Based on a real and random conversation I had with a guy one time
"Did I fail as a father?"
What? No... what the fuck has that got to do anything?
This guy is not that much older than me. Is he the same age as me even? I've dated women his daughter's age. His daughter currently going out with a guy close to my age. He wonders what that means.
"What's he doing with her?"
Kind of obvious isn't it? Is she hot?
That's sort of a weird thing to ask a father about his daughter, I guess. But I know he knows if his daughter is hot. Every father knows. If nothing else, as a protective measure, they're aware of how other men see her.
"She's a model. She's in Hawaii now on a photo shoot, so..."
He's clearly answered the question before. His answer smoothly transfers the assessment to someone else.
"Would you go out with someone her age?"
I would, I have. I'd probably go out with this guy's daughter if the chance came up.
Well... No, not if it's going to make things weird between me and this guy, or cause new and exotic complications in my social scene. But that has nothing to do with age. That she's, what, early to mid twenties? ... Hell, that's not even the youngest I have dated, let alone would date.
"But, would you have things in common with someone that young?"
The question has unintended built in presumptions. The idea being that dating someone within certain limits of age and culture and experience will lead to greater compatibility. And I get what's comforting about speaking to someone who shares a frame of reference that gives a shared language to how you see the world together. But that can just as easily be stagnant, constantly repeating identities back to each other, constantly recycling input received from similar experiences. Is compatibility the same as knowing the same movie references and liking the same music?
For me, I've found it far more interesting to explore the worlds other people have, and to share my world with someone who takes an interest in me. If I can find someone who has the ability to work with me to bridge past our individualities and find new combinations through mutual interest in new things, that's pretty cool. In my experience, that trait is uncorrelated with age.
Would I have something in common with someone so much younger than me? Yes, if commonality is in terms of how much we're curious about each other, and respectful of each other's world view.
I can tell my words don't really mean much to him. He looks at nothing on the ground near his feet. I might be right on some academic level, but when has anyone been convinced of anything that made sense in spite of feeling wrong? In any case, fathers aren't generally known for approving of anyone dating their daughters, so I'm not sure what would make this guy feel better anyway. Who should his daughter be dating?
"I don't know, but shouldn't she be with someone close to her age?"
I've always found the presumption that there is something inherently wrong with dating out of a narrow bandwidth of similar ages to be reflexive judgmentalism that isn't well thought out. I mean, when I was in my early twenties, I was a fuckwit. I treated the women I was with badly, and not in an abusive or uncaring way. More in an entirely random, uncultivated, completely at the whims of my confused and undirected emotions way. I cared way too much about unimportant things, way too little about about important things, but I didn't even do either consistently enough to be a jerk in the same way between any two failed interactions. I had no fucking idea what I was doing. Nor did the women I was with, though I think they weren't as stunted in their maturity as me. The happy times we had were based a lot more on random circumstance than premedation.
From what I've seen among my peers, I'm far from alone in that. There's a greater social issue there, in that we completely fail in our society to teach people during their most formative years a consistent and helpful toolset for interacting with the world and the people in it, especially across gender divides and in loving relations. But, just to keep things simple, I think it's uncontroversial to say that most men in their late teens and early twenties are generally fuckwits. I was one of them. How is it that the only"correct" way for young people to have a relationship is to limit themselves to the equally clueless?
Shortly before I moved to Japan, my first Japanese girlfriend was older than me by... eight years? Ten? I can't remember how much older than me she was, but she was close to thirty and she had no time for my bullshit. For her, I was a fling while she was staying in Vancouver for a year. For me, she was a window into a world where people knew arcane things, like, how to leave arguments that had no bottom. I mean, she could just stop when there was no point anymore, and then not harbour resentment. How she was capable of such sorcery, I didn't know, but I knew I had to learn.
I didn't get into that relationship seeking wisdom. She had a great rack, and my shallow concerns are no more noble than anyone else's, they just happen to be largely age agnostic. Nonetheless, I didn't just learn from her experience, I learned that relationship experience was a thing, and that it needed to be learned.
Which sounds like I'm making a case that younger people necessarily should date older people, and maybe when I start my cult I'll institute something like that. But actually, I'm not saying anyone should date anyone else in particular. Because the opposite can also be true. Later, when I was in my mid twenties, I had a relationship with a woman who was in her mid to late forties, she never told me her exact age. She was definitely no less than twenty years older than me, but I disovered that she didn't have a maturity to learn from. All she had gained in all the years ahead of me was how to obscure her insecurities into ever more complicated contexts that she could try to pass off as problems beyond her control. I still learned something, though, which is that maturity is uncorrelated with age. Which means it's just as possible for a young person to be mature as it is for an old person to be a fuckwit.
In an ideal society, if we'd spend less time teaching teenagers quadratic equations and spend more time coaching them on empathy, then we wouldn't just have healthier relationships among beginners, but better human relationships across the board. I mean, I know plenty of people my age and older who are still can't evolve past the faulty circuits they built in their brain around the idea of what love is supposed to be. If you don't get the right experiences early on, it's easy to assume the level of shitty interaction you operate within is the entire spectrum. Without knowing other patterns exist, patterns repeat.
Anyway, until a better society comes along, conventions that tell anyone who they should go out with are all just stupid barriers between people who might be able to mutually offer the kind of relationship exerience they each need, or maybe just want. Not just age, but gender, culture, whatever. We all need to seek out the people who provide the opportunity to reflect back something to us that we might need. So long as everything is legal and everyone consents, any other criteria is judgmentalism.
Oh yeah, I was talking to that guy.
"My daughter has a need to date a guy who's my age?"
Ugh. I can see this guy is really trying to find a way to beat himself up. Implying she has a "need" to see an older man to him means that she has some kind of emptiness she needs to fill which wouldn't be there if he had been a better father. In the course of the conversation, he's revealed he feels guilty about some of the choices he's made. Issues of moving countries, how much he was around, that kind of thing. Was he too absent? He loves her, but maybe what was in his heart didn't come out in enough in who he was to her. Is she now dating an older man to try and get something she never got?
Fuck, I don't know. Why does anyone do anything? I find tight jeans on women super, super hot. Like, it's a little extra for me. Is that because right around the time I started to become interested in girls, super tight jeans were the fashion? Maybe. Or maybe that's just coincidence. I have lots of other fetishes, like for anything thigh high, that I have no particular context to tie it to. Who knows where the itches we need scratched come from.
And it doesn't matter. It only matters that we explore them in a way that's safe and with people who we trust. Does this girl need an older man? Well, she certainly seems to want one, and she's old enough now to make that decision herself. As a father, a friend, as anyone concerned for her and her life, the question to ask is, what do his actions reveal about his place in her life? Is he good to her? Does he treat her with respect? Is she safe with him? If so, then whatever. Let her work her own shit out. If not, let her know your concerns.
"I feel like when I express concern, she doesn't want it from me."
She still lives with him, and I think he's still married to her mother, and I think there's a brother in the mix... I don't know, I didn't quite catch all the details because at this point in the conversation I was way too into the things I was saying to hear everything he said. I wanted to help this guy feel better, but I really like talking and feeling like I'm being right about something.
Anyway, his concern is manifesting in essentially showing her the kind of concern you show for a teenager. She stays out, sometimes not coming home for a night or two. Because she's an adult who sets her own schedule. But, there's that whole "our house, our rules" thing going on, where he says, "you can stay out as much as you want, just call us to let us know you won't be home." Built into that rule is a presumption that they would ordinarily wait up for her... because... why, exactly? Because they're so concerned, of course. Ultimately, she's supposed to understand on some level that they're only frustrated with her not checking in because they love her so much.
A passive aggressive message that doesn't work and has never worked for any human teenager ever, and definitely won't work on a an adult woman. Love without the ability to convey it clearly is almost as useless as no love. I think on some level, he's treating her like a teenager to make up for the times he didn't when she actually was a teenager. Maybe. I think that's what I picked up when he was talking and I was thinking of things I was going to say. Anyway, when a child is a teenager, there is some merit in curfews and check ins because there's legitimate boundaries of behaviour to enforce while they learn life. But, once that time has passed, at best it's ritual theatre.
"So how am I supposed to be there for her?"
What you can't do is be the father now that you weren't then. Look, I know fuck all about how it feels to be a dad. But I do live in the world of people, and I sleep with the type of woman you are currently trying to relate to, so this is what I think for whatever it's worth.
The one thing this guy she's with can't offer is the presence of a man who has absolutely no designs on her. That's you, or at least it can be. This guy she's fucking might the nicest guy in the world. I like to think that when I'm with a woman, of any age, that my net impact on her is positive. Supportive, respectful, caring, and I can offer her my years of what I've learned about how to not be a dick to women. But along with all that is a mutuality of desire, it's not selfless. Without the intimate connection, we're just friends. As lovers, we're partners in an emotional journey that requires both give and take in order to succeed. Love between lovers is ultimately conditional, which doesn't make it bad, but it does make it something other than you.
All you can do, all you should do, is let her know that home is safe. That your love is an opportunity for her take advantage when she needs it. She doesn't have to be anything to you, for you, or with you. You're possibly the one man on the planet who never has and never will expect a transaction. She already has tons of men in her life who want things from her, to exchange their support for her attention.
You do exactly the opposite by setting conditions, that she has to call if she won't be home at a certain time and shit like that. All the things you're doing to demonstrate how much you care just shows that there's a mutual obligation. Take the mutuality out of it. She's a grown ass woman and won't come home for a week if she doesn't want to. But she might want to if she feels that you're a sincere oasis from a world of expectations.
"Huh. Okay. I guess that makes sense."
Cool. So, am I ever going to meet her?
"No fucking way."