5. Why does this person want to date a teenager?

This is the biggest question you should ask yourself about some older suitor who’s sniffing around your doorstep. Why does he/she want to date you and not someone their own age? Your natural answer might be the one I would have given when I was 15: BECAUSE WE ARE A PERFECT MATCH AND I AM SPECIAL AND VERY MATURE. You are special and mature, of course—there’s no denying that—but it’s probably not the main reason that a grown man is trying to get all makey-outey with you. It’s easy to feel flattered and ~so adult~ when this is happening—it can be totally exciting when a cute older person thinks you’re cool! But I encourage you to take a step back and consider the motives of anyone significantly older than you.

OK, here’s where I bring up the big topic that drives the whole controversy surrounding this discussion, one which I would have rolled my eyes at when I was dating my 28-year-old, but which I now know is a valid line of thinking: if a person who is of legal drinking age or above makes a habit of courting people who are in high school, there’s a good chance they might be a pedophile (or, if you want to be super technical, an ephobophile). Also, adults know that seducing teenagers, even willing, smart, self-aware teenagers, carries with it a power imbalance that is ripe for exploitation, and very often qualifies as abuse. They know how easy it is to screw with your brain, and that can have long-term effects, 99% of them negative. No one who cares about your wellbeing will seek to do this to you, no matter how attracted they might be to your personhood. If they chase you despite this knowledge, they’re putting their sexual interest above the basic and awful knowledge that they are probably hurting what is, let’s face it, a kid. That, my loves, is fucked.

6. While older people might know more about books and kissing and Good Bands of the Past, they probably also know more about how to manipulate people.

A lot of older people select much younger partners because they themselves are insecure—they feel intimidated by women their own age, who aren’t as easily impressed as someone with a lot less experience might be. It’s not like I was a DUMB NAIVE BABYHEAD regarding books/music/etc. when I was 15—I would say I was so taken with Alan because I was the opposite! I was really excited that, whoa, here was a dude who could talk to me about art and poetry and other stuff that I loved, in a way that the grunty guys in my classes didn’t seem capable of. I thought it was, like, the absolute greatest thing in the world when Alan knew who Samuel Beckett was. (I now know that being able to name a playwright isn’t really enough to base a relationship on, but I digress.) I was so thrilled to be able to talk to my boyfriend about literature ’n’ stuff that I didn’t really notice that he wasn’t talking to me so much as he was talking down to me. This strikes me now as enormously pathetic–some dude almost in his 30s needing to prove how SMART and LEARNED he was to someone who wasn’t old enough to drive.

It’s really common for older partners to pull the you’re-so-young-and-I-know-so-much-better-than-you card about just about everything, from movies to politics to sex. You might feel like you and your older person are emotional equals, but again, age and gender differences create power imbalances, and those can be leveraged to pressure you into stuff, no matter how self-possessed you are. It doesn’t take much for someone older than you to make you feel babyish, and you might make choices that aren’t in your best interest just to re-establish the feeling that you’re totally mature and that you two are peers.

In any good relationship, the people involved are treated with equal respect and value, and when someone is dismissing your thoughts because of your age, that’s bullshit behavior because it’s rude, and because it can make you feel disrespected and chip away at your self-worth. When I was with Alan, I was constantly afraid of seeming immature and unintelligent, which led me to go along with a lot of what he said and what he wanted to do, even stuff I didn’t agree with. This was far from healthy; also, his ideas of what constituted mature behavior were often MAD WRONG. When I was with friends or at parties and not immediately answering his text messages, he would become enraged. His logic was that I was being passive-aggressive and uncommunicative by not getting back to him within five minutes, and that this was a childish thing to do. I changed my behavior to better suit his idea of what an adult relationship was like, but now I know that he was being the infantile (and scary!) one.

I want to talk about that situation a little bit more, because it’s another important thing to keep in mind before you get involved with an adult. All that power-imbalance stuff we discussed in point #5 is really appealing to people who have a need to control their partners, which not only leads to abuse, but is abusive all by itself. Alan freaked out when I was with other people. He wanted to restrict my social interactions, and punished me by getting angry when I wouldn’t answer his texts fast enough. He also tried to turn me against other people in my life: when I confided in him about my problems with my family or friends, he would try to make it seem like they were the WORST, MOST VILLAINOUS PEOPLE IN THE WORLD (they weren’t, of course) and that he was the only person who understood me, so I should only spend time with him.