Is it Wrong to Use a Younger Man for Companionship?

Is it Wrong to Use a Younger Man for Companionship?

I am a 46-year-old, young-at-heart, beautiful, sexy woman. I was married for 22 years and divorced 5 years ago. I love being married but realized I wasn’t with a man that made me happy. I have 2 beautiful kids, a son who is 24 and a daughter who is 21. I thought I would be happily married by now! I keep wondering what I am doing wrong. I’ve read your books, e-mails…

A year ago I met a man who is 13 yrs younger, with no job, new from NY, no money but was very persistent in becoming friends. At the time I was starting my new business and needed a roommate, so he was perfect! So I thought!

It quickly became romantic and he fell deeply in love with me and worshiped the ground I walked on. I, on the other hand, had feelings for him but nothing like that. Selfishly, I don’t want to be alone. I asked him to move out a month ago so I can get my feelings straight. I miss his companionship so severely that I catch myself crying. I know he’s not my future husband but I feel safe with him in all areas. Evan can you PLEASE help me? Thank You. –Shelly

Everybody listen up.

If you flip the genders and re-title this “Is It Wrong to Use a Younger Woman for Companionship”, this could be an email from a lonely man in his mid-40’s, post-divorce.

Objective reality is messy and grey and fraught with danger.

I am confident that if a man wrote the above email, most women would find it abhorrent that he would think of having his younger girlfriend invest her time in him, even though he knew that they were doomed in the long-run. And yet I would think that most readers are somewhat sympathetic to Shelly and can imagine how they’d feel in her situation.

This is why it’s dangerous to tar men as “players” or “users” or “liars” when they’re dating you without long-term intentions. Sometimes, even the nicest people, like Shelly, do something selfish that will have a negative impact on a romantic partner.

While it sounds nice that everyone should state his/her intentions at the beginning to avoid wasting anybody’s time, that’s far easier said than done, folks.

Which is to say that I’m not a moralist. I’m a pragmatist.

And whether I’m telling women that men look for sex and find love, so don’t sleep with him unless you can handle the consequences, or telling men that they’d better pay for the first date or they won’t get a second date, I try very hard to deal in objective reality.

Objective reality is messy and grey and fraught with danger.

What’s right for you is not necessarily what’s right for him.

What’s right for him is not necessarily what’s right for you.

All relationships are about navigating that space between those two realms with a measure of integrity.

So, Shelly, I don’t know how long you were together. A week? A month? Three months? One year? But you claim that he was “deeply in love” with you when you broke up. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, you did the right thing by kicking him out.

What’s right for you is not necessarily what’s right for him.

What’s right for him is not necessarily what’s right for you.

You sacrificed some measure of short-term personal pleasure in order to avoid creating a world of hurt for your younger boyfriend.

This was the most ethical thing you could do – and is very consistent with the kind of thing that I routinely did when I was single. (That’s why I never had a girlfriend for longer than 8 months; the second I knew that I wasn’t going to marry her was the second I got out.)

However, I don’t want you to beat yourself up over the fact that you are lonely and still have feelings for this young man.

Pretty much EVERYONE who EVER breaks up with a romantic partner – presuming the relationship wasn’t disastrous – suffers considerable regrets in ensuing weeks and months. Factor in that you were living together, and, well, it’s almost as if you suffered another mini-divorce.

So what are you to do, given that you’re both sad and lonely and miss each other?

I would say that you should stick to your guns and cut him out of your life entirely. No contact, no hope, no texts, no nothing. Only then can you both ably move on from your unrealistic entanglements.

Yet if you were to reinitiate contact with him, you would have to do so with the knowledge that it’s a long-term mistake for both of you – that the pleasure you’ll gain from sex and companionship is going to ultimately pale compared to the pain you’ll experience when one of you eventually pulls away from the other.

In other words, you can call him up and “use” him again to fulfill your temporary emptiness. Men and women do this every day by staying in flawed romantic partnerships, presuming it beats being alone.

Just don’t kid yourself about the consequences.

You’re going to temporarily soothe your own discomfort, but you’re going to destroy this guy who thinks he has another chance with you.

I don’t judge you either way, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an ethical path out of your situation.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    marymary

    Good answer.  Young people (even young men, ha) have feelings too! And so do older people.
    The right thing to do isn’t usually the easy thing, but in the long run it  does save a truckload of trouble.

  2. 2
    Grace Pamer

    Yep, you’ve made the break now keep it that way. If you go back he’ll think you really love him and can’t live without him which is not the case. He’ll then have a deeper belief on your long term relationship whereas you will know it’s not going to happen. That will be an absolute heart breaker further down the road for him and one which could very well damage him for years to come… so don’t do it.
     
    As such its time to start again in finding love. Better to not waste time ever on anything which you know in your heart isn’t going to work. It only wastes your time and your partners.
     
    So go it alone and be confident in how much you have going for you. You will find someone you really love and who makes you happy again.

  3. 3
    Karmic Equation

    Wow. Evan, you must be psychic, too. You sure you were writing to Shelly and not me? LOL. I was just wrestling with these feelings of loneliness and regret last night and shed some sad tears. I knew I did the right thing, but I still miss my explay-ah bf. The ethical reason I kept telling myself to stay away was that he’ll want to be a father someday and I’m past my child-bearing years. Even if he and I worked through our trust issues, nature would have trumped that eventually. And we would have been that much more attached and would have hurt that much more to let go.

    Your advice came at just the right time to help me keep my resolve. Even though the advice was to someone else, it felt like it was directed to me. Thank you.

  4. 4
    Ruby

    Since the OP met this man a year ago, it sounds like she was with him for about 10 months or so, not an insubstantial amount of time. The biggest difference between men and women in this regard, is that women do tend to bond with someone after that much time, even if the person isn’t really right. A man in the same situation might not. I think that’s the main reason why women tend to get more upset with men in these situations if the genders were reversed.
     
    My only comment would be that the OP should be certain that she’s not rejecting him because she feels that the age difference is inappropriate. It’s big, but it’s not untenable. If that’s not the case, then Shelly needs to get out there, date, make new friends, so that she’s not so lonely that she spends months relying on someone who really isn’t right for her. It could also be that she’s using this guy because he is “safe”, and it’s a way of avoiding the possibility of getting hurt by someone she could actually fall in love with. It’s not uncommon for someone to choose the wrong person as a way of avoiding commitment.

  5. 5
    Steve

    Everybody listen up.
     
     
    If you flip the genders and re-title this “Is It Wrong to Use a Younger Woman for Companionship”, this could be an email from a lonely man in his mid-40’s, post-divorce. 
     
    I am confident that if a man wrote the above email, most women would find it abhorrent that he would think of having his younger girlfriend invest her time in him, even though he knew that they were doomed in the long-run. And yet I would think that most readers are somewhat sympathetic to Shelly and can imagine how they’d feel in her situation.
     
    Thank You, Evan.
     
    I get so turned off by how women, as a group, are completely blind to their own double standards. 
     
    The Kathy Griffin incident with Anderson Cooper on New Years Eve was a good example.   If a male comedian did that to female journalist, his career would be over, even if it was an orchestrated gag ( which I am sure the Griffin thing was ).   Yet, hardly a peep from anyone.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  6. 6
    Lily2

    It’s true, the harder choice is usually the best one. At the end of the day, it’s with her integrity that she will find the strength to stay away. As a mother, it’s easier to accomplish, because we’ve been doing this for our children by heart everyday(hopefully). That is, putting the needs of our child’s’ development over our own immediate pleasures. Otherwise, she is cheating him and herself, out of what they both ultimately deserve, a partnership based on wholeness vs. emptiness.

  7. 7
    marymary

    Erm steve
    so far everyone, though admittedly it,s early, has agreed that the OP can,t have her cake and eat it.
    and now it,s my turn to make a gross generalisation. few men would find it  questionable for a man to be dating someone thirteen years younger.
    i don,t think the age gap is a big deal, esp when the younger party is over thirty. I latched onto the fact that she said she didn,t feel the same way about him as he did her.  

  8. 9
    JustMe

    It is always wrong to use other people. 

  9. 10
    Sheba Wheeler

    Incredibly insightful article, given a specific situation I’ve been coping with recently. I truly believe Evan nailed this one and highly suggest you read it no matter what your relationship status is because I believe it talks about the complexity of the human condition, the selfish mistakes we sometimes make, and the difficulty inherent in making ethical choices where someone will be hurt no matter what you do, but MUST anyway. Here’s what Evan has to say: “Objective reality is messy and grey and fraught with danger. What’s right for you is not necessarily what’s right for him. What’s right for him is not necessarily what’s right for you. All relationships are about navigating that space between those two realms with a measure of integrity.” Thank you Evan, as you helped me get that much closer acceptance in my own current grieving process.

  10. 11
    Angie

    I think this goes twofold:
     
    I don’t know that Shelly is acted without ethics if she is upfront with her level of feelings and has clearly communicated these feelings to this man she is seeing.  It does sound very much like a delayed rebound, but considering that she has been with her ex-husband at least 25 years (judging from the 24 year old son) and that her ex was her romantic partner for her entire adult life, I’m not surprised it took 5 years to delay.
     
    Shelly, have you acknowledged that your feelings may be because you are finally rebounding?  If so, perhaps it is time to move along. If you are holding back true feelings because you are actually confused about the age gap and his unemployment status, etc, then perhaps you need to look at yourself.  But, if you know you don’t want a relationship with someone, it is unfair to allow them to love you while you know you are using them.  I’d feel differently if you were both just “having fun”, but I think you know that it is important to have fun and distract yourself, but not at the expense of others.

  11. 12
    Karl R

    JustMe said: (#9)
    “It is always wrong to use other people.”
     
    That’s a simple rule which doesn’t address the complexity of actual relationship.
     
    I know a couple, both in their mid-50s, both attractive, who have been dating for about 5 years. She likes him as a friend and sex partner, she enjoys his company, but she has no interest in ever getting married. They don’t live together.
     
    He would be interested in a more serious relationship with her, but he is aware that it’s not going to happen. Furthermore, he’s not sure that a more serious relationship would be a good idea for him. (He’s been divorced 5 times.) Therefore, he understands that this relationship won’t become more serious, and he sufficiently happy with the way it is to stay in it.
     
    Is it wrong for two adults to make the conscious, informed decision to remain in this kind of relationship?
     
    Shelly said: (original post)
    “I thought I would be happily married by now!”
    “I know he’s not my future husband”
     
    As long as Shelly informed her boyfriend of this, she has met her ethical obligation.
     
    However, for the reasons Shelly articulated, I think it’s in her best interest to break things off permanently. She wants to be happily married (sooner instead of later), and this 33 year old isn’t getting her any closer to that goal.
     
    Evan said: (original post)
    “What’s right for you is not necessarily what’s right for him.
    What’s right for him is not necessarily what’s right for you.”
     
    I agree with this. However, we don’t know what the boyfriend’s goals are. Therefore, I can’t say what the best course of action for him is. In most of the scenarios I can envision, I would think his best choice would be to break things off and move on. But I can envision a few scenarios where he might reasonably choose to stay with her for a period of time.
     
    Shelly,
    I agree with Evan’s recommendation to cut things off with your boyfriend entirely. This has nothing to do with what’s best for him. Based on your stated goals, it’s what’s best for you.

  12. 13
    Steve

    @Marymary, post #7
    I agree with you that the age gap isn’t a big deal.  I don’t think it was/is a problem for anyone, regardless of gender.  The problem is that the OP is using a guy to keep from feeling lonely, when she knows there is no future for the relationship and the guy loves her.

  13. 14
    Steve

    @ Jackie Holnes, post #8
     
    Why give kudos to a woman doing something wrong, just because she is a woman.  No disrespect, but it doesn’t make your level of ethics/character look good.

  14. 15
    Jenna

    Wow, poor little you! Middle aged and having some great guy fall for you who’s way younger! I don’t have much sympathy – I’m in my late 20′s without the baggage of divorce like you and would kill to have some great young guy fall in love with me. Instead a lot of what I get is selfish people like you who try to string me along for company and other agendas. At least when I reject someone it’s after only a couple dates – I go to my friends for companionship and don’t string along men who are really into me. Ugh. 

  15. 16
    marymary

    Jenna
    the OP,s situation has no bearing on yours. If anything you should be glad that a middle aged woman can get a man who loves her. it means you can too, really you can!
     

  16. 17
    Kathleen

    Thanks Evan for this great topic. 
    I think with proximity romance can bloom when that wasn’t the original plan. This woman didn’t seem to target this guy and mislead him. I agree with Mary Mary  #7 that the age difference is not relevant.
    Karl 12 your post is thoughtful and a compassionate point of view.
    I understand how this evolved. I was married and divorced for the same time frames and until recently avoided serious relationships. I was told it would take about 5 years to transition after a 20 year marriage so perhaps this has been her path too. Sometimes people in the midst of this may not be clear of their long term  intentions when they first get involved  

  17. 18
    AllenB

    @Karl #12 You have it exactly right.  As long as both parties are communicating, it is entirely on each individual to do what is right for them.
     
    @Angie #11  In most places you appear to agree with Karl, but you did use these words:
     
    if you know you don’t want a relationship with someone, it is unfair to allow them to love you while you know you are using them
     

    No one “allows” or “makes” someone love them.  They do that on their own.  If for selfish reasons they are given misleading words or clearly misleading actions that become part of the basis for their feelings, then an ethical line is crossed.
     

  18. 19
    JB

    @ Jenna #15 “Middle aged and having some great guy fall for you who’s way younger!”
    That’s funny because not one person addressed the fact that this “great guy” 13 yrs her junior has NO JOB & NO MONEY as the OP said herself. So how “great” can he be for anyone? I’m sure he’s a gorgeous ripped young hunk though?
    I’m pretty sure if I put that in my Match profile there’s not too many women of any age that would think I’m such a great catch they wouldn’t hesitate to return my email let alone let me move into their house no matter what I looked like.
    Now thanks to the OP our great “younger” guy has NO JOB, NO MONEY, and……..NO PLACE TO LIVE.

  19. 20
    Zann

    I agree with Evan’s assertion that Shelly is doing the right thing by breaking this relationship off completely. But not so much because of the age difference, but because she admits she’s using the guy. I know Evan’s point is to emphasize that both genders are capable of being selfish, ignoring highly visible red flags to satisfy immediate desires or by hoping against hope that things will change. As JustMe (#9) said, it’s wrong to use people, period. And although Karl R makes some very good points, I (respectfully) disagree with his assertion that it’s over-simplifying to say this “simple rule” doesn’t address the complexities of relationships. People justify disrespectful or self-serving behavior all the time, including me. But some things really ARE that uncomplicated — it’s wrong to knowingly use people, whether the relationship is with a friend, a relative, lover, spouse…or your hairstylist. You know it when you’re doing it, no matter what you tell yourself. And if you know it, the right thing to do is to stop it. 
    Shelly did the right thing, and I think she knows this but just needed some affirmation. What I took away from this was Evan’s acknowledgement that even when it’s the absolutely right thing to do, it’s likely to still be painful for a while, you’ll miss the person and begin to question your decision. The key thing is to end it completely, without keeping it alive with “just friends” or staying in touch, one more for the road, etc. That’s just prolonging the inevitable. 

  20. 21
    Ruby

    JB #19
     
    “That’s funny because not one person addressed the fact that this “great guy” 13 yrs her junior has NO JOB & NO MONEY as the OP said herself. So how “great” can he be for anyone?”
     
    I thought about that too, but Shelly describes him this way when he became her roommate “a year ago.” Hopefully, he’s gotten a job in that time, although it’s true that he probably still isn’t that financially stable yet. But sure, that could be another reason she doesn’t see him as husband material.
     
    Seems to me that the big issue is Shelly’s feelings of loneliness, which got her into the situation she’s in now, one of desperation. If she’s sure her guy isn’t right for her, she needs to work on that first and foremost.

  21. 22
    Kathleen

     
    Regarding victims…
    When I read Jenna # 15 post I imagined her to be someone who is very bitter and has a victim mentality.
    Zann # 20 Who is to say that this guy is a helpless victim and is being used He’s an adult in his 30S Was this relationship providing no benefit or use to him? Had this guy been involved with women before who would take care of him since he had no money or job? Perhaps the relationship was mutually beneficial to both? Did he clarify upfront with her what his expectations of the relationship were?
    From my recent experience I know there are a segment of guys out there who hit on attractive successful recently divorced women. While these women are branded as “cougar” many of these guys are the hunters. 
    Seems to me the OP gained clarity and did what was right for her ( and possibly him) even though its painful. 

  22. 23
    daphne

    Why is she so sure that he’s not her future husband ? I’m a bit confused about her certainty about what the future husband will be like. If this guy is so great, is it certain that he won’t grow on her ?

  23. 24
    Jenna

    Kathleen, who are you to say that about me? I’m a high quality girl and simply get frustrated when people act carelessly with the feelings of others, since that has been done to me many times. By the time I do get into a relationship I will have to contend with the fact that my heart has been needlessly bruised many times by people who may have known upfront that I was nothing more than their good time girl but couldn’t be botherEd to say they were not looking for anything real with me. This behavior is vile no matter what the gender. I don’t consider myself a victim because I have turned down many men myself, but it was always at the front end — 3 dates max– and I wasn’t keeping them on the back burner. I feel that integrity is extremely important in these matters. 

  24. 25
    Karl R

    Zann said: (#20)
    “it’s wrong to knowingly use people, whether the relationship is with a friend, a relative, lover, spouse … or your hairstylist.”
     
    I would say my hairstylist and I are using each other. I get better hair. My hairstylist gets money. I’m not about to give my hairstylist money without getting something in return. My hairstylist isn’t about to cut my hair for free.
     
    Unless you’re a complete oddity, you’re okay with using (and being used by) your hairstylist in the exact same way.
     
    Everybody feels this system is reasonable, because all the participants understand the cost they pay (time, effort, money, etc) and the benefit they receive (a haircut, money, etc).
     
    A friends-with-benefits relationship is based on the same understanding. Two people understand the benefits, risks and costs of the relationship. If either person feels the risks and costs outweigh the benefits, they terminate the relationship.
     
    If the 33 year old has been informed of how Shelly feels and still feels the situation works for him, where’s the problem?
     
    Doesn’t he have the right to make an informed decision whether the relationship works for him? He’s in his thirties, not his teens.

  25. 26
    justme

    Karl R (12).
     
    I would suggest that your friends are happy with the relationship they have and not using someone.   She isn’t’ sleeping with him while she knows that there isn’t any future and that he hopes for more while he keeps hanging around in the hopes that someday . . .
     
    If I am feeling lonely and call up the guy who’s always had a crush on me so he can be my ego boost and be there in a boyfriend capacity while I know we have no future and that I am just waiting for someone else to come along . . . that seems like I am using.  
     
    If I have a conversation and say, “this is where I am, this is where I am not going, what do you think”. . . .at least it gives him the option.  But I still think its low.

  26. 27
    m

    *shakes head*
    You can’t “flip genders” without context.

  27. 28
    Aisling

    @Jenna#24:  I know how you feel..  When I was in my 20s I couldn’t understand how some of those dried-up middle aged women had more action than I did. But as another poster posited, this has nothing to do with you….or me. I honestly do not think that the original poster is taking a guy that would have been good for you.  He doesn’t sound like he has too terribly much on the ball.
    I get some of the same kinds of feelings when men my age, early 50s, who are in shape and have their acts together, choose to date women way younger. It is easy to take this kind of thing personally. I try not to, because it doesn’t get me anywhere. After all, if they were not dating the younger women, I am not so sure that they would be dating me.  It is what it is.

  28. 29
    starthrower68

    Again I’m the oddball.  I would not date a guy that much younger.

  29. 30
    Cat5

    Is it wrong to use a younger man for companionship?  Depends.  It is wrong to use people.  A good/decent person does not use people.  People of questionable/sketchy character use people.  Do you want to behave in a good/decent manner? Or a questionable/sketchy manner? It’s all up to you, and what you can live with.
     
    IMO Shelly did the right thing by cutting him loose.  She treated him with kindness and caring, which is how she (and most people) would like to be treated if the situation were reversed.  That is the good/decent thing to do.
     
    She is probably just feeling lonely and a little scared right now.  He is known entity, comfortable, and is in love with her.  With him she would get her emotional (ego boost), financial (roommate paying some portion of the bills), and physical (sex) needs met.
     
    I, for one, hope that she sticks to her guns and does not contact him so that he can move forward with his life, find someone he is in love with and who is in love with him, and wants the same things he does.  And, guess what…by doing so she can also move forward, find someone she is in love with and who is in love with her, and who wants the same things she does…all without using and hurting another person.

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