Ask Erin: My 20-Year-Old Son Is Engaged To A 53-Year-Old Woman

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.


Q.

I'm at a loss for what to do. 

My son, “Jeremy” (not his real name), is a smart young man who just turned 20. He was going to college and getting great grades. 

He just informed my husband and me that he's not going back to school for the spring semester, and he's planning on getting married to a 53-year old -woman from our neighborhood. 

Jeremy used to be friends and play sports with several of her kids. I never really thought there was anything weird going on until a few pictures of them showed up on social media, including her visiting him at school a few months ago. We asked him if he was seeing her and he lied and said no, or got evasive. We found out they were engaged from our daughter (WTF).

"Marylin" (not her real name) is a family acquaintance and doesn't have a stable life. She's got five children, one of whom is older than Jeremy, and has a reputation for being a gold digger ( I don't like that term, but it fits). 

What freaks me out the most is that when Jeremy turns 21, he's eligible for his inheritance from my parents, which is a share in their property and businesses that are run by my husband and I. Marylin knows all about this and has asked us about wedding venue costs, if she can have the wedding on "his part" of the property, what her role will be in the business once they're married, and how soon she and her kids can move into one of the houses we own. Jeremy has started pushing us to let her move into an empty property we manage, attached to some sob story about her current landlord. I'm not even going to get into the off-kilter social media stuff and how she goes on rants about my family and then calls us and asks us for something like money or a place to live. 

This woman has literally only been in our lives less than three weeks, and already Jeremy has threatened to stop speaking to his sister, me, and several other family members because we're "evil" to Marilyn. Jeremy is an adult, yes, but my husband and I do have the final say about when our children's inheritance is distributed. 

I have no idea how my life became an episode of Dynasty, but I'm over it. 

I can't and won't forbid him from doing things, but this situation has wrong written all over it. We're not the type of people to cut our kids off, and we want to make sure Jeremy has support when this inevitably blows up. 

How do I approach this in any normal way? Is this some kind of late teen rebellion?

 

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A.

I can understand why you’re distressed. Now, I don’t think significant age-gap relationships are inherently problematic. However, the wisdom and experience that comes with age can cause an imbalance of power dynamics. 

It’s not the age difference that concerns me; it’s the bucket full of red flags. 

As I said, a large age gap in and of itself is not the issue, but I do find it concerning that her kids grew up with him. Again, it gives me pause about the power dynamics in their relationship. If one partner was seen as a parental figure, the younger partner may still naturally defer to them as an authority figure. But again, this is not what is troublesome. 

What is troublesome? He is choosing to drop out of school to get married. Their relationship is causing disruptions in his relationships with you — his parents, his sister, and other family members. This seems to be a rather sudden and rushed engagement. And…

The biggest red flag here is the eagerness to get a hold of Jeremy’s inheritance.

And I mean not only her eagerness but his as well. As someone who had access to money in my early 20s and did NOT handle it well, I can tell you — no good can come from this. Whether she is after his money or not, I don’t think, at 20, he should have access to it either. 

You asked if this was some sort of late teen rebellion. I don’t think that is what this is about, but that’s irrelevant. As you said, you have the final say in how and when his inheritance is distributed. In your shoes, I would delay this. Even without the fiancé, in my opinion, very few 21-year-olds can handle that level of fiduciary responsibility. 

As you said, you can’t forbid him to marry her; he is an adult. However, you can restructure how and when he gets his inheritance. That doesn’t mean you are cutting him off. If this woman truly loves him, she will want to be with him with or without the cash. 

The other thing you can do is set boundaries, with both of them. 

You are entirely within your rights to set boundaries around the inheritance, around their roles in your family business, and your property. Further, you can and should set boundaries with Marylin about ranting about your family on social media and her role within the family. 

Stay calm, come from a place of empathy and love, but set those boundaries!


The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watchingwhat I’m readingBlue Aragonite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: askerin@ravishly.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more… XOXO

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