- what are you, crazy?"

Not that young women should be compared to puppies, but it isn't unprecedented for an older divorcee to date, or even marry, a younger woman. Indeed, it's sort of its own cliche, isn't it?

Your dad was distraught over his divorce. This younger woman makes him feel better in a way that a more mature partner would not. He is able to tell himself, "Yeah, I still got it."

Sure that's callow. Sure you should secretly hope that your dad settles down with someone his own age... but what if he doesn't? So what?

Let your dad do his thing. He is a grown up and so are you. You can deal with this.
posted by wfrgms at 12:19 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I mention it because, even though I’ve forgiven him for that long ago and this is a relationship between two consenting adults, it does, in some small way, echo back to that predilection.

What predilection? While it was gross of him to fuck the babysitter, being with a 36 year old has nothing to do with that. In fact, considering the fact that he's been with at least two women presumably his own age (your mother and former step-mother), the indication is that he has pretty diverse tastes, so to speak.

Am I wrong here?


Should I just get over myself and just be delighted my dad found someone he loves?


I really want to turn the situation around on him, and ask him what he’d think if his daughter was boning a 62-year-old man, just to put it in perspective

Well, I would hope that he'd be supportive of you, so long as your SO was treating you well and making you happy. Really, let go of the ageism. These two people are consenting adults and this woman is trying to reach out and forge a friendship and you're reacting like a snotty teenager.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:23 PM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

You mentioned that you thought about turning it around and asking you dad what he wold think if you started dating a 61-year-old. You may want to consider what you would think if you fell in love with a perfectly charming 61-year-old gentleman and your father told you that your relationship creeped him out.

I think the odds are fairly good that would (justifiably) tell him to suck it up.

You've got a wonderful opportunity here to demonstrate grace. Don't pass it up.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:24 PM on November 25, 2008 [11 favorites]

I agree with all of the other commenters, especially because not once in your post did you mention anything about this woman other than her age. Oh, and the fact that she is actually trying to a) make your dad happy at Christmas and b) get you in on it. Did she insinuate that she's trying to be your stepmother? (Don't go all cutesy with the "stepmommy" crap; she knows perfectly well how awkward this must be. How do you think she feels?)

YOU need to grow up. Period. Anybody coming out of a divorce, at any age, deserves to have someone around who makes them feel alive again.
posted by Madamina at 12:27 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you imagined people around you (like your boss, or your friends, or in this case your father) having sex all the time it would drive you crazy, wouldn't it? It's a little unfair to raise objections about age, and it's really unfair to drag the babysitter incident into it.

As far as Christmas presents go, it seems a little inappropriate and insensitive for this woman to reach out to you in this context. The best thing to do is to shift the subject away from your father and maybe see if there is some other Christmassy-bonding thing she would like to do that is politically neutral. Or not. Since the relationship is relatively young (six months),it may be unwise to start bonding too much.

Being friendly, but observing boundaries, may be the safest (and nicest) thing to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:32 PM on November 25, 2008

I agree that even if it's kind of gross, it's really your dad's business who he dates and, basically, you just have to suck it up and act with as much grace as possible. However, and this is a big however, the email with Christmas gift suggestions would really have bothered the hell out of me. I mean, you haven't even met her. She's not even an acquaintance, let alone a friend or family figure. As someone who's worked through all variety of healthy and less healthy responses to the people my divorced parents have dated, that would just drive me bonkers. I'd probably be tempted to respond in the snidest, snottiest way I could, but obviously that's a terrible idea. Your current reaction is much more sensible.

Still, just as it's your dad's business who he dates, it's also up to you what kind of relationship and boundaries you have with her, so your response to her is important. Indeed, be pleasant and bland. Thank her, but make it clear that you've got tons of ideas for what you plan to get him. Resist any urge to be unpleasant, but also make sure that you're laying the groundwork for a relationship with her that makes you as comfortable as possible without unnecessary weirdness festering and distancing you from your father.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:40 PM on November 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are handling this okay. If my dad was dating someone my age, that would be kind of creepy to me, too. But it's his life so you just have to deal with it and secretly judge him and be annoyed. You're really not going to be able to change his mind on this and trying too hard can only be wrong. Stating once that the age difference is a little off putting to you and you need some time before meeting her would probably be fine.
posted by jenfu at 12:41 PM on November 25, 2008

I would be so grossed out and confused and feel icky, too. I totally hear you. That's okay. I am sort of surprised that everyone is all, "grow up," because it seems natural to feel weird about that AND to compare the situation to the horrifying babysitter debacle, because the babysitter was probably closer to your age, then, too.

How about this: I always pictured him being with some fun, free-spirited woman, probably a widow, someone who could match his intellect, stand up to his occasional bull-headedness, and win the hearts of his kids.

Is she fun? Free-spirited? Can she match his intellect? Stand up to his occasional bull-headedness? (Forget winning your heart for now). Try to find out if she is these things on your "wish list for Dad's new lady."

As things progress, if they do, the NATURAL, icky feelings will likely recede, and you'll have more comfort and peace with the situation. At that point, you might find that she is fun and even an ally in modernizing or youthful-izing your dad or something, and you may enjoy her. Maybe she'll teach your dad to text! To upload videos to Youtube! Or whatever. I think that, with time, the negative feelings with abate and you will have a chance to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, *especially* with regards to what she brings your dad in terms of happiness and fulfillment.

Also, she might help him understand YOU more, which would be a bonus. Good luck, and I would be surprised and grossed out, too, if that helps.
posted by Punctual at 12:46 PM on November 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't recommend making your Dad choose between his daughter who wants him to act his age and the woman who's making him feel young.
posted by nicwolff at 12:53 PM on November 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

Compartamentalize. That's really all you can do. Accept the fact that in one pretty significant aspect your dad isn't that great of a person, but luckily that aspect of his personality doesn't necessary have to impact him being your father. You are entirely right that this is gross, it really really is but there is nothing you can do about it.

In response to her email I would keep it very short, but very perky. Something that will let her know that you aren't interested in become penpals, but also is friendly. I would go with:

"God you are in the same boat I am! I never know what to get him either! Sorry I couldn't be more help, I'll let you know if I come up with any ideas!"

I have a very good friend who went through something similar. Her dad left her mom when she was a senior in high school for a woman I think was 21, maybe 23. Her dad was at least in his late 50's. The girl in question barely spoke English and worked in a department store that he owned, it was rough. The way she handled it was just to do everything she could to bypass the situation all together. She called and emailed instead of visiting, although she did visit occasionally and I believe to this day they have never discussed it. Yeah it creeps her out, but she told me once that she had to make a choice to either have her father in her life or not. While I think she came close to disowning him entirely, she decided she still wanted her father in her life, even if he was not the kind of father she wanted or necessarily even the kind of man she could respect.
posted by whoaali at 1:03 PM on November 25, 2008

I can understand this must feel uncomfortable for you, all the way around. That is a completely normal thing. That being said:

Have you ever had to meet a new significant other's family? From what I can remember, it is pretty nerve-wracking right? Now imagine you are in a non-conventional relationship and you have to meet the family. If that doesn't put the "hey I am reaching out" email into perspective for you I don't know what will.

The fact of the matter is, no matter what age someone is, it is god damn tough to find someone that you can tolerate, let alone love. Do you really want to take that away from your father because it makes you feel icky?
posted by Silvertree at 1:05 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

We haven’t fought about it or anything, but on the very few occasions we’ve talked the girlfriend I’ve told him that I support him, but that I am also not at all comfortable with it, so we really just avoid the topic altogether.

Others have told you it's none of your business and yes, you should get over yourself. But I don't care about that.

My problem with your question is that this supporting-but-disapproving stuff is a lie. You're either lying to him, or to both of you, but you are lying. He loves you, he loves her. What's he supposed to do? Have you noticed how uncomfortable things are between you? It sucks doesn't it? Well it's harder for him. He can't talk to you about the things that they do together that make him happy, because he's afraid you'll give him that look or lecture him. He doesn't want to hurt either of you! Ask anyone who has a relationship that's looked down upon by his/her loved ones. Have any gay friends? Go ask them. They'll know.

This is Thanksgiving time. Don't do this to him if you love him. You say you are close but if you persist, you won't be anymore. If you make him choose, he'll choose the one whose hand is not twisting the knife in his heart.

(I am not yet old enough to have made mistakes 35 years ago but when I am, I hope my loved ones will forgive me.)

Well it looks like I'm bitter about this. But it's a real answer and perspective I think you should have. By the way, has everyone noticed that Thanksgiving is coming up?
posted by fritley at 1:08 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

To be bluntly honest, the only person that's coming off creepy, based on whats been written, is you. I know this may sound harsh or outlandish, but bear with as I explain, please.

Keep in mind that my parents have been divorced for decades and my mom recently remarried. While I worried over her growing old alone, at no time was it wrenching and I would never describe her in a way similar to this: " being a very smart, handsome, together...with a whole lot of awesome qualities, is definitely a catch and would almost certainly end up with someone terrific."

I never thought of my mom or dad as a catch or imagined who they would end up with because I have no idea who they are as dating partner. Sure they're all human and have thoughts and desires, but that was a part of them that I never knew and that's fine. I'm not supposed to know.

So when you express disappointment about your dads choice, I have to wonder what's going on that makes you care so much and I say this as both a son and father. I may not like who my kids date, but it's not my choice or concern, other than them being happy and being treated properly. It's not my concern to evaluate how they'll be perceived and whether they'll be able to "land a good catch." Same with my parents.

Now, this may seem as though I'm saying you have some sexual interest in your dad, but I'm not. I DO think you have certain expectations of your father, especially considering his past behavior and the fact that he's not living up to them is really upsetting you. Also, there may be unresolved feelings about your dad being the cause of your parents divorce that are echoing in this relationship. Whether that's true is up to you to figure out.

Either way, let it go. He's 64 and knows death is rushing towards him. Let him sow a few oats if he can and stick to loving him as only a daughter can.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:11 PM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

Your dad has found someone he loves, and I'm assuming his girlfriend has too. They are in a relationship together. Seeing as how this isn't a three-way, polygamous relationship, what concern is it of yours who he is sleeping with?

Both consenting adults? Check. Both apparently doing each other some good? Check.

Are you really going to let a number come between you and your father like this?
posted by Solomon at 1:15 PM on November 25, 2008

I am half of a age-differenced couple. My husband is about 15 months younger than my mother, and older than me by 22 years. We started dating when I was 22, so he was double my age in the start.

Please don't be creeped out by your father's GF. I am lucky in that my family & friends love my husband because he makes me happy. If this woman makes your father happy, so be it. They will get enough judgements on their age difference by acquaintences and snide comments from nosy people through out the world, trust me. The last thing they want, assuming this is a long term relationship, is to get similar vibes from you. Your father may not think of the age difference at all, unless he's in a "hey, LOOK AT ME!! I'm banging some young chick!" mode.

If you want some advice on how my husband's family reacted, my email is in my profile. They were not so kind as my family initially.
posted by kellyblah at 1:17 PM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Your dad will do as he damn well pleases regardless of your approval or disapproval, I'm guessing-- because he's gone through plenty of his own personal turmoil over his marriage, his divorce, and his infidelity, and probably doesn't need someone else telling him how he ought to feel and how he should act upon those feelings.

You, too, will do as you damn well please, but it really sounds to me like your father's infidelity shook your faith in him (and shit, something like that would do that to any child) and you're still not entirely certain how much you trust him to do the ethical and appropriate thing. The age difference between your dad and his SO maybe isn't the actual issue-- how you're coping with his previous follies and the eventual collapse of your parents' marriage, though, that might be the issue.

I hate to drop the Standard Ask MeFi Post-Parental-Divorce answer, but have you talked to a professional about this? I'd be showering eight times a day for the rest of my life if I found out my father was screwing my underage babysitter, honestly, all other issues you've discussed aside.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:24 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Denoucing this woman as "trying on the step-mommy role" is kind of silly for a person your age, isn't it? I've said this in other threads but I know whereof I speak -- the gods of irony dump a lot of never-saw-it-coming stunning shit on one's head over the course of a lifetime. Quit looking for trouble. Be gracious, raise your glass, give a Thanksgiving toast that your dad is here in the flesh, yours to love, and someone else recognizes that he is worth loving.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:27 PM on November 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Really? The ONLY thing is that she's 36? I could see if she was in her 20s, and even then - you know, some people have old souls. But even then, I could say, yeah, I see what you mean, 20 and 60, kind of weird to think of my dad having sex (because that's THE ONLY REASON that that age difference creeps people out).

She's 36. It's a perfectly respectable age, and 60 is not what we thought 60 was when we were 12 and looking at our grandparents.

If you said that you thought she only wanted his money, if you said she was unkind to him, if you said she was stupid and butt-ugly... but you've given NO REASON except the fact that she's 36. That's not even what you think about when people think of stereotypical May/December romances.

People are people. They are odd and delightful. You haven't even met this woman, so what makes you think she's not a great match for him? No seriously. YOU HAVEN'T MET HER.

And when you add to the picture that you only see him twice a year.. what on earth makes you think you have an input on whom he dates? No really.

Giving Christmas present advice is not being a stepmom. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe your dad hasn't liked your past few gifts and so he was hoping to use her as an intermediary? Maybe her emailing you was HIS idea?

If you spend a week with them and come back and tell us she's turned him into her sex slave, then we'll talk.

And, kindly, I think you have had a lot of things stirred up by this - not that it's your father's fault, it's just happened - and you might benefit with some short-term talk therapy. Just to get it all out.
posted by micawber at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2008

[comment removed - grouchy "get over yourself" emails can go directly to the OP or to metatalk]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2008

You're going to, to a certain degree, have right of refusal on his mates if they get serious and I don't think you have to be so reticent about expressing your approval or disapproval with him.

This is frankly absurd. The OP might have some say if she were still living at home or if the younger partner in this "May"-December romance weren't approaching middle age, but Anonymous lives far from her father and everyone involved is well into adulthood so whatever this relationship may have looked like 25 years ago is moot. It's happening now, wish him well now, and--if you need to--keep your distance from now on.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:34 PM on November 25, 2008

I think people are being very harsh with you and devaluing your feelings. You can feel whatever you want people! How you behave with your father or his girlfriend is another matter. As someone who is going through a VERY similar situation at the moment, I have developed the following strategy. I turn to my partner and other close friends to process his new relationship. In these relationships I can be myself, vent my feelings and frustrations and have a sympathetic ear. But I am supportive of my dad's new relationship in all of my conversations with him. He actually started a new relationship in the midst of breaking up with his partner of 24 years. His friends are judging him and he is feeling very alone right now. I need to be there for him and part of that is being supportive of his new relationship, no matter how Jerry Springer-esque it is. The plus, is that I'm actually getting closer to my father. I too am equally far away from him and see him twice a year, but the whole situation has gotten me to be much more regularly in touch with him. And he seems to be very appreciative of it right now. Now I haven't met the new woman but I am really trying to think positively, try to see that she is bringing him happiness, and to be as genuine as I can.
posted by laroodles at 1:38 PM on November 25, 2008

is it totally creepy that my dad is dating someone less than two years older than his own daughter

That makes you 34. Here you sound like you're 24, if that. Would you pass up a wonderful loving relationship with someone because they were, say, 22? Really? Why, exactly? Because of what other people might say? Or think? Or is there some other reason that we're all missing here?

To me it sounds like you never did really forgive your father for his original fuckup. There was some healing, but now he's ripped the wound open again (without actually doing anything wrong). Otherwise, you'd be happy for him now, not creeped out. I think you'll have to deal with that old wound before you can deal with this. In the meantime, try not to burn any bridges.
posted by bricoleur at 1:38 PM on November 25, 2008

I understand being creeped out. I don't blame you. But it's not a horrible thing that he's doing, it's just a thing that's making you uncomfortable. I think if you got to know her, and went ahead and met her, it would help to do away with the creep factor. Right now, she's an abstract idea of your former classmates, but she's an actual person with a job and likes and dislikes and a history like the rest of us.

She's also probably as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. The only thing you can really do with situations like that is dive in and get used to the water.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:40 PM on November 25, 2008

Am I wrong here? Should I just get over myself and just be delighted my dad found someone he loves?

Yes and yes.

<>Or is it totally creepy that my dad is dating someone less than two years older than his own daughter?

If you were 17 and she were 19, sure. She's 36! THIRTY SIX. So no, it isn't all that creepy. It's probably a little uncomfortable. Nothing wrong with feeling a little weird. But "totally creepy" is not a good way to look at it, and in any case it's no reason to act poorly. And yes, you're not acting in a mature fashion.
posted by Justinian at 1:42 PM on November 25, 2008

I haven’t yet met the girlfriend, nor do I have any desire to do so for the foreseeable future.
Why not? You might have your assumptions positively challenged.

Am I wrong here?
Yes, but understandably. You are mostly projecting your expectations on her. You would have been fine if he were dating a "fun, free-spirited woman, probably a widow". One would think that could have been a somewhat reassuring thing, with rules and roles clearly defined, and for you an easier transition between step-mothers. Now, you are feeling threatened in your daughter role instead, and I think this is what irks you the most.

Should I just get over myself and just be delighted my dad found someone he loves?
Yes. Living on different sides of the country should make that easier. Good luck to both of you.
posted by _dario at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2008

I think your feelings are completely natural. It's awkard! There's nothing wrong with you. Anyone would understand why you would feel this way. It's not complicated - you've explained perfectly why this feels icky.

But I also agree with those who say you should do your best to get over it. You don't have to fall all over anyone with loving embraces, but it would be best for everyone if you can be gracious and polite and...make the adjustment. Maybe this is the biggest mistake your dad will ever make in his entire life -- but it's his mistake to make. Maybe it's a fine relationship - I know of two similar age-difference relationships that worked out well - one ended in permanent marriage, and one lasted a few years before an amicable parting - and neither was really about an older guy chasing a younger woman. In both cases it was just something that worked. I have no doubt that it was no less weird for the families of the men in those relationships than this is for you, but the good thing is that it doesn't appear to have caused a serious rift.

Be forgiving! You want freedom to choose your own mates, I'm sure, and if this is not a good relationship, your dad will find that out. You really don't have to approve to accept. But it's better to accept than build a wall. And at some later date you might genuinely approve.
posted by Miko at 2:25 PM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

You're going to, to a certain degree, have right of refusal on his mates if they get serious

Uh what? Do your parents get "right of refusal" on your partner?

The "younger woman" is 36. This is not some 50 year old banging a 17 year old. This is a woman who has been a legal adult for 18 years. I think she has enough life experience to be making reasonable decisions about the age of the men she wishes to see. Absent any evidence your father is in a relationship which is harmful to anything other than your sense of proprietry, you need to get over yourself.
posted by rodgerd at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of talking about you in this post. How his girlfriend makes you feel, what you pictured his new relationship would be like.

As much as this may affect your innermost world: it's not about you. You can feel however you want, and have that right, but you risk alienating your dad forever if you are a butt about this relationship. I would do everything possible to deal with your feelings yourself to avoid further discomfort and potential alienation.
posted by mynameisluka at 2:42 PM on November 25, 2008

Anon, I can imagine an interior monologue going something like, cringe Ignore festering resentment! I shouldn't be hung up on the past. My brain knows, okay? Why can't I feel better?! People would say, "See a doctor" if something were bothering you physically. Sounds like this deserves professional help, too.

Thus ends advice-giving segment; here follows my experience: (a) my mom was stuck giving me the theoretical sex ed talk, but we agreed verbally to stay silent on the topic once the practical application became much more interesting to me: even as adults, we have a parent-child relationship. Maybe just pointing that out (without getting into specific issues) would be a relief. (b) My parents have had bad times. I've learned to hold my ground when they allude to frustrations and say DO NOT WANT. A child doesn't have to approve or give advice: you're not their parent. (c) This one is so sweet, and so bad as far as advice goes. My dad, brother and sister (do you have siblings?) dug in their heels and said "NO" when their father developed a relationship with someone they thought inappropriate. I was adult enough to watch it with glee. Their rebellion wasn't entirely rational or untainted from the past; their father didn't marry her -- you *can* have a relationship without marriage, even if you're relatively "old." Even my parents (60+) are suggesting that a cousin more or less my age should get over the whole "marriage" thing.

If your dad wants you to meet the S.O. and your brain can stay detached enough to get through the 4+ hrs of holiday comingling, it might make the way forward a lot clearer.
posted by woodway at 2:46 PM on November 25, 2008

You can feel squicked all you want. Can't say I totally blame you given the past history. (In my family, they find new SO's before the old ones die, so that's my weirdout.) Though at least this one's legal.

However, you are going to have to suck it up, make nice, and pretend you are okay with it to your dad's face. That's a requirement for loved ones who are not dating abusers/thieves/heinous people. Eventually you will probably have to meet her and make nice if you want to see your dad, because they will be coming as a package deal, and as others have pointed out, he'll probably pick her over you if you throw a hissy. Happily, you don't live near him, so you shouldn't have to put on the Happy Face too often.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:24 PM on November 25, 2008

Let your dad enjoy himself. I think if you get to know and, possibly, like this woman, you'll get at least somewhat used to the age discrepancy. I mean, you wouldn't do it, I wouldn't do it (and anyway my dad has told me I am NOT to bring home anyone older than him), but... different strokes. Love and companionship can be found in unlikely places sometimes.
posted by orange swan at 3:28 PM on November 25, 2008

Should I just get over myself and just be delighted my dad found someone he loves?

Yes. That's not to devalue your feelings, which are natural, but you need to get over them and support your dad. Or (as usual) what Miko said.

You're going to, to a certain degree, have right of refusal on his mates if they get serious

Are you fucking kidding me?

posted by languagehat at 3:31 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since it's so visceral to you, I'd spend a while trying to figure out why. The babysitter thing is a very likely candidate -- I'm sure the divorce was really hard on you, and for something like that to happen during a time in your life when you were figuring out who you were romantically and sexually and what relationships were like, I can't imagine that was easy. I could see how his desire to date younger women could end up feeling somehow personal to you. You seem to be getting flashbacks of sorts (hence, the high school locker analogy instead of "sharing the jungle gym" or an analogy from a different period of childhood).

Even apart from questions of your own identity, I could see that if his desire for younger women once caused a period of chaos in your own life, you might understandably if unfortunately feel more bitterness and less compassion about it than you would otherwise. If it helps at all, I know two couples with vast age differences, and their relationships are strong, warm, and loving. I wonder if his desire for this woman is essentially the same thing that made him cheat on your mom, or if, although the woman is still younger, since he's not cheating, this is coming from a more mature and stable place.

My parents are recently separated and my dad has been in a relationship I'm not all that psyched about either (for different reasons). I deal by focusing on him. "How are you?... are you happy with her?... how is work?... how's your apartment?" The things that are weird about their relationship bother me because of what it says about him and where he's at in life, so a) my emotions toward him are more ones of concern and hopefulness and trying to ask questions that get a dialogue about all of this started, and b) she's immaterial, so I think it'll be easy to be polite to her (that said, I haven't met her, so we'll see).

Put another way, after spending a bunch of time with yourself trying to understand and comfort the deeper parts of yourself that are getting stirred up by this, (sorry that sounded all New Age), I'd try to shift your energies from "this is weird for me" to a feeling of concern for him. How is he doing with the divorce, what are the ways he's trying to grow and/or feeling stuck in life? Talk to him about their relationship from that perspective and see where you end up. Maybe you'll be happy for him, and maybe you'll end up wondering why he once again wants someone so [whatever], but in any case, you'll be seeing the situation more through the lens of "what does this mean to him and in the narrative of his life?" rather than focusing on yourself or her. How does he feel dating someone so much younger? Does he think this is similar to the babysitter situation (maybe he now associates divorce with younger women so he got the urge to date someone young?) or to him, is this totally different? I'd try to see it from his point of view and get a conversation going, once you can do it with concern and interest.

Anyway, if you want to bond over "my dad is dating someone new and this is weird," feel free to email me. I'll be meeting this woman over Christmas holiday.
posted by salvia at 3:56 PM on November 25, 2008

I don't think you should be creeped out by his current relationship, but I think you should certainly be creeped out by his relationship with your babysitter. I don't read it as a mere "additional layer," I see it as core. Talking out of my backside, natch.
posted by rhizome at 4:03 PM on November 25, 2008

The French say half your age plus seven. That's 64/2+7=39 in the case of your father. Grace is ia good idea here I think.
posted by snowjoe at 4:52 PM on November 25, 2008

I also just found this Wikipedia article.
posted by snowjoe at 4:58 PM on November 25, 2008

[a few comments removed - please phrase your answer in the form of something non-insulting and/or helpful, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2008

In my experience, anonymous, people I've known in your situation were actually hung up on closeness in age to the paramour of a loved one for a fairly specific (if often subconscious) reason:

"If they find people my age sexy, how are they looking at me?"

Which is definitely a creepy thing to think about. That would bother a lot of people. Many consider peers as being in one's same "pool" for socialising, networking, and relationships. Being in the same age group as the person a parent is dating brings all kinds of weird issues to the forefront. Therapy or counseling may well be the best choice to deal with the strange thoughts and itchy emotions this situation can inspire.

...and the follow-on: "Why are they are not occupied within their own age range?"

And there are valid reasons someone may choose to do this, of course. After a difficult break-up, lots of people will go for their shallowest thrill or greatest comfort (and many other permutations besides, including their deepest fears) and a non-typical relationship may be just the thing to shake them out of their funk. If they're self-aware and fortunate in their selections, they may even pick out someone who works well as a continuing partner, no drama or trauma (other than whatever the kids have to work out for themselves, of course). There are less positive reasons and outcomes, certainly, but you'd notice other signs, like avoiding responsibility or behaving generally recklessly or feeling evicted from a prior social group, and you'd bring up those things instead, since they're more specifically and compassionately addressed for all parties.

...sometimes closely pursued by: "I don't like the future my role model is showing me. Why would they choose to behave in that way?"

I'd be so tempted to ask. So. Very. Tempted. But I wouldn't, because it really is none of my business. Instead, I'd ask how they were feeling, if they were being treated well by this new person in their life (but no overly personal details, please), what kind of plans they have coming up or recently completed...that sort of thing. Checking in, making sure they're still circulating and staying engaged. Not being harmed (if they ever are, call the authorities). Then attend to your own emotions and role model your own, healthy future for yourself. And that's really all you can do, as far as that other person's relationship is concerned and your response to it.

I'm not sure if those things apply to you or not, but I hope they're worth thinking about as jumping off points for discovering how to deal with this development in your relationship with your father.
posted by batmonkey at 7:17 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it's fine to have the feelings you are having as long as you at least try to keep an open mind about this woman. Hopefully she'll have some awareness as to the delicateness of the situation. Admittedly, that email strikes me as tone deaf, but evidence that she is at least trying.

Having observed something like this from a slight distance, I'm guessing that you are not the only one in your father's life who feels weird about the situation. In the situation I observed, the much younger woman was overly sensitive to any reference to the age difference. Even if it was in the context of discussing something that happened before she was born. You can imagine how well this went over with people who had known him for much of his life. It was also hard to see the older man's daughter deal with her father dating a woman her age. It didn't help that this woman lacked the daughter's intelligence and maturity. As far as I know, she never said anything, but it was evident that the situation was stressing her out.

Give this new woman a chance, try to keep an open mind, but don't beat yourself up if you meet her and still feel uncomfortable. In the situation I mention above, people dealt with their reactions by trying to focus on the positive effects the woman had on the man's life, so maybe you can try to keep that in mind.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2008

I also don't understand why people are being so freakin' judgmental of you. I guess everyone else would have no problem with this kind of age disparity, but I can tell you all the people I know would be weirded out by this. People! She intellectually knows she shouldn't be bothered--she's trying to figure out how to deal with that visceral, instinctual feeling! And damn, have you guys never been confronted with trying to reason away feelings you know you shouldn't have?

I think you are dealing with this incredibly gracefully, actually. You sound like you have been trying INCREDIBLY hard not to be judgmental about this to your dad's face, and that's really good. I think there are a number of things going on here, so maybe if you tried to break them down they would help.

you’ve been dating him for six months and already you’re trying on the step-mommy role

I think this would be a natural reaction from anyone who's parents are starting to date someone new. You are probably not ready to replace your step-mom, not inside anyway. You want your dad to be happy, but you also want things to be going at a pace you're comfortable with, and six months into a relationship is not something you're comfortable with. The fact that she is so young only exacerbates it because you start worrying she expects to be your "elder" when she's your age. Remember, this is probably not her reasoning. She knows how weird this all is, and she wants to try to be helpful. It is unfortunate it provoked the exact opposite reaction. Try to assume the best of her before believing the worst.

The added layer of ickiness here is this: when I was very young my parents divorced in no small part because my dad fucked the babysitter, who was not above the age of consent at the time.

I understand why this would bother you. You keep thinking "This girl and I could have shared a locker!" and then you start thinking about your dad having sex with a teenager, and then your dad metamorphs from your wonderful, protective dad to this lech that preys on young women. But please, look in the mirror--do you look like a teenager? Do you look like you were in middle school, or high school, or the babysitter's age? Of course not, you look like a grown woman. The girlfriend looks like a grown woman too. If you should pull any comparison between this and the babysitter situation, it's that your dad may (key word here is may) desire his youth and innocence back when he feels in a time of crisis. Whatever led him to think cheating on your mom was a good idea was clearly a time of crisis; and breaking up after twenty years of marriage and being thrust into the dating pool at the age of 60 is also a time of crisis. Perhaps this woman reminds him of simpler, happier, more energetic times, and he wants to recapture it through her.

Is it possible you are then ashamed of him? Is it possible you are worried that your dad, your amazing dad, is proving himself again to be like that stereotypical old man who just wants the younger, prettier girl, who can't be happy with a woman his own age because he's buying into this idea of what women "should" be? That this is severely shaking your admiration of him? The person you describe as his ideal dating partner is someone anyone would be proud to be related to. But the kind of relationship your dad is now in is usually stereotyped where the old guy is immature and weak and shallow, and you hate to have anyone--including yourself--looking at your dad that way. You recovered from realizing your father was human, and flawed like all other humans, and here you feel you may be forced to face that again.

But understand that this relationship could be a wonderful one, one between a woman like your ideal who happens to have an old soul, a woman who does not want to try to parent you because she knows it would be inappropriate, a woman who just wants your dad happy and who instills in him new energy and life at a time when other people his age start winding down. Or it could be terrible. But you don't know yet, because it's only six months in and you've never met his girlfriend. It is OK to have those feelings of ickiness. Write them down, get it all out, analyze them and break it down. Just don't let it affect how you treat your dad and his girlfriend. Don't make assumptions before you know what the deal really is. Remind yourself every time you are going to communicate with him or his girlfriend that you know nothing about her or how the relationship is working, so you cannot be in a position to judge it.
posted by schroedinger at 7:43 PM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

This may sound weird, but I'm going to reference the Bible here, specifically the prohibition about sleeping with "your father's wife."

I'm not suggesting that this is anything like an issue for you. I only bring it up because the Bible, written thousands of years ago in a culture that was arguably far more sexually conservative than ours is, assumed that fathers would be marrying women that could under other circumstances be sexual partners for their children.

So how does this apply in your situation? First to recognize that this is something that happens. This particular issue is old. But second, just because a woman marries your father does not mean you have to think of her as a step-mother. Sure, that's now what we call all people so situated, but thinking of her as "your father's wife" is probably far more palatable, as it conjures up none of the authority relationships that might otherwise be there. Just because she's married to your father doesn't mean that she's your mother. I would think a relationship of camaraderie would be more natural than one of deference.

I think what is called for here is more good humor than anything else. If you love your dad, as you seem to, you might want to consider giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he has decent tastes. You have the opportunity to get to meet and be close to someone who might well be a pretty cool person who also just happens to be involved with your father.

And you know what? Though we now think of people as becoming adults older than we used to, once a woman hits 30 there isn't anyone that's "too old for her." Some might even say 25, but definitely by 30. At that point she's been an adult almost as long as she hasn't.
posted by valkyryn at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2008


Yeah, the babysitter thing matters. It's creepy. This whole thing is creepy.

Theoretically, we can be all happy and hold hands and be pro-love in all its forms and blah blah blah, but in reality, I think the vast majority of people would be uncomfortable with this.

Of course, feelings don't have to translate into behavior and you'll probably have to continue being polite but distant. Sorry.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:13 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

So my conundrum is this: intellectually, I’m glad my dad has found someone, and that he is happy. Emotionally, it creeps me right the fuck out that 25 years ago she and I could have shared a locker.

No one here would argue that dad hooking up with the babysitter was wrong, but I don't see the connection between then and now. If your dad is really happy, and you don't come to terms with it, then you are creating a problem. If you have a problem with your dad's wife, it's exactly that: your problem. Deal with it like an adult.

...I could tell she was trying to reach out and genuinely be nice, but goddamn lady, you’ve been dating him for six months and already you’re trying on the step-mommy role.

Oh, come on. You can't possibly believe a woman your age would treat you like a stepmother, do you? If she's trying to be nice, then, for now, take her at her word and go from there. If I had a step daughter or son my own age, I'd feel like...hanging out with that person, maybe. Have tea. Go shopping. Tell her what you're telling so many words. She's probably really, really nervous about meeting you (unless she's a dipshit or something), so hold off your judgment until that happens. No, strike that--retract your judgment of her, since you seem to have done so already.

And if you're embarrassed by the weird family ties, you're not alone. But plenty of families have much, much stranger relationships than this.
posted by zardoz at 11:20 PM on November 25, 2008

Feels like a significant chunk of potentially useful information is missing, in terms of sharing thoughts.

Aside from the age issue, what's the galpal like to the extent that you have insights? Smart? Accomplished? Hot? Homely? Stable emotionally and operationally? On decent financial ground? Common interests with your father? Common values? Reasonably healthy in a physical and emotional sense?

If she tends more toward the trainwreck side and/or there's damned little in common, there's reason to think she may have visions of dollar signs dancing in her head, etc., datsa something different than age-related squeamishness....

I've always liked a lyric, "skirt around the danger zone and don't talk about it later," too often been too good at that, though sounds not implausible that in the right time and place you and your dad can have a fuller conversation about this (?).
posted by ambient2 at 11:38 PM on November 25, 2008

My 64 year old father is in a relationship with a woman who is a year older than me-- 27.
Dad lives in England, I'm in Australia, and we didn't speak much after he told me, because I was grossed out.
I was convinced he was a fool, and that she must be a gold-digger/user/moron... until I met her. She is none of those things. In fact, she's pretty decent, and they make each other happy. So while it seems a bit weird to some people, I can see why they are together, and it stopped being 'wrong'.

You don't say how long you've known about it, but give it time. Either they will break up, and you won't have to worry about it, or she will stick around, and you will get a better understanding of WHY they are together, and then it won't seem so bad.
posted by indienial at 2:24 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

36 really isn't that young. She's a grown ass woman. I think the too young too old issue disappears once you are well into your 30s. 64 is kind of old, but some people are a healthy and vibrant 60, and others are not.

That said, your dad shouldn't be going out with anyone younger than 64 / 2 + 7 = 39.
posted by chunking express at 8:30 AM on November 26, 2008

My dad has dated, with only one or two exceptions, women younger than himself since my parents' divorce over 30 years ago. Some have been much younger.

My dad is 25 years older than I am and has dated women my age, or within a few years of my age in either direction, on many occasions. This really squicked me out when I was in my 20s.

Part of the reason for my discomfort, I think, was that he was mostly unavailable to me when I was growing up. He and I think the world of each other, but he is not that great at being there for the people he loves, emotionally or otherwise. This is just how he is. It hurt me a lot when I was younger. Now (in my 40s) I realize that he's really the one who missed out. Of course, this knowledge hurts too, only it is for him that I hurt and not for me.

Your situation might not be parallel to mine. You might not feel weird about it for the reasons I did. But whatever your reasons, I don't think you are wrong or selfish or unreasonable for having the feelings you are having. Some people might think that you are being unreasonable, but it's OK for them to think that. That can be their problem rather than yours.

Whatever is at the root of your feelings, it sounds like your dad's new girlfriend is trying to reach out to you, to make him happy, and to be sensitive to your feelings.

I would probably find it weird if my dad got into a relationship with someone my age now (and for all I know, he is in just such a relationship, since I haven't yet met his current significant other, as they live 1500 miles away from me), but I think I would be OK with it, too, because I want him to be happy and I get now that life isn't always so neat and tidy and age-appropriate.

Actually, with his current SO, whom I do suspect is in her 40s like me, he seems happier when I talk to him on the phone than he has in years, so I am wishing them all the best.

But I feel for you, anon. This stuff is always kinda weird. It's OK to think so. But other than doing what you can to support your dad in his quest for happiness in this life, I think you probably need to keep your concerns private.
posted by isogloss at 12:43 PM on November 26, 2008

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