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Don't judge him 'til you meet him

Dear Carolyn: My daughter moved to a new city after college to pursue her career. She immediately met a man twice her age (seven years younger than I am). At first, he wouldn't tell her his age, and when I asked her, she just said he was "older," so I got the info through public records.

She has been seeing him exclusively about six months. He recently left the military and earned a college degree. He was married briefly and divorced a couple of years ago.

Daughter and I have had a couple of very calm and honest discussions about the relationship, and why I'm uncomfortable with it: their evasiveness about his age; the upper hand he has by virtue of his life experiences; a relationship I see as much more beneficial to him than to her; her being in her mid-50s when he's 80.

My chief concern is that, by the time you're his age, much of your worldview is fixed, but not when you're in your 20s. The fact that she's distanced herself from men her age makes me sad.

Otherwise we don't discuss him. She said she feels bad that she can't talk about him with me, and I've told her I'm here if she needs me, but that I haven't been able to reconcile myself to the relationship. Sometimes, she'll bring up something about him, and I listen politely and then talk about something else. I don't want to signal approval of a relationship I don't support, but I want to keep the lines open so she doesn't feel defensive about him. I'd appreciate some pointers, especially if she wants me to meet him.

-- Mom

A: I see two alarming things here: that he (and then she) got coy about his age, and that you're so viscerally opposed to someone you haven't met.

I do agree age disparities grow increasingly consequential as couples age -- but I don't believe that warrants recoiling from anything that might be construed as approval. Yes, some come to regret signing on to young widowhood and even younger caretaking. But others maintain that limited time with real love is better than no time at all.

You don't know how this man behaves around your daughter, or she around him. By judging him before you've seen them together, in varied situations, you're not showing your daughter any respect for her ability to make adult choices.

If you could time-travel, I'd advise you to voice concern about their tiptoeing around the truth: "Since you want me to treat the age gap as perfectly normal, it would help if you could do the same thing yourselves."

Then I'd say, zip it regarding his age. "He's too old" sounds like what it is, a prejudice. Instead, I'd suggest sounding alarms only when you witness something significant -- signs of poor character, poor behavior, unhappiness.

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