Ask Hugo: What to Do About a Younger Boyfriend --and Q-Anon Parents?
This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly feature here on my newsletter: an advice column. For the first month, it will be public, but starting in February, will become a feature exclusively for paid subscribers. (Please click on the “subscribe” button to see various subscription options!)
For those of you who might be interested in sending in a question for me to answer, you can email me at email@example.com. (I’ll have an anonymized email feature up soon!)
Here’s our first two questions:
So, I know you've written a great deal about older man, younger woman relationships but I have the opposite going on. I'm currently involved with a man who is 11 years my junior. (I’m 45, he’s 34). We're in that gray area of relationship/not a relationship which makes me feel a bit queasy.
On the one hand, by not being open about our relationship, I don't have to deal with the societal judgments, etc. Which trust me, there would be a number as people have made comments that obviously there's nothing between us because I'm too old for him. Another friend my age asked if he's single as she’d love to set him up with her 24 year-old-daughter.
On the other hand, I don't like not being able to be honest with people who know the both of us. We're both committed to each other but neither of us wants to place a label on our relationship either. Is this good? Do I need to change things? – Privacy Patty
Anytime anyone asks a relationship question and includes the phrase “We’re both committed to each other but neither of us wants…” that’s good news! Whatever else is going on, you both seem to be on the same page. If that’s true, then any other issue is frankly secondary; you’re facing the world and this issue shoulder-to-shoulder, and that’s a blessing.
The reality is that we still do treat age-disparate heterosexual relationships very differently depending on the gender of the older person. The #MeToo movement has led to some criticism of older men/younger women relationships, but that’s been largely limited to the progressive media. My fiancée is the age of your partner, and I’m eight years older than you, Patty – but at least in Los Angeles, our nearly 20-year age gap gets no noticeable pushback from family and friends. The sexist double standard is still thriving.
By the same token, older women/younger men connections are celebrated as “daring,” which is nice, but exhausting. You’re presumably not having this relationship in order to make an ideological point!
You just really like this man, and it seems like it might last a while. I can imagine it must be annoying, if not downright painful, to have so many assume that there’s “nothing between you” because you’re “too old” for him.
If you two stay together, time is going to solve this for you. Gradually, your friends will realize that you are a couple, even if their own blinders make them very slow on the uptake. You can’t keep it hidden forever. There’s something to be said for being patient, and letting the world figure out on its own time. When they query you, as they will, about why you weren’t more public from the start, you can explain that you didn’t want the scrutiny. They may protest that they would have been nothing but supportive, and you can make a larger point about an enduring sexist cultural dynamic, and the conversation will soon shift to other things. In other words, you don’t have to resolve this now.
Of course, if your queasiness is tied to not having clarity about what you two are doing together, that is a conversation the two of you need to have sooner rather than later. We don’t fall in love in vacuums – we want and need some social affirmation of our relationships. Keeping something secret because you don’t want others to know can be increasingly stressful. It may be too difficult to wait for the world to figure it out. For the sake of unknotting your stomachs, maybe you two need to “come out” to the world, less because the world needs your countercultural example, and more because you deserve the same support and excitement that anyone in a new relationship deserves from their family and friends.
Wishing you the best of luck.
Hugo, the last few months, and especially the last week, have been hell. I lost my job when COVID hit, and I moved back in with my parents in April. They’re both in their mid-60s, both recently retired, and both have gone batshit crazy. Just a few years ago, they were both moderate Democrats, my mom maybe a little more liberal than my Dad, but they both voted for Obama twice. Then they somehow got hooked on Fox News, and they lost all grip on reality.
While they’re not quite full Q-Anon (they don’t seem to believe the Clintons literally eat babies), they are convinced the election was stolen from Donald Trump. They seriously considered flying to D.C. to participate in the insurrection (THANK GOD THEY DECIDED IT WAS TOO EXPENSIVE), and they both believe the violence we saw last week was all antifa’s fault. After Twitter banned the president, my father texted me a link to a far-right website that said Trump was planning to impose martial law. (I was in my room 40 feet away, but he knows better than to knock on my door with this nonsense, so he texts from his bedroom.) Biden will never be president!! Dad added. The man has never used two explanation points in his life.
I barely recognize him, or my mom, as the fair, decent, sensible parents who raised us. I can’t afford to move out yet.
What can I do to help them wake up? It’s like watching an updated version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and it’s depressing and painful. I’d like to think it will be better after Biden is finally inaugurated, but I doubt it. What can I do for them, and for my own sanity? – Distraught Daughter
First of all, yours was one of three similar questions I got just this week. To the extent that it helps, you are far from alone – we are in the midst of an extraordinary mass delusion the kinds of which we haven’t seen in generations. Millions of your fellow Americans have also “lost” loved ones to Q-Anon, Trumpism, and the countless far-right media platforms that support this madness. As bad as it was before the November election, you don’t need me to tell you it has been exponentially worse since.
You’re asking two separate questions. First, what can you do to help wake your parents up, and second, what can you do to protect yourself from them until they do emerge from this terrifying dream state? The second part is perhaps the easier one, though not by much.
When physical distance is not a possibility, then some other form of boundaries is essential. You do not owe anyone, including your loved ones, an audience for their proclamations. Contra St Paul, love does not in fact bear all things. I’m assuming you don’t want to argue with your parents about this, otherwise you would be asking someone smarter than me for debating tips. What you want and deserve is for them to stop trying to recruit you into their delusion. I’d suggest saying – or if necessary, texting -- something like this:
“Mom and Dad, I love you both. I know we disagree strongly about politics. I do not see you changing any time soon, and I am not going to change my views. Our relationship has always been about more than politics. For everyone’s sake, I’d like you to stop talking to me about this. Stop texting me links, forwarding me emails, or calling me in to watch Tucker Carlson’s monologue. When we are together, I want us to find other things to talk about, as difficult as that may be.”
Emphasize to them that this is about saving your entire relationship.
The tough part is imposing the consequences if they refuse. I do know one friend who has blocked her parents not only on social media, but on text as well. Others have moved out, even when the finances made that unwise at best. I know that may seem impossible, but it is important to be able to stick to boundaries, even when it seems painful and inconvenient.
Actively finding other topics can work as well in some case. Another friend asks his right-wing father to talk to him about genealogy and family history, which his dad loves. In small chunks of time, he reclaims bits of his father from his illness. “It’s like my dad has Alzheimer’s; he’s forgotten who he was thanks to Trump, so I ask him questions that subtly remind him of the man he used to be.”
For more support, I urge you to look at this Reddit forum: QAnon Casualties. There’s a ton of helpful advice within it, as well as a real community of folks like you who are dealing with this ongoing trauma. A lot of the advice follows that of Al-Anon, the 12-step group for the loved ones of addicts and alcoholics.
Just as you cannot get an alcoholic sober until they become convinced that they need to stop drinking, you cannot get a conspiracy theorist deprogrammed until they have an internal incentive to do so.
While you can work to change their minds by providing them alternative, reality-based information, the most likely catalyst for change will be the loss of relationship. This is particularly hard because lonely people are already vulnerable to conspiracy theories, Trumpism, and Q-Anon, so it may seem counterintuitive to isolate them further. Yet if we think of this delusion as a disease that must run its course, then quarantining yourself from them is the best solution for both your health and theirs. The single best chance for change will come when, after all the absurd predictions and proclamations of their leaders turn out to be false, your parents will have a long overdue moment of clarity. If you are distanced from them but still ready to hear them when they return, you have a fighting chance of restoring your relationship.
Good luck to you, and to all of us.