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I have been attracted to significantly older men for as long as I can remember. When other girls were talking about boy-band boys, I was fantasizing about Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, even in the fifth grade. Since then, nearly every male in a leadership role (coaches, teachers, bosses) has been a source of fantasies. I’m not proud to say that I acted out a few of the fantasies in real life. My father was a good dad, and emotionally supportive, so I don't have “daddy issues.” I am happily married and hoped that marriage would end this. But I find myself once again fantasizing about my current mentor. We have worked together for two years, and he has never done anything untoward. I want to be able to interact with men as colleagues, and not constantly have a racy dialogue playing in my head during every meeting and coffee break. I have tried to tell my husband about my “problem,” but he responds with jokes and seems uninterested. Luckily for me, I have not encountered any four-star generals, but what if I did?
—Not Paula Broadwell
Dear Not Paula,
One Christmas evening when I was 9 years old my whole family went to see Goldfinger and I stayed stunned in my seat until the credits rolled because I had to catch the name of the man I now loved. About 25 years later I was rushing through the lobby of an office building lobby in Los Angeles when I literally bumped into Sean Connery. He said, “Excuse me,” softly with that Scottish burr, I looked up and exclaimed, “My God!” and he smiled indulgently when my knees buckled. Like you, there was no David Cassidy or other boy-men for me. I understand your thing, but having it doesn’t mean it has to run your life. You had affairs with some of your older men, but when it came time to get married you chose a contemporary. He laughs off your obsession, which is probably for the best. It’s unlikely it would be good for your marriage for him to listen nightly to how turned on you are by the idea of sex under the desk with your mentor. (As a side note, I heard Paula Broadwell call herself Gen. Petraeus’ “mentee.” The actual term is protégé. We talk about teachers and students, not teachers and teachees.)
Instead of trying to bang this desire to bang older men out of your head, change your attitude toward yourself. For two years you’ve had some pleasurable fantasies about your mentor and you have never acted on any of them. That’s nothing to beat yourself up about. If you find your older-man thoughts are taking up more time than they should, explore “mindfulness.” The techniques should help you learn to coexist with these feelings without being a slave to them. Accept that there is no cure for our condition, but time can be wonderfully therapeutic. I used to have a thing for Albert Finney, and I still do in a nostalgic way, but in keeping with the James Bond theme, when he made his appearance in Skyfall it did not send my pulse racing. And most of those dashing older men I once fancied are now trying to figure out the rules of Medicare Part D.
My husband and I have three fantastic boys under 6 years old. My sister has one around the same age. We hoped for a close relationship between all the boys but the fly in the ointment is my brother-in-law. He is constantly taking toys away from my boys because he says they don’t share well with his son. Once he pushed our son to the ground to keep him away from a toy. He has mocked our son with speech issues. He’s in constant competition with us over “who is better.” My husband and I have kept quiet to keep the peace, but with these infractions increasing and with holidays coming up the final straw was my kids’ expressing a desire to stay away from him. So I wrote him a letter expressing how we are not comfortable with his actions, and he responded with one stating that he would be criticizing my parenting from now on, and he could go on forever about what a horrible parent I am. Now the holidays are upon us and I don’t know what to do!
What you don’t do is let this bully ruin your holiday, harm your boys, or attack you. A letter expressing discomfort with his outrages was bound to backfire. Someone who mocks a child’s speech impairment is not generally open to sweet reason. When you’re all together, you keep a close eye on the kids and him. If he gets physical with your kids or insults them, you swoop in, gather up your children, and tell him his behavior is out of line and he’s not to touch or comment on your kids. If he starts in on how much better he is, you fall silent, then turn to speak to someone else. You draw some strict boundaries, and if he doesn’t start modulating his behavior, and other family members don’t back you up, you leave early. Be thankful that your children aren’t growing up with such a cruel disturbed person for a father; your heart should go out to the child who is.
My ex-boyfriend and his family are celebrating their first Thanksgiving without his mother. He and I dated for almost five years and had integrated one another in each other's families. We spent every Thanksgiving with his mom's side of the family. We broke up because he cheated on me with a close friend. We’ve had limited but cordial contact in the 18 months since our split. Earlier this year his mother, who was in her 50s, died unexpectedly. I called at the time to express my condolences and he was appreciative. Should I send him an email saying his family is in my prayers and I have made a contribution in his mother’s memory to a charity? My hesitation is that I don’t want to cause drama with his current boyfriend (that former close friend) or have him think I’m trying to get back together.