Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
My name is Aron (not my real name) and I want to seek advice on how to handle my May-December relationship.
I’m currently in a relationship with a woman who is 14 years older than I. I’m 27 and she is 41. We have been dating for 11 months now. Once my parents knew of how old my partner was, they protested. They do not approve of my relationship with her due to her age and religion. Additionally, they want me to focus on my law studies.
I made attempts to break up with her due to my parent’s disapproval, however we keep on getting back together because we cannot bear being separated. My parents, particularly my mother, tells me stories of couples she knows where the woman was older and it did not end well.
I feel happy when I’m with her. I also knew of the risks of being with a woman who was older than I, such as difficulty in having children, dominance, menopause, and looks.
I am torn between following my parent’s advice or continuing this relationship. I feel so guilty and sad because I will end up hurting my girlfriend by breaking up with her.
Thank you for your email.
Your parents, who presumably want the best for you, oppose your relationship with your current girlfriend (let’s call her Emma) on the grounds of age and religion, and you find yourself caught between your feelings for Emma and their wishes.
You tell us nothing more about the religious issue, but if you (rather than your parents) really consider it an obstacle, then it’s something to take up with your spiritual adviser/priest/mullah etc. since faith-based questions are not within an agnostic’s remit.
The age issue is less clear-cut. Marriage where the woman is older than the man used to be rare, but in modern times it has become less so. Whatever the academic merits and the statistics, it is clear that you have considered the pros and cons of this relationship and decided that, all things being equal, you want it to continue.
However, all things are not equal since your parents are very much against it. They argue that marriages where the woman is older end badly, but that is equally the case when the couples’ ages are similar or the woman is younger. They want you to finish your studies but you have (presumably successfully?) got this far with them while in this relationship, so that objection seems to carry little or no weight either.
The question therefore is whether you wish to pursue your own happiness or your parents’ plans for you. You are 27 and old enough to make decisions for yourself rather than meekly accept instructions from others. Filial piety is one thing, but are you really going to sacrifice the possibility of long-term happiness with a loved one on the altar of a generational prejudice?
So, having evaluated the risks and found them acceptable, follow your heart and continue the relationship.
Thank you very much for your letter. I agree with all that Mr. Baer says above, though I am pretty sure he (and I) would have more to say if we knew a few more things about you, things that might have a direct bearing on the success of your relationship.
For example, your relationship history. Of course, Emma’s relationship history is also important, but it is you who wrote us the letter. Thus, it is your history, your feelings, your “weak spots,” needs, passions, and joys that are most important. All these things you can think about and put in clearer perspective on your own. It is not dependent on anyone – your parents, friends, even Emma.
I do not mean “history” literally, as in how many girlfriends you had before Emma, what their ages were, etc. What is vital is how important your past relationships were to you. Were any of them as important then as your relationship with Emma is now? Did any of your past relationships make you feel as happy as your current relationship with Emma?
Happiness seems one of your reasons for considering a relationship worth keeping. Nothing at all wrong with that, as happiness is as good a reason as any. I only ask that you think more deeply about what kind of happiness you are experiencing. There is a difference between hedonistic happiness (temporary) and eudaemonic happiness (more long-lasting), and it would be helpful if you thought about what kind of happiness you have with Emma (and it could be both kinds, which would be the best option).
Personally, I feel that if you want this relationship to be worth disobeying your parents, it would have to include both kinds of happiness.
Another reason that you consider a relationship worth keeping is that you cannot bear being separated. Again, has this happened before in any of your previous relationships? Whatever your answer is might help you decide whether to continue with this relationship or not.
Then there is also your relationship with your parents. How important to you is avoiding their disapproval? Has it limited your other choices in any way? Has it deterred you from following any of your other dreams? Is this mainly one way to “appease” them, show them your love, make sure they continue to support you, be kind to them, a recognition that you have avoided terrible things in the past, etc.?
Because if avoiding their disapproval is the major factor behind rethinking your relationship with Emma, knowing the reasons for your not wanting to do so will be helpful.
Then there is your final statement: “I feel so guilty and sad because I will end up hurting my girlfriend by breaking up with her.” That is so nice of you, Aron, because no kind person would want to hurt his girlfriend. However, you must do things not merely to avoid guilt and sadness, but because you truly feel this would be what is the very best for you. This is not being selfish or self-absorbed; this is merely recognizing that you cannot be kind to other people if you cannot be kind to yourself.
This has been my clinical experience, but now this has also been proven by research. Dr. Kristine Neff’s book Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (2015) is an excellent way to start (and alleviate any guilt and, hopefully, sadness).
Dear Aron, I realize we have not given you clear guidelines about what to do, but I hope you agree that sharing our perspectives (based mainly on research, clinical experience, good old common sense, and the integrity to tell you definitively on which among the three our statements are based) is far more important than telling you what to do.
Please write us again if there is anything else we can do for you.
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to email@example.com.
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