My boyfriend's twenty years older than me, and I'm scared about the future if we get married. Should I tell him not to propose?
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content and clarity.
Dear Miss Information,
My boyfriend is obsessed with his cat. It's gotten so bad that I have developed an irrational hatred towards the animal. He makes so many situations just about the cat. He will sing pop songs and substitute lyrics with his cat's name. We'll be sitting together on the couch, and he'll say things like, "Pet the Jeffles!" (its name is Jeff, just Jeff) and it's like nails on a chalkboard. I don't want to pet the cat when I'm feeling such postal rage, and I especially don't want to pet the cat if he is commanding me to do so. When I say no, he gets very upset.
I have tried to tell him how I feel, but instead of admitting to anything, he gets defensive and insists that I talk to my own cat like that. Uh, definitely not. I think that he is truly not aware of how obnoxious he is when it comes to his cat. What do I do? I know hating the cat is irrational, but I can't seem to get over it no matter how reasonable I try to be. Mind you, his cat used to attack me semi-frequently (my boyfriend says I'm the only one he's been like that to), but I would never retaliate. When I would tell my boyfriend what happened, he would go into denial because he didn't witness anything.
Do you think this is something I can get over? Should I break up with him? I can't imagine how bad the argument would be if I told him, "I'm breaking up with you because you're too obsessed with your cat and I can't take it any longer."
— He's A Crazy Cat Lady
Dear He's A Crazy Cat Lady,
I'll attempt to answer your question, but please be aware that I bought three sweaters for my dog last weekend. I'm in the throes of new animal lust. How can I play judge when I couldn't even get on the jury? I do have a low bullshit tolerance, though. I can see how having Mad Men interrupted by a "Benny and the Jeffs" feline pantomime might be cute at first, but rage-inducing each time thereafter. I don't know if you hate the cat so much as you dislike the way your boyfriend thinks it's cool to disregard your physical and emotional cues. Wait, they're not even cues. They're actual verbal requests. How dense is this guy? I love Eddie (that's my dog's name, and since you didn't ask here's a snapshot) but I'm not going to bring him along on an anniversary dinner or give him tummy rubs while my man and I are having Naked Adult Time. There are boundaries.
You may not realize it, but you and your boyfriend are a lot alike. You're both using the animal as a means of testing each other's affections:
YOU: If you loved me you'd pay attention to me, not that furball.
HIM: If you loved me, you'd give Prince Jeffrey a scratch behind the ears every once in a while.
It's a power struggle, and the whole animal debate is just a by-product. You both want to hear that you are respected and valued as a partner. Cats have many charms, but they're lousy psychiatrists.
Convincing him of his own obnoxiousness is never going to happen. He's going to get defensive and come back at you with the hypocritical cat-hating girlfriend jive. Leave the personality assessments out of the equation and communicate with "I" statements: I would like to know why it's so important to you that I pet the cat. I want to figure out how we can balance couple time with cat time. I need to know what your plan is for disciplining this animal the next time he acts out, because laughing it off is no longer working for me, capeche?
Mutual surrender can go a long way here. You buy the cat a small gift (perhaps a sweater?) and do your best to feign niceness. He cools it with the forced petting and agrees on at least one Jeff-free day per week when he focuses on you and you only. I know you're nearing the end of your tolerance, but at least try it. You may even grow to love the little four-legged twerp, and then your boyfriend will be the one who's envious of Jeff's new BFF.
Dear Miss Information,
Two years ago I met my perfect match, and we both made the daunting jump out of our respective (miserable) marriages and into each others' waiting arms. He is truly my other half and the sex is mind-blowing. The issue is that he's forty-eight, I'm twenty-nine. For these last blissful two years, it was easy to ignore.
But last week, I saw he had a business card for a jeweler that we both love. Our two-year anniversary is coming up. The idea that he might be gearing up to propose was thrilling… for thirty seconds. Then I got the sweats. It's not being married to him that scares me. We've had the future-and-baby conversation and both of us agree that we want the latter soon, with me being the breadwinner and pursuing my career while he winds down his successful career and takes excellent care of the kid. No, my fears are much more shallow.
He's getting old. At a much faster rate than me. And even though we work out (hard) every day, go backpacking and biking, and stay excited about new things and experiences, the idea that someday I will be his caretaker instead of his partner-in-old-age makes me want to curl up into a miserable ball. And what about when I am a relatively svelte forty-year old and he is an age-spotted and slightly forgetful sixty? Will I still want him? Or (gasp) will he still be able to get it up? And what will I do when he passes away so damn much sooner than I? How will our kid feel to lose his dad so early on?
Am I freaking out for no reason? I can't imagine living without him. I want to focus on the great years we will have instead of the years we won't, but I can't shake it. I'm scared and need advice before he pulls out that ring.
— Clock is Ticking
Dear Clock is Ticking,
Twenty years is a big age difference, but you're together on the important stuff: sex, emotional and intellectual compatibility, baby-making, and finances.
The vision you lay out for the future, while delightfully neurotic and one with which I can very much identify, is just that — a vision. It's not real. It's a representation of how you think life will turn out, but despite what Normal Vincent Peale and the writers of The Secret have to say, that house of tarot cards could collapse at any time. You could develop cancer or get in a car accident, and he's the one who's the caretaker. That planned baby of yours could kill you in childbirth. His flagging boner may not matter if you suddenly can't have sex because of a difficult-to-treat condition like vulvodynia.
I'm not saying this to depress or scare you. Odds are, if you choose to go ahead with the marriage, everything will go more or less as planned and you and your guy will live a more or less amazing life. And in truth, someone who's two decades older than you and a male is more likely to be the first to pass away. It's terrifying to think about someone you love dying, not to mention raising a child alone and feeling guilty that you put that child in the position of having one parent instead of two. There's also choosing between facing hospice care and Wheel of Fortune reruns alone or being in your sixties and re-entering the dating market. Your freakouts are not unfounded.
They say that "Love conquers all," but I think "Love makes you willing to put up with enormous amounts of hassle" is a more accurate aphorism. When you're truly in love, worries like yours will still be there, but you're able to overcome them and find a way to rationalize. It's part cost/benefit analysis and part self-induced blindness. In other words, it's love: the reason that people still want to go forward with matrimony, despite all the epic failures.
Are you in love, or are you looking to the age difference as the vehicle for another uncertainty? Perhaps you are in love, but not quite enough. The good news is that you've got some time to figure it out. Just go ahead and ask him about the jeweler's card. If it's what you're thinking, tell him you'd like to hold off on any forward movement until you're feeling more comfortable. It's better come across presumptuous than to accept a ring and renege later or crush him with a "No" in front of an audience.
Readers, have you ever had to proactively fend off a proposal? How did you do it?