I got a very interesting e-mail last week from a young woman whom I'll call "Kate" (not her real name):
I am 17 years old...and I googled "Older Men, Younger Women" because I am attracted to older men and I feel alone in my peer group (despite my many good friends and wonderful family). I was thankful to find your post. So many things you touched on are things that I feel. But I also felt abnormal and ridiculous for having the feelings I do. Although I am young, I suppose am one of those girls you described, "...those who appear outwardly fully adult may still be in need of our care and protection." I am in every way mature. I feel more comfortable with adults than I do with my own peers thus the need for more attention from the more mature male. Having said that, I want you to know, I am a good girl. I know right from wrong...and these attractions I have for older men always stay platonic----mostly because I'm attracted to the men who are safe. But sometimes it pains me because I feel like I'm building such awesome relationships that when I become legal, or more eligible to date older men, they won't see me like that. At that point, I get upset and I feel so rejected before anything even began. This usually happens in the school atmosphere because there are many male teachers. So many of them seem wonderful because of the teenage boy scum I go to school with. You touched on that too--the obvious attraction girls have because the older male is (hopefully) well spoken and has a wealth of knowledge and experience...verses the teenage male who is not any of those things.
I asked Kate if I could respond via a post, and I'm afraid I haven't heard back from her. Given that her e-mail contains nothing that could identify her, I'm going to assume it's okay to respond publicly.
I still stand by that. But I wrote those words not just as a man in his late thirties, but as a teacher and a youth worker. I see teenagers and young adults through the eyes of my profession and my avocation. I've known for years that I was called to work with young people, and as a result, I value my role as a mentor and (sometimes) a "father figure". In my work as a professor and church group leader, it's absolutely vital that I never, ever, sexualize the young women with whom I work. It's essential that I keep firm boundaries in place, the kind that allow young people to trust me.