Q. For the past eight years I’ve been in a relationship with a man nearly 30 years my senior. But now that’s he’s approaching 70 and I’m only 43, I’m starting to wonder: what’s in this for me? He’s a wonderful guy, still relatively healthy, still working, but — and I know this sounds terrible — I don’t want to wind up someone’s nursemaid. He’s got grown kids from an early marriage so he won’t be totally on his own if I split. And while I’m confessing: I recently met someone closer to my age, and although nothing has happened yet, I would really like it to. Any advice? — Amy
A. First things first. As in, the first thing you need to unload is not the guy, but the guilt. Yes, if you wanted to dump him right after, say, he was diagnosed with some dread disease — well, that would be kicking the dog when he is down, a move that would do no favors for your karma. But it’s not a crime to want to end a relationship after eight years. After all, you can’t say you didn’t give it a fair shot!
Now is the time to assess what about the relationship has been good and what has been lacking. There must be a reason things never progressed to the point where you really consider him family, as in, "I’m with this person for better or for worse." Perhaps you needed a father figure for a time, but now you’ve grown more emotionally mature and feel stifled rather than protected in the cocoon provided by your older lover.
And no matter how much you love someone, there are very real challenges that dating a decades-older man can bring. Says Beth Abrams, a 50-year-old Vermont-based chef, "When Dan and I married 10 years ago, the 25-year age difference seemed romantic. He brought so much life experience and wisdom to the table. I was enthralled. And he was still capable of carrying me up the stairs with a rose in his teeth!" Abrams sighs, "But now he needs a walker and is on four different types of heart medication. I still love him but if I had to do it over I might have made a different choice."
If you make the choice to leave, take responsibility for your decision and do the break in a kind but clear manner. Suggests Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (www.tinatessina.com), "Tell him you’ve grown apart and make sure his children know of your decision. In case he’s devastated by what he views as ‘betrayal’ he may not tell his family, but they need to know."
What the man you’ve been involved with for eight years does not need to know is of this younger man on the horizon. Why add insult to injury? Dr. Tessina, author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again adds, "He and his family will view you as the bad guy anyway, and you should just understand and accept that."
However, before rushing into the more sculpted arms of the man who still has his teeth, take time to build a relationship with someone you really are stuck with for better or worse — yourself. A new relationship shouldn’t be primarily a replacement for an old one, something entered into out of fear of being on your own. The happier you are as a solo act, the wiser a choice you’ll make the next time around. And that’s advice that applies at any age.
Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?
E-mail Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.
About Sherry Amatenstein
Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.