Is It a Problem that I’m Attracted to Men My Father’s Age?

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Reader’s Question

I’m 22 years old and romantically interested in a man who is 42 years old (and also my manager). I’ve never been interested in a manager, or any other “authority figure,” but I have always been interested in older guys (I never find myself interested in guys my own age). I’ve heard several people say that liking older men is the result of “daddy issues,” but my father is still alive, and we’ve had a decent relationship my whole life (although he drank a lot growing up). Are my feelings for older men some sort of mental problem? Am I wrong for not liking guys my own age?

Psychologist’s Reply

After decades of research, we still don’t know why people end up attracted to the individuals they’re attracted to. Yes, we know some things about what is attractive in general, but at the individual level, it’s still a mystery why a particular person stirs our erotic feelings and not other peoples’. So, your attraction to older men isn’t an issue of right or wrong, although you might be concerned with that issue because of cultural norms. Although the norm around the world is for males to be at least slightly older than their female mates, a 20-year age difference is not typical in Western cultures. However, in polygamous cultures, in which a man may have multiple wives, the age difference between the husband and his last wife might be 20 or 30 years.

Perhaps, instead of “right vs. wrong,” your concern is “healthy vs. unhealthy.” As you mentioned, there is a prevalent cultural belief that women attracted to substantially older men must be trying to make up for not having received enough attention from their fathers while growing up. As your case demonstrates, however, that doesn’t always apply (and who knows whether it ever applies?). “Unhealthy” attractions are probably based more on being drawn to individuals who are harmful to us, rather than people who are simply older. In other words, perhaps the most important issue to ask when evaluating “healthy vs. unhealthy” is how the other person treats us.

On the positive side, many women can appreciate that older men tend to be more settled in life, with more resources and achievements, and perhaps greater appreciation for what a female partner has to offer. Plus, Western standards of physical attractiveness are much more forgiving for older men than they are for older women. Some wrinkles and gray hair might make a particular man look “worldly” and “distinguished,” whereas we don’t hear positive terms for women with the same wrinkles and gray hair. If you think you feel culturally out-of-place with your attractions, imagine males who are attracted to much older females!

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In the end, I think it’s most important that people are happy with their healthy relationships, regardless of the age, sex, or physical features of their partners. Of course that doesn’t mean that everyone you encounter will have the same philosophy. When you find yourself in a relationship with a man who is old enough to be your father, be prepared for some people to make that assumption about how the two of you are related. You’ve already encountered the presumption that you must harbor unmet needs from childhood, or that there is something “wrong” with you for being attracted to someone from an older generation. Instead of getting caught up in whether other people have a better moral compass than you do, or whether presumed amateur psychologists know more about mental health than you do, stay focused on the diversity that exists across individuals and across cultures. “Diversity” more accurately describes peoples’ experiences of romantic attraction than does “right vs. wrong.”

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