Thursday, April 02, 2009

How to scale the social crags of an age gap?

I'm soliciting thoughts and advice. I realize this post is far from the content most readers come here for, but it'd be imprudent of me to leave such a thoughtful 'community' untapped.

I've been friends with a girl eight years my junior for awhile. She's had a sustained crush on me for over a year. I've been playfully flirtative from the beginning, but always conscious of the need not to come off at all as being overly assertive. I've entertained, added to, and kept alive our inside 'jokes', but have always let her create them in the first place (I'm talking about things like getting married, how often we will travel, what the content of our vacations will be, etc). While I never gave any confirmation to the mutual part of our social circles that I was going to act on her interest in me, for most of the time we've been friends, I've wanted to marry this girl. So I've cultivated the relationship pretty actively, showing up unexpectedly when she was volunteering somewhere (intentionally pleading unconvincing plausible deniability as to why I was there) or calling her ahead of big events like taking the ACT to playfully demand she do well.

In other words, I'm emotionally invested in her. I obviously can't show any pictures, but I've found the vulgar consensus to probably be an eight. She's very pretty. Although there are a few girls my lust inclines me more strongly toward, even as we are just dating, she has me so captivated that checking and owning it is a non-issue. Not just checking the action, but smothering the desire itself. I read that as an indication that I truly want this one to be The One.

As to the problem, I'd intended on waiting a few months for her eighteenth birthday before making my move, but circumstances beyond my control forced me to act sooner. After settling down from the initial emotional high, she's become worried about the age gap. At first, the concern was entirely over how I probably had a problem with it that I was suppressing for now, but soon would not be able to. Heh, she's nuts for thinking that, but it's expected. Insecurity is common for teenage girls, even the hot ones who are socially adept.

Then it moved to what my family would think. They'll love you (never mind that I moved out years ago). Next issue.

What will her parents think? What about her friends (most of whom I don't know)? Uh oh. These are doubts I can't afford to let foster. It's almost over, but she's still in high school, and the seismic social shifting that occurs transitioning from it to life afterwards (in this case, college) is at best only vaguely sensed before that threshold is actually crossed. She's still in the high school world, which means her social circle of friends and family are her entire universe. Their collective influence is a tide I can't swim against alone.

So first, I have to give her closure on the age gap. Men in the US are on average a couple years older than their women are. So we're a few couples beyond that couple. Big deal. It's not like I'm old enough to be your father or anything.

Age ain't nothing but a number! Don't look at me like that, I know I heard you mutter it once. You didn't think I heard, but I did.

Abraham was a full decade older than Sarah, and look how well they did together! Unfortunately, I'm not following my own advice about finding a girl who loves Jesus, so that just gets a giggly eyeroll and a "you're such a nerd". I'll take that consolation prize. I won't let her know it, but I live for those moments.

We're not letting an age difference that'll progressively matter even less down the road destroy this special bond you've pointed out we have more times than I can count. Think of it as adding a Romeo and Juliet element to the whole thing! Oops, not wise. That makes it sound serious. I need it to feel trivial. Man, what a tough spot.

My plan is to be introduced to the parents shortly after her birthday. I'll take her dad out for a bite to eat, put all the probity, charm, and genuine long-term interest in his daughter I can muster on display to try and win his approval. I'm tight with her best friend, and her best friend is close to her mother, so I'll approach mom more indirectly. So long as she's not overcome by doubt before moving on to college (and she's made a sports team, so she'll be pulled out of the high school universe as soon as graduation hits and practice immediately begins), the seemingly all-important high school cliques will disappear.

Relatedly, Agnostic, who makes an avocation out of this stuff, struck home hard recently:
That's how powerful adolescents are -- when you're in your mid-20s and suspect that your libido is shifting from youthful exuberance to middle-aged mellowness, all it takes is a nubile darling like this one to re-open the volcano of hormones.

Part of the reason you don't feel so awestruck by girls when you're past 25 is that your body is naturally changing to a less volatile state. But the other big part is that the females who surround you simply aren't as capable of provoking the same out-of-control dizziness as all those girls who kept you up late at night in high school and college.
I slept terribly last night.

Thoughts?

30 comments:

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Don't worry about her social circle as much as her parents. High School friends are not as important to her decision to marry as the parents are because this is a longterm decision.

If you greatly impress her mom and dad you are improve your odds.

Good luck.

Gruntled said...

Take it slowly. She will change a great deal in college, more than you will in the next four years.

ironrailsironweights said...

It sounds as if she's just within the half-your-age-plus-seven range, so to the extent that rule applies you should be okay.

Peter

Jokah Macpherson said...

Age is not a big deal. There are examples all around of relationships with large age gaps working without a problem. In my accounting office there is a guy in his 40's in a fairly serious relationship with a good-looking girl just out of college...an athlete at that!

The trouble is all of the changes that will happen to her social circle when she moves out on her own but doesn't yet have all the adult concerns you do. I think, though, if she's complicit with you on this and her parents are neutral at worst then you shouldn't have any problem taking this thing as far as it can go.

That's your dose of advice from a stranger on the Internet. Good luck.

Side note: thanks for the clarification on the "girl who loves Jesus" issue. I think you misinterpreted my question in the original post.

Audacious Epigone said...

UJ,

Right. As long as we can make it to that point, I think we'll be in the clear.

Gruntled,

Thanks. I've been biding my time for so long, not wholly convinced whether or not I wanted to pursue this. But now that I've had to act early, I'm feeling frantic, realizing 1) I am committed to this, and 2) I could conceivable lose it over something I have little power to change. But feeling frantic is exactly the wrong state of mind to be in. Address the age concern so we're both comfortable with it, then guide the relationship gently along after that.

Peter,

Well, I'm not quite within that range, but will be in a few years. I'll just change it to half my age plus half a decade. Think anyone will catch that little adjustment?

Jokah,

She'll be going to school nearby, and it should be to my advantage to be ahead of the rest of her social circle, at least.

I did miss your question. I'd prefer take my own advice, all else equal, but all else isn't always equal :) Anyhow, she's not a militant atheist or anything. Nominally Christian, functionally agnostic. It's good enough for me (hell, that's where I am myself).

Thanks guys for the thoughts and advice. I really do appreciate it deeply. I can't remember the last time I've been this emotionally wrought (of course I'm making a concerted effort to conceal that from her though--the last thing I need is for her to think I'm wobbly).

Blode0322 said...

You're funny, Audacious. Most bloggers I read never read about their personal lives (I haven't read Roissy for a while - life on other planets isn't a sustained interest of mine). And your relationship thinking is almost perfectly atavistic. I mean, is her dad going to help her get into your buggy? I think the picnic should be simply superb!

But seriously. She sounds like a peach. If it's not prying, I'd like to know if you honestly consider her even close to you in the brainpower department. I assume you wouldn't be interested in marrying a dimwit, but there are lots of people her age (like, half of my students) who want to be (and are certain they can become) doctors.

One of my tests for a successful marriage is: imagine yourself stuck in an elevator with your potential spouse. It's a glass elevator at the mall, so you can't entertain yourselves in nature's way. All you can do is talk to your spouse until they can track down the maintenance guy. Three hours of nothing but talk.

First question: is your significant other going to complain at you that you can't magically fix everything? (I think women do this to men more often than the reverse: "You're a man, you should be able to move mountains. P.S. Women and men are equals!")

Second question: assuming your S.O. accepts that you're not omnipotent, can you entertain each other for three hours? Not many people know that many jokes. You'll have to entertain each other, oh, I don't know, talking about what sort of town you want to live in. How you would raise kids if (by some weird accident!) you had some to raise. Plant flower beds or ivy? Own or rent? That sort of talk can last a lot more than three hours.

I envy you and wish you the best.

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Audacious Epigone said...

Blode,

She's close to her parents. Convincing them that I'm good for their daughter will reduce her concern greatly. I like how the game used to be played, anyway.

Re: brainpower--she scored 3 points lower on the ACT than I did. I think that's an optimal spread.

I like the elevator thought experiment. It wouldn't be a problem--less even than talking on the phone for three hours, because there would be external conversation starters as well (look at how tall that guy is. I wonder if he is consciously aware of his height, since it's always with him. I think he can almost reach us. Try to get his attention!)

John,

What has happened?

Commodore said...

Interesting post, something I've wondered about from time to time myself. As other folks have already mentioned, there's a real concern about college personality shifts. Depends on the person, of course, but I know I've changed fundamentally since high school. To raise just one example, this is the time when she'll probably move to fully committed Christian or fuly committed agnostic, as most of us tend to crust into firm convictions in the early twenties. I know a few very attractive girls myself who I'm very cautious arround for that very reason.

Still, parental approval being given, her friends will mostly evaporate over the next few years, there's no fundamental reason it can't work out well. I wish you (both) all the best of luck.

Blode0322 said...

Audacious, I hope you realize that as a reactionary (at least on cultural matters) I use "atavistic" only as the highest compliment.

She's close to her parents.

Implying she rebels only in moderate ways, knows how to cooperate, expresses her needs without being grouchy or self-centered, etc.... Again, I envy you!

Audacious Epigone said...

Commodore,

Thanks. I'm willing to pivot and readjust while she settles into herself. It is crucial to realize that while once you're into your early twenties and beyond, your convictions are mostly solidified, that's not the case for those who've not yet made it to that point.

Blode,

I realize that now :)

Well, again, thanks. If this works out, I will be one fortunate son of a gun.

agnostic said...

It is my calling, isn't it? I'll shoot you an email sometime, since I haven't had caffeine yet.

But yeah, the transition to college is pretty big -- although from what I saw among my freshman friends last year, only the really wild ones lose it their first year. They're the ones who are just counting down the days until their parents can't supervise them.

Most of them start changing more during sophomore year, though. So you've got another year of wiggle room to make sure she doesn't go nuts.

One thing to reassure her that the age gap ain't no thang is to do things with her that showcase your young side. Just showing how fit you are is a pretty good way -- then they won't get worried about "What if he doesn't want to go out and have fun?" or "What if he just wants to hang around?"

For me, that's showing that I'll outlast them at dancing full-throttle for 3 hours. You play lots of basketball, right? Take her along. Or go running together. Although roller skating or ice skating is a better date idea.

Jason Malloy said...

Because you're marriage-minded I will point out two facts that are pessimistic, and one fact that is more optimistic, and let you decide how to interpret things:


1) One of the important studies on relationship dissolution found that age discrepancies were a predictor of break-up.

Correlation of traits between couples still together two years later, and couples that broke apart:

_____________Still Together//Breakup
Age____________________.38//.13
Highest degree planned___.31//.17
SAT Math_______________.31//.11
SAT Verbal_______________.33//.15
Attractiveness___________.32//.16
Sex Role Traditional______.50//.41
Support Feminism_______.36//.43
Religosity_____________.39//.37


2) Younger female age at marriage is an important predictor of divorce. See how it interacts with some other variables in a CDC dataset here.


3) That being said, I believe that assortative mating is mainly a result of how you meet, rather than why you stay together, which comes down to chemistry rather than similarity. If you're mutually infatuated, I think that's a good sign.

Anonymous said...

You have the inside track, but she will change a lot over the next few years. Try to offer her quality time away from her obligatory activities, but don't be smothering or possessive.

If she majors in women's studies, forget it. Try to get her to major in engineering or science. You can help her with her math, but compared to most of the nerds in class you will seem to be positively studly.

Audacious Epigone said...

Agnostic,

Please do when you are able to, if it is not too much trouble.

We're going on a little hike soon. I'll try and guide the situation to a point where she can hop on for a piggy back ride for awhile, or maybe even princess style.

Jason,

The chemistry is definitely what I'm banking on. I don't see how to access that study, but the correlations you provide show yet more evidence that birds of a feather stick together. Age is our only significant divergence (presuming she sticks to her college plan)--which is why I'm obsessing so much over addressing it correctly.

Anon,

She's been set on nursing since I've known her. Works for me. In fact, I find it optimal. Essentially guaranteed employment and a position anywhere, so moving with my career would be easy, if that's what we decided on down the road.

Once again, I appreciate this thread immensely.

Bartender said...

AE,

I don't read your articles as much as I should, but I had to comment on this one.

It might not mean much coming from someone who worries about everything and never sleeps well, but it's going to work--I know it. I have more confidence in you than anyone I've ever known. Try to relax and truly enjoy every moment with her--no need to kick it into high gear.

Throw the R-values, correlations, and IQ aside for awhile. ;) The quantifiable factors might have had something to do with the beginning, but it's much more than that now. The things you can't explain are in effect, so just let it roll. The whispers and chatter are just that--noise. Never let the nay-sayers change what you feel is right (although I'm certain you'll have near-unanimous support).

I've waited many moons for this to happen, and it happened for a reason, for good things come to those who wait. Your happiness and well-being have always been at the top of my thoughts, and it's great to know you've finally found someone.

In short: breathe, don't rush, and make the best of it. You'll always have my support.

This will be the first and last time I get mushy, by the way... Maybe.

-Bartender

Audacious Epigone said...

Bartender,

Shall I call you Mr. Gangee from now on, or will Samwise do?

This mushiness is going to make me vomit, but I've always admired--envied, really--your technical prowess. It's sorcery to me. And there is not a person in the world I'd put my trust in before you.

Slow, slow. You're right. I've been smiling comfortably from a distance for so long now, yet all the sudden we take a few steps closer and I'm consumed with a fawning sense of urgency that could be disastrous, because that's not what she fell for. Not at all.

Anonymous said...

post of picture of you and a picture of her, then I'll tell you if you have a chance

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I have wondered about how to navigate something similar for a while, esp. as far as age/maturity/intelligence factors and differences in a relationship. Would you be willing to expand on why its optimal that she have scored 3 point less than you on ACT? Aside from the test, what is you sense of her intelligence? Maturity etc? Is there a similar optimal spread for maturity in your opinion ( i.e. could it be good for a man to be with a girl less mature than he is.. I think it might have a lot to do with attraction and respect...) Anyway, whenever you get a chance, I'd appreciate your response!

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

My advice: Thoroughly think through how you're going to approach the age difference ahead of time. It's a lot easier to ignore when there is just a non-committal mutual crush going on, but it will inevitably rear it's ugly head if you start to get serious.

Re: the ACT, because I want someone I can stroll with intellectually without being regularly outgunned. Three points higher probably would be ok, but it could be tough to shake the feelings of inferiority sometimes. That's a personal quality specific to me though. Same with the maturity level (she has always dated older guys, just not this old!). Maybe it sounds chauvinistic (or just insecure), but about 90% of myself in all capabilities I pride myself on is optimal--let her exceed me in tidiness, pop cultural literacy, etc.

Generally, it's best to find someone close to you in as many ways as possible. Check out some of Jason's links--birds of a feather, not opposites attracting.

Blode0322 said...

Oh, is that why the ACT score difference is optimal? That's funny. I had immediately thought it was because your scores placed both of you at the same percentile within your gender. I'm not sure if female ACT scores show a lower standard deviation than male ones do, but it was my first guess. (Which means that, yes, I did guess your ACT score was a few SDs out.)

Dan Kurt said...

re: Your chances.

In my youth I dated a lot ( Catholic upbringing and Catholic Schools ) and met a lot of ( mostly Catholic ) girls. The most I remember in age gap was 4 years and one of those ( non-Catholic, Lutheran ) I dated ( not exclusively ) over two years nearly getting engaged but breaking up just at the cusp of the engagement both being immature over in retrospect a trivial incident. She went to Stanford and I stayed in the Ivy League. But what I mostly remember from those years was the way girls changed during college, mostly for the worst. Even my sister changed during those four years.

Another thing you must consider, how long do you think you can date her before you marry her? When I found my 'wife to be' ( Knew it nearly instantly she was the one, was two years younger than I, a first year Ivy League Graduate Student in a hard science on a fellowship, a red headed Irish Catholic and we are approaching our 42nd anniversary this June. ) we nearly found it impossible to wait about a year and a half to get married. We did wait mainly because her family and she wanted to get married in Manhattan's St. Patrick's Cathedral which we did. I can not imagine a four or more year engagement.

BTW, if you do get married to this girl, who will pay for her college? Money, Money, so much money is needed in any marriage.

Hope it works out for you.

Dan Kurt

Audacious Epigone said...

Dan,

Thanks for your thoughts and congratulations on an admirably long (and presumably happy) marriage.

I'm a Bedouin it comes to waiting. As long as I'm confident it'll work out in the end, dating through her college career is no problem on my end. Honestly, I love single life, but do want to have children. Even to a girl like this one, I'd really hesitate to shackle up if there wasn't going to be any procreation out of the deal (but we both want to have the same number of kids).

I have heard much about changing for the worst during college, but I wonder in what ways, specifically. She's a precocious one, and I doubt there will be any backsliding into immaturity, but I might be wrong.

Re: college, she's mostly on scholarship. My financial situation is very strong--I have no debt at all (including my house), and I live about $2000 under my means each month, so as long as she doesn't come with a boatload of debt in trail, we should be fine.

Anonymous said...

An anecdote: in 1960 Russell Kirk (42) met Annette Courtemanche (19). They married 4 years later and were very happy. So anything is possible.

Hermes said...

Forgive me for dredging up an older post, but there's something I've always wanted to ask someone in your situation. I've always been intrigued when I see people making reference to couples with large age differences getting together when the girl is so young. How does a post-college-age guy meet a teenage girl? Ever since I graduated from college, I simply haven't crossed paths at all with girls under the age of, say, 22. They're just not in my world, and I'm not in theirs. Are there types of social circles I'm not aware of where it's not unusual for teenage girls and twentysomething guys to be in each other's company?

Audacious Epigone said...

Hermes,

That's an important question, because they're not just going to come to you. You have to inject yourself into their world. Agnostic has written how in his early twenties, he didn't think much about teenage girls because he wasn't around them. Later he tutored, which is probably an optimal way of obtaining regular contact, because there's the added benefits of being seen as a figure with authority who knows his stuff. In my case, I interact with several high schoolers and early college kids weekly in a volunteer work setting, which is where I met this girl.

R.Sole said...

I haven't read your blog before so might have a different perspective. Disclosure - I'm a guy in my 30s and used to be a bit of a player, now happily in a monogamous relationship. In my experience the main things that matter are this:

i) great initial sexual attraction. Without this, in 1-2 years you'll end up as friends who occasionally have sex - very unsatisfying. This is quite different to looks. I have dated beautiful women and then had a poor sex life with them; vice versa for some plain women. My experience is a plain woman who is great in bed is far better than a beauty who is repressed and uninterested in sex.

ii) persistence of good sex after the first 12 months. It's very common for sex to start out good then tail off in 6-12 months, and go to very infrequent within a few years. You MUST still have a good sex life in 1-2 years, otherwise unhappiness, divorce, or adultery are almost inevitable.

iii) lack of serious arguments. I've had 2 happy relationships, neither had more than 3-4 serious arguments (with anger etc, as opposed to just disagreement) per year and they were resolved within a day or two at most. All the other relationships, arguments were much more common, and all failed. You must be able to disagree without anger or recrimination, for a relationship to work long-term.

iv) reasonable commonality of core values - religious, political (small 'p'), ethical, aesthetic. Not all are necessary but you can't be soulmates with someone who fundamentally opposes your core values, and ideally they should share a good percentage of them. Shared minimum ethical standards (adherence to the Kantian golden rule) is absolutely essential. Do not marry someone unless you are certain they would turn down $10 million to cheat on you, risk their life to save you from peril, testify in your defence at court at cost to their reputation etc.

v) good habits. Do not marry or get serious with someone who has bad habits like drug or alcohol addiction (smoking is borderline as it doesn't really affect behaviour, only health), serial infidelity, criminality, extreme laziness, mental issues (bipolar, narcissist, etc) out of control spending etc.

R.Sole said...

(continued)

Regarding your specific situation, the main thing I notice is that you are fretting too much. Let's examine this logically:

There are only two possibilities - either she is "the one" or she isn't. If she is "the one" then things will work out regardless - any minor mistake you make she will overlook, and the likelihood of you making major mistakes is 100% in your control. Things will only fail if she is not "the one" or if you royally screw up - avoid the latter (i.e. don't have sex with her best friend, don't become a drug addict, don't stalk her or hit her etc) and you are fine.

Therefore you can only "lose" if she is not the one - but if she is not the one, then believe me you don't want to "win" anyway. Thus nothing can go wrong - either you break up, in which case it's better for both of you to have broken up; or you don't, in which case no problem.

So your issue (worrying) is based on a faulty premise - that you should fear failure of the relationship. By definition, meeting "the one" does not fail, and failure only occurs with people you should not marry - therefore you have no grounds to worry. If it fails, you *should want it to fail*.

In other words, stop worrying and just go with the flow - relationships that are meant to be do not require effort and just occur naturally.

Audacious Epigone said...

R Sole,

Thanks for the thoughtfulness. There is not a single thing you write that I take issue with, except that the second part of 4 sets the bar too high for an 18 yo girl. When I've consoled friends in the past, I emphasize the same from a slightly different angle--if it turns out to be unrecquited, then you misjudged her in presuming she was smart enough to realize what she potentially had, and thus she's not worth it anyway.

Re: the fretting, I'm really not. In turning a personal issue into a blog post, it's necessary for me to get analytical and obsessively detailed, but I don't have oneitis, or even an especially strong physical attraction to her, even during foreplay (we're good now, btw)--she is simply ideal lifelong material, so I'd really like it to work out.

Anonymous said...

Dude - She's going to college. Danger ahead