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Aug232013

Am I Too Old? Is Her Boss Too Nice? Help!

I have been dating a Filipino girl for about 7 months. It has been a very serious relationship at times, and I decided to give her a friendship ring. I am much older than her; she in her 30s and I'm in my mid-50s. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to walk with her, and I think she does, too, because of the age difference. Lately we have been arguing a lot about things related to jealously. She is a nanny at a huge home in the city. I see her only on weekends. She and I have discussed marriage and buying a house, but I get the feeling she is nervous as I am, too. The place where she lives is odd to me; maybe I am just ignorant, but it seems to me that she adores her employer, who can do nothing wrong; he is a really, really nice guy (so she says). She lights up when talking about him and looks for him when she goes there, and when he is not there she seems depressed. I wonder if there is anything there? He gives her gifts, which makes me feel uncomfortable. I worry if I am wasting my time. He has asked her if I have a house, and they just seem a little too close for my liking. In the summer he is with her all day, and I feel insecure. She tells me I am her man, but I've noticed a few looks here and there. I think his marriage is not the best; he is on the road all week and sees her only on weekends. Should I be concerned or am I just an idiot??!!! Is it possible that she developed an attachment to him when she first arrived from the Philippines? And she also has had a troubled relationship with her dad at home in the Philippines. I do love her very much and want to marry her some day. I think she does, too, but I have an odd feeling about it is all...

Dear BJ,

I think you answered your own question. You start by saying your relationship has been very serious “at times,” implying the seriousness fluctuates. You feel “embarrassed” to walk around with each other in public. There seems to be a lot of jealousy and arguing. You are both “nervous” about next steps (buying a house and getting married). Sounds to me like you may want to address these issues before considering taking the relationship to the next level. After all, commitment partly depends on whether people feel like they are getting what they deserve from a relationship.1,2 It sounds as if you feel her employer is undeservingly getting more of her affection than you.

As for the age difference, research shows people tend to disapprove of large age-gaps between relationship partners, and this disapproval can have a negative impact on relationship success.3 You already feel embarrassed to be seen together, so unless your respective social networks are supportive of the age difference between you, your relationship prognosis is not good.

As for her relationship with her employer, it’s hard to say whether or not there is something going on between the two of them. Depending on when she came to your country, what brought her there, and many other circumstances of her situation, the level of “acculturative stress,” or stress she is experiencing trying to fit into a new society, could be coming into play. Research has shown that getting used to a new culture (acculturation) can produce confusion, anxiety, depression, feelings of alienation, and identity confusion, or not being sure where someone fits in.4 Some of the back and forth you see in her behavior might be related to this. As she goes through the process of figuring out who she is and how she fits in to this new society, her behavior may be unclear as she adjusts. Also, given that she is new to the country and is in a foreign place and likely does not speak the dominant language well, it’s no wonder her employer’s kindness is so valuable to her. She is likely grabbing on to things that reduce those feelings of stress and anxiety.

Relatedly, she may be treating her employer as if he “can do nothing wrong and is a really nice guy” because he has influence over her as her employer. As a female immigrant, she likely has little social and financial power due to gender norms that occur in most cultures. In many societies, women are a disadvantage socially and financially. Being an immigrant increases this disadvantage. Making sure she caters to her employer’s every whim may be a way of protecting her job, her financial security, and her status within the new society. It’s possible she and her employer might be taking advantage of each other—he has a young Filipino woman at his house, and she gets anything she needs from a doting man, including employment security in a foreign land. His big house and gifts are representations of that security.

My advice to you is to talk to her! If you feel uneasy about things that are happening in your relationship and in her relationship with her employer, then the only way to find out if your instincts are true is to be direct and ask. But try to do so in a non-accusatory way. Perhaps ask her if she is getting everything she needs from you. Or when she looks depressed, ask her why she might be sad without implying it has something to do with the employer.

You can agonize over the details and overanalyze the situation, but until you and her have an honest conversation, your relationship is likely going nowhere. And you do not want to go to the next step with feelings of discomfort or a sense that you are wasting your time. Be brave by being honest. You may get the response you most dread, but it will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.

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1Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.

2Fiske, S. T. (2004). Social beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

3Lehmiller, J. J., & Agnew, C. R. (2007). Perceived marginalization and the prediction of romantic relationship stability. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1036-1049.

4Berry, J. W., Kim, U., Minde, T., & Mok, D. (1987). Comparative studies of acculturative stress. International Migration Review, 21(3): 491-511.

Dr. Michelle Kaufman - Science of Relationships articles
Michelle conducts research on sexual health and how power in heterosexual relationships influences sexual risk and family planning. She has conducted research in South Africa, Nepal, Tanzania, and Indonesia, and teaches a course on Qualitative Research Methods at Jimma University in Ethiopia.

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