Please don’t call it ‘daddy issues’. Thanks.
December 24, 2018 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Drawn to much older men. Inappropriate crushes. Help me work through this.

40-year-old cis/het woman. I grew up with a distant/neglectful/bordering on abusive dad. He was physically present, but never interested in me as a person or my life - basically I always felt like a nuisance to him, plus he was abusive to my mom & siblings. Mental illness may play a role here. They are still together, but on another continent and do not play a large role in my life anymore (conscious decision that I’m happy about and do not wish to change). I have closure on this, as far as you can get closure on such an issue, I guess.

I’m in a marriage with a very supportive and sweet husband (no issues there aside from minor squabbles).

Over the last years, particularly after the the birth of my kids, I had a couple of friendships with what you could call father figures (ie men much older than me). This usually leads to me developing a crush. I’m very conscious about the crushes being more about me/my hangups than about them and I’ve never done anything inappropriate, beyond (very) mild flirting. It’s just that it becomes clear that this is not going in the right direction and things get uncomfortable/dissolve. It feels very unsatisfying and weird and like I’m repeating a pattern of seeking rejection/reenacting an unhealthy relationship type - seeking approval/attention and not getting it.

I’m interested whether anyone here knows this particular dynamic (from one or the other side) and has worked through it or learned to deal with it.

I know this is not something that will be improved by having an affair, no need to point this out to me. But still, I feel a need for a relationship with an older man that is stronger or deeper than a casual friendship. Is that something that can happen? In what form? Do you have such a relationship? Is it even socially possible? Or is it all a misplaced need I should just ignore and it’ll go away?

(Yeah, I know, therapy. Have done that for other issues in the past but does not feel like a good option right now.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a complete answer for you, but in regards to your seeking an appropriate relationship with an older man, my mother has a friend she met through her church's pastoral care program. He's just an old guy without many people left in the world who she hangs out with from time to time and occasionally does little things for, just so he can have someone to talk to and to brighten up his day a bit.

Lots of people at church have similar relationships to elderly or bereaved people or just people who are going through a difficult phase of their lives for whatever reason. So if you belong to a church, you could talk to your congregation's leader about getting involved with a program like that. If you don't, maybe you could get in touch with your community's senior center and see if they know of any similar programs.

Obviously don't do this if you think it would increase your yearning for an inappropriate relationship or lead you to act on those urges. I don't really have an answer for that part of your question.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:55 AM on December 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Just some anecdata for you. I am in an LTR with a much, much older man, but if anything, I'm the mom. So one never knows what will happen once real people are involved.
posted by 8603 at 11:00 AM on December 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been in relationships with much older men, and there's nothing that will take the shine off of one of these folks like dating them. Not worth the effort or energy. Silly power imbalances. You're chasing after an idea or a dream that isn't actually rooted in reality, only fantasy.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:20 AM on December 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm 46. My youngest friend is 28. My oldest friend is 64. The age of the people you like should make no difference to you at all at this stage of your adulthood -- it should actually be irrelevant, a non-factor. The part where it is a defining feature of each of these people for you indicates that these relationships are not really, truly, actually about friendship for you so you should probably stop dallying in a well you know is poisoned for you.

How possible it is for other people to have genuine friendships between generations or between genders doesn't matter here -- it isn't working for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:01 PM on December 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is incredibly common, for women and for men, who have had distant/disapproving/withholding fathers. What is different for women - and you recognize it - is that the only tool you think of to fill that gap is flirting/sexual/inappropriate. But it isn't. There are countless ways that older male mentors might be able to fill a paternal gap for you, and countless attributes you possess that might make someone want to take on that role.

I feel a need for a relationship with an older man that is stronger or deeper than a casual friendship.

There is nothing wrong with this. You weren't properly fathered. That left emotional holes (hence the crushes) but it also left gaps in knowledge, wisdom, street smarts, gentle teasing, coaching.... all the guidance, care, protection an ideal father would give his children. All of which you deserved. But it's not necessarily romantic or sexual.

There may be an older neighbor whose grandchildren are far away, whose children are estranged, who has an exceptional garden or woodshop that he'd love to share, who is an expert in some literary or other interest you have, etc. Any of those can develop into something meaningful that isn't inappropriate at all, and can even become part of your extended family the way an ideal father would.
posted by headnsouth at 12:25 PM on December 24, 2018 [24 favorites]

When you say "stronger and deeper" I am going to assume you don't mean romantic, as you don't wish to have an affair. Could you volunteer at a retirement home or similar and strike up friendships with the residents there?

I would say the main thing you'll be facing is that among men of a certain age it is very uncommon to have platonic relationships with women who aren't family members and you may face their advances even if you don't want them.
posted by schroedinger at 12:58 PM on December 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

My background is similar. I dated much older and married an older man. Well.... older men suit me... they did then and they do now. But the awe inspiring ness of them is gone now that I’m married and on a life journey with them. He’s human with weakness too. Enjoy your crushes and give yourself a pat on the back when they fizzle because that’s nice ( heathy?) fun...
posted by catspajammies at 1:08 PM on December 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I, too, have always been attracted to older men and it took me years to pin down why. I think it ultimately always came back to my belief - however right or wrong - that the older the guy, the more he will take care of me, rather than vice versa. I haven't tested out the theory in a long time and don't plan too, but it was a real relief once I figured out where it was coming from.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 2:33 PM on December 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

It’s fine to want a mentor/close/avuncular relationship with an older guy. It can even be entirely acceptable and above-board.

But an important issue for you will be how your husband will respond to this desire or actuality. You don’t need his permission, but I think honestly involving him in your thoughts will help pave the way for a future successful friendship for you.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:28 PM on December 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Generally, for adults who are trying to deal with issues resulting from their parents messing up or being absent, the only thing that will actually fix it is for the person to re-parent themself. Plugging in another person doesn't actually do it. How To Be an Adult in Relationships might be a good book for starting that process (the book is not at all as judge-y as the title can sometimes sound!). But basically, if you think about what qualities or values you think you need to get from another person, and then figure out how to give them to yourself (that may be anything from visualizations of inner-child work to signing up for a class on car mechanics), that's the (maybe simple but not-at-all-easy) way forward and through.
posted by lazuli at 6:58 PM on December 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

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