Unexpected love connection with someone younger
September 14, 2023 3:52 AM   Subscribe

A spontaneous mutual love connection has sprung up with someone a lot younger than me, and I'm totally confused and ill at ease

I am 35, female and recently ended a 2 year relationship about 3 months ago. For anyone that read that askmefi, the lack of passion in that relationship really turned out to be quite depressing, and on the other hand, my former partner had a creepily close relationship with his mother that I found to be a big turnoff. It scares me that I considered settling into it just for the sake of fitting in with my peers, but that's what happens when you always "give a relationship a chance...."

I am 35, and while I am on the fence towards not having kids, I am freezing my eggs just to be safe. Personally, I would like to be in a long term relationship, mainly for the stability that that brings, but also because it's getting weirder and weirder to be single. I'm not good at coping with the feeling of being different than the majority of people. I admire people who flout convention and break taboos for the sake of love, but I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to do it. I'm surrounded by people in relationships and increasingly am feeling judged and eyed with suspicion for not conforming.

Anywho, in the past 2 months I met someone accidentally and there seems to be a deep connection that sprung up out of nowhere. This person is actually more than 10 years younger than me and we met through work. We just randomly started talking and instantly got into deep and thought-provoking discussions. He pursued me, but I didn't really stop him.

The conversations between us have lasted 4 hours and more, and the time flies by as if nothing else exists. I don't know how to explain it other than we are both truth-seekers who feel alone in the world and who seem to be able to help each other find answers to our own questions. It is as if there is an inexhaustible well of exchanging of thoughts between us, an intellectual connection that fulfills me in ways I have never felt before. I feel seen and understood, I feel able to unburden myself of memories, emotions, experiences that I have never told another soul. Talking about hard things seems so safe, so healing. I don't know why it has been so easy to open up to this person so quickly, other than they feel safe, their mind is expanded enough to see the whole of me, they have lived deeply enough even at such a young age, to scratch deeper than the surface on who I am. The connection seems to have its own rhythm and momentum, and I've tried three times already to stifle it, unsuccessfully. And yes, we have done the physical things as well, and it was incredible.

All of this is very overwhelming because it happens so rarely and I don't know what it means. I don't personally have a problem with age gap relationships. I actually do believe they can be beneficial, and cute.

That being said, I don't know why this is happening to me. I asked myself if I am just excessively lonely and that is why this is happening. But it's not like I'm isolated or anything. I've been dating other people, seeing friends all the time, and my workplace is really social. It feels more like this person has the ability to erase the existential loneliness in a way no one else does. Is that love? Am I just grieving my last relationship in a really weird way? Is this a midlife crisis thing? Is it just a wonderful soul connection that could really fuck up my life? Am I afraid of growing old and trying to drink the elixir of youth? Is that a bad thing if so?

I'd like advice and anecdotes, theories and stories about this type of thing. I know bell hooks has written about this. Any other authors that I can read that will help navigate an unconventional connection? I am already in to deep to nip this in the bud. I want to make sure to navigate it safely to minimize harm in whatever way possible.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I want to say you're waaay overthinking this, but unfortunately I think overthinking things is part and parcel of dating when you're a 35-year-old woman and it's possible you might want kids. If the other person is significantly younger than you, that might one day be the thing that any future plans founder on - a 24-year-old is less likely to be ready to be a parent than a 35-year-old.

In the meantime though, you're putting the cart way before the horse. I totally know this tendency because I have it myself and it's probably a big part of why I'm single - my total inability to deal with the uncertainty inherent in the early stages of a relationship, when you don't know whether it's your life partner/a mad fling/an intellectual bond that will change you deeply but not a life partner/something else.

Anyway. Single me would tell you the best thing you can do is suspend that constant analysis and see what happens. Maybe give yourself six months to just enjoy the hell out of this and commit to making no grand decisions or judgements in that time (unless, of course, you start to be super-unhappy, in which case decide away).

This, in particular, gives me pause for thought:

Is it just a wonderful soul connection that could really fuck up my life?

So much to unpack! Why would a wonderful soul connection necessarily fuck up your life? It could be enriching, even if they turn out not to be your life partner. Why would a wonderful soul connection be a 'just'?

It sounds like you're having a great time. I say do whatever you can to just experience it and enjoy all the benefits it can bring you, for a while, without analysing every minute of it to death. You don't have years and years to do this if you want kids, so at some point you'll have to have THAT conversation in a serious way.

But the biggest thing you can do to result in you being single/without kids in the long run, is over-analyse every relationship you get into to death, before it even has a chance to flourish.

If you struggle with that, maybe therapy would help? But I think you'd need to be clear with your therapist that you want help not to analyse your relationship, but to work out why you have such a need to analyse and be sure of things (anxiety, maybe?) and how to get to grips with that.
posted by penguin pie at 4:14 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]

I am a woman married to an older man with around this age gap. I was 25 when we got together and he was 39. We are very happily married 13 years later. We met by chance and neither of us had previously sought out relationships with a big age gap. We had, as you describe, an unexpected deep connection.

It’s not without its very real challenges, and obviously social pressures are very different when the genders are reversed. There is very real possibility for heartbreak as different life stages hit at different times - like the older person wanting to urgently pursue having children, or the younger person wanting to run off to the other side of the country for a new degree program. It’s important to be as clear eyed as you can. In addition, it’s hard to avoid a power imbalance - with the older half of the couple not realizing their opinions carry so much weight with the younger. The younger may not have done much work and might be less skilled at resolving conflict and talking through their feelings. I’d be more concerned about these things the younger that person is - 21, for example, is very different than 25!

But in my relationship and a few others I know, it has worked out well. And in others it has been lovely just for a short time!

I would say go for it, myself, so long as there are no ethical issues around the work context. If you’re not harming anyone, you deserve happiness, indulgence, fun, attention, excitement, and passion!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 4:30 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]

I guess maybe I didn’t answer your question: why is this happening to you? I don’t know! But does it matter? Is this love? I also don’t know! I think time will tell, but I would explore it and find out.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 4:34 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

You're both adults. Half your age plus seven is 24, which is the "conventional" cutoff. Is he 24? I'm guessing he's exactly 24. (If he's 23, does it matter? Or 22?) Sounds like you might be falling in love. Enjoy it!
posted by shadygrove at 4:46 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You've been out of your unsatisfying relationship for just three months and you've met someone you connect with on a level you don't get from anyone else in your life, which is great and extraordinary! So extraordinary that I'm a little suspicious, honestly, but maybe you've just gotten lucky! And maybe it won't work out long-term but you'll learn more about what you really prize in a relationship.

It will serve you well to be really clear-eyed about what you can and can't expect from your relationship with this new person. What does "being in a relationship" mean to you? What kind of relationship is this person interested in being in? Are those things compatible? Also if this doesn't lead to a long-term relationship are you going to feel like it was a waste of time? (why?)

I think as we get into our 30s/40s/further many of us find we are ready to commit earlier in a relationship than we were in our 20s - it makes sense, we've lived longer, had more relationships, we know (or at least think we know) what we do and do not want. But when you're dating someone significantly younger, they may *not* be ready to jump in as fast, because they're just in a different part of their life.

On a tangential note it seems like you could really stand to broaden your social world outside of your current friends and dating. Easier said than done, I know. But if you're feeling judged for being single, and it sounds like you expect you'd feel judged for being in a relationship with someone younger, you might need new friends (or therapy to help you stop caring! or both!).
posted by mskyle at 4:56 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]

This person is actually more than 10 years younger than me and we met through work.

Through work? Or do you work together at the same place? If you two work together I'm sorry but I would not touch this with a ten foot pole. There's just too much potential for something to blow back on you in a deeply career embarrassing way.

If you don't work together, go have fun.
posted by phunniemee at 5:06 AM on September 14 [14 favorites]

I started dating (and eventually married) someone who was 46 when I met him at 27. Above a lower limit, age is just a number. There's no need to justify why you're capable of having feelings for another adult.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:32 AM on September 14

Maybe it'll blow up spectacularly. Maybe he'll be the love of your life. Maybe it'll fizzle out. No-one here can tell you.

But Lord knows that kind of connection is rare as hen's teeth and you sound happier and more fulfilled than I suspect you've ever felt before.

I say to hell with rationalizing about possible futures, throw yourself into what might be the greatest relationship of your life no matter how long it lasts for, and enjoy every last second of it.
posted by underclocked at 5:38 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]

Another anecdote here for you. My husband is 13 years older than me, we started dating when I was 21 and he was 34. It definitely hasn't been without its challenges, but I don't think any more so than anyone else's relationship. We're celebrating five years of marriage next month, and next year we'll have been together for ten years, and our relationship is stronger than it's ever been. Honestly like others here have said, just go for it. Be mindful of differences in life experience and any power imbalances. My husband has told me multiple times, about our relationship and his past relationships, that no matter what happens you have a responsibility to leave the other person better than they were when you met. So I think just keep that sort of attitude in mind and see what happens!
posted by Teadog at 5:44 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This may seem like a bleedingly obvious thing to say but - people are individuals, not just a collection of their attributes. So while the age thing may be out of character for you, it is also a reminder that deep connection could happen with literally anyone, not just people who fit a particular mold or social convention.

That said, a lot of this reads like limerence. Like the phrase “It feels more like this person has the ability to erase the existential loneliness in a way no one else does” is the kind of thing you say two months into meeting someone totally unexpected. That is not to say you should not pursue this, quite the contrary, but I would take it as it goes vs get too invested in what it all means just yet. It’s been two months.
posted by openhearted at 5:46 AM on September 14 [14 favorites]

I worked retail for a little while a couple years back, and met someone I clicked with on a pretty deep level. I'm a little bit older than you so it was a slightly bigger gap - 17 years, she was 23 when we met. Here's how I handled it:

- went suuuper slow in the "increasing intimacy" stage - it took a couple months before we friended each other on social media, even, and months more before we hung out outside of work for the first time.

- Waited until I no longer worked there to hang out 1-on-1

(Obviously these don't apply to you. I have a lot of questions about your work relationship - do you work together directly? What's the chain-of-command like? What's the policy about dating coworkers? - that I think you should try very hard to take a levelheaded look at, because fucking that up could ruin both of your jobs.)

- Figured out activities that we could do together that were not just me (older, with a sick wife and a little desperate for company) unburdening myself onto her. We watched movies, we played with power tools, we took the dog out to new trails, etc. We definitely sat around and talked a lot, too, but I wanted our relationship to have a basis in more than just gazing into each other's eyes.

- Found ways to (with some deniability) talk about age gaps in relationships and the complications with dating between someone with a fully-established life and someone who was just starting out. This was made easier by a friend of hers that was dating someone 20 years older - it was a natural topic of conversation.

And then what I did is I did not fucking date her. Not because of the 17-year age gap, but because she was 23. She didn't have anything like enough experience or stability to be anything but railroaded by someone quite a bit older with a strong personality. Instead I made a point of being a mentor to her - she got promoted at work and I was someone she could bring tricky management problems to, I was the person she could call who would teach her how to get her window A/C unit in, I'm the person who is teaching her basic handyman skills. And we still watch movies and do fun activities together, and I adore her, I'm just... not romantically involved with her. And our relationship is, I am confident, healthy and well-bounded for both of us.

You are the person with power in this relationship. You are the person with the life experience to foresee problems and avoid them. You have a responsibility to use those things to make sure this relationship is beneficial to him, not just you. I know limerance is overwhelming and I'm sure the sex is great, and it's totally possible for this to be a good, long-lasting relationship, but absolutely make sure you are really, seriously thinking about the potential downsides for both of you. With a therapist, if necessary.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:13 AM on September 14 [23 favorites]

Whoa whoa whoa. It sounds like you're really into this person and he's really into you and you're enjoying the fuck out of it.

I give you permission to enjoy the fuck out of it.
posted by rhymedirective at 6:27 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]

Is that love? Am I just grieving my last relationship in a really weird way? Is this a midlife crisis thing? Is it just a wonderful soul connection that could really fuck up my life? Am I afraid of growing old and trying to drink the elixir of youth? Is that a bad thing if so?

1. It’s not love by my definition, because for me love is a lot about what is there as well as attraction/limerence. For me love is when you hold someone’s well-being close in your heart, and for me that means getting to know them over time. But it sounds like a lot of people’s definition.

That’s not denying that this kind of connection can be great and healing and lead to love. Totally can.

2. It might be you value this kind of connection differently because of that relationship.

3. Seems early for it. Not sure it matters.

4. I do believe in the kind of connection that is mysteriously, well, connective. But a good one doesn’t fuck up your life. The solution is, make sure you are also managing your life - behaving professionally and ethically, maintaining and growing friendships, doing things that matter to you individually.

I would caution you about thinking intensity means longevity. An intense start is just that, it’s not a predictor.

5. Are you?

6. I think old people using young people to feel young as in the “trophy wife” is kind of yuck. But being around energized, interesting people is great. Are you proving your own attractiveness just because he’s young? If so, red flag. It doesn’t really sound like it, but this is something you need to figure out.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:58 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I'd sell my soul to the devil to have what you've got going on right now. You're so lucky. Don't throw that away if you don't have to.

Really, the main issues are (a) are you still working together, or not, and (b) the reproduction issue. That last one may be the issue if you need to start ASAP and the other might not want to. That's probably something you need to talk about a lot earlier than you might normally want to, so that you know if this can only be a fling or if it might go all the way.

Re: dating younger people: Susan Winter has a lot of relationship videos on YouTube and she used to do a lot of stuff regarding dating younger men. I read Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly's book at some point (can't recall the title) and it talks about them meeting and how she was thrown off by the age difference, but in the end it didn't up mattering. And I know NYT's Modern Love covers this topic fairly often.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:17 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Yes I would definitely tread carefully, along the lines of restless nomad's comments about how much less life experience a person in their early twenties has. And also how different the stakes are. On the one hand, someone in their early twenties is probably prepared to spend a year or so on a relationship that is not serious or permanent-- intellectually, at least. One the other hand, a couple of years at that age is a big chunk of time in terms of a percentage of their total lifespan to date, so it may feel like a lot longer and more momentous. (At least that's how I remember being that age. A year or two was really a lot.) I think with this kind of gap, the older person has a certain responsibility to try to make it a positive experience for the younger one. You would probably have to take more care about breaking up, for example. As much as I hate to refer to it, that campfire adage probably does apply.
posted by BibiRose at 7:40 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

All your handwringing over the new relationship seems to conveniently block out any thinking or assessing of other reality: you met new guy one month out of the old relationship (I'm assuming you are not co-workers). It is great that you and new guy are really clicking! But there is such a thing as a "rebound" relationship. You two could be over each other in another month. Take some time to see where it goes. Stop worrying, try to relax and enjoy it.

If you do stick together, take a few months to see if the age thing is an issue. You might grow to find him too young for you, and he might decide he wants to be with someone closer to his age. That is for you two to decide.

"it's getting weirder and weirder to be single. I'm not good at coping with the feeling of being different than the majority of people. I admire people who flout convention and break taboos for the sake of love, but I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to do it. I'm surrounded by people in relationships and increasingly am feeling judged and eyed with suspicion for not conforming"

There is some really sad thinking and I'm going to say you might end up being the immature one in this couple. Maybe you need to work on your self-esteem? Find new friends? This thinking is problematic.

Lastly, this age difference is hardly "a taboo". It's probably of note and people might say "Winterportage is dating a cute guy in his twenties!" And life will go on.

good luck!

p.s. If you are sleeping with him, use protection. Don't throw a pregnancy into this situation..
posted by rhonzo at 7:55 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]

Honestly, in my experience sometimes younger people "click with" older people very intensely for reasons that...aren't good foundations for a relationship. The older person seems to represent a life path/safe way to imagine aging, the older person seems cool because of things they've done and that coolness is about what the young person projects, the young person needs some kind of "feeling seen" by someone they see as older and more mature, etc.

I think it's possible for an older person to be "young" for their years (less sure of who they are, less at home in the world) and then click with a younger person who is, more typically, less sure of who they are and less at home in the world. I'm "young" in this way and sometimes do connect with younger people and it's something to watch - being "young" in this way when you're old comes with really different baggage than being young when you're young.

This person has about 30% less life experience than you do and that's kind of a big deal. I'm not saying that you can't date someone who is 23 or 24 when you're 35, but there are a lot of reasons that the connection you feel might not really be a good one for a relationship.
posted by Frowner at 7:57 AM on September 14 [18 favorites]

Am I just grieving my last relationship in a really weird way? Is this a midlife crisis thing? Is it just a wonderful soul connection that could really fuck up my life? Am I afraid of growing old and trying to drink the elixir of youth?

I mean yeah, probably, on all counts! I know… so many women/people raised as women who basically lost their minds in their mid-30s in a way that manifested as blowing up unsatisfying old relationships and getting super into someone new and probably inappropriate. (Me too!) But you’re having fun and do not at the moment seem to be hurting anyone (please please be very conscientious about this, I personally was badly damaged by someone in their 30s when I was in my early 20s, if they’re 23 or younger they are younger than you think and if there’s any power relationship at all I urge you to stop entirely). If you can avoid telling yourself fairy tales about how this is your destiny and this person is your soulmate and whatnot, I think you can enjoy a very intense and life-enriching relationship (please make sure it is life-enriching for them!) without this much hand-wringing. When it ends, make it as mess-free as possible (again, more responsibility for this rests on you here because of the age difference) and thank them silently for giving you the shake-up you needed at this point in your life. It’s okay to have a midlife crisis!
posted by babelfish at 8:20 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd be concerned that love bombing is going on. The phrase is used to mean that someone is being predatory and adapting themself to make the interactions positive for the other person, but in fact there are usually two participants, both so in need of a connection that neither one draws back or raises boundaries. The love bomber wouldn't do it if the love bombee wasn't responsive, because they too massively enjoy the connection and feel like they have met their perfect person. Usually both people are automatically striving hard to be not only their best selves, but to find common ground, even if they have to decide that the new person's interests and hobbies are worth pursuing, when previously they never had the motivation to do so.

And yet of course, one of the great things about dating is the way it broadens your horizons by showing you the things that other people know and do and understand. When you start going out with someone who is into Jazz you have a perfect entré to that world, and it's amazing to explore it with them as a guide.

But you just broke up from a relationship you were clinging to past the sell by date, and immediately fell hard, so there is every chance that you are heavily on the rebound. Biology sucks. We are wired to fall in love when the right person comes along at the right time, and sometimes the time is more right than the person but our biology gives us a shove to make sure we don't miss a closing window of opportunity. Your unripe eggs may be doing your thinking for you, and your guy friend may also be at a stage in his life where he wants to rush into things and skip the usual serial monogamy that goes on while we figure out what doesn't work. A lot of times people will say, "I just felt it was time to settle down, and then I met Laura and she was perfect and it all worked out." But the reason why Laura was perfect when Anna, Kitty, Bruce and Lalaya were not perfect is because Laura was the one standing there when that little internal voice said it was now or never, and the speaker was given a extra heavy dose of the neurotransmitters that cause us to bond.

If you are feeling weird and uneasy, there is a reason you are feeling weird and uneasy - and while it may be that it's your natural sense of caution and low self-esteem telling you how rare it is to find a genuine soul mate, it's also possible that there are all kinds of little red flags popping up everywhere and you are doing your damndest to rationalize them way.

First thing I would do is still down and examine your own tendency towards splitting. How many times have you thought someone was really, really wonderful - parents, friends, teachers, mentors, crushes, celebrities - only to later on think they were complete garbage? If you've done that kind of transition before, then there is reason to suspect you may be doing a positive split with the younger guy.

The second thing I would do is sit down and analyze if there is anything he has ever told you, or that you have heard about him that hints that he may have a tendency towards splitting. Has he mentioned bad break ups and abusive partners, friends, parents or mentors in his past? Has he mentioned hero-worshiping anyone?

If either of you, or both of you have experienced any massive disillusionment in the past, or been abused in a relationship with someone else, or had overwhelming crushes, that suggests that someone here may be too vulnerable to getting over involved. It doesn't have to be both of you. It's hard not to respond when someone else is sparklingly positive towards you and is fascinating and fun to boot. You might be seducing him (with ideas and positive feedback) or he might be seducing you.

The problem with intensity like that is that is usually not sustainable. Once your partner has introduced you to the world of Jazz they run out of things to teach you. If it's more than conversations about Jazz, that's not a problem. The falling in love phase wears off and the endorphins drop - sometimes people are more into the endorphins than they are into the other person, who is only a perfectly ordinary person after all. But endorphin withdrawal can be a nasty thing. I never want to be in a relationship with someone who will fight desperately to get that endorphin high back, because they will first try to force it by raising the stakes with drama - deliberate love bombing - and then they will blame the absence of it on me.

When someone shouts, "You don't love me anymore!!" they are not going to be satisfied with the reply, "That's right, not nearly as much as I used to," no matter how honest that answer is, and how tactfully worded. They are going to feel absolutely wronged and outraged. A sudden really intense relationship isn't usually sustainable. There's always a danger that the more intense it is while it is working, the more intense it will be when it starts not working. Perhaps your unease now is caused by the awareness that if the relationship is this intense and this perfect now, it might be an unpleasant break up, proportionate to have good it is. It might be unpleasant, even if both of you take the moral high ground and bend over backwards to behave well, because of the pain one or both of you might have to carry for a long time afterwards.

The last thing you want to do is look back and think that the end of this relationship was so bad it makes the ending of your previous one look good. Realistically, how will your current relationship end? Are you steering towards disaster? Or drifting apart now that your friend is back at school and needs more time for studying? Will there be dramatic gestures, like impulsively rushing to be with each other? Is this someone you can be good friends with after a break-up? How does he talk about his exes? Has he ever asked to borrow money, or to get material support from you? If so, can you walk away, contentedly writing off everything you gave him? Will you spend the rest of your life where the thought of him brings a faint smile to your face because there was someone you used to know who really got you and thought you were insightful? What are his most obvious faults? Are you scared to lose him because then you will have nobody? Is he on a career path where it looks like fifteen years from now the pair of you will be economically compatible? What do you think about his family? If you were fifteen years older and his father was single, would you consider a relationship with his father? It's often good to look at our prospective partner's same gender parent, because they almost inevitably end up a lot like their parent. Have you even met his family and his friends? What are they like?

I'd say if you are questioning what is going on you need to ask a lot more questions and make them much wider than the two obvious ones, of "Is it working right now?" and "Is this relationship potentially compatible with my having a kid?"

One thing that concerns me is actually the way you describe him. You didn't. All you said was that he was more than ten years younger than you. But you didn't say if he was a klutz or if he was graceful. You didn't say that you found the way he looks appealing or if he has an appalling complexion. You didn't say that he's really good at understanding statistics or at analyzing relationships. You didn't say that he gets shy when you talk about sex, or that he tries to bluff his way through when he feels inadequate. You didn't say anything about him except that he has amazing emotionally fulfilling conversations with you. And all that says is that he's a good at conversation. It actually leaves me wondering if you know him. Except for the sex, he sounds like you have found the perfect therapist, not the perfect partner.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:00 AM on September 14 [11 favorites]

Does the power differential argument have the same weight when the woman is older?

I don't think it does as much. I think we're socialized that way and also men have more power than women in society. Also, the older the younger one is, the less bad it is, as it were. If you don't plan on lording your experience over him or claiming that he's "so mature for his age" or anything like that, you're probably okay? Mostly what bothers me with older men/younger women is that they tend to pick women that are too young/inexperienced to know what they're up to in their behavior, and then they pull shit. Hopefully this is not your issue.

please don't act as if there's no stigma whatsoever and I'm immature for caring about that. I would venture a majority of people get married simply to fit in and avoid that stigma.

Agreed. I've felt that stigma all my life and I had relatives start shaming me about it at age 18. One of my friends married a guy she met off the Internet in her thirties because she was just tired of being lonely and single. Suffice it to say that he's a jerk, their kids (which she had for him) ended up disabled and one is so disabled she'll never be independent, and shitty ex has now bugged off back to his home country. The SIngle Shame is not something that's easily blown off and ignored, even if you like being single, even if you never wanted a husband and kids. It's even worse if you actually want one/both of those things.

As for your work, you may need to check with the HR handbook or something like that as to whether or not this would be a problem workwise. It sounds like it's not quite as bad as that might be, and at least you may not have to see him every day if things end poorly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:01 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Read restless nomad. This is the key - regardless of all the other potential issues - this person is at best 24 years old. Jane the brown, frowner, etc - lot of good and gentle advice here.

If you are meeting secretly, then you already know this is a bad idea. And trying to dodge the HR questions by pointing out that you have different supervisors and don't work in the office much is, for me, a red flag. Instead of assuaging my concerns, your follow-up just confirmed all my fears but didn't answer one of my questions.

Are you just being polite when you say "we have done the physical things as well"? Or or you trying to make a romance out of something milder than actual sex? Has either of you said anything about being exclusive? Where are you meeting this soul mate in secret? My biggest fear is that this is very one-sided.

As Jane the brown pointed out, you frame the question in terms of your connection. You say something about his vast life experience - which comes of as saying this person is an old soul or some such. What kind of life experience is comparable to ten years of ordinary life? And your response is to describe both of you in job-post terms.

Others have pointed out that the way you talk about this is all so fanciful. ("Accidentally met" was the one that struck me the most. The generous read is that you weren't out looking and just happened to meet. Unfortunately, based on the context of your post and what I've seen among my friends, it sounds very much like you are trying make yourself an innocent victim of fate.)

And where in this thread has anyone tried to tell you that pressure to marry by a certain age is not a thing or make your feel badly about that? A number of answers have very specially pointed out that if your goal is to have a partner and children, then a recent collage graduate you met right after a breakup might not be the best bet.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with May-December affairs, but there is a lot wrong with rebound relationships and romances in a small work group. Your follow-up seems to say that you are dating another member of a group of 25 without anyone else knowing. That's very likely lighting a fuse for a bomb that's going to go off on 23 of your coworkers.

If it's meant to be, then you can wait a while to get reorganized after your breakup.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:20 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

The fact that you work on the same team would give me a lot more pause than the age gap. He sounds great and you seem happy. But there is the small risk that if things end badly one of you would need to find a new job.
posted by emd3737 at 11:22 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for the comments. The concept of love-bombing is really interesting and it definitely feels there is something wacky or psychedelic going on here and I don't like it. I am definitely going to talk to him about that and see what he thinks. I am definitely someone that is susceptible to getting enamoured with strong personalities, and had a series of bad crushes on teachers during my years at school. The fact that the age difference is reversed here makes it pretty confusing, but I still think I'm the one being duped, even if unintentionally.

Another wrinkle here is that I really don't like my job at the moment, due to a disorganized and dysfunctional environment and unsustainable workload. On paper I've achieved the glamorous, successful, and secure job that people are supposed to strive for. And inside I'm still punk rock, cannot seem to screw on a conservative adult head and lap up all this bull shit.

I just started a few months ago, at the same time as my young loverboy. This place is so abnormal that they probably wouldn't even care if they knew because they have no normal boundaries to begin with. An example, my boss is extremely nosy about my personal life, why I don't have kids, what I'm into, who my colleagues are dating, etc. Nosy, but not very perceptive! A part of me almost feels even more satisfied by rebelling and finding something precious and sacred in an environment that is trying to break me.

The reason for my secrecy is more that I don't like making my relationships public until they are official. I wonder if that has something to do with my recklessness here - that I almost want a reason to quit this job, fuck up my life, and go travel and spend all my savings, because I can't quite find a reason to stay. In any case I have good fodder for a novel... hope you'Re all enjoying.
posted by winterportage at 1:35 PM on September 14

Anecdata that might be relevant, but as an autistic person, I tend to get quickly attached to other autistic people. They are the only ones who feel normal, you know? They make sense in ways 99% of people don't. A autistic person of the gender I'm attracted to without any glaring red flags? Instant romantic feelings. Her reciprocating the instant romantic feelings is how I got all three of my longest term relationships, so not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by Jacen at 2:12 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]

I wonder if that has something to do with my recklessness here - that I almost want a reason to quit this job, fuck up my life, and go travel and spend all my savings, because I can't quite find a reason to stay

This is not a kind thing to use a partner for. Dynamite your life on your own time, don't use someone else to do it.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:15 PM on September 14 [13 favorites]

It feels more like this person has the ability to erase the existential loneliness in a way no one else does.

is this the first 20-something you’ve dated while over 30
all that you say may be what it feels like, but what I say is what it sounds like.

as someone who had a thing with a 34 year old when I was 21, you should know and I am qualified to tell you that the reason these things don’t do the younger party any harm, when they don’t do any harm, is because very young people are not morally obliged to take you entirely seriously in the way you are obliged to take them seriously. have a good time if you can but don’t kid yourself too far.

I said I was in love when he said it to me, to see what it felt like to say it. how else was I to find out if it was true. I never got to be in drama club in high school and being a serious man’s relief from gloom was a very good substitute. I stuck with it for maybe a year until he became extremely aggravating over the course of a phone call, and then I told him to fuck off, I was never speaking to him again. he did not believe I meant it, at first. he was old and wise and thought people in relationships got mad and said things they didn’t mean and later apologized, he really believed that. I, on the other hand, was young and brave and saying something I didn’t mean had never occurred to me. wish I was still that pure and bold and self righteous, but youth is a flower that blooms only once.

all in all it was a really wonderful and useful developmental experience for me. not so for him. why he did not think to imagine it from my perspective I can’t imagine. if he had he would have seen the end coming all along, like I did, and perhaps there would never have been a beginning. I tried it out in good faith but I never thought for a second it would last. I don’t flatter myself that I broke his heart, but I did make him unhappy for some number of weeks. I don’t regret it. being old means you have to be guilty and kind, or a monster. frankly it makes me tired. being with someone to whom you owe more consideration than he owes you can also make you tired. your young man may be a saint, prematurely kind as I was not, but you must understand that he does not have to be. he is an adult like you, and free like you, but he is not bound to be as careful as you are. you don’t have to dwell on this but like I say, don’t kid yourself.

no, gender is not relevant.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:16 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]

inside I'm still punk rock
my young loverboy
they have no normal boundaries to begin with
rebelling… in an environment that is trying to break me
my recklessness here

Please take a moment to re-focus and get right - these words aren’t the words of a kind and conscientious partner. You have every right to feel your feelings, but this man isn’t a tool for your self-exploration or personal growth.
Don’t make him your magic pixie dream boy - while that role doesn’t carry the extra weight of misogyny that it would if the genders were reversed, it would still be a shoddy, un-self-aware way to treat someone.

Does this relationship demonstrate the kind of good judgment you want in a long-term relationship, both for you and for him? You want to have kids - how would you advise your own kid if they were in this situation? In your position? His?
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:01 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

I think I'm about to give you what most of Metafilter would describe as bad advice:

I was in a similar-ish situation to you when I was 26 but with the genders reversed. I'd recently gotten out of a short relationship, met an older guy at work (he was 34 and I'd never dated someone who wasn't +/- 2 years of my age), we started dating secretly because I am super super private and don't like anyone knowing my business. My employer wouldn't have cared, but I worked somewhere with a grand total of like 10 employees in the building so you know, people gossip. We were both kind of treating it as a temporary job (he had a career and was just there for some part-time work, I was in grad school and it was a step on the ladder), plus I feel like workplaces are kind of the best place to meet potential partners but I must be in the minority there. Anyway, it's 17 years later and we've been together all this time, married for about 7 years. I don't exactly think you should use this guy to blow up your life, but if you don't really care about maybe having to find employment elsewhere if things go sideways, give it a whirl. Life is short and it sounds like you have a connection.
posted by jabes at 8:14 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're falling in love with both the other person, which is great - and, through their eyes, falling in love with yourself - which is actually even better! Sounds divine. Use the byproducts of all this love-energy to make some art, journal out those new insights about yourself to make them more permanent, refresh your living space, upgrade your looks so you look as great as you feel, and, most importantly, use the romantic energy fuel you into absolutely nailing a few projects that will level up your career and income potential. That way it becomes win-win: even if the relationship ends, you'll have benefitted from it in a concrete way. And if it doesn't end - how lovely. Enjoy!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:45 AM on September 15

Response by poster: Hopefully I'm not replying here too much but if so, I'm sure it will be dealt with. I wrote this question because of the angst this situation is causing me, and not because I wanted it to happen. If I was fully enjoying and embracing the situation, I would be out gallivanting in the streets. I have an anxiety disorder and these types of conundrums really drain me.

This is not a kind thing to use a partner for. Dynamite your life on your own time, don't use someone else to do it.

100% agree with this statement. What's difficult about my situation is the initiation is coming from the other side. I've explained my desire to protect him, the fact that I have a bigger responsibility because I'm older. He says he has agency to make his own decisions, and can take care of his own emotions. I tend to agree, considering the relentless advances I'm experiencing. We have to remember that young people do have the agency to make their own decisions. That is why there is an age of majority situation. I'm not saying there are not situations in which these arrangements are creepy, especially when it's the woman that is younger. But I am surprised to see people saying that gender has no effect, when we all know that gender politics affect all aspects of relationships.

I mentioned the work situation to illustrate why these advances might be alluring despite the career risks, but not because I'm looking for a way to dynamite my life.

Also wanted to add - restless nomad 's advice is good with one difference. I am not married to someone else while experiencing this, as restless nomad appears to have been. I'm sure the decision not to pursue the connection had a great deal to do with already being married. For anyone reading, that's an important distinction here.

I've come to the conclusion that while the situation is complicated, it seems like it could work, ethically. That being said, I don't think it's something I personally want to pursue because I think I will be the one coming out with more harm. I do appreciate all the support in this extremely stressful time!
posted by winterportage at 10:12 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Gotta echo queenofbithynia here. When I did the same, there was not a doubt in my mind the thing wouldn’t last. The man I was with happened to be so delusional that he reconnected with me years later to tell me that he’d married, as if I was supposed to… feel… something about that, instead of just a profound sense of gratitude that I’d been bold and free enough to leave once I’d learned what I could. Nothing could ever make me feel “guilty” for how I treated a partner that much older than me, at that age.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:55 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

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