My Stepmother? But She’s 19!

Posted July 19, 2018 11:19 p.m. EDT

Q: My father is in his early 60s. He is planning to marry a 19-year-old girl from the Caribbean. My siblings and I are extremely skeptical of the relationship. (I think poor self-esteem prevents him from pursuing more reasonable partners.) When we try to speak with him about our concerns, he brushes us off. Should we try to support this relationship, or do the circumstances justify more extreme measures? (His fiancée is just a few years older than my daughter!) — Anonymous

A: I’ve never met your father, so I won’t opine on his self-esteem. Nor have I met his fiancée — and have no idea what constitutes a “reasonable” partner in your book. But I have seen loads of men marry women (or other men) who are young enough to be their children — particularly on their second or third trips down the aisle. I used to smirk and judge. But by now, I’ve watched so many picture-postcard marriages crumble, and seen so many odd couples thrive, that I’ve learned to hold my fire. Perhaps you should too.

The gaping age gap, on its own, is not disqualifying, and you haven’t raised any other objections. If a bride and groom are of sound mind and legally free to wed, other parties don’t get a vote. They didn’t ask for your opinion. In fact, your father blew it off. And I don’t like the sound of “extreme measures.” (Are you planning on locking him up in the Tower of London?)

Many people think that money and power, or youth and need, are ugly bases for relationships. I disagree. It doesn’t matter what catches our eye. In the end, marital success usually turns on hard work and mutual kindness. I get that a teenage stepmother is not your fantasy. But who knows? This may be a love for the ages (or a ridiculous error that your father is entitled to make).

Too Much Texting

Q: My 13-year-old godson, whom I love, often stays with us in the country. Only problem: We can’t pry his cellphone out of his hands or get him off social media. He’s never rude and always does what we ask, including putting away the phone during meals and outings. But it’s clear that his real life is happening on that phone. Should we alert his parents? — Mitchell

A: Have I got a terrific movie for you — and for anyone who didn’t grow up in the age of social media and 24/7 connectedness: “Eighth Grade” by Bo Burnham. It’s about a shy girl (around your godson’s age) who is trying simultaneously to survive middle school and present a sunnier version of her life online. It’s heartbreaking yet hopeful (sort of), and I left the theater with a terrible stomachache. Teens these days deal with so much pressure!

Talk with your godson about what he’s going through. Ask about the pressure to post and curate, how he juggles it all and whether he ever gets tired. As a neutral adult, you may be a relief valve for him. You may even persuade him to lay down his phone occasionally. But I imagine it’s not as simple as that anymore. For many children, so-called real life is fused with their digital lives. It’s the new normal. (And it looks tough.)

Plus-Ones for Singletons

Q: My housemate and I are single and attending separate weddings where the brides have limited plus-one invitations to guests in serious, long-term relationships. This bothers us. We are close friends with these brides. (Is that why they think they can disregard our feelings?) And the friends we wanted to bring are closer to us than many people in serious relationships. Clearly, it’s the bride’s day. But how many free passes on social gaffes do we give them? — Anonymous

A: You can’t say, “It’s the bride’s day,” then quibble with her rules. Limiting plus-one invites can increase the intimacy of their wedding. I mean, who wants to get married in front of a bunch of strangers?

Protesting the bride’s plus-one policy to accommodate a close friend suggests that the day is about your happiness, not the couple’s. (And didn’t we agree that it’s the bride’s day?) I realize that long-term partners are imperfect proxies for familiarity with the people getting married. But it’s simple and tends to work. So, I’m ruling: no gaffe here!

Where’s the ‘Thanks’?

Q: I gave my grandson a substantial sum of money as a college graduation gift over three months ago. I have not received any thanks — written or oral. This is part of a pattern. Should I let my grandson know I’m upset? — Grandmother

A: If your relationship with your grandson consists (mostly) of giving him gifts that he fails to acknowledge, I would focus on creating a bond with him. Stop writing checks and start bribing him in more fulfilling ways, like taking him on an exciting trip or to a movie he wants to see. But if it’s really just a thank-you note you want (and you’re entitled to one), tell him that he’s hurt your feelings, and there will be no additional gifts until he mends them.