Thursday, June 30, 2011

When love is more destructive than sex.

When I was 19, I had casual sex with a much older man for no good reason. I kind of regret it, but it didn't really hurt me; it was just sort of awkward and embarrassing. I thought it would be fun and it wasn't fun; but whatever, I could say the same thing about the Transformers movie. It wasn't coerced or painful, and a day later I was over it.

When I was 15, I fell in love with an older man. It was a huge fucking mess. He never had much connection with me except for sex, but I missed classes to be with him, got reported as a missing person when I was with him, my parents filed a restraining order against him, they tried to charge him with statutory rape, and the drama built to the one and only time in my life when I've threatened suicide. Basically, any kind of up that can be fucked, was.

I thought of these two men when I read that 51-year-old Doug Hutchinson married a 16-year-old, and I realized exactly why I was horrified.

I don't think an older person having sex with a teenager is that bad. It's kind of icky to me, but if it's consensual and legal, you have the right to be icky.

I think an older person saying "I love you" to a teenager is horrifically wrong.

Of course there's a special place in Hell for people who do this intentionally just to get some of that hot teenager sex, but I think it's wrong even if it's true. Because what a teenager thinks of as "love" is very rarely the same thing an adult means by that word. I might only be speaking for white suburban middle-class girls here, but at least in my experience, teenage love is stupid. It's idealized, over-dramatic, volatile, impractical, and often destructive. When two teenagers fall in love, they may do stupid things, but they really didn't know any better. An adult should know better.

I don't think it's always about sex, either. I think the experience of being idealized by someone, having them treat you like you're Edward Cullen and you're made of unicorn kisses and it's so cool that you have a car, can be an even bigger draw for adults who aren't very good at coping with other adults--or are so narcissistic that they don't see why they should have to.

When I was a teenager, I thought True Love conquered all. I thought if it was really True maybe it would last forever and we'd get married and have babies and a house of our own. I wanted to be by my True Love's side all the time, damn the damage to the rest of my life--in fact, I even thought the damage was sort of romantic, because it meant I was sacrificing for Love. I thought that True Love means thinking that your Lover is perfect and worshipping them. And if he asked me to do things I didn't want to (rarely sexual, more often in terms of disrupting my studies and friendships), saying "no" wouldn't be very Loving, would it?

I slept on his floor. We'd have sex, and he told me he wasn't comfortable sharing a bed, so I slept on the wooden floor next to his bed, like a dog. I don't want to make him out to be a complete monster here; I could have gone out and slept on the couch, but I preferred the floor. At 15, that was my idea of Love.

It took me quite a few years, and getting burned rather badly, and a whole lot of learning and thinking, to get to the point where I could be cool about love. To go from saying "I love you so much I'd jump in front of a train for you" to saying "I love you so much that I trust you to get off the goddamn tracks." To be able to argue with someone--and not back down, and maybe not ever completely resolve it--and still love them. To be able to say "no, I don't want to do this" (and I'm not just talking about sex acts; I'm also talking about "can you take the day off Tuesday to help me out?") and know that real love, if not True Love, is when they say "well, that's a bummer for me, but I understand you have a life too."

When I read about Doug Hutchinson marrying a 16-year-old, I don't worry that it's "gross" or that they're in different "leagues" or even that they won't have much to talk about over the dinner table. I worry that she's sleeping on his floor.

(Metaphorically. You guys.)


  1. I don't know. I think different people are different. I had a very pragmatic "I'm 16 so this ain't gonna last and I shouldn't take it too seriously" attitude at that age. And I know quite a few thirty year old women who would sleep on that floor. If a thirteen year old boy can rescue his whole family during hurricane Katrina, I think we can safely say that some of us mature much, much faster.

  2. P.S. I don't know why, but I can't seem to subscribe to your post comments :(

  3. I generally try not to get too judgmental about other peoples' relationships, but yeah. I don't buy the whole 'true love knows no age limits' thing when one half of the couple is still five years shy of being able to drink and the other is the same age as my father. I can't really see any way that's not exploitative, you know? Not even necessarily because he's some kind of horrible monster, but because of exactly what you said. What a 51 year old expects out of a romance and what a 16 year old expects are unlikely to be anywhere near the same wavelength, no matter how mature she is.

  4. There is something very disturbing about the contrast between the looks on their two faces in the photo at the link.

    And no sixteen-year-old should be getting married to anyone. Period.

  5. In a book by Judith Levine (Harmful to Minors), she discusses relationships between minors and adults. She said that generally speaking, when an adult gets involved with a minor and it's a love relationship, it's usually because the adult isn't an adult emotionally and/or intellectually. Basically, we really are talking about two people who have that same teenager-ish definition of love. When the relationship you describe is what's actually going on (an emotionally mature adult saying I love you to a teenager, each having different definitions/understanding of love where the teenager thinks love means self-abusive sacrifice), I agree with you. I just don't know if that's the case in general for adult/minor relationships. I think Levine's discussion of the subject was more about relationships between people of closer age than what you describe though (16 and 25 or so), so maybe the greater the age difference the more likely it is to be exploitative?

  6. I don't know. That sounds more like a 'some people are exploitative and horrible' than 'an age difference necessarily means that expectations of love will be different.' I mean, I don't mean to be hurtful - but the actions of the guy you loved, don't seem loving at all. People of all ages can have different expectations and screw up massively by not discussing those expectations. So I'm reluctant to accept the assertion that the age difference is a problem in and of itself.

  7. Berneynator - not attempting to speak for Holly here, but based on my own experiences I think the problem is that as a teenager people tend to fall hard, and don't have the perspective needed to take care of themselves.

    I agree that age isn't necessarily the deciding factor - my experience with teenager-style unhealthy love came when I was 18 dating someone only a few years older - but I think that there are two things that make large age differences a factor here:
    1. Power imbalance. Adults have money, houses, cars. The ability to buy alcohol. A certain amount of respect that adults automatically get that kids often don't. So even in the most well-intentioned situations, this can be a problem.
    2. Maybe this is just me, but...damn, when I was 16, I was a KID. And most 16 year olds I meet now...many of them are smart and interesting people, but they are at a very different place in life then me, and I am suspicious of someone who, as an adult, feels they have enough in common with a teenager, feel enough on the same page, to be in a relationship with them.

  8. I'm with you, Holly. When I was a teenager my love was 4-EVAR, until, of course, it wasn't. It never developed the level of drama that you describe here but I definitely didn't have any sense of perspective or limit-setting. It felt like the Drama! Of! My! Life! and I thought that was a good thing.

    I don't think most teenagers are capable of having well-negotiated and even-keeled relationships, which is appropriate and fine and they have to learn somehow. But I'm squeamish about the older adult who chooses that kind of relationship. I guess for me it's a catch-22: In order to properly handle the love of a 16-year-old in a proper adult way, you would have to be the kind of adult who doesn't want the love of a 16-year-old.

    I also think it's dangerous to convince teenagers that what they do is actually the same as a healthy adult relationship. They need role models, and a beloved 51-year-old telling them that what love feels like at 16 is definitely the real deal seems like it would prevent them from growing and learning from that 16-year-old love.

  9. Here's what I find creepy about that link, in particular:

    "the aspiring singer-songwriter has a website that's filled with photos and videos that display an appearance and poise that definitely belies her young age."

    Because if she's SEXY, it doesn't matter that she's a child, right?

    Also, my two cents about the "maturity" thing: one of my least favorite cousins dated a 14-year-old when he was 18. She was an amazing, bright, cool kid--I mean, she was awesome. She was an extremely mature 14--BUT, she was still 14, and didn't have the sense or experience to realize that my cousin was really not good for her. Mature or not, she was still a kid.

  10. I had the somewhat odd experience a few years back watching a friend of mine (20ish) date an older guy (40ish). She was definitely more competent than most 16 year olds I know, but also still in a place of figuring lots of things out, growing intellectually and emotionally, and generally maturing rapidly. The fact that this guy was at the same level as her when they met frankly demonstrated (at least in retrospect), that he was, at best, maturing much slower than she. So while they may have, at some point, been a good match, she rapidly outgrew him. Which pretty much gets back to Emma's point, but also may suggest the reverse: that a healthy 16 year old may not, long term, want the love of the adult who would love a 16 year old.

  11. "Love is what is left, when after being in love has burned away"

  12. Broadsnark - People are different, but age does matter. I think that the rare 16-year-old who has the maturity to handle an adult relationship would be the one most skeptical about an older partner's motives. (I mean, if nothing else there's the "how did you even meet?" issue. It wasn't at a bar and it wasn't in class...)

    I don't think a 13-year-old saving his family proves maturity. It's certainly a very brave and commendable thing to do, but it's also impulsive and dramatic. I'd be more impressed (maturity-wise) with a 13-year-old who took care of the paperwork and financial planning and cleanup necessary to get the family back in their home afterwards.

    Berneyator - People of all ages can have different expectations and screw up massively by not discussing those expectations.
    I think the ability to have those discussions, and to articulate your expectations honestly, is something that most people have to learn over time. It's a difficult skill in your twenties, much less your teens.

    1. I basically agree with your point about the 13-year-old, but now I'm finding some contradictions.

      My mom figured out how to get her family on food stamps as a teen in spite of the fact that her parents insisted it was impossible because they owned a house. Yet fundamentally, at almost 60, she still goes through life with the same level of drama and gossip and backstabbing that 12-year-olds sometimes do on the path to trying to develop a fuller palette of social skills.

      So she's really mature by the "can navigate bureaucracy at a young age" criterion (I'd LOL if I saw that as a bullet point on a curriculum write-up--though it's actually a darn useful skill!). But she's really immature in terms of emotional IQ and social interactions, which are how we usually measure maturity. Idk.

      Anyway, more on topic, I totally agree with Cliff and some of the commenters on the "if you're mature, you probably don't desire this kind of relationship" thing. I dated much older men throughout my early twenties, thinking I was being treated well because the abuse wasn't as bad as what I'd grown up with. :-/ Now, at 28, I go, "Okay, but would *I* date an 18-year-old?" and my response is just to blanch. Let's hear it for getting less emotionally stupid over time! Yaaay!

  13. Hmm... a lot of my female friends (freshman college students) are or have been in relationships with out of college men, ranging from a 23-year-old to a 34-year-old.

    And those relationships usually work out okay, at least as okay as relationships ever work out, because the girls are usually older than their years and the guys are, frankly, kind of immature. Although the girls do have a tendency to get lots of presents from their boyfriends, which adds a kinda creepy "kept woman" aspect to the whole deal...

    On the other hand, they're not FUCKING SIXTEEN, so.

  14. Sorry, as a 40(mumble) year old man the only thing a teen or 20 something year old girl can do for me is introduce me to her mother. We live in different worlds.

  15. I'm notorious for joking that what I learned from doing my thesis on Nabokov's Lolita is "Sure, it's fun to sleep with a 13-year-old, but sooner or later you have to have a conversation with them, and that stops being fun real fast." :)

    1. Idk, I got the impression he kind of enjoyed feeling superior to her and inwardly mocking her taste in movies, etc. He likes that his jokes are "new" to her because it makes him feel smart.

      If I'd ever written a paper on it, I would have talked about some combination of the use of humor as a means to keep the reader engaged in spite of the distasteful subject matter and also about the startling disconnect between the purple prose and the base nature of what's being described. A cornerstone of both halves of this argument would be the part where he spends two very flowery paragraphs on what ultimately reveals itself to be essentially, "I farted."

      (...I am the nerdiest nerd in all the land, for I fantasize about papers I wish I'd had the chance to write. :-/ I mean, I guess technically there's nothing stopping me from writing them now, but not getting a grade takes all the fun out of it, lol.)

  16. I feel like I was emotionally mature enough at 16 to handle a relationship with an adult. However, I'm 19 now (which, perhaps, colors your opinion of that last statement), and seeing how much I've grown and changed just in the past 3 years makes me weary that any relationship at that age would last long. Particularly between a teenager, who, regardless of maturity, is bound to change relatively quickly, and an adult far enough into their lives that change has slowed significantly, as opposed to two teens who could develop together.

    There is also the fact that regardless of how mature a young person comes off as, their brain, and particularly their ability to make rational decisions, is still developing into their early 20s. That's just cold, physiological fact.

    As for Courtney Stodden herself, her website has instant play music with nary a mute button in sight, and that speaks to her maturity a lot more than her physical development to me. (Of course, ANYTHING would speak to her maturity more than her physical development...)

  17. The relationship I'm currently in started when I was 15 and he was 23, according to most of you guys something that pretty certainly cannot be a good thing. We have both always been aware of how problematic such an age difference is, sometimes wishing we had met maybe 2-4 years later, just so I could figure things out on my own first. But we fell in love then and not later.

    "I think that the rare 16-year-old who has the maturity to handle an adult relationship would be the one most skeptical about an older partner's motives" that was me, and "to have those discussions, and to articulate your expectations honestly" was something we did right from the start. Also, one of the reasons he dug me was that I appreciated some of the things he did (write books, for example, and make music) but wasn't that impressed (my father wrote books, too, and my parents had lots of writer and musician friends), and always very much had my own opinion on things, not hesitating to tell him he was talking bullshit when I thought so.

    I was a very unromantic teenager, horny as hell, and frustrated because after having skipped a class (I would later skip another one) all the boys I met at school seemed to consider me to be a sexless lexicon on legs. I never had a relationship with somebody in school, and never the impression anyone would have been interested. The guys I did hang out with since I was 14 and started making out with when I was 15 (my relationship having been an open one right from the start, which was the way I wanted it) were the people I could talk to about the books I read and the music I liked, and they were all somewhere between 3 and 8 years older than me. There was simply nobody my age I knew that I could talk to about the stuff I was interested in. Nobody. Plus I didn't like the drinking games of my peers and would much rather hang out with the weed smokers that never pressured me in any way (they didn't. they never were the ones coming on to me, and I had to be very clear about wanting them for anything sexual to happen).

    It would probably all have turned out differently if I hadn't lived in a small village in the country, and gone to school in a town of no more than 30 000 people. But this is how it was. I never liked the age difference. I wish we would have been closer in age. But to leave a happy relationship just because he isn't 'young enough' for me? Where exactly is that line, anyway? Should I have been a celibate teenager, just because the other teenagers weren't interested in me? Would my classmates been acceptable, some of which were also 4 years older than me?

    I always very much lived my own life (he lived 600 km away, anyway), and I didn't hesitate to apply to a school that would have maybe taken me to the other side of the world had I been accepted (I was not). I kept my own friends (but to find them I had to move out of my parents place when I was 16. No, I didn't move to his city, just the next place that can actually be called a city, and where life was bearable for me). I would have quit if I had ever felt pressured in any way, or had had the feeling he was somehow exploiting the power imbalance that yes, is always there when one person has an income and the other just pocket money which is eaten up by the train fare already. But fucked up power play isn't dependent on age differences, nor does it necessarily come with them.

    I guess what I'm trying to say in so many words is that I understand why the idea of a relationship between an adult and a teenager makes you feel squeezy, because it doesn't exactly make me feel comfortable, too. But for you to tell me that my relationship is wrong, without even knowing me or him or us, well fuck you very much.

  18. Also, as an adult now I wouldn't want to be with another adult who doesn't develop much anymore;-) Either people are hungry and curious or they are not, and the ones that aren't tend not to turn me on much, independently of age.

  19. P.S. By now I'm 25.

  20. Ugh, this has been an issue for me for awhile. The group I hang out with is mostly exclusively male, and while we're still only 23, it absolutely squicks me out to no end that they've all date(d) girls 4 years younger than they are. I feel like the maturity gap even between 14 and 18 is massive, let alone someone who was old enough to drink before you were born.

    At 16 I thought I was mature enough for anything and don't you DARE call me a kid. By the time I was 18 I was like, "Oh my GOD was I an idiot, I hope 16-year-olds today don't get into the horrible shit *I* did!" I can't even wrap my head around being 40 and thinking I was in love with a 16-year-old. And it does mostly stem around the points of:
    1. There are likely very obvious emotional maturity issues of the elder person
    2. I feel like it's irresponsible of the older person, as the younger will need space to grow, and you are often a VASTLY different person as you get through the teen years and on through your twenties.
    4. Erm, are you her father? What do you POSSIBLY have in common?

  21. I realize that also MAY have come off a little harsher than intended. I was honestly surprised at the amount of "No, I think that's basically okay" posts than the "I totally get what you're saying" posts. It's one of those few things that if I could put a hard limit on it, I would. So... sorry.

  22. So the hard limit would be what exactly? If 18 and 14 isn't an acceptable match for you, is 18 and 15? 20 and 17? Where exactly is that line?

  23. Oohh, that sounds so familiar. Back when I was 15-16, I was always hoping some prince-like dude would take me away to his castle full of flowers and birds and he'd do everything for me and sacrifice everything while I would just have to walk around being Pretty because I was so fuckin' Special I deserved it. And all my mean little classmates would cry when I was gone because I was so Special and... Well, you get the picture. And I'd never even touched a Candlelight Novel.

    To be honest, I like my new, human (adult?) outlook on love and relationships a lot more.

    I do suppose maturity levels really differ from teenager to teenager, and from adult to adult as well. It can work out just fine. It's different in every situation. But generally.. yeah.

  24. Oh gods. When I was a teen, I was torn between wanting a White Knight to ride up and take me away...and wanting to BE the White Knight and solve all of a man's problems for him and then he'd love me and blah blah untrainable expectations.

    In fact, most of my past relationships went sour precisely because my "white knight" tendencies led me straight to men who needed fixing...and wouldn't you know, people don't much like you trying to change things about them! Even destructive things! So yeah, I should have seen each and every disaster coming. But I didn't at 17, or at 20.

    And anon with age-difference relationship: You sound like me! Accelerated, ignored by classmates, same age--the only difference is that, having lived in a town with pop. 5000, I don't consider 30,000 "small." But damn, it is a small Internet.

  25. Oh, and "untrainable" should be "unreasonable." Autocorrect strikes again.

  26. anon with age-difference relationshipJuly 1, 2011 at 6:07 AM

    Yeah, small is very relative! But I noticed a vast difference in outlook between my schoolmates in the 30 000 people town and the city with 130 000, who were much more tolerant in general and some of which actually had their very own tastes in music, there existed places to go dancing, and it felt much less claustrophobic. Suddenly it was ok to be strange.

    The white knights never appealed to me nor did I ever want to be one.

  27. I'm with Holly on the 'teenage love is stupid'. Having been raised to Dinsey princess movies my idea of love was all about the romance and the drama. The feelings of a teenager are *intense*!

    When I was 15 I lost my virginity to an 18 yo I swore blind I was going to marry one day. I regretted it, told him I wouldn't be doing it again then he broke up with me. It was not pretty and it took me a looooong time to recover.

    Long story short, just adding my voice to those saying that teens, even mature, bright ones cannot usually make good decisions about 'in love' and 'love'.

    Even now in my early twenties it's still a struggle to remember that the happy, gooey, 'in love' crush feeling doesn't last, and isn't meant to. If the relationship is to work, it should settle down into something mostly fun, happy, and comfortable, based on trust, understanding and acceptance, rather than the fears of 'does he love me? will he leave me if I be myself?' which were contributing factors in my decision to sleep with my first 'true love'. I'm *still* working this stuff out, even now.

    Also, tbh, when I see young girls with older men, I assume she has some degree of 'daddy issues' and I wonder why the guy needs that starry eyed adoration off the kid. The power imbalance that's usually there gives it the potential for so much wrong and hurt and mess. The rule of thumb of not daating anyone half your age plus seven is a good one I think.

  28. For what it's worth, it really is okay to be a celibate teenager. Even a horny celibate teenager.

    Lots of teenagers are celibate! Especially teenagers in places where they don't click with the other kids around them.

    Defensive anonymous poster above: I'm glad your relationship is working out, and that your choices have worked for you. I really am.

    The fact that occasionally teenage love turns out to work for the long haul does not mean that teenage love is a good foundation for a long-term relationship. The fact that sometimes people with many years' difference sometimes have actual strong relationships doesn't mean that it's a necessarily great idea to get involved with people from a different generation.

    Both of those are strong challenges to healthy relationships, hurdles that a relationship must overcome.

    I say this as someone who's in a (poly) relationship with a man significantly older than me, who was at a very different life stage when we got together. People quite reasonably were concerned about exploitativeness and creepiness even though I was 23!

    That your relationship works, and that my relationship works, doesn't mean that everyone's wrong to be concerned or squicked about similar relationships.

  29. My aunt died recently - a short time after her husband. They adored each other and had a largely happy life. They were true soulmates.

    They suffered a great deal at the start of their time together because of the 25 year age difference - people kept trying to split them up.

    In hindsight, marrying each other was totally the best thing for both of them, not just because they loved each other so deeply and truly until the end of their lives.

    Recently I walked with a 85 yo man who was evaluating his life and the decisions he made. His wife was a teenager when they married and he 25 years her senior. Again, they faced a lot of criticism, but made a happy life together - he felt vindicated especially since so many marriages fail.

    All of the people I mention are respected in their communities and lived stable productive lives - they simply met their soulmates, were ready to marry at the same time and made the best choice for themselves.

    I'm not saying everyone is ready to marry at 16 to an older man, but sometimes people are and just by chance their soulmate is lots older and a normal, nice and wonderful man.

  30. People enter into relationships with all sorts of differences and power imbalances; in wealth, power, socio-economic status, culture, race, educational background, intelligence, physical ability, sexual and relationship experience, but OMG will somebody please think of the children!!!

    Because it's self-evidently much safer, saner, educational, non-abusive and non-scarring when teenagers get into relationships with or marry other teenagers that are just as immature, melodramatic and crazy as themselves. Romeo and Juliet worked out *so* well...

  31. It seems to me that a responsible, mature adult who finds themselves wanting a relationship with a teenager, would back off until the kid had grown up some, and was at least no longer a teenager. The fact that a 51 year old would marry a 16 year old speaks volumes to me of how messed up he probably is. The 16 year old is just too young to have perspective on what she's doing, even if she is mature.

    When I was 16, I and everyone around me thought I was very mature. I would have considered myself ready to get married, if I had met the right person. Now that I'm 23, and in a happy, healthy relationship with a guy a year older, I realize how incredibly wrong I was. My world views and moral values have changed so much since then; almost 180 degrees. I was a conservative Christian, and now I'm a liberal feminist atheist. I used to be pretty shy and introverted, very uncomfortable in social situations with other people my age. Now I'm far more confident and outgoing. When I was 16, I thought I was very independent-minded, and that my religious and social views weren't really influenced by my parents. It wasn't until I went to college and stopped living with them that I realized I had been very influenced by them, to my detriment. If, as a 16 year old, I had married a 51 year old who had my same conservative, Christian values, my internal growth might well have been stunted.

    Relationships between teenagers and people 15, 25, and 35+ years older that turn out to be long-term, happy, and healthy are probably the exception, not the rule.

  32. I'm not against age differences per se, since one of the better relationships I've ever had involved a guy 20 years older than I was. Sometimes, people simply "click," regardless of age. However, we started up when I was 25, so I was hardly a teenager.

    OTOH, I agree that *16* is a little freaking young to get married, especially to someone that much older. YMMV as far as maturity goes (I've known 15 year olds who were amazingly mature, and much older people who .. . weren't), but by and large most teens aren't ready for stuff like that -- as you point out, Holly.

    Unfortunately, I've known a lot of people (mostly guys) who like to "date young," and most of it is for the reasons you cite: not so much the sex as the emotional openness and vulnerability of the younger person. Note that these are people I know, not "friends." :P

    As for me, personally, I just can't look at someone in that age range (up to their early 20s) and think "relationship material." I've done a lot of teaching at the college level and I process people in that age range as . . . kids. I'd feel like a molester, even if the other individual was wall over 18 -- the gap is just too great. So, no cougaring for me.

  33. I'm not arguing that relationships with huge age differences can't work out, I know a couple with an age difference of thirteen years who have been happily married for almost that long. The human spectrum contains a lot of outliers, sometimes age really is a number etc...

    But what really squicks me out? In all the comments above talking in generalities, the hypothetical relationship is between a teenage girl and an older man, never a teenage boy and an older woman. This seems to reflect my (anecdotal) experience of reality, as the latter seems to be much less common than the former. The consistency of this gender dynamic (combined with how screwy the power dynamic between genders is in western culture) does a hell of a lot to convince me that most of these relationships have a lot to do with power, rather than mature and equal love.

    Again, there are instances where the sixteen year-old and the thirty year-old genuinely have much more in common with each other than anyone their own ages. But if that's the case with more than a very small subset of relationships with huge age differences, where are all the mature-and-totally-capable-of-a-lifetime-commitment sixteen year-old guys?

  34. I don't think anyone is arguing that every single age-gap relationship turns out horrible, just that they have a capacity for or a tendency to be much more dangerous. Analogously, many teenagers are stupid about consequences and drive drunk. Plenty of them get home safe and sound. We probably all know people who've done that! But that doesn't make drunk driving a good idea. It especially doesn't make it okay for adults to encourage teenagers to do it, at the outset, when it's unclear whether that teen will be one of the ones who gets in an accident.

    I don't think teenagers should be prevented from ever getting near cars or having relationships. But they also shouldn't be validated in their crazy ideas about what to do with them, by people who should know better!

  35. Candice -

    It's not really the huge age gap that bothers me. My own grandparents had an age gap of thirty-odd years between them, and their marriage was by all accounts a happy one (my grandfather died well before I was born, so I can't personally verify). But the thing is, she was already an adult when they married. A much younger adult, but still an adult.

    At 16, at least in our society, a person is not an adult. To a degree this is a maturity thing (even a mature 16-year-old is not going to be in the same place as a 51-year-old); but a big part of it is just the relative positions. Someone who is 16 can't buy property, can't rent an apartment, can't smoke a cigarette, drink a beer, own a credit card, or in some areas even drive without a lot of special dispensations. Someone who is 16 cannot participate fully in adult society, which puts them in a really fucked-up and vulnerable place if the relationship goes south.

  36. As far as hard limits: I'm personally a fan of the (age/2)+7 rule. Seems to avoid squicky age differences.

  37. I think that if you are an adult and you really, really love a teenager - you wait for them to turn 18. It's not too much to expect, and it's certainly not too much to ask from someone who claims to love you.
    I'm 20, and I might start dating a 35 year old man soon (depends how things go!) That's not a problem. Yes, he is a lot older than I am, but we're both adults. If I started seeing him when I was 16 and he was 31, that would have been a problem. At 16 I had never lived by myself or had an adult relationship. I know a lot more about how to handle myself now.
    I used to crush on a lot of older people, but I didn't pursue it because I knew I wasn't mature enough. I'm not going to say that it's a bad idea for all people, I think the exact ages and maturity levels matter a lot. But I will say that it's usually a bad idea.

  38. In my experience, a young person can be very mature - as in, smart, capable of rational and intelligent discussion, and possessing a fairly realistic view of what a relationship should be - but they lack life experience and this will always cause a problem or imbalance in a romantic relationship with an age difference.

    Example: when I was single and dating, I might mention to a guy my own age (34 or so, at the time) that I've been divorced. For most guys my age, "I was married for nine years but then I left" tells them that I have the tenacity to commit to someone and try to make it work, the wisdom to realize when things are beyond repair, and the strength to leave, deal with the crushing feelings of failure, and resurrect myself to the point of being willing to try again. I tell a guy my age (or older) that I've been married and I see the information resonate with him.

    When I was on a date with a 23 year old, I told him I'd been married for almost a decade and he was like "Oh, bummer. Break-ups suck, don't they? I just broke up with my first serious girlfriend...we were together for eight months." That boy was great in many ways - yup, even "mature" - but his experience pool was too shallow and there were vast parts of me that he just didn't really "get". And that's why instead of dating we just made out a lot.

    Anyway, the upshot of this is that I don't think anyone is ready for marriage at 16, because they can't really comprehend what marriage means. They may be "ready" in the sense of "OMG I totally want to get married because romance and unicorns and rainbows and FOREVER!!!1!" but they're not prepared for it.

    And the fact that a relationship has lasted a long time doesn't mean it's a healthy or happy one. It just means that nobody left. I got married way too young (I was 23, but so emotionally immature) and in retrospect I can clearly see how my marriage kept me from growing and made me feel irritable and confined. I stuck with it because I was emotionally and financially dependent on him, and of course because marriage is a big deal and you're supposed to try hard to make it last. But I absolutely should not have been married in the first place.

    Having said all that...I do tend to have more in common with younger guys than guys my own age, plus I'm really, really attracted to that smooth/dewy/innocent/dorky thing that most young'uns have goin' on. When I met my boyfriend, he was 25 and I was 36. He doesn't fully "get" certain things about me either (difference in amount of life experience) but he's had enough girlfriends (and breakups) to have learned what he wants in a relationship and what it takes to keep one going strong. He also has issues with his parents that are similar to my issues with mine, so he "gets" me that way. Plus, y'know...he's mature for his age. :D

    So obviously I'm not anti-age-difference. Just anti-huge age difference when the younger person is under 25.

  39. Minuteye took the words from my mouth. In my circle of friends, I have only observed age-gap relationships of the young woman / older man variety. I've witnessed a few brief flings in which the woman was older, but never a long-term and/or committed relationship.

    Usually when the subject of an older woman / young man relationship comes up, it's in the context of "cougars," and those relationships are stereotypically based on sex/money. Sooo yeah, I think age-gap relationships most definitely involve squicky misuses of power/authority, since it's usually older men seeking out younger women or girls.

  40. I'm wary of age differences, too, despite the fact that my mother met my father when they were 16 and 25, respectively, and they've been together more than 25 years, now. In some ways I do wonder what would have happened to my mother if she hadn't decided to stick with the first halfway-decent man she came across after suffering some pretty painful stuff before meeting my Dad. But in other ways I'm aware that finding a man who would love her and treat her well was her way of growing out of being coerced and disrespected. It seems unfair to nitpick.

    I guess what I'm saying is, I'm wary of large age differences, and I think other people are right to be similarly wary, but there are times when I can respect people's decisions to enter into them.

    Also, I think the rule about sex being often less damaging than relationships holds true in a lot of cases. Relationships, especially for the inexperienced, can be a higher-risk, higher-reward kind of thing, which is why I'm glad I learned about sex through casual sex and then progressed to relationships, though I know that's not for everyone.

  41. Perversecowgirl - "Anyway, the upshot of this is that I don't think anyone is ready for marriage at 16, because they can't really comprehend what marriage means. "


    It's not age differences themselves that bother me, it's the whole teenagers in relationships with adults. If you're 30 and happily dating a 55 year old, or a 25 year old dating a 40 year old, or whathaveyou, I trust your judgement.

    Again, my experience (and one that a lot of people seem to share) is that I thought I was pretty much the pinnacle of maturity at 16 - and for my age I was pretty mature. But looking back now...dear god. I was a naive kid in so many ways.

    And I mean...not to put down the teenagers, because a lot of them are really smart and mature, but even the smart and mature ones live in totally different universes from adults. I may be displaying some kind of nasty bias here that I'm not totally aware of, but I can't imagine what sort of adult would really feel like they related to a teenager in that life-partners sort of way. Something like 16 and 24 is stretching it, but 16 and 50?

  42. I'm a 17-year-old girl, so take everything I'm saying with that in mind...

    I agree that 16 and 50-something is insanely creepy. I tend to go with the "half your age plus seven" rule. In my limited experience, guys who date younger girls (especially guys who have a pattern of doing that) have some major maturity failings.

    Of course, the problem arises when the younger person doesn't realize that the older person has issues. I'm pretty cynical and a mild sociopath, so I haven't ever felt that teenage obsessive love, but I've seen it a few times. I know a girl who hasn't been single since she was 16, has never had a relationship longer than 4 months, and thinks every time that the new guy is "the one." She's 19 now, and will probably get married to the next guy she's with because she's Mormon and going to BYU.

    I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here really, but basically teenagers and probably most people in their early to mid twenties are nowhere near mature enough to marry, and throwing someone way older into the mix just makes the decision worse.

    P.S. Holly, your "sleeping on the floor" relationship does not sound healthy at all.with that in mind...

    I agree that 16 and 50-something is insanely creepy. I tend to go with the "half your age plus seven" rule. In my limited experience, guys who date younger girls (especially guys who have a pattern of doing that) have some major maturity failings.

    Of course, the problem arises when the younger person doesn't realize that the older person has issues. I'm pretty cynical and a mild sociopath, so I haven't ever felt that teenage obsessive love, but I've seen it a few times. I know a girl who hasn't been single since she was 16, has never had a relationship longer than 4 months, and thinks every time that the new guy is "the one." She's 19 now, and will probably get married to the next guy she's with because she's Mormon and going to BYU.

    I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here really, but basically teenagers and probably most people in their early to mid twenties are nowhere near mature enough to marry, and throwing someone way older into the mix just makes the decision worse.

    P.S. Holly, your "sleeping on the floor" relationship does not sound healthy at all.

  43. I have no idea what happened with that last comment, sorry. I'm posting from my phone.I have no idea what happened with that last comment, sorry. I'm posting from my phone.

  44. I'm 28 years old, and a teacher (to kids ranging from 13 to 19) and I started working at the age of 23 (with 18-19 year olds at that time).


    I could get lost in a loooong diatribe as to why I think so, but it's quite simple. They're kids. I thought I was super duper awesome when I was 13. I thought I was fucking dumb at 13 when I turned 18. At 28, I consider my 18 year old self dumb as fuck. And guess what? My kids just perpetuate that. On a daily basis.

    We can yap all we want how people are different. In theory. Whatever, I think I've met more teenagers than your typical adult human, and all I can say is...

    No. Just fucking NO.

  45. I just wanted to point out some interesting legal aspects to the teen marriage thing, and specifically regarding Courtney and Doug.

    A couple of comments have dwelt on the various things a 16-year-old can't legally do. It just so happens that getting married is an expedient way to be legally emancipated and escape those disabilities. Not with regard to alcohol or driving (as far as I know) but in terms of financial responsibilities, entering contracts and so on.

    And since their assets are shared that reduces the power imbalance somewhat.

    Oh yeah, and getting married also prevents Doug from being arrested if they have sex in his home state, so that's kinda important too.

    So my point is, teen sex, teen love and teen marriage are three separate things. I generally agree with Holly's feelings about sex and love, although I woulds prefer to say teen love is more dangerous, since destructive sounds like it's always bad. But if marriage is looked at simply as a legal maneuver*, it could actually be a good move and mitigate some of the problems with the other two.

    *This might be an unfair stereotype, but seeing as their both celebs, I think they're almost certainly looking at it that way, at least in part. Not to mention a nice publicity boost for both of them. (Cynical? Who me?)

  46. And since their assets are shared that reduces the power imbalance somewhat.

    When I was married, my husband made much, much more than I did. We put all our money in a joint bank account...and yet, I deferred to my husband on financial matters. I'd actually ask his permission before buying myself anything - even though I had a job and some of the money in our account was actually mine in the most literal sense of the word.

    Why did I let my husband take charge of our finances? Because he seemed more mature, "together", and good with money than I was*. And because he had subtle ways of manipulating me into being passive and dependent.

    That kind of thing could happen in any relationship, of course (my ex was about the same age as me); but it's really damn likely in a relationship between a teenager and an adult. It doesn't matter that married people are considered, legally speaking, to have pooled their assets; if you're a teenager who marries an adult and moves into the house s/he bought, you may feel "at home" but you won't really feel like the building is half-yours.

    And if the adult in the relationship has maybe a bit of a power trip going on (which seems very, very likely if they're down with marrying an adolescent) then it'll take almost no effort at all to get the kid to sleep on the floor - literally or metaphorically.

  47. Whoops, I deleted the footnote on my previous post by accident. It was:

    *He seemed like all of these things, but alas was not.

  48. My now sister-in-law was 15 yrs old when she fell for my brother, who was 19 and already out of school. My brother is a shy, laconic person (at least until he gets to know you and is encouraged to talk about something he is passionate about), and not the most academic of souls. He works as a welder and now runs his own business.

    She took the lead in the relationship, pursuing him. He had never had a woman interested in him before and basically let her have her own way. They married the summer after she graduated and now have three children. She's smart, clever, funny, caring, and fits right in to the family (which is quite a chore - it is a VERY large family, and if we don't like you, you know it. More than one boyfriend or girlfriend has been driven off because of that.)

    Long story short: I'm suspicious of relationships between adults and teens (I had more than a few pregnant friends in high school whose older boyfriend immediately disavowed any responsibility, for example) it is not always a bad thing. If it is honest and open, not sneaking around, not power games, and both people want the relationship (not just the sex) to work, then it can work.

  49. The thing that gets me is, it just doesn't seem the kind of thing that will last. I mean, you generally marry someone intending to spend a long time with them. But there is a good chance she'll outgrow him and even if she doesn't, he'll be 70 when she's 30. I mean I guess that's doable but speaking personally I can't really imagine wanting to be with an old man in the prime of my life, let alone if she ever decides she wants kids.

  50. OK I also just looked at her site - and yeah she looks "mature" and "sexy" but that has also been pushed on her. I've worked with a lot of kids and teens as a teacher and they have a certain young look about them. You can see it on her - but her makeup artists have definitely helped create that illusion of her being much older. If she didn't have all that makeup on and her hair wasn't all done up, I'm sure it would be much more obvious.

    Makes you wonder who is really to "blame" here.

  51. I've just started reading your blogs , think I've spent the last hour reading them. This is the first I just had to comment because this was me at 15! At 15 I basically became obsessed with sex, big part of it was based on some childhood traumas and blacked out memories that lead to an awkward question most teens dont have "am I a virgin". I started obsessing over on line acts and then I met this much older guy that could answer my question. I went into it with years of therapists in my subconscious" it's possible when she finally has sex she will lose control with her partner and may regress". Well in my 15 year old brain with everyone telling you your first time is supposed to be special all I could think of is... " what is special about scaring the first boy you willingly sleep with and turning into a nutcase who makes him have a complex for the rest of his life of ...what did I do wrong?". so with this mentality I decided to have "meaningless" sex with this much older man I didn't really know , so if I freaked out no harm no foul... However it didnt happen like that with all the pressures of being in love to have sex instilled from early youth I went a different kind of crazy. Crazy obsessed and "in love" with this man who rejoiced in it. Parents found out threatened charges , I threatened and attempted suicide. The guy stuck around a long time but then some of his family found out and he disappeared.. The whole point of me sharing my story is ... Even tho it destroyed my 15 year old heart, I couldn't heal and get help , I couldnt become mentally healthy with him in my life. Thinking of a 16 year old married to a man likes this makes me think how in the world will she ever grow to be her own woman and not just a 16 year old bride inside for the rest of her life? I've actually never knew anyone else that has openly admitted to things the way you gives me a ridiculous amount of hope that maybe im more normal then I think even with my inclinations, past, and interests. Thank you

  52. With this kind of situation, I prefer to try not to judge, because really, I couldn't know the situation.

    I was 16 when I first started dating my boyfriend. He was 21. We avoided any of the sex-related things until I was legal, but our relationship quickly blossomed into a serious long-standing healthy partnership (currently 4 years now).

    Our relationship did and has always just felt "right" to me. I had already been served a dosage of heartbreak before him that wisened me up a little in terms of relationships, and as someone who never dreamed of being in a relationship, I went into it with what I think was a healthy attitude.

    We've both changed and grown a lot since then, and really I would have hoped that we would. Stagnation is not something I ever want for my life.

    It has its own challenges, as do all relationships, but we openly communicate about everything, even when it sucks. And I know at the end of the day, if I was truly unhappy and there was no hope for anything to get better, I could leave.

    But the thing is, at the end of the day, snuggled up with him is all I want to be. I stay because I want to. And so does he.

    Maybe we're the exception to the rule; my parents most certainly were not happy with our relationship and looked for reasons to dislike him (they still do). But he is, quite literally, my best friend.

  53. I'm a little concerned by all the comments of "What could they even have in common?" Um... lots? As a teenager, my age was not ever my Central Defining Characteristic. I defined myself by my interests ("I like these kinds of music, those kinds of dance, these science fiction novels") by my skills ("I crochet, cook, sew, embroider..."), by my talents ("Here's what I'm good at, here's what I'm not") and so on. I would have said that a young man five years my senior who shared any significant number of those with me had way more in common with me than a random teenager. In fact, as a teenager I preferred to hang out with older people; many of my friends were older, either because I stole my parents' friends (well... took advantage of the introduction caused by them being my parents' friends to form friendships of my own) or because I met people doing the same activities that I was who shared my interests. To a significant extent, older people - especially older women - felt a lot safer to me than teens. More likely to respect me, more likely to accept my being different, more likely to listen to me as an adult as long as I behaved like one. At 16, I felt I was quite a mature teenager... and honestly, as a 23-year-old looking back? Yeah, I've come a long way since then. I'm better at dealing with some issues, and I have some practical worldly skills I sure didn't have at 16 - for one thing, I think when I was sixteen I could cook maybe four dishes? But was I responsible enough, at 16, to have a romantic relationship? Oh, yes. Absolutely. (Was I ready for a sexual relationship? No way... which was why I didn't have one. At 16 I was fully able to say "I don't want this and I'm not doing it", and while I wouldn't have used the word "abuse" - not having read very much on the subject - I was fully capable of noticing people behaving badly towards me and avoiding them.)

    This is not to say that all 16-year-olds are like me-at-16. Obviously not, by the comments of people here looking back at themselves-at-16 if nothing else. It's only to say... that not all 16-year-olds are that bad, either. And one of the reasons I was able to be as stable as I was was that I had a really strong support structure, who were willing to treat me as maturely as I acted. That's one reason I worry when I see people assuming that age is the most important thing about a teenager, and no teenager, however "mature", can be trusted to make his/her own decisions. I worry that... well. Being treated that way can be really bad for the teenager. Not to say teenagers never make bad decisions; that would be ridiculous. Only that I worry when I see anyone assume "S/he's a teenager, s/he can't make valid decisions" just as I do when people deny almost anyone agency on a categorical basis.