Below are some of the exchanges from the relationships advice column, Baggage Check, published weekly in The Washington Post's Express:
Q: My sister has always dated waaaaaaay older men. She is 38 and right now dating a 60-year-old. Even in her 20s, she would routinely go for middle-aged guys. She says she falls in love with the person, not the age, and that some of her interests are better suited to older guys and that they don't play as many games. I worry she's setting herself up to be unhappy, or chasing something she'll never get. For what it's worth, our dad is a good guy but pretty emotionally distant.
A: I know it's tempting to try to psychoanalyze this, like: Is she searching for the emotional intimacy she may lack with your dad? But that's unfair. Neither you nor I can know what's truly going on for her. And more important, you haven't given me any evidence it's necessarily even a bad thing.
How is the age difference really a problem? Of course, if she someday ends up committing to someone who likely has very few years left, then that is not ideal - but there are no guarantees of life span no matter how old your partner is. Bottom line, with any relationship, what matters is how she's being treated, how she feels, what the two bring out in each other, and how they help each other be their best. And honestly? A break from emojis, ghosting and selfies sounds like your sister may be on to something.
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Q: I had a terrible, toxic relationship for 18 months that I left a few months ago. I have met someone new who seems great, but he reminds me of my ex. In all good ways, of course. But it makes me wonder if there are bad similarities as well. They are both charming and attractive, but my ex was Jekyll and Hyde and was possessive and emotionally abusive. It makes me not trust this initial persona that I see. Can I be objective in this?
A: You may not be able to be objective in this, no. But who is, in choosing a partner? Our life experiences colour and even distort the lenses we look through when we fall in love, in ways big and small, for better and for worse. But the more aware you are of what your particular subjectivity is made of, the better. And I'd say that your insight into the looks-can-be-deceiving nature of your ex gives you added power to scrutinize.
Keep watching and asking the questions. Sure, some manipulative and controlling people hide behind charm as a cover, whereas other people are thoroughly and good-naturedly charming all their lives. You'll only know more if you continue to be mindful, keep checking in with yourself and avoid going on autopilot. And continue to work on healing and understanding how your past relationship happened. The stronger you are, the better you can look out for yourself.
Bonior, a Washington-area clinical psychologist, writes a weekly relationships advice column in The Washington Post's Express daily tabloid and is the author of "The Friendship Fix." For more information, see www.drandreabonior.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @drandreaboni
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