• Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Dear Lala, I hate my sister being with a much older man – its ruining our relationship

Jan 3, 2022

In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems

Here, she offers advice to a woman whose sister's shacked up with a much older man and it's ruining their relationship. Sign up below – for free! – to read what she has to say.

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Dear Lala,

When my sister was seventeen, she started dating her tennis instructor who was forty-six. She kept it hidden from us until she was eighteen. She turns twenty-five this month, they’ve been together ever since apart from a brief split when she was at uni.

When they first got together, he had a girlfriend and they had one child together. She was also pregnant with their second. She was also 17 when they got together, and he was also her tennis instructor. He left her for my sister when she was pregnant. My sister is now a stepmother to those children. She is more successful than him in many ways, she has a degree and a well-paid job that she enjoys. She had to support him financially through the pandemic because he is self-employed.

With hindsight I can see that something could have been done in terms of safeguarding when she was 17, but my parents were terrified that she would run away with him. But she is now an adult who can make her own decisions, and this is what she has chosen. Whenever I discuss it with people, or my parents, there’s always a sort of sigh moment, where they go “Well, as long as she’s happy we have to accept it.”

And she does seem happy for the most part. But it’s been seven years now and I still really struggle to accept it. I want so much more for my sister and I’m so aware that she’s never really lived adult life without him.

I don’t want her to be a stepmother at twenty-five and I REALLY don’t want her to get pregnant in her mid-twenties and regret it later. Me and her aren’t really close anymore because neither of us are good communicators, so this is like an elephant in the room. I don’t know what to do or how to move forward.

Lala says…

I think that the best place to start here is by acknowledging that you are absolutely right to have had concerns about this man when your sister was seventeen. Forty-six and seventeen is an unquestionably problematic age gap. There are no grey areas here. She was way too young for him.

He was in a position of power, and he abused that power. It would be bad enough if it was just a one-off, but the fact that he has done this to another seventeen-year-old is sinister. It shows that there is a pattern to his predatory behaviour.

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships. Have a question for Lala? Email [email protected]

At 17 a person is still considered a child in the eyes of the law. They are at the top end of the teenage years, but they are firmly still a teenager. No matter how mature they seem to be, they can only ever be as mature as a person who has only been alive for seventeen years can be. I would find it highly questionable if a twenty-five-year-old dated a seventeen-year-old, so a forty-six-year-old raises huge alarm bells.

Big age gap relationships with teenagers are worrying because of the potential for control. It is common for relationships like this to be abusive. Adults and teenagers are in distinctly different life phases, or at least they should be, they should really have little in common. It’s unlikely to be a relationship based on the meeting of two like minds, rather it is a relationship that enables the older person to fetishise a young body attached to a mind that is easier to control.

It is easier to dominate and overpower someone who is young enough to be your own child. Significantly older partners often force the young person to grow up at speed and skip straight through to adulthood. And the young people don’t know any different, they don’t have the perspective and lived experience to realise that it’s bizarre for someone in the forties to date a child. They don’t even consider themselves a child, because they believe the creepy adult who is telling them how mature they are for their age.

Because he was in a position of power in his role as a tennis instructor, your parents could have reported him at the time. Even though they didn’t find out until she was 18. Every council children’s service employs a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). The LADO is responsible dealing with allegations made against staff who are employed to work with children and young people. However, I think your parents instinct to not do anything to drive her away, further into his arms, was the right one.

Controlling abusers often seek to isolate their partners from friends and family. It is a way to gain and maintain control. So, it is important that people in abusive relationships have a support network. I think that your parents may have been right that the outcome would have been worse had she been estranged from the people who love her. This should not stop people from reporting allegations against staff who work with children, it needs to be done to protect the other children they work with, but in this case, I think your parents don’t need to regret the way they handled it at the time.

But you know what? It’s done now. Yes, he is clearly a dodgy character, and it would have been great if something could have been done to stop this happening at the time. But seven years have now passed, and she has done OK. More than OK in fact. She has got a degree and is making a success of her career. He has not held her back from having the means to support herself, or further educating herself (which both often happen with controlling partners). She has taken on the role of stepmother very young, but it doesn’t sound like it has restricted her from getting on with her own life.

You’re resenting her for making a naïve choice that that happened to turn out well. Or maybe it didn’t even turn out well. Maybe behind closed doors it is bad, and she doesn’t know any different, or she knows but she can’t tell you. Though from what you’ve said there are no major red flags (other than the glaring age gap one). Right now, it seems that you are holding on to concerns that haven’t transpired and that serve neither of you well. Of course, everyone can see that he’s a creep. But he’s a creep who she has now been mostly happy with for seven years. It’s time for you to let it go.

If this is a relationship that she needs saving from, then the best way to do that is to build a safe and trusting relationship with her. Having your relationship with your sister completely decimated because you can’t get over the fact that she was groomed into her current relationship is counterproductive. If you want the best for her then you need to let that elephant out of the room. It needs to go. You need to accept this. You need to tell yourself that this is not your relationship or your life. You cannot control her, or what happens in her future, and if you try to, then you are doing exactly the thing that you are worried about him doing.

Maybe you need to try to forgive him. You are rightfully angry and resentful of this man, but whilst you carry those as your prevailing feelings about him, it will be difficult for you to move forward. Your anger and resentment are certainly justified and forgiving him doesn’t mean that you are saying that what he did was OK. But if your goal is to move forward and get closer to your sister then forgiving him is the only way.

And yes, there is a statistically high chance that she will get pregnant, and that he will leave her for someone younger. If that happens, she’s really not going to need her nearest and dearest thinking ‘I told you so.’ She’s going to need to know that she is loved and supported. But that might not happen, they might really live happily ever after. Don’t let your distain for this man push you away from your sister. You don’t have to agree with her choices to have a relationship with her.

I think it might be worth offering her an explanation and an apology. Not because you have done something terribly wrong, but because ultimately, she is the innocent party in all of this, and your grudge against him has resulted in a change to the relationship between the two of you. I know you said you aren’t good at communication, so I think it would be worth planning how you will discuss this. You don’t want to say it in a confrontational way, or a way that criticises him. Don’t say “Your boyfriend is quite clearly a predatory creep. Two seventeen-year-old students in a row proves that. He’s a predator and you don’t know any different because you’ve not been able to experience a traditional transition into adulthood. Please don’t get pregnant.” That approach would not help at all.

I think the best way to do that is to be honest about your feelings in a non-accusatory way. The best approach is to let her know that you have been worried but that you are choosing to let it go so that you can rebuild your relationship. The elephant in the room is your continued frustration about their relationship. That will not go anywhere unless you work on accepting, forgiving, and healing your relationship with your sister.

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships. Have a question for Lala? Email [email protected]

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