Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I am in a relationship with someone 20 years younger than I am (and, to be clear, we are both “mature;” this is not a situation in which one person is barely a grown-up). We love each other and have a great time together. I have no doubts about that at all. My partner believes that, while our age gap can be inconvenient and challenging in some practical ways, finding this level of joy and connection with another person is rare enough that we should plan to stay together and maybe even get married.
I think it’s too sad to imagine the end of the relationship — whether that’s a decade from now when it becomes painfully clear that our age difference will cause long-term problems and we give up on being together, or at the end of my life, when my partner has to spend a decade or more taking care of me or at least probably having to adopt a lifestyle based on my needs, before ending up sad and alone when I die. Should we break up now while there’s still time for each of us to find a partner of a similar age with whom to enjoy our lives? My partner doesn’t think so. I do. Who’s right?
I am frankly quite fascinated by what seems to be your understanding of love. You have found someone who brings you joy and eases your way through the world and whom you care for, but the idea that at some point in the future this person may have to care for you is enough to make you end the relationship?
I don’t often feel the need to mark the gender of the person writing to me, but I think it is notable that (at least, according to the name on your email address) you are a woman. While men have historically been plagued by cultural notions of rugged independence and self-sufficiency, women are deeply terrified of becoming a burden to someone else. And this, put plainly, is your fear. You think that you will reach a point at which you will have to rely on your partner, not just emotionally but physically, that your body will begin to betray you and you will become not just unbearably vulnerable but worse — you will become needy.
This is an understandable anxiety in a world in which weakness is subject to predation. But indulging this anxiety and abandoning a good relationship with a person you love is not in any way an honorable act of strength — it is something closer to cowardice. You don’t believe that you will be worthy of care at your most undignified and humiliating moments, and you don’t trust your partner enough to think of asking for it.
I suggest it is worth thinking about this situation in reverse: yes, you are significantly older and thus more likely to experience some major changes to your physical condition, but we are all of us subject to illness or injury at any time. What if you knew that your partner would become very sick in five years’ time? Would you end your relationship rather than take on that responsibility? If your answer is yes, then walk away now. If you would stay, then you need to ask yourself why your version of love isn’t truly reciprocal.
The future is going to be harder and more alienating for every single one of us. It’s important to cultivate an instinct for helping others, but it’s also critical to overcome the pressure to seem utterly capable ourselves. You found someone who loves you, so let them.
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