Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I'm a 16-year-old who works at a coffee shop in a small town. Lately I've been working with the same guy a lot and I've started to notice my heartbeat rising before I walk in the door. He and I get along very well and have very similar ideologies. We like the same shows, games, and have similar hobbies. We end up closing a lot later than normal lately because we talk so much.
The problem is that he's 22. Normally I wouldn't be OK with such an age difference, but for some reason I really just want to ignore it. I'm really falling in love with him and I'm not so sure what to do anymore. — Crushing
Dear Crushing: Your "normally" impulse is the right one — please don't ignore this age difference.
I should say specifically, don't act on these feelings, which themselves are normal and OK.
It's just that acting on them, and getting involved with Mr. 22 while you're still a minor, could land him in a statutory hellscape that no compatible tastes in shows and games could ever justify.
As the adult in this budding attraction, he is supposed to know this and keep the necessary distance, but humans being humans means it's better if both of you are respecting the invisible guardrail between you.
Bonus old-lady observations: (1) The heart palpitations and like-mindedness on shows and ideas create one of the best feelings in the whole world.
(2) These great feelings when it's just a passing crush are virtually indistinguishable from these great feelings when you're falling in real love. At least they are at first — and for a long time, so you typically have no idea which one they're pointing to until you're months in and they start to either deepen or vanish so fast you can find yourself on a date with your once-overwhelming crush suddenly wondering what in dog's name you're doing there with this person.
(3) If there's already a good reason not to be with someone — and you have a great one — then just write the attraction off as a crush and starve it of all attention, hopes and wishful thinking.
Enjoying a crush and the happy mood and the getting-dressed-with-a-little-extra-care moments are not illegal.
But, reminder, being stupid often is, often for someone else but not for you. So don't be. Please. If he's the guy for you, then he will still be right in a couple of years.
Re: Coffee crush: There is no way to say this without sounding creepy, but the relatively close age difference makes things worse for him: old enough to know it's wrong but young enough that he's still making poor judgments and could probably justify the relationship in his head, getting him into a lot of trouble.
I was a student teacher when I was 21 and was propositioned a couple of times. I never acted on it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. Looking back, it's scary what could have happened. Statutory hellscape is right. — A Guy
Send email to Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.