I am 15. I am in love with an older man. He works at a sweet shop and I’m not sure how old he is. We met last year when I was hungry and went to buy sweets, but then realised I only had 2p, so he gave them to me for free. He was really kind and generous, and the next time I went in we got chatting and got on really well. I came back again the next day and have never looked back. But now things are looking more serious and I’m worried that our relationship may not be entirely legal. I’m worried that if I confront him I’ll lose everything. I think I love him, but though he enjoys our relationship, I’m not sure he feels the same. I haven’t told my parents or friends because I’m worried that they’ll judge me. Should I tell him or would that spoil things? Have I gone too far? I’m worried about how people will view me, but I don’t want to end things because I love him so much. I don’t think I could ever love anyone as much as this again.
This first appeared in the Observer
On first reading this letter sounds as though it is written by an adult pretending to be a child. Would an underage girl or boy write to a national broadsheet asking for this kind of help? Would such a person write things like ‘entirely legal’? There is something odd about being hungry and going to buy sweets – why state that you are hungry? It’s as though the act needs justifying. How odd then to go to the shop with no money, or, rather, how odd to state the exact and pitiful amount you had with you – 2p. How odd to call it a ‘sweet shop’ – sounds very old-fashioned.
However, if you really are 15, then what does come across loud and clear is your acute vulnerability and the fact that you are young for your age, unworldly and, by the sounds of it, not getting a lot of care at home. You seem to feel you lack the resources needed to be out in the world, you are hungry for sweetness but, far from being ‘for free’, the price is high – illegal sex. There is something about the hunger and the fear of losing everything, of feeling the need to point out to an adult that what he is doing may be illegal that points to domestic neglect. Also, the idealisation of a person who gave you free sweets suggests that you live off the merest scraps of affection and offer your love in return.
It hardly needs saying that this is in no way an equal relationship and you are aware of this – though you are in love, he may only be enjoying himself, you say. He is older than you, so much so that you apparently haven’t dared ask his age for fear of finding out. He is offering sweets in return for your affection and, if what is happening is illegal, we must assume, for sex. You don’t mention the sex explicitly and from the way you describe the situation it is not what’s important to you – it is the fact that the wants you, that he is generous towards you and enjoys your company. There is a distinct feeling that this is unusual in your life.
You are ashamed of the sexual element of the relationship and haven’t told your friends. You suggest you might confront your lover. With what? He presumably knows he’s having sex with you. He presumably knows your age. It sounds to me as though you are very uncomfortable with the sex (after all, you have written) but worry that if you withdraw it then you will lose the friendship and love you value so much. You relieve your abuser (yes) entirely of responsibility, wondering if you have gone too far. You? He has, by the sounds of it, committed statutory rape.
You don’t state your gender. If you are also male then perhaps your reluctance to tell friends, your fear about whether or not the relationship is allowed, your wish to confront your lover/abuser about the relationship, might have something to do with shame and fear around coming out. You may fear being judged for your sexuality and have conflated that with fear of being judged about the age gap and, perhaps, his status. ‘He works in a sweet shop’ is stated immediately and must be important in some way. It’s unclear whether this puts him in high or low esteem in your view but, I suspect, low.
However, male or female, the reality is that you are paying for affection with sex and you feel there is something wrong with that (illegal – but you’re using the word to express something about your feelings as well as the social facts). You fear that you have not much besides your body to offer and, like the hunger, lack of resources and gratitude at the beginning of the letter, this points to neglect, at the very least, at home.
I would like to know about your relationship with your father and whether you see any parallels there – do you feel unloved by him, that you have to produce something in order to secure his affection, that you can’t talk to him about what is honestly going on with you? You don’t say and I have no idea, but you need to ask yourself what it is about the relationship that might be harshly judged by your friends and parents, why you are afraid to talk to your lover and whether or not you are willing to continue to provide sex in return for what you really want – someone who is ‘kind and generous’ to you. (The fact that you have written suggests strongly that you want this to stop but don’t want to lose your friend).
Yes, the relationship is illegal, as you know. However, there are plenty of 15 year olds having sex with someone a few years older than they are and not feeling the need to write to a newspaper columnist about it. You are really scared and isolated and, despite your saying you love this man, you clearly do not feel cared for and protected by him or anyone else. Perhaps you might find someone you really trust (friend, teacher, doctor?) and seek some help that might keep you safe and build your, entirely absent here, confidence?
The very short answer would be – stop letting this person abuse you because it is making you feel insecure, unhappy and scared. Then have a look at what help you might be able to get in terms of improving your confidence.
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