‘Daddy’ not Dad: Sick of assumptions that I’m my boyfriend’s father

Q:

I was as surprised as anyone when a 22-year-old man expressed an interest in dating me when I was 48, but I’m ecstatic to have been with that same man for seven years now. Adding him to my life has been a true blessing, but while I did expect that some people wouldn’t understand, I couldn’t predict the constant shaming and embarrassment we get from them.

It’s all cute and fun to call me his "daddy," but it’s a whole other thing when people assume I’m his actual dad. 

We usually correct them, but I feel like we shouldn’t have to. Sometimes people even expect detailed explanations of what “the deal is with" us. It makes me feel old and perverted, and it makes him feel like he’s got a weird fetish.

When embarrassed by these incidents, my boyfriend and I are at odds about how to handle them. I tend to clam up and tune out without addressing the situation at all. He puts their questions, assumptions and intrusions back on them in a catty way I hate. 

If they are heavy-set, he asks how long it took them to get that way and how far they are going to let it get. If they are married, he asks them what they see in their spouse.

Is there a productive way for us to address the embarrassment and stop these assumptions once and for all so that we are not constantly on the defensive?

Dear Daddy:

Right now, adoptive and biological fathers in their 50s (and younger) everywhere are out and about with their sons in their 20s, so of course some people assume that you are his dad. Get used to it. You won’t stop that assumption, but you can handle it better. 

Yes, there are May-December couples all over creation as well, and people could be more accepting, but you can only work on you. Learn to play it off, because the only people you torture are yourselves, and alienating others only hurts you as well.

Responding to rudeness with more of the same just perpetuates meanness, not understanding. As the senior partner, you have the privilege and responsibility to put your 25 years of maturity and extra experience into action.

Neither of you is obligated to take on other people’s discomfort as your own. You’re only as old or perverted as you accept in your heart, and his fetishes or lack thereof are y'all's business, not theirs. Your embarrassment only reinforces theirs.

Same goes for the example you set for your boyfriend when you “disappear” to nurse your inner shame. Reject the indignity others try to put on you and tell your boyfriend — before, during and after assumptions arise — that you feel proud and lucky to be his man and that you don't care what other people think. 

When those awkward moments come, know in your heart that you don’t have to explain yourselves to anyone. Then don’t.

On the other hand, if you are motivated to respond, acknowledge that it’s natural to assume the dad thing, but that you can assure them you are equally and blissfully happy. If they are a friend, ask them honestly how they’d handle that line of questioning if they were you, and be open to their response. 

Here’s a trick for anyone who’s reached their limit while being asked prying questions: Smile, look into their eyes and say nothing. If they press, smile bigger. Again? Smile bigger and raise your eyebrows at them. Just keep staring and smiling and decide that you’ll do whatever it takes to outlast their attempts to get more words out of you. They will get the picture.

Look. You can’t change your ages or other people, but you can show each other at every turn that you’re happy together and plan to stay that way for a long time.

Illustration by Brad Gibson

The Q is intended for entertainment, not professional help. Send your burning Qs to [email protected].

This interview originally appeared in Q magazine. Find past editions of The Q advice column here, and read the full issue online here: 

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