How to Do It

I’m Dating an Older Man. There’s a Weird Problem With the Age Difference.

I feel like I’m in a teenage mindset.

Woman looking distressed at her phone. A Snapchat logo floats next to her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a young woman in my early 20s, who has recently started talking to a man in his early 30s. The age gap has not really been a big issue, but there’s one thing I find to be off-putting.

It’s his use of Snapchat. It seems so immature to me, even though I know it’s irrational to think of it like that. It’s not the only medium of communication we use, but it does seem to be the one he prefers. Unfortunately, I haven’t really used Snapchat significantly since I was in high school. Whenever we interact on the app, I feel like I’m in that teenage mindset again. This has led me to restart behaviors that I thought I had left behind.

The most concerning of which is the meticulous updating of the spreadsheet tracking his change in Snapchat score over time, which has created a lot of anxieties in me about who he might be talking to and about what. I know this is unhealthy, but I don’t know how to stop. I haven’t done anything as neurotic as this since I was in high school. I know that the problem is Snapchat, as I’ve tried to tell him. I told him I don’t like using Snapchat to talk, but I don’t know how to tell him exactly why I hate Snapchat without opening a can of worms that would put him off entirely. What should I do?

Stoya: So, I see the line, “I know that the problem is Snapchat.”

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: But I don’t believe that.

Rich: No.

Stoya: I think the two problems are: Our writer is insecure and our writer does not feel able to communicate fully who they are as a person.

Rich: Yeah. Snapchat is the catalyst. It’s not the problem. Although I will say that Snapchat does, I think, bring its own problems, one of which is that you have to have a decent memory in order to use it for a coherent conversation. I don’t know if you’ve used it to communicate. But generally speaking, unless you have the preferences changed, you go into Snapchat, you talk to somebody, you send a message, and they respond back to you. But you’re not seeing your last message. It’s a disappearing ink app.

I find having a good memory a hard thing to have when it comes to chatting online. I don’t remember what we were talking about, especially if any time passes between our messages. I don’t have my alerts turned on. So, if I send a message and then open the app a few hours later, I’m like, “I really have no idea what this is in response to,” some of the time. It’s not user-friendly for clear communication that you can be held accountable for, and in the context of pursuing a legit connection, it is somewhat disconcerting that he likes this app so much.

Stoya: I agree that it’s disconcerting. I know there’s been a lot of investigation into the harmful aspects of Meta’s social media platforms, specifically Instagram and the way that it is gamified. I think it’s fair to say that all of these social media apps are gamified in some way. It’s part of what keeps us coming back to them.

Rich: That’s a big part of the point.

Stoya: Yeah. I cannot even remember the names of the social media platforms that have tried to develop a community without gamification. Without it, we do not return. So, I’m wishing that I had the same amount of information about the issues with Snapchat, but I feel comfortable extrapolating that this disappearing message thing wants you to stay glued to your phone the whole time.

Rich: The score referenced in the letter is one of the gamifying features of Snapchat. When I first started using Snapchat, I was like, “Wait, what is this score?” It’s not explained well but it is clearly variable with your use of the app. And it has something to do with your engagement, but I’m not quite sure exactly how it’s determined…

The sense I have always gotten from it was that you’re supposed to be like, “Well, I have a number and it’s good, I want to have a bigger number, so I’ll keep using Snapchat.” A number is all it really takes.

Stoya: So, I’m impatient with people who want to continue to do everything through social media platforms. I move off the social media platform to the thing that is not gamified—to the thing that is not engineered to manipulate you. I don’t know that this guy is necessarily aware of all of these tactics, or, even if he is aware of them, I don’t know that he’s connecting them to this situation. But it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Do we have to use this social media platform, or can we move our communications to a framework that is more comfortable for me?”

Rich: Yeah. And it doesn’t have to be confrontational either. I think that the LW should probably articulate the anxiety Snapchat is causing them. There are also more reasons than just the paranoia that it inspires not to use Snapchat. As a medium, Snapchat is hardly a no-brainer. I think it has very glaring issues with communication.

So, it’s a reasonable request for multiple potential reasons and our writer can fudge it a little bit and be a little bit vague if she so chooses. I was thinking about this question vis-à-vis Snapchat’s popularity with young people, and I wonder what it is about this specific venue for talking to people that is attractive to so many. I assume it has something to do with what is unattractive about it to me, which is its ephemeral disappearing nature. Perhaps maybe people feel more comfortable being real knowing that they’re not leaving a permanent record of their conversation.

Stoya: Or they’re in their early 30s and they just started talking to a young woman in their early 20s and they don’t want a record of that interaction on their phone.

Rich: Totally.

Stoya: Right. That’s the first thing that I think is the actual problem, which is insecurity. It’s really important to sit with that and think it through; why do you feel insecure? Is it because you’re getting a sense—based on the use of this flighty, disappearing platform—that perhaps they are hiding you or hiding things about themselves? That might be valid.

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: Sometimes we spiral because we don’t know how to deal with what our gut is telling us.

Rich: Absolutely. Or does it have something to do with other elements of himself he’s already shown? Is this a connecting of the dots situation? Is it like, “Oh yeah, he was shady about that thing, and he uses Snapchat?” We should also keep in mind that if Snapchat is his overall preferred platform, generally speaking, then his score will likely be going up even if he’s talking to his sister. So, there is a sense of like you don’t know what he’s doing, you’re seeing this change in his number. I think the main difference between Snapchat, and any other texting platform is in fact this score. If she were just texting him using a chat app like Messages, he could still be talking to other people and sending people pictures. She really has no idea what his interactions are, only that he’s having them… So, what is the underlying trust issue here?

Stoya: And if there’s nothing that is a red flag—other than the use of Snapchat, which could be a red flag—then it’s also worth our writer taking some time to sit with how secure they are in themselves. Does she feel like spending some time with a therapist and working through her own self-image and self-worth is useful? Is she taking the time to do real self-care, right? Things that really nourish her. If it seems the insecurity is on her end, then that’s something for her to notice and work on, regardless of whether she ends up developing a relationship with this man or anyone else she encounters in the future.

Rich: Yes. And the last issue I think is important to bring up is she says, “I recently started talking to a man in his early 30s.” What is the expectation here that early in the relationship? Because I think there is a possibility that people use different apps for different phases in one’s relationship. They could still be at the Snapchat point as far as he’s concerned, and that might be his, “This is just a chat buddy. We’re going to be sending pictures of our junk to each other. I don’t want that to stay here. This isn’t yet serious enough for me to move it to a permanent platform.” I think that with the degrees of communication that we have now, it’s reasonable to at least not be surprised when somebody organizes their communication that way.

I am inclined to agree that this is a red flag. At the same time, I have noticed personally, if I connect with somebody on SCRUFF or Feeld, sometimes they’ll be like, “Do you have Snapchat?” And that seems to be our entry point. At that stage too, it’s like, well, it’s none of my business who else he’s sending his dick pics to. Because the nature of our meeting was this freewheeling sexual communication where it’s just a promiscuous kind of cultural thing that we’re actively performing within. So, it seems like there’s a possibility that our writer is more serious about the situation than perhaps this guy is.

Stoya: I want to address, “Don’t know how to tell him without opening a can of worms that would put him off entirely.” Put him off.

Rich: Right.

Stoya: Do not come at this from a scarcity mindset.

Rich: That’s a good point.

Stoya: To paraphrase Alana Massey, because I don’t remember the exact quote: Dick is plentiful and low value. Right?

Rich: It’s true.

Stoya: People to hook up with and have fun dates with? Bountiful. Be yourself. And if that puts him off, so be it.

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: Let him sort himself out.

Rich: Exactly.

Stoya: Let him say, “I’m not the person to treat you like a person.”

Rich: Yes. Filtering himself out. It’s maybe painful in the moment, but it’s so much better in the long run.

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