2. Consider the age difference—how old are you and how old are they?
When I first started getting involved with older men, I was all “age ain’t nothin’ but a number.” But that is actually not the case, and the fact that I know that now but didn’t then proves my point. (Also, did you know that that song was written for Aaliyah by R. Kelly, who was boning her teenage self at the time? Anaheed told me this last year and I was like EW.)
When plotting to french an older person, you might be tempted to rationalize the stretch of time between your two births thusly: “Well, my mom and my dad [or whoever] are seven years apart in age and they’re doing swell, so LET’S GET THIS THING GOIN’.” Everyone knows a happy grown-up couple with a significant number of years between them, but the thing is this: Those two people are adults, and when that’s the case, how old you are in relation to your partner matters less. When you’re a teenager, however, every year is a pivotal one! Consider how different you are now from how you were two years ago—huge, right? You’re basically a whole ’nother person. Just as awesome, but with a radically different perspective on what happened in middle school, you know? That idea also applies to the years between you and an older paramour. Time behaves more peculiarly when you’re younger because everything changes so quickly, so the distance between 16 and 21 is way bigger than the one between 23 and 28.
That said, when you’re 17 or 18, it’s not really a big deal to hook up with someone who’s just a few years older than you. (And many jurisdictions have added so-called “Romeo and Juliet” clauses to their statutory-rape laws to acknowledge this common sense.) Maybe your girlfriend or boyfriend went off to college, maybe you met a cute 21-year-old drummer at a show—these things happen and are fine as long as you feel comfortable with this older person. That means: Do you feel OK disagreeing with them? Are they respectful of your life outside of your relationship? Do they get along with your friends? Do they treat you as a peer? If you’re unsure, a good rule of thumb is to draw the line at getting involved with anyone who is older than you by a quarter of the years you’ve been alive. And anyone under the age of 17 should probably wait a little while to be with any person whose age doesn’t also end in -teen.
3. You have plenty of time to date people older than you, but not nearly as much to have a high-school romance.
Teenagehood lasts only seven years. You have literally the rest of your earthly days to date people in their 20s and up, but you can never have a real high-school romance again after 12th grade is over. I didn’t give myself a chance to do all that puppy-love stuff like passing love notes in class, holding hands during cheesy assemblies, and sneaking quick kisses in the hallway during passing period. All of these things seem awesome, and I’m kind of pissed that I gave them up!
When you get a little older, the fun first-timeyness that goes with teenage love dissipates. While love and sex are still the absolute jam, the hot mystery of figuring out how to do them is over with. It’s much more fun to share these things with people who are also just learning about them, i.e., not some graduate student who doesn’t get why you’re so stoked to be making out with someone since they’ve done it a million times. Even though high school boys can seem immature, they, like you, are most likely going to be SO EAGER AND WOWED by the prospect of romantic and sexual stuff. Doesn’t that sound kinda great? That’s because it is!
4. Because of the whole potential-incarceration-of-their-partner thing, a teenager may have to hide a relationship with an older person from everyone else in their life.
Some of the best parts of having a boyfriend or girlfriend involve other people: he or she is someone with whom you can roll your eyes at family functions, a teammate for party games, and a topic of obsessive conversation with your best friends. If you’re in a relationship that is not only frowned upon by society in general but also highly illegal, chances are that most if not all of these things are off-limits, because you have to keep your relationship a secret. While at first it might seem alluring to have a PRIVATE ROMANTIC WORLD with someone (and it is exciting in the beginning, I admit), your life is not a movie (sucks, I know). Keeping things underground gets tiring and frustrating, not to mention a little overwhelming, really quickly.
I learned this the tough way with my 28-year-old, whom, for convenience’s sake, I’m going to give a name from here on out: Alan. I can’t tell you his real name because our relationship was a secret and also illegal, and even though the statute of limitations on that crime has expired, he would be still be rightly embarrassed to have anyone in his life know that he was creepin’ with a high school sophomore when he was five years out of college. Because of the taboo nature of our situation, I had to keep Alan hidden from even my bestest of buds. This was really difficult and very isolating. When he and I got into fights, there was no one in whom I could confide, since no one knew he existed. When I wanted to hang out with him, I had to do a lot of sneaking around and lying to the people I loved. That blew. And when the novelty of having an illicit love affair wore off, I had no one to talk to about how confused and upset I was about certain aspects of the relationship.
Having a significantly older partner severely limits the stuff you can do together, too. You can’t exactly bring a 30-year-old to prom! You also can’t hang out with each other’s friends without everyone feeling a little awkward, go on public dates without attracting a lot of weird looks and potentially the attention of authorities, or, most likely, meet each other’s families. Basically the only things I could do with Alan regularly were hanging out in his car or in secluded places like parking lots and dark corners of public parks. Sounds really safe and romantic, right? UH, NO, ARE YOU KIDDING ME EVEN. Not to be all dramatic, but seriously: flying solo with an older guy who wants to sleep with you in shady places where no one knows who you’re with or where you are = a really easy way to get murked or otherwise hurt. Please be smarter than I was about this BASIC TENET OF COMMON SENSE, because I like you exactly how you are: in one piece.