Age is just a number...?
February 17, 2014 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Me (female): 24. Him: 19. I can tell he likes me; I feel confused and feel like I'm leading him on. Help!

We are both students - him in undergrad, me in grad school. We'll both be at the same institution for the next few years. We know each other through an extra-curricular activity here, and when we are at the activity that's when I feel attracted to him the most - he has a mesmerising natural flair, and is also incredibly passionate and dedicated about it which I always find attractive in anyone. We also share the same cultural background; he is a lot of fun to be around, makes me laugh, and I find him quite endearing.

On the other hand - he is 19. He is not really the typical college-aged guy (studious, does not drink, seems quite sensible about sex etc) and in some respects fairly mature; but I can definitely see his inexperience, carefreeness and naivety that makes me realise just how much younger he is. While he brings out the fun side in me, I'm also not sure if he's the type that I would be able to engage in serious and abstract conversations. In part, I might be projecting my own experiences: I changed so much between the ages of 18 and 22 - I was a bag of social anxiety and insecurity when I was 19, and I'm definitely glad to have got over that phase of my life. I want to keep moving forward; I'm apprehensive that if I pursue this, I'm going to end up having to mother him and pull him along that I'll eventually end up unfulfilled and frustrated. I'm also wary that his attention to me is mainly out of his inexperience and lack of contact with girls, and once he gets to know girls of his own age he'd stop taking an interest (yeah, perhaps I am still insecure).

I have very little proper relationship experience, however, and I'm not sure how much of it is my gut feeling and how much of it is me second-guessing myself (which I tend to do in general). I am definitely sexually attracted to him, but I also think that I have some kind of motherly protective instinct about him as well, and I'm not sure if that kind of inequality is a good sign. I'll also admit that I am quite flattered by the amount of attention he gives me and maybe that kind of ego-boosting is clouding my real judgments.

I guess my question is - is this something that would work? If not, how do I take a step back while staying friends with him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total)
It is totally okay to date this guy. Ask him out on a date.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:04 AM on February 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

The things you're concerned about are all things you can really only figure out by asking him out and going on some dates and seeing how things go between you. And there's nothing in your question that suggests it's illegal or immoral or in any way wrong for you to ask him out, so...
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

You both have things to teach each other, and that fine. Ideal, even. Ask him out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You seem like you're well-aware of the risk factors involved as well as his positive qualities. That means that as long as you keep your head on straight, you can probably trust yourself to maintain a healthy self-awareness about any relationship that might develop.

Basically, you're as well-equipped as anyone ever can be to ask somebody out and see where it goes. Go for it!
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:11 AM on February 17, 2014

the age difference probably won't be a problem; i've dated women ~12 years senior to me with no ill effects.
posted by bruce at 8:12 AM on February 17, 2014

That's a not-insignificant age difference, but you're both students in what sounds like similar life situations, so there's a much better chance of this working out than if you were, well, not in similar life situations.

Your experience of being 19 is not a reliable guide to his experience of being 19. By all means if you start to feel like you're "mother[ing] him" or "unfulfilled and frustrated" then you should stop dating him, but the fear that that might happen isn't a great reason to not try.
posted by ook at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Ask him out.

Seriously, it's not like you've a ton of relationship experience. Seemingly neither has he. If it seems to be more of a problem, then it ends. If it doesn't, then victory.

But he's his 19, not your 19. Your 19 is likely very different than his and you really can't compare the two. I think the only way to be sure is to investigate through a series of dates stat!
posted by inturnaround at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think anyone here can tell you if this will or won't work, it sounds like you don't know him very well and are just guessing as to what you think might happen in the future. The things you fear might happen, or other wonderful things that you don't expect might also happen. The only way to find out is to give him a chance.

If only you could tell how a relationship was going to go based on inputting some data into a magical emotional equation and getting a printout result, it would save a lot of people a lot of heartache. If you mentioned some specific red flags about his behavior or characteristics, that would be one thing, but just theorizing about his demographics, his seeming carefree nature that is recognized as appropriate for a teenager, and his ability to have deep conversations (without any experience of actually trying to have such conversations with him) - I don't see any reason to reject him here.

You are only leading him on if you definitely aren't planning to pursue a relationship but continue to send him signals of your attraction. That doesn't sound like the case.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:23 AM on February 17, 2014

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going on a date (if you both want to) and seeing if age, or taste in music, or religion, or feelings about cats vs. dogs make you compatible or not. That's what dating is for.
posted by xingcat at 8:31 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I guess my question is - is this something that would work?

"Work" can mean tons and tons of things in this context, but it certainly doesn't sound like a BAD idea. If "work" means "we will fall desperately in love and get married and have epic poems written about our devotion" the answer is "probably that will not happen", but if "work" means "we will enjoy seeing each other romantically for at least a little while and possibly have it turn into something long term" then the answer is "probably".

While this may or may not lead to anything serious, it seems like there are very few downsides and a high likelihood of at least something good coming out of it (even something as simple as "we go out for coffee a couple of times and it is enjoyable"). Go for it!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

He's not in your department, right? There's no chance that he would ever end up in a class you TA'd?
posted by en forme de poire at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

MY reference point for it it could work or not is the fact that I am 15 years older than my husband of 5 years and we dated for 5 years before that. We started dating when he was 20, I felt much like you do now but took a chance. Can it work out yes? Will it work out? You don't know until you try.
posted by wwax at 8:51 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

All relationships are risks. It sounds like you both might gain something from giving it a try. Also, almost all relationships fail at some time, except (maybe) for the last one. If you try to screen out all people with whom a relationship might fail, you will screen out all people. You don't have to be quite so guarded. You can see what happens.

You can talk to him about your concerns about the age difference. It may or may not be something that causes strife, but it sounds like you really enjoy his company and he yours; why not give it a try, eyes open, but sincerely?
posted by Miko at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2014

Go for it. Have some fun. The worst thing that could happen is it doesn't work out.

Also, you're just inside the "divide by two, add 7 rule":

24/2 = 12 + 7 = 19 = he's old enough for you to date him.
posted by colin_l at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you are getting some very flippant advice in this thread. Your school probably has a written policy about romantic relationships between undergraduates and grad students. You need to find what that policy is and make sure there is no situation in which you are running afoul of it before anything happens. (I am pretty sure that policy will not involve the divide by two and add seven rule.) Note that this policy may also extend to people in the same extracurricular, especially if the graduate student is an officer or otherwise in a position of authority.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:06 AM on February 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

For reference, one of my good friends is 42 and her partner is 27. When they met, he was 20 and she was 35. I didn't know them then but I suspect he wasn't your typical 20 year-old guy either. He's very mature, career-minded, and fiscally responsible. Both of them are extremely active, clean living folks. They're very well suited and have a great relationship. He's an old 27 and she's a young 42, so it works.

I'd say go for it. You'll never know until you try and I see no red flags in your post with regards to his personality or lifestyle.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:21 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Verify that dating this dude wouldn't be a problem with your university.

My take on this is that unless he's really, super mature, that what you find endearing about him, will bug the fuck out of you in about 3 months.

But, bearing that in mind, there's no reason not to date him. Ask him out, and get to know him. Don't rush sex. It's too easy to jump in the sack, especially when you're both young. But, if you tend towards linking sex with love, you might get too emotionally entangled too early in the relationship.

Be sure that he knows that you're interested in him romanticaly, so that if he's not really into 'relationships' that you know that ahead of time.

"Gosh Jason, we have so much fun doing activity, I'd love to go out with you, are you interested in dating?"

I know, it sound formal, but if you both agree to 'hang out sometime' then he may think it's platonic, or he may think that you're into that whole, FWB thing, and sometimes, it saves a lot of heartache if you're just up front about what you want.

If he says, "sure, let's hang out some time." Then fine, see him a couple of times, and suss out what he's about.

A lot of guys that age may not be into dating or exclusivity, hell, you may not be. I just think it's best for everyone to be on the same page up front.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on February 17, 2014

Sorry, one last thing - keep in mind that you may fall under the heading of a "faculty member" in official policies because you are part of the educational staff of the college, so don't assume that policies that refer to "faculty" only apply to professors and make sure you understand under what circumstances you could be referred to as "faculty."
posted by en forme de poire at 9:27 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did this, dated a man 4.5 years my junior right at this same time frame. Are we still together, 14 years later? Of course not. But we did have a serious relationship for a couple years and most of that time it was pretty great!

Things that sucked: The breakup was painful, because we had a good relationship but he, in his words, "didn't expect to have a girlfriend the entire time he was in college." Also dating someone who isn't 21 makes going out difficult - even if he doesn't want to drink anyway, that rules out all bars as options. And if he ever does drink (or his friends do), be prepared to be the person everyone asks to buy booze for parties.

I'd say go for it! You seem self-aware enough to go into it with eyes wide open.

I'm good friends with this guy years later. It absolutely can work, for some values of "work," with the right person.
posted by misskaz at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might as well give it a try and see what happens. The worst that could happen is that it turns out he really is too young for you.

I dated someone with a similar age difference in my mid 20's. I want to say we were 20 and 25? It ultimately didn't work out because of drastically different life experience levels. She wasn't old enough to get into a bar, was a virgin, had never been in a relationship before, and all that was kind of a lot for me to shoulder.

But, you know, it was fun while it lasted and nobody got hurt. And maybe in your situation, you're up for that stuff. So I say go for it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2014

5 years sounds liek a big age difference when its 20% of your current lifespan, but reallly everything in your question makes you sound just and young and inexperienced as he is in the scheme of life so I say go for it.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2014

I'd say it's okay to date.

Keep in mind though: I had my very first relationship at age 19 (I'm a straight guy, if it matters). She was the same age; older than me by a few months. We were both undergrads and went to the same university. I too was not your typical fratboy college kid in the way you describe this guy: studious, no drinking, and no sex.

At 19, I had a lot of the same inexperience/naievety that you mention. If that's going to pose a problem for you then don't date him. If not, then absolutely go for it. At least go into the relationship being aware of that; sounds like you already are. Going in with your eyes open is always a good thing.

I changed and matured a lot during my college years and in my early 20s; everyone does. So please do bear in mind that a 5 year age difference means A LOT more at age 20 than it does at age 30. At this point in my life, age is indeed just a number: I'm 35 and my wife is 28; that's just slightly more than the same age difference you're looking at here. And though I would have considered dating older or younger women, it just didn't happen during my first several relationships -- I was within a year of my exes through my last girlfriend (4 year age difference) and my wife (7 years).
posted by tckma at 10:05 AM on February 17, 2014

My wife and I are 5 years apart. We got together at 25/20. We've been married now for 21 years. Love of my life. No issues due to our ages whatsoever.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Just to clarify, it would be 100% OK from the view of the university for us to date; can't really go into specifics but please take my word that that is a non-issue. It would just be awkward if things go pear-shaped because we are both doing this particular hobby, which forms quite a big part of both our lives.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2014

It would just be awkward if things go pear-shaped because we are both doing this particular hobby, which forms quite a big part of both our lives.

This would be true if he were 5 years older, or your age exactly. So the consideration here is not about his age, but about "how will we handle it if it doesn't want to work out and we both want to do Thing," which is another kind of normal relationship thing that happens when people meet through a shared passion, and you can talk about it.
posted by Miko at 5:11 PM on February 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

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