I’m dating a woman old enough to be my mother. Should we split up?


I am 31. Three years ago, I fell into a relationship with a woman who was 50. We lied about our ages (I said I was 35 and she said 45). What started off as a casual encounter has evolved into a relationship that isn’t exactly conventional. I don’t know many people who have been able to sustain a relationship with this big an age gap. My friends are all finding their partners, marrying and having kids, while I am still casually dating someone who is older than my mum.

The other problem is that she is married. She and her ex are separated and due to divorce at some point. It’s been a source of frustration that this woman, whom I love dearly, has the security of a home, living rent- and bill-free, while I work and pay for myself like most people my age. She also has children closer to me in age. I have never met them, thanks to embarrassment on her part and reluctance on mine. Her friends are in their 50s and 60s, while mine are in their 20s and 30s.

Our time together hasn’t been perfect. I’ve pursued women closer to my age without her knowledge and I am confident that she has also pursued others. There have been instances where we have both found out, but decided to continue seeing each other. Lately she has been encouraging me to find someone closer to my own age.

I genuinely do love her and I struggle to imagine life without her. Yet I know when I am 38, she would be 60, which sounds alien. I would really appreciate some advice.

Taking the ages out of this for a moment, I’m struck by how uncommitted you both seem to one another. You haven’t met each other’s friends or family; you at times pursue others (even though you say you want only her); she has encouraged you to find someone else. You say you love her but maybe it’s the idea of something you are in love with. I was struggling slightly to see what it is that keeps you together.

So it’s not really the age difference that makes me raise an eyebrow, but the lack of purpose, drive, passion. You don’t talk about falling madly in love with her, but falling into a relationship. You describe it as casual, but then also say you are in love with her. Despite your ages, it all sounds quite emotionally immature.

Psychotherapist Julie Dearden felt there was a lot of “projection about what the world will think of your relationship and what a relationship should look like: for instance, that it should be monogamous, and there should be a certain number of years between partners.” Real life isn’t always like that; relationships are complicated and not always “textbook”. Really the question is less what anyone else thinks, but what do you actually want? I can’t help thinking that if this relationship were what you wanted, you’d want to show off your partner. But you don’t. I think you need to pay attention to this, because reticence is a great illuminator.

I’d like to know more about your early relationships within your family and any of your other romantic relationships. I wonder what this woman provides you with? Isn’t it telling that even though there was so much focus on your relationship in your letter, I was left none the wiser about the positives?

Dearden also felt “there was a real struggle here about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. [Feeling vulnerable is] potentially terrifying and one way to avoid it is to be in a relationship with someone who is apparently unavailable. It can then become really addictive to try to make that person the person you need them to be [ie available].”

But that’s never going to happen, because it’s the unavailability that is attracting you. (Does her husband know about you?) When we go for someone who isn’t wholly available, we project on to them our fantasy of what an ideal partner would be. But when the harsh light of reality intrudes, we don’t like it and we pull away. I think that is what’s happening here. You need to figure out what this woman represents to you and why.

It would be foolish to leave this relationship without a really honest talk, if such a thing is possible. But I think a large part of your ambivalence is because you haven’t really worked out who you are yet. And there is no greater way of finding that out than spending some time by yourself .