Dear Sarah,

Hi! So, let’s just start out by saying that I’m 19. And in case you were wondering I am the biggest (I mean BIGGEST) hopeless romantic. I keep that side of myself hidden from most people—along with many other aspects of my personality—and it can be difficult for me to date because nobody really sees me inside, just my appearance. Now, I’ve met a man who could see who I was deep down, without me even saying a word. I instantly fell for him, and he’s fallen for me too. The only issue is our age difference—he’s 32.

He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and, like him, I also sort of believe that age is just a number. But there are certain things that still linger in my mind, such as whether or not our families would accept each other. The same with our friends. My best friend already told me, “If you date that older guy I’ll never speak to you.” She was probably just being dramatic (as usual), but it still bothered me and made me feel unsure and a little disgusted with myself.

He’s old enough to go to bars or clubs (if he wanted to) and I can’t do those things yet. I’ve always been told I’m very mature for my age and that I’d end up with an older man. But a 13-year age difference seems to be very controversial. Even though we are both kind of rebels, for the first time, I find myself asking “Is society actually right this time?” So I could use an opinion, some advice or any wisdom. Anything you feel might help me make this decision would be SO appreciated.

—Uneasy in New York City

Dear Uneasy,

As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes it is hard for me to remain in the judgement free zone (sigh). But I’m going to really, really try. If you were my teenage daughter, and you showed up for our weekly family dinner/Scrabble night with a 32-year-old dude, yes, my eyes would probably bulge a bit, but then I’d pop into the bathroom to discreetly dry the perspiration pooling under my arms, splash some cold water on my face, and try to get to know this guy, putting my preconceived notions aside. I’d agree age doesn’t really matter—except when it does.

Full disclosure: my husband is 11 years my senior. However, his spirit age is seven, and mine is 32, so. . . .That said, we met when I was in my late twenties, and a lot of growing up happens between 19 and 29. What I suggest is that you is take a hard look for red flags. Ask yourself: What have his previous relationships been like? Does he respect your opinions and want to learn from you or does he just want to be the boss? Despite the age difference, do you feel like equals? Do you really like him for who he is or because he has an aura of sophistication and power? And then there’s sex: Is he pushing you do anything you feel uncomfortable with, physically or otherwise? Take a pause, find a quiet place, and be radically honest with yourself about all of these questions.

Then there are your friends—use them as a resource. Even though your bestie was a bit harsh, you need to talk her down and introduce this guy to her and the rest of your most beloved crew. Dear, trusted lady friends can be a fabulous barometer of whether or not a man is right for you. See how he behaves—does he genuinely want to get to know them or is he phoning it in until he can be alone with you? After he hangs out with them a couple of times, ask their opinion and be open to the response. They might be skeptical or they might say he’s amazing, either way their input is important since they care about you. Not everything your friends (or your family—yes, that meeting will have to happen eventually if you date this dude) says might be on point, but it’s worth sifting through.

Final question—why do you say you felt “disgusted” with yourself about this relationship? Is that an indication you aren’t genuinely comfortable with something that’s going on? OK, final, final question—why don’t you let more people “in” to see the real and truly beautiful you? I think working through these issues about self-love and respect are as important to explore at your age as who you date.

Take care of yourself and be real. Let us know how it goes.

Love, Sarah

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