Advice from an "Expert in Failed Relationships"

Note from editors: Every since our editor-in-chief’s book, Harlots Sauce, was published, she has been receiving dozens of emails and Facebook messages each week from people seeking her advice on their life and love problems. About this she has said, “People seem to feel comfortable asking my opinion, even if they haven’t met me. Maybe it’s because after reading my book, they learn that I’m someone who, in my past, has failed miserably at every possible relationship – that of being daughter, wife, mother… even friend. You go to an expert when you have a question, don’t you? Well, I’m an expert at failure.”


Double Standards for ‘COUGARS’?

Dear EFR: As a fifty-something divorced woman, I’ve kept myself in great shape, and admit to being flattered when younger men find me attractive and come on to me. And though I would never actually date anyone significantly younger than I am, I am not at all bothered when I see older women with younger men, even if the men are much younger than they are.

But here’s my problem: I have a twenty-year old daughter who is dating a man who is 24 years older than she is. And though she is very intelligent and mature for her age, I worry that he’s taking advantage of her comparative inexperience. I married young, chose poorly, and missed a lot of opportunities as a result. I don’t want my daughter to make the same mistake. And I sense that this man is very serious about my daughter, and may be pressuring her into marriage. But every time I try to bring this up to her, she counter argues with, “Why is it okay for some of your friends to date younger men, then?” and I am stymied. Once, she even accused me of perhaps wanting this man for myself, which I promise you is not the case. I love my daughter very much, and do not see her as any kind of ‘competition’ or suffer from jealousy, as a number of my friends occasionally do over their grown daughters’ lives. I just want her to be careful, and I’m so upset and worried that she’s not listening to me.



Dear WTSTMC: (Sigh) I so feel for you. You’re really in a tough spot, sister. You’re absolutely right that your 20-year-old is intelligent – she’s intelligent enough to know just what buttons to press to get you to back off. Because, while I believe you 100 percent that you’re not jealous of your daughter and don’t want this boyfriend of hers for yourself, even the most devoted mother occasionally experiences a twinge of, “I sure wish that were me” when we witness the opportunities and/or sexual rights the younger generation of women take for granted that we were denied. (And our mothers had even fewer than we did.) So you back off because you’re afraid that she might be right, even if you only feel like that rarely. Added to this, there’s always existed that ‘double-cougar standard’ wherein if an older woman pounces on an younger man, with the exception of Ben Braddock , he’s usually grateful; but if a older man goes for an nubile young miss, he’s a ‘cradle snatcher’, or she’s looking for a ‘sugar daddy.’ I have four sons, all in their twenties, and the comments I have heard from my peers about their ‘hunkiness’ has sometimes left me speechless. Especially because my boys seem to enjoy the attention. While my friends are thinking about what my babies look like, and how they perform with their clothes off , I’m still thinking about whether they’re feeding themselves properly, and if they remember to bring their jackets with them when they go out at night.

And therein lies the problem for us ‘fifty-is-the-new-thirty’ mothers: our perceptions of ourselves as sexual beings has been extended, thanks to More magazine, films like It’s Complicated, and actresses like Sophia Loren who look sexy into their seventies. BUT, we are still mothers who want to mother our grown children.

But, guess what? Our children are adults, just like we are. They are entitled to make lousy choices, just like we did (and still occasionally do.)

You’ve told your daughter how you feel about this man, and you may be absolutely right. Unfortunately, as young as she is, she is still of legal age and therefore gets to make her own choices. The only role you serve now is as an advisor and friend, who will be there when and if she needs you. And if it turns out that you’re right and this relationship becomes a disaster, I hope you can refrain from saying, “I told you so.” Instead of giving her milk and cookies and saying, “Mommy’s here”, take her out for a Cosmo like you would any other adult female friend and simply listen while she vents.

I know it’s tough – believe me, I do – but it’s the right thing to do, if you want to have a great relationship with your grown daughter for the rest of your lives.



“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.”
C.S. Lewis

Do you have a question for me about failed (or failing) relationships? I’m happy to read your questions and answer them in this column. Keep in mind that I’m a writer and licensed teacher, but not a therapist or a lawyer. However, I do consult these experts to answer my letters when necessary. Leave your questions in the comment box below, or e-mail and put “advice column” in subject line. For more information about me, visit

Please note: Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

Patricia V. Davis is the author of Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece.



Last 5 posts by Patricia V. Davis - an Expert in Failed Relationships

Last 5 posts by Patricia V. Davis - an Expert in Failed Relationships