19 February 2010

You and the older guy

You can't understand what your mom is freaking out about. Just because you're having a relationship with Keith, your best friend's 27-year-old cousin.

You can't understand what your mom is freaking out about. Just because you're having a relationship with Keith, your best friend's 27-year-old cousin.

What is it about this situation that upsets parents so much? Are they overreacting or is there potential danger for you?

"It is understandable that parents are worried in this situation," says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche. "There are a number of things about this situation that could be potentially harmful."

"The first, and most important, is that you may be having a relationship with someone, who, because he is older, is more powerful and has more resources than you or your friends. You might not be in an equal decision-making position, and because of the age difference, will easily be dictated to, often assuming that your boyfriend is right, because he is older. He, because he has more money than people your age, will also easily be able to impress you by doing something as simple as buying you a movie ticket or a pair of shoes."

"Secondly, you will be exposed to the world of his friends, rather than that of your own peers, so you might often try to act more mature, in order to try and fit in. Exposure to their drinking and possibly drugging habits, as well as to the sexual for you, rather than that of your own age group. You might very well be pressurised into a sexual relationship as a result of this. Your own age group, by comparison, will appear childish and dull, which subsequently might stop you from wanting to get involved with someone her own age."

"Parents are worried about the fact that the process of exposure to the adult world becomes speeded up. Having an older boyfriend is a status symbol, because it sends a message that you are grown up and already part of a world they are merely fantasising about. It starts to seem silly to be worrying about your Science Test, when your boyfriend is agonising about a downplayed, further reducing your power in the relationship."

"Thirdly, there is the issue of the power struggle with the parents. Few parents will be happy with a situation like this, and these relationships often happen when a child is at that stage between childhood and adulthood. This relationship challenges the parents' power and their world view and perceptions, and your boyfriend becomes an ally against your parents. They look like old-fashioned party poopers, because they are objecting to this relationship, which further strengthens the boyfriend’s hold over their daughter," according to Terblanche.

"Fourthly, one has to ask why a man of almost thirty is interested in someone so many years his junior. Is this a pattern in his life? Does he perhaps have difficulty communicating with people his own age? Or does he need the age difference to put him in a position of authority in the relationship – a position he might not be able to pull off with a woman his own age?"

So what can you expect of your parents?
"This is very difficult as most parents instinctively want to lock up their daughters to protect them. This might not have the desired effect, as this makes the boyfriend and his world of freedom seem all the more desirable, and the parents are immediately cast into the role of villains", says Terblanche.

You should accept that your parents are ultimately still the ones responsible for you. If they can try and accomodate you, you should try to listen to their reasoning. After all, they only have your best interests at heart.

If your boyfriend is really serious about you, he will fall in with your parents' rules, because, if he really does love you, he will also have your best interests at heart. And part of that should be not wanting to come between you and your parents.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2010)


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