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About last night

Date

Maureen Matthews

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Q. I'm a bubbly and (some say) good-looking 24-year-old woman. A couple of months ago I started seeing a guy who is in his early 40s. He's not the kind of man I would usually find attractive – he's got a bit of a paunch, and is going bald – but I have fallen for him in a big way. Some of my friends tell me I'm nuts. I'm worried about whether or not I should keep seeing him though, because of the age gap, and because I don't want to get hurt. What do you think?

A. Love comes in many guises. A person you dislike at first can become the love of your life. Love can spring up between people of vastly different ages, social or religious backgrounds, or who appear to be totally mismatched. It is common to see wedding pictures of couples where one person seems to be way more attractive than the other. Love sees past these superficial differences.

Do not let your friends and their opinions influence how you feel about this man. Only you can know if what you are feeling is real. Outsiders are often baffled by people's relationships, but they cannot see what is in the heart.

It is impossible to go through life never getting hurt. Fear and anxiety will not protect you, but they might cause you to refuse to take risks. All this will do is limit your actions, and prevent you from having a whole range of worthwhile adventures. At this stage of your relationship it would be best to stop over-thinking it, go with the flow, enjoy what is happening now for its own sake, not because of where it might be going, and see how things pan out.

If you stop worrying, and take it as it comes, it might well be that the relationship follows its own trajectory, and comes to an end quite naturally. On the other hand, it might get stronger and deeper and prove to be very significant. You can only find out by taking it a day at a time.

If you find that your relationship does continue to grow issues will arise. It might be wise to be prepared for some of these, so that you can think and talk about them over time. The first of these is the idea of starting a family. This is possibly the last thing on your mind at the moment, but you could find that your biological clock starts to tick more loudly as you approach 30.

A number of men in their 50s are fathering children, but it is certainly challenging. If this man is adamant that he does not want children you will need to decide whether or not you can live with this. It would be a pity to spend your most fertile years loving a man who finally says he does not want children when it is too late for you to form a new bond.

Another "fact of life" that you need to keep in mind is that more than a third of men over 45 start to experience some level of erectile dysfunction. I have met couples where the woman is only in her mid-30s, but penetrative sex is no longer possible. This can lead to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and relationship strain. Solutions can be negotiated, but the relationship has to be robust to survive.

A man in his 40s can be dashing, fit, good-looking, experienced and strong. He can keep up with a younger partner, and have a lot to offer. Once 20 years have passed, however, the dynamic can change.

I have known a number of relationships in which the woman slowly becomes the nurse and carer for a much older man. Are you prepared for the less glamorous aspects of such a relationship?

I am not trying to put you off. Enjoy the joys of this relationship while they last, but continue with your eyes open to what might become pitfalls.

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