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My lover could be my dad: Is he too old?

A woman in her mid-40s worries that her partner will be feeble in 15 years. Dr. Gail Saltz says there are other concerns about their relationship.
/ Source: TODAY

Dear Gail: I am in my mid-40s and am currently involved with a man in his mid-60s. We attend the same church and have several friends in common. We knew each other for two years when we started dating three months ago. This relationship evolved from an acquaintanceship and then a friendship, so we were both a little unprepared for the romantic bond that developed. We never discussed our age difference — our relationship “just happened.”

I have been divorced for three years and am very happy with this man. We enjoy the same activities, have a similar sense of humor, and are extremely compatible. Currently, he is in good physical condition, but I know that in 15 to 20 years, he will be old and unable to keep up with me.

Am I making a mistake by remaining involved with a man who is old enough to be my father, or should I simply enjoy whatever time I have with someone who has the heart and qualities that I've always wanted in a man? P.S.: He was married for 40 years and previous to me, had dated only women his own age. As for me, I have a great dad and am NOT looking for a father figure. — No Daddy’s Girl

Dear No Daddy’s Girl: There is nothing inherently wrong with romantic involvement with someone who is not your age. You could just as easily ask if you are making a mistake by NOT remaining involved with this man. I cannot tell you whether to keep him or dump him. You are asking for a guarantee, and life is filled with uncertainties. I can, however, elucidate some pros and cons about a relationship with an older man.

Sometimes a person of a different age can have a different philosophy of life because of the generation in which they were raised. This could make it difficult to see eye-to-eye on some issues. Someone with a pattern of dating much older men, which you say you did not, might indeed be looking for a father figure.

I agree that being in different stages of life can be a hurdle. One person might be ready to retire, while the other is mid-career. One might want to do adventure travel, while the other prefers to watch TV. Personality and style, however, are highly significant when it comes to these differences in developmental stages.

That said, relationships are always about managing hurdles. If it weren’t the age difference, it would be something else. Rarely does a great guy come prepackaged with all of the qualities and circumstances that you would choose.

If nothing unusual intervenes, in 20 years he will be an elderly man. There is the real possibility he won’t be able to keep up with you. You might even have to nurse him as part of the sickness-and-health deal. Given life expectancies, you could be an early widow. But your quality of life in the next 20 years counts for a lot.

On the other hand, you could get ill yourself, or he could outlive you. We hope neither of these happens, but in this unpredictable life, either certainly could occur.

Here are some other things to think about: Are you concerned about the age difference because you wish someone better or younger might come along? Are other people making you uncomfortable by commenting on your ages? Is he making you anxious by saying he fears burdening you in the future? Do you not like him as much as you say, or worry about getting burned, and are therefore looking for an excuse to get out?

Here’s a good way to think about this: What if the tables were turned? Would you encourage him to bail on you if you got ill or if he found someone more age-appropriate?

Ask yourself what you are gaining and what you are giving up if you stay with him, and if you leave him. You have been divorced, so you know what it is like to have a failed relationship. Is it worth ending your involvement on the chance you will meet someone else? How would you feel if he left you?

Only you can determine how valuable his presence is in your life. My own view: It is difficult to find someone wonderful who embodies so many qualities you want, who brings out the best in you, and who is so compatible. That is not easy to replace.

I would add that people who are truly satisfied with their partners lead longer, healthier, happier lives.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: A big age difference is a hurdle for a couple, but not necessarily the biggest one. People often choose to accept some downsides in a relationship because they’re outweighed by the positives.