What I Learned After Dating Someone 26 Years Older Than Me

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Tim Foster / Unsplash

At 20 years old, I had been out of the dating scene for about a year and a half and I was ready to get back in there. I had been a hermit building a business and it was time to spread my wings and meet some people.

Unexpectedly, as an actress just starting to put her foot into the film scene, I became a stand-in for a movie featuring Josh Hartnett. Hartnett’s stand-in and I spent 3 weeks non-stop together on set for 12-14 hours a day. We watched movies, chatted about everything under the sun, and had a lot of laughs. I knew he was older and didn’t think much of it. I’m an unintentional flirt and he quickly wanted to go out to dinner with me. This was the most excitement I had had in a while, so I thought, “Why not? What’s it going to hurt?”

We met for sushi late one breezy night in a quaint resort town. I was nervous and had no clue what to expect. Was this a date? Who would pay? What was he thinking? By the end of the night, we were back at his place watching an old 80s action movie holding hands. It was seemingly innocent. I was just holding hands with a 46 year old guy, no biggie. Old enough to be my dad. It’s FINE.

Little did I know that this wasn’t just a little fun, innocent “thing.” This would become a twisted romance that I would live a double life for. This would begin months of manipulation, insecurity, and identity crisis that would make me question every single thing I believed in and make me wonder who I actually was.

Now, as a girl who had dated a 32 year old at 18, this wasn’t my first time dating older. There’s some kind of thrill in it, really. They have an air of mystery and all sorts of history that you want to hear about. But going to a 46 year old that could have easily been my dad…it was a little questionable.

Daddy issues, anyone? Yep. Growing up, my dad’s job as a musician made him absent and barely around. He loves me, but in more of a friend-that-you-catch-up-with-monthly way. Subconsciously, I wanted his attention and if I wasn’t receiving it, my brain allowed me to take the next best thing: a 46 year old, 6’4 (same height as my dad) musician, that was emotionally unavailable (same as my dad) but willing to give me the time of day.

Here’s what I learned from dating him.

Age really is just a number.

Just because he’s older doesn’t mean he has it all figured out. He was still immature, selfish, didn’t have his life together, and lived with his mom. I might as well have dated a 25 year old, because I would have gotten the same thing.

Years of experience teach a guy how to be a gentleman. Scratch that. It teaches them how to woo women.

He was smooth with his words and he knew what he was doing. When I drew a line on what I would and wouldn’t do with him, he forced me to go further. He took advantage of me, and I was so young and innocent, I didn’t know what to do. So I stayed.

I was just a body to him.

“I don’t want to see you again unless you have sex with me.”
“I don’t want to drive to your place unless you’re gonna have sex with me.”
“If I didn’t need to have sex, I wouldn’t need you.”

I thought I had to give in to receive his love. So I did. How you view yourself alters exponentially when someone only sees you for a body. When I tried to communicate my needs with him, he would just end the conversation with “Stop complaining.”

It was easy for him to be the dominant one in the relationship.

I thought I liked how decisive he was, but I really didn’t get much say. It was always his way, and that wasn’t any fun. I started recognizing I had no voice. I was being manipulated into whatever he wanted.

Dating him didn’t solve any issues with my dad.

I’ve read a lot of articles that say girls will often replicate their dads and have relationships with the pseudo father figures to mend what’s been broken. The truth is, it doesn’t work. It just turns into a relationship where the roles are very blurry.

People are so quick to judge.

I never thought I’d be one of “those” crazy girls who dated an older guy, but I was. I became the weirdo in my family, and instead of asking why I was doing this, I just became the butt of jokes at parties. My dad would say, “McKenzie dates guys anywhere from 18 to 50 years old.” And everyone would erupt in laughter. Those who I thought loved me the most gossiped around dinner tables about what I was up to, instead of reaching out in concern.

You learn who really is there for you.

Even if they think you’re making stupid decisions, the people who really care will stick around. This relationship quickly weeded out the people who only conditionally loved me.

It’s been a year and a few weeks since I broke up with him. Trust me, it took me a long time to forgive myself for entering the relationship and for allowing myself to be so degraded. People close to me still haven’t let it go and continue to hold it over my head. “Got any dates with 50 year olds lined up?”

The last thing I learned is:

I don’t need him.

I don’t need this guy to make things right with my dad. I don’t need him to make me feel good about myself. I am whole and strong on my own.

So why did I do it? I’m at a loss honestly. He was my kryptonite and I was weak. All I know is that I left. And after months of healing, I’ve realized that a man that took advantage of me doesn’t define me. I can rise again after being abused. I can leave the manipulation, deceit, and degradation behind me. I can move forward and create a life according to me. I can date men that respect me. I can become whoever I want to be, without what he did to me holding me down. Because I define me. And there’s nothing more empowering than that.

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